We try to set well-defined/predictable and not-to-harsh consequences for mischief of our 4.5-year-old: timeouts, taking away toys, refusing to play, skipping story-time, etc., but no physical punishment, long solitary timeouts or excessive shouting. Afterwards we usually talk about why the mischief was followed with a consequence.

Sometimes, our child will freak out at the threat of such a discipline measure, that they beg one parent not to tell the other parent about the mischief, in hopes of skipping or lessening the measure of discipline he's threatened by. Think:

"Ok, that's it, there's no story-time, you'll just go to sleep by yourself" "Please don't tell mommy, please, please "

It seems that such a response is a direct result of our discipline measures. The child is starting to hide the mischief even when it could be hazardous or too minor to have consequences.

We fear raising a child who will be afraid to tell their parents about any problems/mistakes/issues they are faced with, and would like to build a trusting relationship with them.

Are there any well-known/established recommendations on how to approach disciplining a child, so that they do not develop this fear-of-consequence attitude that is beginning to appear in our child?

  • Hi, welcome to the site! It sounds like you're doing an excellent job already raising your child; I would recommend reading some of the Related questions, as I see a few that seem like they could apply to you, or hopping into the discipline tag and searching for a few common keywords like "avoid" or "hide". – Joe May 14 at 20:58
  • I think perhaps your question title is a little misleading; a child advocating for omitting discussing the bad behavior is a different matter than actively attempting to prevent anyone from knowing about it. I think @Joe hit the nail on the head RE: what the situation actually is. If it was more the second problem that I mentioned, I feel that that needs to be handled more swiftly and sharply, while simultaneously providing a place where they can confess their mistakes without (too much) retribution. – John Doe May 15 at 23:04
  • @JohnDoe The title does sound like just the second problem you describe, you're right. However, I'm discussing the first problem you describe, with the hopes of preventing it leading into the second problem with time -- I believe first leads to the second (I hint at it in the "It seems..." paragraph). Anyway, I'm failing at devising a better title (it comes out too long) -- any suggestions? – Irfy May 18 at 8:00
  • @Irfy perhaps something that addresses that the child seems more afraid of their actions being brought to light than they are of the punishment itself. – John Doe May 18 at 17:30
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think this seems normal at this point. You're avoiding the major problem areas here by not having long lasting punishments.

More than likely your child is simply embarrassed. She recognizes that she misbehaved, and doesn't want mommy to know she misbehaved, because it's embarrassing.

A good way to approach this when it happens is to simply point out that it's not something with long term consequences. Get her to focus on improving her "next time" if she wants mommy's approval. If she says "don't tell mommy", you can redirect with "Well, if you want this not to happen when mommy does bedtime, how can we work on making better choices next time?", for example. Move her quietly off of 'embarrassment' to 'solution-oriented'.

Realistically, every child will hide something, sometimes, whether from embarrassment or from punishment avoidance. Giving her a loving environment where you help her make better choices rather than having significant punishments is the best approach, and being understanding when she does hide things is also appropriate.

Rather than punishing the 'not telling', as some do, I suggest when you do discover something that wasn't told, you talk to her about why she didn't tell you, and talk about the potential consequences of not telling you - not punishment, but what bad things could happen (she or someone else could get hurt, the house could be damaged, etc.), and lightly talk about things like trustworthiness (though if she really is embarrassed by this, it's something to tread lightly around, as that risks more problems I worry with a child who's perhaps not high in the self confidence area).

  • Thanks, I especially like the Move her quietly off of 'embarrassment' to 'solution-oriented'. part. I'll have the answer sit for a while to see if I get more answers. – Irfy May 15 at 12:14

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