Child punishment: Commonsense vs. nonsense

In the late 1960s, punishment began to fall out of favor with some psychologists, with claims that punishment is bad for children. Dreamstime

This is the last (for a while, anyway) of my columns in which I take on the absurd notion that punishing children for bad behavior is bad parenting. (The previous are on my website at There is commonsense and there is nonsense and the absurd notion in question belongs squarely in the latter category.

Paradoxically, the average person would place the idea that punishment per se warps a child’s psyche somewhere between stupid and crazy, yet the mainstream of my profession, supposedly qualified to treat people who express crazy ideas, has spent 50 years trying to prove this crazy idea. What does that tell you? It should tell you what is often true: mental health professionals believe the capital letters after their names entitle them to make things up. They then fashion studies to “prove” that what they have made up is true. It should shock no one that said professionals almost always succeed at “proving” that what they are convinced is true is, in fact, true.

Especially concerning childrearing matters, said professionals must ignore historical fact because historical fact always (I can think of zero exceptions to the following) contradicts what they claim as truth. Taking the present issue, for example, punishing children for misbehavior has been the norm since the dawn of human history. The first story of a parent punishing children was written more than three thousand years ago. It was not until the late 1960s that American mental health professionals pulled out of thin air the notion that punishment was bad; that it was psychologically warping of a child and that said child would probably never recover unless he goes to see a psychologist. Huh?

Unfortunately, professional parenting pundits succeeded at convincing a significant number of parents of this fiction and child mental health has been on the decline ever since.

Punishment causes a child to think before he acts. The person who thinks before he acts is going to enjoy life to the fullest — for the most part, at least. The person who thinks before he acts is going to accept full responsibility for everything he does and the things that happen to him.

The person who doesn’t think before he acts can’t figure out why he does bad things and bad things happen to him. He maintains, therefore, that his bad behavior was an accident, he didn’t mean it, and usually blames whatever it is on someone else. Blaming and complaining are his specialties. He’s a victim, and by definition, victims are not happy people. By the way, victimhood is always a choice. The reason one is a victim is not to be found either in his body or out there in the world. Victimhood is in one’s head. Always.

Above all else, parents do not want their kids to ever become victims. Being a victim is perhaps the worst state of mind that mankind has ever invented.

Not to complicate the issue, but there will be times when a child misbehaves and parental punishment would be unnecessarily redundant. If a child does something wrong, and the natural consequence of whatever he did is sufficiently punishing, for example, then parents can usually end the matter by simply discussing it with the child: reviewing what happened, making sure the child understands why it happened, and ensuring he has “learned his lesson” and knows he is still cherished.

It’s important, regardless, that parents not buffer natural consequences unless they threaten a child’s physical or emotional health. Fifty-plus years ago, that’s what parents referred to when they said, “You made this bed, kiddo, so you’re going to have to lie in it.” That relatively few children today hear what every child once heard is a marker of where childrearing has gone over the past couple of generations. All too often in these topsy-turvy times, parents lie in the beds their kids make.

That looks like good parenting only to the nearsighted.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at; readers may send him email at; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.

Tribune Wire

Recommended for you

(1) comment


"They then fashion studies to “prove” that what they have made up is true. " That's called hypothesis. It's part of the scientific method. I have no studies, or child raising experience, to prove anything but here's my thought on punishment. It presumes an authority relationship. Naturally, children should be under the authority of responsible parents, and punishment is one way to make children behave as their parents approve because it's likely the children have poorer judgement and willfulness should not be happening. However, the purpose of the punishment should be the training of the child, not the convenience of the parent. and the training the child receives should not just be "obey or authorities will hurt you." It should be "your belief that you have a right to be destructive with your parents things (for example) is wrong and you need to learn better. Until you do, there will be consequences." A child who is allowed to grow up with a sense of entitlement to destructiveness is being done a disfavor. As is a child who grows up only learning, "don't be destructive or you will get punished." The purpose is to teach the child, the punishment is a stopgap to improve behavior in the meantime. It should not be the lesson.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.