Child punishments: do they work?

February 15, 2024

When we talk about child punishments, we refer to an educational method of bestowing rewards for good behavior or chastising the child with deprivations of various kinds.

Many parents have at least once applied this method, not achieving good results, at least in the long run. They should have tried children’s rules, but for some reason, they weren’t able to build good ones.

Teaching methods today have changed from punishing children to the Montessori method, gentle discipline, and many other methodologies that instead involve listening as a means of understanding the natural and logical consequences of a certain action.

What is the purpose of child punishments?

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, punishments, as well as chastisements for children, have always been used in the educational process as a means of demonstrating wrongdoing, especially in dealing with so-called tantrums.

Punishments would be given precisely to make it clear to the youngest children that when they misbehave they will be grounded, or they will be deprived of certain moments that are important to them, such as playing, sports, and more.

In giving punishment, the parent tries to teach the child how it is right to respond and how they should behave; at the same time, the punishment should serve to make them think, instead of fighting or being aggressive or self-centered.

If the punishment is very severe, the child should remember it for a long time leading them to stop performing certain actions.

How many types of punishment are there?

Child punishments can be of various types and have a longer or shorter time duration depending on the importance parents give to the mischief or the severity of the situation.

Among the most common punishments are corporal punishments: slaps, kicks, spankings, etc.
Corporal punishment should never be used for several reasons that are obvious to people with normal sensibilities.
First, beatings given by a particularly nervous parent can be very strong and hurt the child.
Secondly, corporal punishment is never a good teaching method because it gets across the notion that whoever is right can raise his or her hands.

A second type of punishment is deprivation, which can be material or physical.
Material deprivations are imparted when children are deprived of objects particularly dear to them, such as favorite toys, for a predetermined period.

Freedom deprivations, on the other hand, occur when the opportunity to go out, see friends or play sports is taken away.

Another type of punishment is chastisement, which is usually accomplished by locking the child in his or her bedroom until he or she apologizes for what he or she has done.

Punishments can also materialize by giving the child a series of additional duties or chores such as, for example, some extra homework or the obligation to read a book.

How to reprimand without trauma?

Everything that has been told so far about punishment does not always have the desired effect.

Some children react badly to punishments of whatever nature and do not respond appropriately.

In practice, despite the punishment, the child does not learn the lesson.

This does not mean letting them do whatever they like; for proper growth, children should always be reprimanded, but in the right way.

If the child is very young, he or she will not understand either the punishment or the wrong attitude so, in this case, the best solution is not to lose control, to talk to the child and show calmness and tranquility, but at the same time giving the idea that the wrong behavior was not appreciated.

Older children, on the other hand, can be guided through dialogue, which, however, must be firm, but never violent.
Good example is always the best choice, no matter what. If you do not do something, you cannot expect to teach it.

You need to establish an understanding with the child and show him what the right attitude is instead.

Why punishments are not needed.

Punishments are simply not needed because the child is being mortified at a time when he does not yet have the maturity to realize that a certain kind of behavior is wrong.

Raising a child following an educational system of punishments or rewards is also always wrong because little ones will tend to behave well just to get something and avoid speaking their mind for fear of receiving punishment, causing useless lies.

Punishments only serve to raise an insecure child who is uncomfortable with parents and who will tend, in the future, to keep everything inside for fear of being reprimanded with deprivation. Or to rebel, even violently.

Alternatives to punishment.

There are several alternatives to punishments that allow a child to grow up more calm, respectful, and able to make sure that he understands for himself when an action is right or wrong.

Among the many alternatives is the so-called active silence, which consists of stopping talking to the child for a few minutes.

The momentary absence of conversation makes children realize that they cannot continue talking before they fix something that has not been done properly.

Another alternative is exactly the opposite of active silence-that is, talking.

If your child is old enough to communicate verbally, establishing good dialogue will help you deal with difficult moments.
Teaching your child to talk about his or her emotions, desires, and difficulties will help him or her prefer this method even during times of confrontation or anger.

Instead of giving punishments, it should be explained to the child what consequences may occur as a result of his misbehavior.

If he leaves toys lying around it should be explained to him that they may be ruined by dust and will then have to be thrown away, or if he does not want to go to sleep it is enough to explain that the next day he will be too tired to go play in the park with his friends.

To ensure that a child grows up healthy and that there is no need to impose punishments on him, it is also important to establish good rules within the home.

These must be clear and simple for a child to understand, and they must always be respected by all members of the family, both young and old.

We are with you.

We realize that incorporating rules within the daily routine is not easy and even less so is enforcing them, which is why we have created a path that will help you select rules for the whole family to follow and, most importantly, understand how to enforce them. If you need help, please contact us.


Durrant J, Ensom R. Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research. CMAJ. 2012 Sep 4;184(12):1373-7. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.101314. Epub 2012 Feb 6. PMID: 22311946; PMCID: PMC3447048.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.