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Using Penalty & Punishment in Discipline
Oct 1996 Alan S.L. Wong
Updated on January 2000
  Something Pleasant
to Child
Something Unpleasant
to Child
Something Added Reward Punishment
Something Removed Penalty Relief

Using Penalty and Punishment in Discipline

Penalty  - Something pleasant removed

With penalty, an undesired behaviour is followed by the removal of something pleasant. For example: forbidding your child to watch his favourite television program or withholding computer privileges for failing to complete his homework assignment.

Once you spelt out in advance the penalty, do not nag about non-compliance ... "go and do your homework." Give your child the freedom to choose his actions. But hold him accountable whatever his decision. This method is effective in changing behaviour when the thing removed is something very desirable to your child. Just as we do all that is necessary to maintain our standard of living, a child will do all that is necessary to maintain his "standard of playing."

Punishment  - Something unpleasant added

You can use punishment as a means of decreasing the probability of an undesired behaviour happening again. An example of punishment is time-out; time-out is a discipline technique used to interrupt an unacceptable behavior and isolate a child in a boring place for a few minutes. For more information, visit The Time-Out Technique for Discipline.

Another example of punishment is physical discipline. I believe in the use of the rod when my children are wilfully defying my authority.

The dictionary meaning of "spanking" is "smacking the buttocks with the flat of the hand as a punishment". Spanking, as a term, is not found in the Bible but the word "rod" is.

As parents, we have the right and authority to use the rod but we must remember that we are accountable to God in the exercise of this authority. The administration of the rod is not an opportunity for us to vent our anger and frustration on our children. We must be in control of our own emotions when using physical discipline.

The physical discipline that I use involves one whack with the flat side of a 12" wooden ruler on their palms. Controlled physical discipline hurts but does not leave scars or inflict injuries.

Parenting can bring out the worst in us. When I get upset and angry over my child's behaviour, I feel guilty and angry with myself for losing self-control. I am learning to focus on the child's choice ... to obey or disobey my instructions and calmly mete out the appropriate consequences instead of getting angry. Let it be his problem.

One Friday night, my boys were having a heated argument. I forfeited their privilege of staying up late that Friday night and asked them to go to bed immediately. My younger son said that he did not want to sleep. I told him emphatically, "You don't have to sleep but go and lie down." He did not move. I asked, "Do you want the rod?" I let him know the consequences of disobedience and then left him to be responsible for his own decision to obey or disobey. It was good that he chose to obey.

I must take into consideration my children's opinions, feelings and needs. Nevertheless I believe that my children need to learn to obey me even when I do not give reasons for my commands. [Rules should have reasons but reasons need not be given for rules.] They obey me because they trust me ... because they know that I have their interests at heart (even though I can make mistakes in judgement). This is the nature of our relationship with God ... a relationship based on faith not reason. In Hebrews 11, we find many examples of men and women who acted in faith in response to God's commands. If children (preschoolers and early primaries) do not learn to obey parents, they will never learn to obey God. However, as my children grow older, I need to explain my wishes.

I use the rod for wilful violations of pre-defined boundaries. I forbid my boys to hit one another. They know that the consequence for hitting each other is physical discipline. A framework of boundaries and consequences helps children to look ahead to the consequences of their actions and "discipline" (i.e., control) themselves.

In the use of the rod as a tool of discipline, a relationship of love and an acknowledgement of wrongdoing are especially important because of problems associated with punishment.

  1. One problem with punishment is that it focuses on the undesired behaviour without presenting the positive alternative.

    Therefore, when we use the rod, it is important to tell them what they should have done instead. The use of the rod along with reproof lead to wisdom (Prov. 29:15). Discipline involves correction (of what is wrong) and instruction (of what is right).

  2. Another problem with punishment is that a child may associate the punishment not with the undesired behaviour but with you!

  3. Punishment relies on your presence (the administrator of the punishment) for its effectiveness.

    The behaviour is likely to recur when you are not around. Therefore, impress upon your children that they are accountable to God ... that God knows what they have done even when you do not know.
Punishment has the best chance of stopping a behaviour if the behaviour is caught early (before it has become an established habit) and if the child has not become hardened to punishment. Punishment loses its effectiveness when use too often ... the child became hardened to it ... the parent increases the strength of the punishment to establish authority and to gain compliance ... leading to the child's increased anger and misbehaviour ... a vicious cycle!