1. Toddlers
  2. Behaviour
  3. Discipline

Punishment and children

0-8 years

Punishment is one way to deal with challenging behaviour in children. It doesn’t usually work by itself. If you do decide to use punishment, it’s best combined with more positive strategies.

What is punishment?

Punishment is giving your child a negative consequence when she breaks a rule or misbehaves. It’s a way of letting your child know that her behaviour isn’t acceptable.

For example, your child might refuse to tidy his bedroom. The punishment, or negative consequence, might be that he can’t watch his favourite TV show until he does it.

You can use different types of consequences, depending on the situation.

Punishment doesn’t mean physical punishment. Physical punishment like smacking doesn’t teach children how to behave and can hurt children.

Does punishment work?

Punishment by itself doesn’t really work. It teaches children only what they shouldn’t do. It doesn’t guide them towards what they should do, so it doesn’t work in changing their behaviour. It might also have negative long-term effects on children.

In families where parents yell, threaten and punish children, children often keep behaving in challenging ways.

What does work?
Linking the punishment, or negative consequence, to your child’s behaviour and showing your child how you’d like her to behave will help in improving her behaviour. For example, if your child takes a biscuit without asking, she might have to practise asking for the biscuit using her manners.

Punishment also works better when you balance punishment with praise and rewards for good behaviour.

Praise and rewards for good behaviour teaches your child what to do and how to behave – for example, ‘Good listening, Callum’. And when your child gets praise for behaving well, he’s likely to want to keep behaving that way. This means you probably won’t need to use negative consequences or punishment as much.

Also, your child needs a warm and loving family environment to grow and develop. She needs you to guide her with family rules and to let her know what behaviour you expect from her. A key way to do this is by talking and listening to your child.

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Last updated or reviewed
18-11-2015

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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