I'm a young parent, and still have a lot to learn, but I have been wondering a lot about whether punishment needs to be a part of parenting. Maybe I'm being too optimistic here, but are there any cultures where child punishment is not widespread? Have any parents tried 'no-punishment' with any degree of success/failure?

I feel that a downside of using punishment as a way to encourage a behavior is that they may find it harder to grasp the real reason that that behavior is deemed 'good'.

What actions do you feel require punishment? Will I become afraid of the uncertainty/effectiveness of reinforcing reasonable (logical or emotional) explanations, while knowing that punishment is a tried and true method for deterrence or rehabilitation, and ultimately resort to it?

  • 9
    You might want to edit your question and title to make it clearer: If you mean physical punishment in the form of beatings then I think most people will say no that's absolutely not necessary and even illegal in many countries. A slap on the wrist might be okay to some if the hand is reaching for the cookie jar, but the age of Father's Belt is luckily over. Commented Apr 1, 2011 at 5:56
  • 2
    @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun: "I think most people will say no" - while not agreeing or disagreeing with you here, I think you went a bit ahead of yourself by saying "most" would consider physical punishment absolutely not necessary. Recent polls I see say otherwise, and it would largely depend on your culture and location.
    – haylem
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 12:29
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    For me, the only valid reason to punish anyone is to influence future behavior. With that as my starting point, there is no reason for me to inflict anything more than the minimum punishment to effect that change. Also, the punishment should be as much a "natural consequence" as possible.
    – Marc
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 4:36

8 Answers 8



In the only published review (in 1996) of child outcomes of non-abusive or customary physical punishment, only eight studies could disentangle the causal effects of smacking. All eight studies, including four randomised clinical trials, found that nonabusive smacking benefited children when it backed up milder disciplinary tactics with children aged 2 to 6 years.

Eighteen studies in the 1996 review investigated alternative disciplinary tactics as well as smacking. Only grounding was more effective than smacking, in two studies of older children. In contrast, nine alternatives were associated with more detrimental outcomes in children than was smacking.

Based on the research I could find, it seems that some kind of reasonable punishments for misbehaving children (including physical punishment like "smacking") are generally better than the alternatives. I think the point here is to use appropriate, fair punishments as the situation warrants with your child. The idea of no consequences for misbehavior definitely seems misguided to me!

However there is also data to support the idea that physical punishments can definitely become harmful as children get older, so be careful:


Using data collected in two longitudinal studies—one of almost 500 children who were followed from ages 5 to 16, the other of more than 250 children followed from ages 5 to 15—the researchers sought to answer questions of how discipline changes during childhood and adolescence, and whether there are factors within families and children that are associated with these changes.

They find that parents typically adjust the way they discipline their children in response to their children's growing cognitive abilities, using less physical discipline (spanking, slapping, hitting with an object) over time. As children grow older, physical discipline becomes less developmentally appropriate. However, when parents' use of physical discipline continues through childhood, by the time their children are teens, they're more likely to have behavior problems. Teens of parents who stop using physical discipline when their children are young are less likely to have these behavior problems.

  • Agree! Well done.
    – nGinius
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 0:56

In my years working with kids (volunteering at a couple of schools, helping to run a drug abuse prevention program, running an extracurricular program) I've met many parents who tried the no-punishment thing, all of which had the following results:

  • The child disobeyed the parent whenever he/she felt like it, even when doing so put the child in danger.

  • The child had serious behavior problems at school, because he/she didn't understand why actions suddenly had consequences (a concept totally foreign to the child).

  • The child did not have a sense of responsibility. He/she didn't do good things because it was the right thing to do, but when there was something in it for him/her.

  • The child threw a fit whenever he/she didn't get his/her own way.

  • The child was very insecure, because he/she didn't have a good sense of when he/she was doing right or wrong.

  • The child was able to have much less freedom than children whose parents disciplined with tangible punishments, because he/she couldn't be trusted to make the right choices and stay safe.

  • The child grew up with a sense of moral relativism (i.e. there is no right and wrong, just what you feel is right or wrong)

These kids got into a lot of trouble, performed poorly in school, and had trouble making friends.

  • 16
    I'd like to add to this, saying that the best form of punishment is the direct consequence. If you throw a toy across the room, you can't have that toy for a while, if you throw your supper on the floor, you go to bed hungry. Obviously, this is just my opinion, and I don't have research to back it up.
    – Carmi
    Commented Apr 1, 2011 at 8:57
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    I think punishment is different than discipline. My guess is these parents were not providing any sort of is discipline. Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 13:06
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    I'd have to agree with Christine Gorgon here. I taught a variety of ages over about a decade (little more) and found these things to be true for kids that had NO DISCIPLINE, but had plenty of well-balanced students that required little to no punishment at home or at school. Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 15:20

I really don't like the word punishment. It signals that the aim is harm/hurt your child. I like the word consequence a lot better.

A child must learn that there are consequences to every they do, good and bad.

It's an important lesson as they need to know they can't just do how they please, not as kids and not as grown ups. Trying to avoid a consequences that are bad for them won't help them much, and can in the long run make them independent too early.

  • 11
    punishment to me just seems like a negative consequence forced by the parent Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 22:54
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    @Orbit There is a difference between negative consequences forced by the parent, and a parent who allows natural consequences to arise out of the choices a child makes rather than stepping in to "save" them. Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 12:53

When I hear the word punishment, I think of a referee--they make a call and assign a penalty. Often the calls are subjective and inconsistent--how many of us can watch an entire basketball game or world cup football match without losing a bit of patience with the refs?!?!

On the other hand, when I hear the word discipline, I think of a coach or a teacher--they are on my team, helping me be my best. They understand and are sympathetic of my weaknesses, and they are going to work with me to overcome them. It's not easy for either of us, but together we can do it.

Looking at it in that light, I think we as parents need to focus much more on teaching and disciplining our children than punishing our children. Penalties may be a part of the learning experience, but we need to make sure the penalty is guiding the child's learning process, not taking out our frustration or exasperation on them.

Also, I really like googletorp's point about consequences. Part of learning discipline is learning that you have the freedom to make choices, but you do not have the freedom to select the consequences of your choices.

  • NICE analogy and SO TRUE! Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 15:11

Disclaimer: I assume you mean "punishment" not as in "corporal punishment" (which is, as torbengb pointed out, illegal in many countries)

I think it's very necessary as it is just an advanced form of the same basic learning steps a child experiences in its early years.

During the first years a child learns many things which boil down to manipulating their environment:

  • When I touch the rattle, it makes a sound.
  • When I move my arms and legs I can move from one point of the room to another.
  • When I put move the cup to my mouth, I can drink the water.

This experience can last a whole life. Later it'll get more complex like this:

  • When I put the right codes into my computer, it does what I want.
  • When I put the cables together the lightbulb lights.
  • When I push the accelerator the car drives faster.
  • When I hug my child it stops crying.

Ideally the task of a parent/teacher is to provide a protected environment to allow making all these experiences without letting negative outcomes harm the child/student.

  • Moving the knife away when the infant tries to touch it.
  • Putting the child back to the living room when it tries to crawl to the stairs.
  • ...

From a child perspective these are frustrating experiences, they want something and they don't get it. Often it is hard to take away a beloved toy, but parents do it anyway because they know it is better in the long run.

Later the distinction between what is good and bad gets blurred, mostly because cause and effect are no longer that close together. But in essence the situation has not changed. Children still want to make experiences in manipulating their environment, but now in many cases there are no immediate consequences, so it's up to the parents to provide artificial boundaries, to allow their children to learn.

For example if a child starts to lie, steal and cheat, because it learns that that gives an immediate advantage, most likely the consequences won't show until other people perform the "punishment", either through social isolation, unemployment or even prison.

In such situations a good parent must step in and "antedate" the consequences in an alleviated manner. That way a child can try to do all those negative things without bringing itself into much danger.

One could say the literal playpen is transformed into a metaphorical playpen. The wooden boundaries are replaced with feedback from the parents. From that perspective providing no discipline is the same thing as letting an infant play with a knife or letting a toddler fall down the stairs: It's irresponsible and can have disastrous repercussions and no good parent would allow that to happen.


It depends largely on how you define the term "punishment." Kids NEED to be allowed to make mistakes and suffer the consequences so they will learn. They need to be told no sometimes. At the same time, "punishment" in the traditional sense does not always have the intended effect.

Kids generally want to be good and do the right thing AT FIRST. However, they are also curious and naive about things and need your guidance to stay out of trouble. They are also inherently selfish/self centered and particularly at certain ages and stages.

You can greatly minimize your need to use punishments and increase the likelihood your child will look to you for guidance (even in their teen years) by staying connected to your kids through quality time, mutual respect through offering age-appropriate choices and responsibility and LISTENING, LISTENING, LISTENING. It is also extremely important to give your child a sense of value in the family by asking them to contribute as soon as they are able.

I hardly ever needed punishing as a child because my Dad and I have always been close. He is a really good listener and since he only had girls and I was the oldest, I often had the chores helping him the boys would normally have done (chopping fire wood, fixing fences, laying concrete, mowing the lawn, etc.) It meant I had that sense of value and he and I had a lot of time to talk even through our hard work and sweat (can you tell I had a fairly rural up-bringing?)

I have found that in general, the same is true of my daughter. Of course there have been times she has need redirecting, correction or support while she suffered the consequences of a choice, but generally I don't need to do A LOT of correcting and usually what is needed is pretty mild. Most kids will try lying ONCE or TWICE, they will test the boundaries (and, I haven't hit puberty with her yet, which may change my answer), but the resources on the matter, I've relied on and would recommend are:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen R. Covey and its companion The Seven Habits of Happy Kids by Sean Covey. This book outlines seven habits that are pretty well established as effective techniques in running a family full of kids that are considerate, self monitoring and respectful while also being critical thinkers. It discusses the value of things like family meetings, quality time and even having a family mission statement and how to make these things work in a variety of families, settings and situations. The one for kids helps with stories you can use with elementary school-aged kids to aid them in learning the seven habits for themselves.

How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk This book discusses the pitfalls of too much praise, how to use non-evaluative statements, how to correct or critique constructively instead of deconstructively and yes, how to actually listen to your kids (somewhat).

Parenting with Love and Logic - Yes it is about giving choices to your children. It will talk all about why this is important in terms of both their development and esteem, as well as just helpful to you. No it is not about manipulation, it is about empowerment for you and your children. A choice of action a or a spanking would NOT be advocated in the book, both options are supposed to be equally valid options for both parents and child.

Aesop's Fables - yes, this includes things like, "The Crow and the Pitcher," "Androcles and the Lion," and "the Tortoise and the Hare." But is still full of wisdom presented in stories your kids will enjoy hearing you read to them and nuggets you may find helpful in guiding you as a parent too. Of course, I also use a lot of Bible stories with mine too.

Finally, I have not read Positive Discipline and it sounds as though it may conflict slightly with the other books I have listed here, but only slightly. It SOUNDS like it really goes over helping your kids feel a sense of self worth and how to let natural consequences help in teaching them the lessons they need to learn. @Christine Gordon recommends it frequently, and based on what I have read from her on this site, it is probably a resource you may find exceedingly helpful. I hope to read it myself soon.

Start with the SEVEN HABITS if you can only get one of these books now. MOST of them are old enough you should be able to get them from your public library in the US too.

  • You took the words out of my mouth as usual! :) Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 13:09
  • thanks for the shout out. PD does teach how/why to connect with your child, but also how to discipline firmly to avoid both enabling and controlling your child. Family meetings, encouragement, making agreements, setting limits etc are all in there too. Natural consequences are used passively, not really as a tool. Just don't rescue the child from them unless you have to (or should bc of their age etc). There's books geared to particular groups (PD for preschoolers, PD for teens, PD in the classroom, etc etc and I'm actually writing PD for AfterSchool Programs as we speak!). Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 13:16

Punishment and Discipline is absolutely necesary for a child to grow up healthy and well balanced. The type of punishment, however, varies greatly.

When considering what type of discipline to use there are a lot of things to take into consideration, such as the child's behavior and what the offense was. Sometimes doing something as simple as redirecting the child can stop the child from doing what they are not supposed to be doing. Sometimes time out works great in some situations, and (even though it is looked down upon by many people) spanking is also a form of very useful punishment, as long as it isn't abused or used all the time.

Whatever form of punishment you use, you do not want to focus on punishment so much that you do not reward and encourage good behavior. Josh Mcdowell said a quote I fully agree with, which is if you do not reward and openly recognize when your child does something right, you have lost the right to punish the child for doing something wrong. The more you encourage good behavior (especially in older children) the less often the child needs to be punished, but that punishment must be there for correction and consequences.

  • Spanking is illegal in many countries and is an abuse of the child's human rights.
    – DanBeale
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 21:19

According to my 24 years experience of consultancy, punishment is not necessary lot of other method to control bad habits of child of any age e.g if she ask for wearing short skirt in early age of school, so first you completely defined her about this action, and at the same time find some good videos of good spokesman/spokeswoman about this issue and share her with your presence.

But at the same,some issue needs punishment e.g religious issue; in Islam boyfriend and girlfriend are not allowed. Ethical; if he/she use vulgar language or activities so please use replacement theory give him/her alternate words or vocabulary.

Steps of punishment:

  1. Only use hard words with soft gesture.
  2. use hard words with hard gesture.
  3. stick with soft hand with soft hand.
  4. stick with hard hand with soft words.
  5. stick with hard hand with hard words.

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