What To Do When Punishment Doesn’t Cut it

Four Tips for Discipleship Parenting

“Kids will never learn if you don’t punish them.”

Hold up.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

A while ago, my son had picked up this habit of growling. He growled when he was playing. He growled at his sisters. He growled when I said something he didn’t like.

It drove me absolutely bonkers.

I tried every punishment I could to get him to stop.

I put him in time out. Separated him from the rest of the family. I took away his toys. His screen time. I sent him to his room. I yelled at him. I cut sugar from his diet. I could go on and on.

Nothing worked, of course.

Until I sat down with him one afternoon while he was playing Legos. I searched for the pieces he wanted me to find.

And as we played, I talked.

I explained that humans have an amazing gift. We have an intellect: the ability to think and choose.

Animals don’t have that gift. And when we growl and act like animals, we lower ourselves down to their level.

But if we use our words, the power of communication, we raise ourselves up.

That’s the way God made us.

And that’s why we don’t growl at each other.

I saw the lightbulb turn on behind those beautiful blue eyes.

I saw something click that hadn’t before. The growling didn’t disappear immediately, but things began to change.

A couple days later, he came to me with a little toy person and a little toy dog. He was holding the person higher than the dog and he said, “Mom this is how God made us.”

When he began to get a little rowdy and growly, I asked him to pause and look at me. “Honey, remember how God made you. Do you want to lower yourself down, or raise yourself up?”

Just a simple reminder, and he began to change his actions.

Discipline Through Learning Styles

You see, my son didn’t learn from the punishment.

He learned when I connected with him. When I showed him my love and then taught him through his own personal learning style.

He’s an auditory learner and a thinker.

He loves to listen and reflect and have long conversations.

He starts talking the moment he wakes up in the morning, and doesn’t stop until his eyes close at night. His favorite moments are when I sit and chat with him.

Punishment isn’t a learning style.

It can help, sure.

Sometimes it’s all we can do to stop a behavior in its tracks.

But if discipline stops at punishment, the lesson doesn’t stick around. It doesn’t take root. It doesn’t really mean anything to our children. It just fills them with fear of punishment.

Punishment alone encourages a desire to hide their behaviors so they don’t get caught.

We want more than that for our kids.

We don’t want them to just avoid things that bring unpleasant consequences. We want them to be able to make good choices. We want them to learn the why.

And so we need to teach them. To reach out to them in a way they’ll understand.

Punishment isn’t the teaching tool we’re looking for.

What we want is discipleship – which is rooted in the word “disciple:” a student, or follower.

That’s our goal.

Not to inflict pain and unpleasantness any time our kids do something wrong. But to make them students of life.

To do that, we need to understand how they learn.

1. Auditory Learners

Like my son, some kids are auditory learners. They love to listen and they love to speak. You can explain something to them once and they’ll repeat it all back to you later.

These kids need to know the reason why.

Why shouldn’t I jump out of a tree? Why shouldn’t I ride down the stairs in a box? Why shouldn’t I hit my sister?

Why shouldn’t I growl?

Kids are smart. They can understand the explanations that we often don’t think to give them. If your child is a talker and a listener, try to sit down and talk it out next time you need to correct.

2. Visual Learners

These are your artists. Your creative kids. They draw and they pretend. And they love to watch.

They’ll mimic everything you do, good or bad.

And often, I find these kids respond well to observing the emotions and reactions of their friends. “See how sad he is? He doesn’t like when you take his toy. See how happy it made him when you shared?”

Visual learners like to see the lessons first hand.

If they can observe the truth of what you’re trying to teach them, then they’ll understand. They need concrete examples. They need to witness what you want them to do and how.

If your child is a visual learner, try to find ways to show them right from wrong.

3. Kinesthetic learners

These kids get their hands on everything.

They unroll the whole roll of toilet paper just because they can. They plunge their fingers into their cup of milk. They’d rather smear their food around their plate with their face than use a fork.

Their body is their teacher.

They need to feel what’s right and wrong. They need to get into it.

If you have a kinesthetic learner, try to have them act out what you want them to do. Have them practice putting their toys away.

Ask them to repeat “please” and “thank you” rather than simply reminding them to say it next time.

Have them walk through the motions of exactly what appropriate behavior you expect from them.

4. Reading and Writing Learners

This can be harder to identify in younger kids who don’t have the ability to read and write yet.

But the root of this learning style is the need to express. To understand and be understood.

These kids may want to tell you everything that happened: who started it, what they did next, and why I did what I wasn’t supposed to do.

They may want to scribble or rip things when they’re angry. And sitting down to read a book could be the magic cure for every tantrum.

If your child needs to be able to express herself, try to let her. Encourage her to put words to her anger.

Don’t tell her that her feelings are wrong or bad. But instead, help her find better ways to express them. Help her assert herself when she feels injustice.

Encourage her to ask for help when she needs it.

Discipleship Parenting

Moms, you know your children best. You know how they think and how they learn.

Don’t get sucked into the falsehood that “kids will never learn if you don’t punish them.” That lie pretends that if you make life unpleasant enough, they’ll never ever want to do that behavior again.

Punishment isn’t a learning style.

We don’t want our children to be our cowering slaves. We want them to be our students and disciples.

Discover your child’s learning styles, and be confident in your ability to teach them that way. To give them true lessons that will carry them through life.

Embark on a journey of discipleship parenting.

And watch your kids embark on a journey of lifelong learning.

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great post

Bring Your Children to Jesus

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6 thoughts on “What To Do When Punishment Doesn’t Cut it

  1. Your example with your son reminds me of the book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk”, which I’m reading right now. It’s amazing how effective it is to just listen and talk sometimes! Definitely beats yelling or punishing 😉


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