Creative Child

6 Alternatives to Punishment

by Rebecca Eanes


  1. Offer a positive alternative. Many times, what we see as misbehavior is just normal exploration and learning, such as trying to scale the shelves, jumping on the couch, throwing food, and reaching toward the stove. There needs to be boundaries as some of those behaviors are dangerous, but rather than scold and punish, we can understand that, developmentally, our child isn’t calculating ways to drive us mad but is simply being an immature child, and we can then offer a positive alternative. “You can’t jump on the couch, but we can pull a cushion onto the floor.” “If you’re throwing food, I guess you aren’t hungry right now. We’ll try again later. Here’s a soft ball you can throw. I’ll catch it!”

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  1. Take a breather. When tensions are high, the tendency is to overreact. It’s a good possibility that the issue is not as a big a deal as it seems in the moment. Give it time for cooler heads to prevail and revisit later.


  1. Work on your relationship. Kids often act out when they feel disconnected or bad inside. Filling up your child’s emotional tank is better at improving behavior than 100 punishments. Jan Hunt, director of the Natural Child Project, says these three things fill a child’s emotional tank: Eye contact, gentle touch, and undivided attention. I can’t stress it enough, children behave better when they feel better.


  1. Let your child choose the consequence. I don’t mean they get to choose between going to bed early, losing the iPad, or missing next week’s allowance. What I mean by letting your child choose the consequence is that you put the responsibility on your child to right her wrong and empower her make amends. This helps children save face and feel good about themselves in the end, rather than feeling bad and resentful from punishment. It also helps them to focus on how their behavior affects others rather than focusing on how your behavior affects them. An example is that, in a solutions-oriented discussion about how teasing his sister made her feel, he might come up with three solutions. One would be to write her a sorry note, another would be a verbal apology, and a third might be to do something nice for her that day. Whichever one he chooses is going to be more valuable than 5 minutes in time-out.

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There are consequences to our choices, and this is an important lesson for kids to learn. However, when we try to get creative with consequences, it becomes more about our power than about the real lesson. Consequences will come either naturally or through the repair and problem-solving process, and while it probably won’t result in a viral post, our children will learn the lessons without dragging behind a sack of shame or negative feelings.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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