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Today we present the 2nd myth in the series entitled

‘Psychologically based myth busting for parents!’

Myth #2— Punishment is necessary to make children behave.

False. Punishment is quite simply ineffective and counter productive.  It can have life-long damaging effects and ironically is often responsible for promoting and creating the very behaviors we hope to avoid and diminish when imposing it on others.  It is the ‘forever lie’ that every good parent has been persuaded to believe is necessary and right. And those who advocate for punishment often choose to pal around with a nasty little false paradox— You can either be an Authoritarian Parent or a Permissive Parent,  one or the other, that’s it!  This is just another fantastic fallacy that has burdened the hearts of parents for centuries.   This either/or illusion is constrictive and leads us to believe that if we embrace a no-punishment disciplinary practice then we are indeed abdicating responsibility and are choosing to be permissive wimpy parents whose children will assuredly grow to be unappreciative, unaccountable and no doubt entitled little brats.

But the Purposeful Parent is vigilant and wise and does not honor the either/or narratives.  Discipline is necessary for healthy growth, but it is how we choose to define and practice it that differentiates effective parenting from not so effective.

—The Purposeful Parent uses discipline to teach not to punish or intimidate.

For the last 20 years as an educator of teenagers, many who suffered with emotional and behavioral difficulties, I chose to abandon any type of punishment for any student at any time. I also adopted this practice in my home.  It was by far the best decision I have ever made as a teacher and parent, and I have never looked back.   This did not mean that the children in my care were allowed to run willy nilly with no expectations, responsibility or accountability.  On the contrary, the strategies I used to replace punishment allowed me to teach these values with greater ease and effectiveness.

When we are willing to dump the psychology of  “Do as I say or else,” an entire universe of effective and loving alternatives make themselves available—those that promise positive long-term affects— those that get us more of what we want for our children as they grow.

And what do we want for our children as they grow to adulthood?

For years now, we have asked the following of teachers and parents during our trainings—     “What words (characteristics) would you like to be able to use to describe your children by the time they leave your home? The responses to this question remain fairly consistent.   Most frequently we hear

I want my child(ren) to be …












Unfortunately, when we impose arbitrary punishment on others it tampers with the innate tendency for development of these qualities along with our hard-wiring for self-discipline.  Our natural abilities morph into other kinds of unhealthy practices. They can manifest in a number of ways but often show up as resentment, retaliation, deceitfulness, withdrawal and victimization—the precursor to entitlement! (None of which are characteristics any parent desires for their child.)

Yes, the child who is punished comes to believe that the locus of control resides outside of them rather than within and they soon lose confidence in their own natural ability to self-correct.

Where did we ever get the idea that in order to help others do better we should make them feel worse?

So, here are some options to both promote healthy behavior choices and to teach self-discipline:

  • Set up healthy boundaries, conditions and procedures. This is a critical step in good parenting. Children who understand the parameters are less likely to test them.
  • Allow your child to experience both the good and not so good natural consequences of choices (within reason). Use compassionate parental discretion here.  We all make mistakes.  Allow you child to sit with the consequences for a bit in order to process the upside and the downside to an action.  Then …
  • Discuss these outcomes with the child. Ask meaningful questions about the results of behaviors, how it affected them, and what they could do differently in the future to get more of what they want without the downside. Be available to teach and coach.
  • Provide unconditional love. It is important to remember to separate the behavior from the child.  Let them know that no matter what, you will work through it with them. They need to know they are loved through it all and above it all.

This is how we parent.  This is how we help children internalize how behavior choices affect themselves and others. We create an environment that nurtures self-love and acceptance thereby allowing our natural tendencies for empathy and compassion to blossom.

About the author

Kate Martin

Kate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015. 

She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today. 

For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.  

Buy the Book by Kate Martin: The Best Thoughts To Think Five minutes Before