When I Resorted to Punishments...

Monday, June 9, 2014
Our waters have been troubled lately. My 5 year old has taken to teasing his highly sensitive brother. There have been daily, seemingly constant hurtful words hurled at my oldest son. Why would he do that? Hadn't I taught him to be kind? To respect others? Was I raising a bully?

Doubts began to creep in my mind. Fear took over. My mother said he needed punished. I began to wonder if maybe she was right. After all, I couldn't let it go on. It was affecting my oldest. I'd talked to him about it. I'd asked him to empathize with his brother. I'd called him out on it every time I heard a put-down and told him it was inappropriate.

Effectively, what I'd done is shone a great big light on it, and it fed off that light. The problem grew.

I began to think maybe he did need punished. I had to protect my oldest son. I had to let my youngest know that he could not hurt people. I was angry and could no longer see this problem through my usual lens, but all I could see was this ugliness rising up in him that needed to be stopped immediately.

Knowing the "natural consequence" of hurting his relationship with his brother apparently didn't mean anything to him, I began taking away the only thing I knew that did. His allowance. Every time he did something "wrong", I told him he lost a dollar off his allowance. I kept a record of it.

-1 for teasing.
-1 for pinching.
-1 for a put-down.

They kept adding up. He was very upset that he was losing money, but it didn't stop the problem. Now he was teasing his brother and really mad at me both. I felt defeated, and I didn't know what else to do. Everyone in the house was now feeling the negative effects of this issue, and the atmosphere here was suffocating.

Then, one morning, I was scrolling my newsfeed and I saw this:

When our kids say hurtful things, they're hurting.
When our kids lash out, they're hurting.
When our kids resist and rehash, they're hurting.
When our kids get rigid, they're hurting.
When our kids are chaotic, they're hurting
When our kids ignore, pretend, defend and act out, they're hurting.
What if we *started* with the hurting instead of bypassing the hurt in favor of behavior and how to quash it?
How would we see our kids' intention and motivation differently?
How would we treat them differently?
How would they respond differently?
What would we have to change in our own hearts in order to embark on this process?
When the hurt is accessed, the heart heals, the behavior is understood as the symptom, not the cause. -  Lu Hanessian Parent2ParentU

The anger I felt toward my 5 year old dissipated and I was able to see him as a hurting child who needed my help. I'm normally able to do this, but in this particular situation where he was hurting another child of mine, my judgment had become clouded, but suddenly it was clear to me again.

Why? Why was he hurting? When did it start? What caused his feelings? What was he trying to communicate?

I looked at his allowance deduction list. I saw a record of wrongs.

Love keeps no record of wrongs....

I crumpled it up and tossed it in the trash.


Redemption: The act of redeeming or the condition of having been redeemed. 
Redeemed: To restore the honor, worth, or reputation of:
Retribution: Punishment for doing something wrong

Do I want to seek to restore his honor, worth, and reputation, or do I want to punish him?

The world says children need punishment. I think children need redemption. 

They will grow and mature and come to naturally understand how the world works. They will come to understand laws and consequences without being "primed" for them with smaller punishments now. We think if we punish them for little things, they'll want to avoid punishment for the big things later, but that's not really how it works. Punishment highlights their faults. Punishment eats away at their self-concepts. Punishment is retaliation, not teaching. 

Redemption restores honor and worth. How do you redeem a wayward child? By highlighting their strengths, not their weaknesses. By shining a spotlight on their rights, not their wrongs. By believing in their goodness and making sure they believe in their goodness. By ensuring that "kind," "helpful," "compassionate," "responsible," and "good" are part of their self-concepts because humans behave according to what they believe of themselves, and children believe of themselves what their parents believe of them. 

Correction is necessary, but shining that big light on their mistakes only makes them grow. Correct gently, shining the light always on their decency, listening to the communication of the behavior, and seeking always to redeem them. 

I realized my 5 year old was feeling rejected by his brother because he didn't play with him much anymore. We called a family meeting. Both children were heard. A solution was agreed upon. I am now working on repairing our relationship and restoring his honor, worth, and reputation.

Don't wade through troubled waters. Build a bridge. Redemption is the bridge. 

Redemption not retribution. Love never fails.


  1. Your living in some magical land made of candy Cains and gum drops if you really believe in all that bull shit!!

    1. Hmm. . . but I guess it can't hurt to try it. What does anyone have to lose? And incidentally:
      "YOU'RE living in some magical land made of candy CANES. . . "

  2. This is beautiful and so so true!! Children need us to lift them UP, not break them DOWN!! <3

  3. This is a wonderful article!! I'd rather live in that world than the awful one josh clearly lives in!

  4. Thank you for this. The line that resonated the most was about the fear you felt when you saw the ugliness rising up in your son, and hurting your other. This post was very helpful to me.

  5. Your article goes very well with Love and Logic which is a book I highly recomend but the next step to redeeming as you said is gently correcting which means make them accountable for their action in love.

  6. Your article goes very well with Love and Logic which is a book I highly recomend but the next step to redeeming as you said is gently correcting which means make them accountable for their action in love.

  7. But what do you do if you don't know why your child is hurting? My son is 3 years old, and he can't explain it well. And we are at a loss as to why he is hitting us, not listening and really acting out.

  8. ok, so I agree my current method of retribution is not working. However, I have two situations where I don't know how to apply this new method. Situation 1. My 2 year old flushes toys down the toilet. (I understand he is experimenting, but how do I teach this is not ok). Situation 2. My 8 yr old is playing on the computer. I advise that he has 5 minutes left. I tell him times up. He ignores me. I repeat time to pause the game and take a break. He says, "you can't pause it." (So I know he's hearing me and I also know this is untrue.) I say times up. He slams down the screen and says I'm mean. (I understand he is upset and frustrated he cant finish his game, but I have to limit the electronic time and I don't think this is acceptable behavior to slam something when you don't get your way. ) Your ideas are appreciated

  9. To Katie: Situation 1: Give your 2-year-old son something he is allowed to flush down the toilet. Try to keep it simple and consistent.... Two pieces of toilet paper, perhaps. Say, "These are for flushing. Toys are not for flushing." Then applaud him - literally - when he flushes down the pieces of toilet paper. Keep repeating yourself, as necessary.
    Situation 2: I only have a 3-year-old, so this is unfamiliar territory for me. However, try to show him (more straight-forward, less technical) articles that advise limiting screen time - perhaps read them out loud together. Then, ask him what he thinks the rules should be in an effort to start a dialogue. You could also just get rid of the computer; he'd get over it eventually! :)

  10. Katie, I don't think you should give him anything to flush. I think that will get confusing for him. I personally think it's cute and funny but understand you don't want him to do it. My advice for what it's worth is to say no and take him away from the toilet, repeat to fade. keep it simple and keep centred and peaceful. It's no big deal really, we parents focus on something and make mountains out of molehills. As for the eldest child, he's feeling the pain of attachment. It's like if you were really enjoying a meal or cigarette or anything that makes that grasping mind strong. If you allow him to play games at all work out a period where they can finish the game, or level or complete a certain mission. It's completely normal to feel beyond frustrated when you get pulled away from something you feel you NEED to complete. Put yourself in that position.

  11. You all really believe that children will grow up and mature and understand how the real world works and understand the laws and consequences by never punishing them for things they shouldn't do (obviously they need to be told and explained why there being punished ) and by only rewarding or "highlighting" or shining a spotlight on the good things they do than your kids are going to be in for a rude awaking when they become adults....

  12. Josh, do you get in trouble every time you do something wrong? I bet you don't. I suspect you're probably like most people- you get in trouble sometimes for doing something wrong. I got my first ticket in 3 years. Was it the first time I was speeding? Nope.

    Also, most people begin to realize the difference between right and wrong around age 2. You don't usually have to tell a child they're wrong. But, they do need help expressing themselves appropriately and making better choices.

    People who feel good, act better. People who don't feel good, act out or act in, functioning on the outside but dealing with repressed anger, or anxiety, or depression. Why don't they feel good? Because their childhood was focused on how bad they were. Is this always the case? No, but it is the rule rather than the exception.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.