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Consequences VS Punishment - Why Kids Need Consequences.

I grew up in a dysfunctional, sad, troubled home. Punishment for any perceived transgression was a way of life and taught me very early on that it was ineffective. The only thing I learned from violence and punishment was to be scared but it did not change or alter my behaviour, it just created sadness, anger, fear and avoidance - a desire not to be caught. It devalued me and I could not grasp the attachment to the event because the punishment regardless of infraction, whether big or small, was always the same and was in no way connected to what I had done or not done and in many cases was erroneously given.

That said, children do need consequences - consequences are our teachers, their lessons are how we learn what to do and what not to do. There are always consequences in life - for every action there is a reaction. Consequences teach cause and effect, whereas punishment imposes irrelevant suffering.

I have many conversations in my work life with people who feel we have swung too far the other way creating entitlement and disrespect. In some respects perhaps this is true and the lesson to us should be in finding a balance.

When we allow children to act disrespectfully and unkindly without a clear direction on how to intervene or when, we teach that it is acceptable. When we are inconsistent we teach only confusion about boundaries and limits so they continue to be tested. Children must learn the value of consequence. When we grow up if we continue to be disrespectful and unkind, we will get fired, our relationships will fail and at the worst end we may end up in an institution such as prison. And of course we create a cycle by passing on our dysfunction to our own children.

Punishment, however, is random and has no attachment to the digression - no teachable moments. It is more about the person doing the punishing than the punished. It is rarely natural to the event and is often uniform, unchanging regardless of the infraction. It is not relevant and therefore does not make sense to the child. Violence does truly, in many cases, beget violence. When we teach that hitting and hurting and shouting are ways to resolve conflict then that is what is learned. We teach that to be heard you must be aggressive rather than using your words to solve problems and get your needs met.

When we teach that every action has reaction, every behaviour a consequence positive or negative, then we learn.

First we must understand the behaviour and take into consideration the age, background, culture, intellectual capacity and any or all trauma of the child to create proactive strategies to manage it. Once these are in place we can then work from a standpoint of strength in determining our teachable moments through consequence and positive reinforcement.

When we sugar coat everything and allow transgressions or are inconsistent with our strategies and consequences we are not serving our children or students.


  • Teach life lessons

  • Encourage self control and regulation

  • Are logical and related to the event

  • Are in line with proactive strategies and positive reinforcement

  • Will work long term to reduce or eliminate behaviour

  • Promote responsibility

  • Are consistent


  • Is intended to cause pain and discomfort

  • It is reactive,

  • Is unrelated and personal, often about the punisher

  • Only works short term and often not even that,

  • Promotes fear and resentment.

  • Can promote obedience through fear

  • Teaches nothing of value

So what do consequences look like? Consequence are geared to each child specifically, so that they are meaningful understood and respectful of the child and those affected.

  • If a child has an explosion and throws a chair then he should have to help the caretaker repair the chair. If said chair is not repairable then he or she would have to do jobs around the school to “pay” for the chair.

  • If a child destroys a classroom in a heated moment of crisis, once calm, he or she would have to clean with support, the classroom.

  • If a child is hurting others then that should lead to social isolation as that is not acceptable. Moved from the group. Working in the office for a few hours. We need to teach early that harming others is not ok as it never will be.

Consequences should always follow with “repair work”. An apology that works for the child involved - a picture drawn, a note, something made or spoken. Always find a way that is acceptable to the child but do not let it go without some repair. When we make mistakes we must make amends. It’s that simple.

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