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I am a great skeptic in punishment in general as the most common methods seem to become irrelevant when the child grows up (confiscation of games, threats, verbal or corporal reprimands...). Since all these methods will no longer be present when the child becomes an adult and leaves the home, it seems to be that they will not be long term solutions.

What I mean by this is if you confiscate a game when a child does something wrong, when he is older he will know that if he does that activity there will be no punishment as he is no longer at home and so will be tempted to revert to negative behaviour.

An idea that seems to make more sense to me is to deal with negative behaviour by isolating the child in a 'naughty room' or 'naughty chair' and encourage them to think about why they behaviour was bad. When a certain amount of time has elapsed the child should be asked why they think their behaviour was bad and, if they can't figure it out by themselves, it would be explained to them as an anecdote or story.

This way when they are out of the house and tempted to do such negative behaviour they will remember the reasons why that behaviour is not necessarily a good idea based on factual anecdotal evidence.

Thus, my question is: Is this method sufficient and effective? (I am particularly interested in views from parents whose children have now moved out, or young adults who have moved out from home.)

Related question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of time-outs?

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    My 16 year old is still at home and I used timeouts with her and in my classrooms for years. I don't think most caregivers understand that timeout is not meant to be punitive. It's a calm-down, time-off, relax and regroup time. Parents can take them, too. I very often sat in timeout (stairs at home, cushions in class) with the child. We both needed to relax and get over whatever it was. My kid has not been in official time out in years, but she still goes and sits on the stairs as a way to stay "Stop! I need to be quiet now." We all honour that for anyone on the stairs. Adults included. – WRX Jan 24 '17 at 17:28
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    The naughty chair will be gone too. The point of discipline should be to learn self control, etc. That doesn't disappear at 18. (Well, sometimes it does...) – anongoodnurse Jan 24 '17 at 19:05
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    ... I can't really understand your reasoning... when you do X do you really think: 10 years ago my parents punished me for doing something similar, but now their punishment cannot be physically enforced and hence I can do X? That's simply not what people do, at all. – Bakuriu Jan 24 '17 at 20:58
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    there will be no punishment as he is no longer at home and so will be tempted to revert to negative behaviour. I would argue that there is stronger punishment for negative behaviors as an adult. Behaving like an entitled tool as a kid gets you a short term consequence (time out or other), behaving the same way as an adult can lose you your job or marriage. As a parent it's your duty to teach them proper behavior while the negative consequences are low. – Myles Jan 25 '17 at 15:23
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    I find it broad since there's so many different type/categories of "bad thing" a child can do. Depends on your goal; is it to never a specific action or to fix the problem the action created. We go for "natural consequence" as much as possible. If you mess up, you fix it. – the_lotus Jan 25 '17 at 15:25
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Warning, I got carried away here. I'll just let it stand as is now.

Is this method sufficient and effective?

Maybe, maybe not. Probably not, except for children that respond well to it, and those did not need it anyways. The same goes for any artifical "method" for discipline.

Let me give you an opinionated alternative, informed from experience:

Consequences are effective

Let's break it down with cold logic.

  • Child does something wrong.
    • Case 1: Child truly does not know that it did wrong. Result: Parent must explain what was wrong about the action; punishment is not required. Parent is a friend, a partner, a coach, a confidante. Parent makes sure that child always knows that he can come to Parent when not sure whether something is right, without fear of unjust punishment. Parent is allowed, no, expected to protect child from bad consequences to a certain extent, but is not allowed to hide the consequences from the child.
    • Case 2: Child knew that it was doing wrong, up front. Result: There must be a direct, immediate consequence which shows the child in a very clear way that it did wrong. The child must really, truly feel the consequence. It must be clear that the consequence hits the child, not the parent or some bystander. Involvement of the parent is not necessary, per se. Parent can still be a friend, partner, coach; but never a judge or the executioner of the consequence. Parent will of course keep the child from real, permanent, physical or expensive harm, but nothing more.
    • Case 3: somewhere in the middle. Welcome to the hell of parenthood, you now get to decide whether to proceed like in Case 1 or Case 2; and Murphy's Law will make sure you do it wrong, often enough!

Consequences

Children, adults, dogs, everybody learns from consequences ("if I do A, then B will happen to me").

Nothing else counts, period. Sure, at some stage in life some humans will be wise enough to sit down, and think about how to get better, themselves, and come to profound results this way. But let's not burden children with this expectation just yet.

So, what is a consequence. Simple:

  • Child breaks toy in anger. Consequence: Toy is broken.
  • Child forgets an important school book. Consequence: Child gets scolded by teacher in front of everybody.
  • Child starts to cross the street at a red light. Consequence: Parent grabs child hard and yanks him back, unfortunately at the very last moment, so there is no more time for a gentle movement, but it is very uncomfortable or even painful. Yells "watch out" loudly and in a quite unfunny voice. If a child did not get the message, then he's probably not old enough to walk alone...
  • Child walks through the living room with 5cm of mud under her boots. Consequence: Either: child cleans living room. Or: parent cleans living room and has no more time to play with child, afterwards. (Note: there is a great variance in how this could play out for a 3-year, 7-year, 15-year child, ranging from an enjoyable father-child cleaning session; a slightly frustrating father-solo-cleaning-session; and an act of terrorism if the 15-year old did it with fullest intent to annoy the parent; and in the latter case there obviously need to be more consequences. How about "sorry, no allowance next week, I needed that money for a Thai Massage to relax from all the scrubbing today". Nobody said it's going to be easy!)
  • Child plays 3 hours of video games instead of 1 like promised. The problem is the loss of trust, not the actual playing. Consequence: Either: parent buys a large alarm clock. Or (if the existing alarm clock was ignored by the child): parent removes the video game for a day or a week, depending on the history of the issue. Parent does not yell, child does not get to sit on a chair.

Every child can and will understand that.

Not a valid consequence

Consequences are not valid when they are disjoint from the cause. I.e., "I did A, I was not allowed that, and hence I now am under house-arrest while my friends are playing outside". They are disjoint when there simply is no causal relationship, or when there is noticeable time between cause and effect.

Nowhere does a consequence like "parent is angry and yells at child" or "child sits on a naughty chair for an hour to 'think'" enter the picture naturally. Those things have no relationship to the wrongdoing. The child learns nothing from them, except bad things (e.g., "parent does not love me", "I have to hit back harder", "I have to hide wrongdoings", "I am dumb", and so on). A child which is able to learn from such methods would probably not need them, in the first place.

What if no consequence comes up?

Then either they actually did nothing wrong, or you have to somehow bring the consequences to them. But still in a direct, immediate way.

  • Child steals in a shop; parent notices; shop-keeper does not. Consequence: Parent makes him return the item. He lets the shop-keeper communicate directly with the child, as necessary. It is not the parent who chews out the child; it is the very unpleasant situation with the shop-keeper that informs the child about the transgression.

Active parenting

Nowhere does this lead to the conclusion that the parents just stand by idle while their children go from one pitfall to the other; or that the children can do whatever they please while driving their parents into madness. This works perfectly with "fair but tough" parents.

The above is just a framework which, by sheer logic, must work with any being that is capable of learning. And if you are blessed with one of those children which are not capable to learn such things, then punishment would not have helped either. They might just be too young, too hormone-flooded, or the cause/effect relationship too abstract for them.

The examples are all simplified. There are many nuances, of course. E.g., the candle:

  • A parent will certainly not let the child touch the flame with burning parts (shirt, hair); that lesson would be too much.
  • A parent might encourage a child to touch the flame with a finger (by leading with example).
  • If the parent decides that the child is not old enough to be let alone with a candle, he will not do so, obviously.
  • There is a grey area there: I loved to play around with the wax "lake" around the candle flame as a child. Were my parents bad for letting me effectively destroy the candle without consequence? Were they good for letting me experiment and seeing how far I can go? You decide for yourself.
  • You maybe guessed it. We have candles on our table at all days of the year, and light them often. Our children do not touch them, and have great respect of fire. They yell at us when we leave the room and the candles still burn. They always like clockwork blow them out before they stand up, no matter what we parents say or do. We did nothing to achieve that, except playfully touching the candle ourselves with a finger when they were 4 or 5 years old (the movement where you just flick through the candle), and letting the children try that as well (their reflexes were fast enough to avoid any burns). Having them sit in a chair to ponder the issue would not have helped them at all.

The same goes for anything else. And no, most other things are never so easy. For example:

  • 15-year old child actively tries to hurt parent by yelling really brutal stuff. Consequence: Parent acknowledges (silently) that the kid suffers from hormones and has no other way to express herself. Parent takes the beating in a serene fashion, staying (truly) calm and relaxed. Child will eventually get the bad stuff out of her system and give up. Hormones will go away after a few years. Punishment is not required, thinking about it will not help anyway.
  • 25-year old child actively tries to hurt parent by yelling really brutal stuff. Consequence: Parent throws child out, child needs to find a home or live under a bridge.
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    If I could give you 10 up votes I would. Thank you! Although it is slightly off topic it is some extremely helpful advice and by far the most rational approach (which to me is the best). By consequent it answers my question as it indirectly asserts that the 'naughty chair' method cannot work in standalone but adapted to every circumstance. What a fantastic effort! Thank you again! – Psi Jan 25 '17 at 23:30
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    This seems to be based on the fairy-tale idea that you shouldn't do something wrong because some form of natural justice will make it not worth while. No. Some things are wrong even if (especially if) they lead to positive consequences. Rejecting punishment is not the same as rejecting ethics. – jwg Jan 26 '17 at 11:32
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    That is not the intended interpretation, @jwg. I gave the example of undetected shoplifting ( = wrong but positive consequence as in "yeah, I got the chocolate") where the parent is making sure that a negative consequence occurs anyways. Not by indirectly related punishment (violence, house arrest, whatever) but by making the child "fess up" (which is very real punishment). As I said often enough, I do not propose that this approach is easy or even always obvious how to do. It is more about the thought process of the parent. Simple methods like "naughty chair" are just cop-outs. – AnoE Jan 26 '17 at 12:46
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    What about this scenario: Child doesn't do homework unless forced. Parents don't realize this until teachers report it. Parents force child to do homework until homework is done. Child sits near homework and does nothing for hours. Hums songs, doodles in margins, sharpens pencils obsessively, starts unrelated conversations with anyone within earshot. With absence of punishment, homework does not get done before bedtime. Child receives bad grade. Child fails all classes. Child is left back. Child doesn't care. When, if ever, should parents start enforcing "non-natural" consequences? – Doug Warren Jan 26 '17 at 17:03
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    @DougWarren I'd say that child has something mental health-wise going on if they are fine with being held back a grade (displeasing a lot of adults, teachers and coaches and losing their friends in class). Falling back a year has a lot of natural consequences. – McCann Jan 26 '17 at 22:19
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I am a parent of four. My oldest has moved to college where she continues to thrive. My second is the most strong willed person you will ever meet, and yet has turned into a delightful 18 year old that is loved by his teachers and being recruited by every one of the top 25 universities in the US. My other two are 14 and 12 year old girls who are also respectful, also doing well with peers and also doing great at school.

I do believe in punishment. The bottom line is that the world, when they go out into it, will give negative consequences for undesirable behavior (as defined by the culture). My job as a parent is to train them, from early on, to know that negative behaviors bring negative consequences. Yes, the negative consequences and discipline that you bring will not be there when they grow up, but by then the patterns of behavior will be set. Perhaps an example...

When my son was in seventh grade, I got a progress report from school that he had missed five assignments in one class. Five big fat zeros. I disciplined him, gently but firmly. He has very rarely missed any assignments since then. He no longer thinks about why, he just has it ingrained in him that if a teacher gives him homework, he has to do it. This has become part of a pattern of diligence in his life that has and will continue to serve him well, long after he forgets what drove him to do all his assignments the rest of that seventh grade.

Perhaps the right word is not punishment, but discipline. Punishment seems to carry the meaning that the intention is just the negative consequence - pain, loss of privileges, etc. And if that is the end of it, then it is pointless and counterproductive. The real key is to connect the punishment as a negative consequence of an undesirable action, and to show what the desirable outcome should be.

Also, children should be far more motivated to want to obey rather than just being motivated to fear disobedience. My kids know that I love them and think the world of them. Not a day goes by that I do not tell them that I love them and look for ways to communicate that love to them. Also not a day goes by that I do not try to communicate to them how freaking awesome I think they are. I have a very strong sense that they are so addicted to my constant affection and approval, that my slightest look of disapproval at something they have done just grates on them, and is all that is necessary 99% of the time.

I do not mean to promote manipulation of children. I do not tell them I love them or that they are the best thing since sliced bread because I want them to behave. I tell them so because it is the truth. But I see that it also has an effect on discipline, and I realize that discipline without encouragement and affection and love will only lead to rebellion.

That is the real thing that will cause them to forget your discipline the minute they are out from under it. If they only fear your punishment - if they obey only because they are afraid to disobey - the minute they are out from under your authority, or the minute they think they are old enough and strong enough to get away with it, they will rebel. Think about it - who wants to live in fear and who would not rebel against it if they can? This, in my view, is the real cause of teen-age rebellion. But if they constantly taste your approval and affection and encouragement, they will want to please you and make you even more proud of them. And that will last through their teen-age years and into adulthood.

I have seen little tiny glimmers of teen age rebellion in one of my kids. She is 14 years old and the passive-aggressive type. But all I have to do is point it out: "Jill [changed name], was that a disrespectful tone in how you answered me just now?" And I can see this sense of regret come over her as she says "no, daddy, I'm sorry!" And I see the immediate and total change of tone. My 18 year old son, the most strong willed person I know, about three months back told me that I was his best friend, and yet when I ask him to do something, he almost always replies "yes sir."

This forum is too small to describe the totality of it, but discipline will include correction and instruction and punishment, and affection and love and encouragement. It is a total package, skimp on any part and the results will be less than best.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – anongoodnurse Jan 24 '17 at 22:02
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    This answer doesn't seem to actually address the question in the title. – Stephan Jan 25 '17 at 6:41
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    This answer also commits the apparent travesty of calling Stack Exchange a forum, dictionaries be damned. – corsiKa Jan 26 '17 at 16:06
  • @corsiKa - "fo·rum: ˈfôrəm - noun 1. a place, meeting, or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged." You were good until you referenced dictionaries. Stack Exchange differentiates itself from most forums by zeroing in towards accepted answers and limiting extended or irrelevant discussions, but by dictionary definition, it is still a forum. – user16557 Jan 30 '17 at 15:03
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    @AgapwIesu You're preaching to the choir here, friend. – corsiKa Jan 30 '17 at 15:47
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I am a great believer in the punishment fitting the 'crime'. I also believe in the truth, but that doesn't mean I've never used fiction or movies or things that have happened to my daughter's friends as examples to help me make a point.

"If you don't close the door, the dog could get out and run away. Susie's cat ran away." Perfectly logical.

Time out should be used as a breather -- a time to cool down so that the conversation can continue. Time out as punishment makes little sense. If my kid doesn't do the dishes, she can't watch TV or go out with friends until the task is finished. That is a natural consequence. Sitting in timeout won't teach her that, but will give her time to cool off so that she sees that truthfully it is not only her job to do dishes and it was her turn or responsibility.

When my daughter complains that she has too many chores, or that she should get more allowance for doing her part, I simply ask how much she'll pay me to grocery shop, or do the majority of the laundry or cook the majority of the meals? She is lucky that she has her own bathroom. If she doesn't clean it, it gets gross. Now, I will let it go for a while, but I will also refuse to let her go out with friends or to have friends over if it is not 'okay'. It's all logical.

When she was 4, logic wasn't as big a part of the consequences. I still made the discipline make sense, but I let the logic come to her as opposed to lecturing her as I would now.

So imo, naughty chairs are not much use. Humiliation is not a natural consequence for most naughtiness. Explanation, firmness, loving kindness, modelling the right behaviours are all better.

In our family we always mark our own mistakes. "Oops, I broke this glass." Or, "I swore, here's my money for the jar." This takes the scary part away from mistakes. My daughter at 16 now can point out my errors and remind me that I said I would do something. A few weeks ago I forgot I promised I'd wash her team shirt. My consequence was I had to stay up later than I wanted to take care of it. Natural consequence imposed on me by my daughter. Perfectly fair and perfectly reasonable.

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    Your approach to discipline kind of sounds like it has a lot more negotiation with your kid than my own approach, and the fact that your kid can put negative consequences on you pushes at my comfort zone. I really like all this. I should learn from it. – user16557 Jan 24 '17 at 22:58
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    @AgapwIesu I think it's only fair when the rules apply (with the law and reason, of course) to all. – WRX Jan 24 '17 at 23:29
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    I tend to agree with this. My son is almost 7, and I follow the pattern both here and in AgapwIesu's higher-rated (and much longer!) answer. However, sometimes he catches me breaking the rules I've imposed (swearing when I stub my toe, perhaps). It's fair, and I apologise to him. After all, if I don't respect the rules, how can I set a fair role model and expect him to follow them too? – flith Jan 25 '17 at 12:58
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    @AgapwIesu I would also not say we negotiate as much as we reason. I also listen because like anyone, I make mistakes. If she is late for curfew because the police closed the bridge and there was no cell service there, I need to know that before she loses the right to go out the next time. (This happened and I did try to punish her because I chose not to believe her true story. I really lost points for that one!) Oh and above I meant "within the law and reason, of course. – WRX Jan 25 '17 at 15:41
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You misunderstand the purpose of discipline.

Don't worry about the artificiality. Children often take actions which have intermittent but unacceptable consequences. An example would be running into the street: most of the time there are no repercussions, but once in a while a family will be tragedy on the evening news. You have to inject made-up consequences because you cannot afford to let them suffer the real ones.

A part of our jobs as stewards of their lives is to inject consequences that provide immediate (and hopefully non-fatal) feedback. This feedback is a necessary training for adulthood.

Think about it. Most adult negative behaviors follow this pattern: you don't often get caught stealing, but when you do you go to jail. You don't become obese from eating one donut, but from years of eating donuts. Arguments rarely escalate into physical violence but when they do you can be crippled or killed. You get the idea.

Which is why its imperative that you do this for your child. The first-order consequences of bad behaviors may be infrequent but can be catastrophic: you must provide a safe alternative that can be grasped by the mind of a child. Rare or far-off consequences are too abstract (possibly even for adults as Mark points out in the comments). But by the time they reach adulthood that's almost all there are, so the person better have learned as a child that negative behaviors can have negative consequences.

  • I think the word fake is putting me off. I agree with what you are saying but using examples from other sources doesn't mean fake to me. Even if you make up your example, it isn't false though it might be fiction. I wish I could think of a better word for you because otherwise I like your answer. Perhaps just say "made up". Fake has very negative connotations for me. (Fake news, for example.) – WRX Jan 24 '17 at 21:39
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    This extends into adulthood, as well: the effectiveness of a punishment for a crime depends mostly on its speed and certainty, and very little on its severity. – Mark Jan 25 '17 at 6:41
  • @WillowRex: substitute fake for potential (as in, "You have to inject potential consequences because you cannot afford to let them suffer the real ones") and I think you'll reach Jared's intended meaning. – flith Jan 25 '17 at 12:59
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    @WillowRex edited to clarify intent. – Jared Smith Jan 25 '17 at 13:04
  • @Mark unfortunately true, underscoring the importance of parenting in preparing children for society. – Jared Smith Jan 25 '17 at 13:06
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Speaking for myself as an adult of well over 40 years...my parents would have me sit in the chair and "Think about what I did wrong".

After a period of time they would ask me if I understood why I was being punished. Sometimes I figured it out right away, other times I would need to ponder it more. Once I decided that I had figured out what it was, I simply told them and we discussed it. They used it as a teaching/learning opportunity and always made sure I understood the reason.

The amount of time in the chair was completely up to me. If I wanted to be obstinate, there I sat. If I knew what it was and owned up to it, off I go.

Physical 'spankings' never occurred, and trust me, I learned my lessons.

On a side to that, when I first learned the "F-word" they had me go to my room, stand in front of the mirror, and say it over and over until I got tired of saying it. When I came out they asked me why I stopped, for which my reason was that it was "ugly", and so we talked about foul language. Not saying that I never swear, but I always know what it looks like when I do.

-Rob

  • Thanks! But did they punish you in any other way or was that their only method? – Psi Jan 25 '17 at 8:35
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    I suspect this would not work with every kid, but your parents are geniuses for knowing it would work with you. Excellent and very direct to the OP's question. – user16557 Jan 25 '17 at 15:49
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    Not sure that word is inherently ugly. Seems more like you internalized what your parents wanted you to say. – jwg Jan 26 '17 at 11:34
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I think one should avoid disciplinary strategies that amount to brainwashing. As a parent you are responsible for the child's welfare, so you can (and should) set the guidelines for what is appropriate behavior and what won't be tolerated "in your house", so to speak. That may involve punishments of some kind, such as suspension from games and even corporal reprimands if the situation is very serious. But the parental authority should extend only to "do's" and "don'ts", not to imposing a particular set of moral values (the "thinks").

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