Toddlers and preschoolers eventually learn from their mistakes.

The Advantages of Punishing Children for Bad Behavior

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

The old "spare the rod and spoil the child" mentality has generally been kicked to the curb in modern times. Nowadays, more parents are finding success by punishing a misbehaving toddler or preschooler with milder hands-off disciplinary tactics like a timeout. Learning early in life that there's a price attached to misbehaving may help naughty tykes walk the line, though they may zigzag from time to time! If you can't quite bear to come down on your little one when she's being bad, consider four advantages of providing swift and steady consequences.

1. Increasing Your Credibility

Setting consequences for misbehavior and following through lets your child know that you mean what you say. When you let her slide, you weaken your role as rule maker by diminishing your credibility. Let's say you warned your preschooler that if she doesn't put her dollhouse and accessories in the corner of the living room when she's finished playing she won't be able to play with them the next time she wants to. When next time comes and you stay silent when she drags the dollhouse to the middle of floor, you've just taught her that your threats are meaningless. If, however, you follow through with your warning, the punishment may serve as a strong incentive to put her dollhouse away next time. For a busy mom, it can be tempting at times to overlook minor incidences of bad behavior, such as when your preschool son intentionally stands in front of the TV so his toddler sibling can't see the show. Failing to seize the moment and call your child on his unkind act only encourages him to continue similar antics in the future. If he refuses to listen, a brief timeout in the corner of a room can be advantageous, because it teaches him that annoying his little sister isn’t worth the consequence of sitting alone staring at a wall with nothing to do.

2. Teaching Your Tyke How to Behave

Providing consequences really does help your child learn her lesson. If your 3-year-old cuts up a pair of your panty hose in an attempt to make a workout suit for her Barbie doll, explain to her why such behavior is not allowed. In this scenario three rules were broken: she crept into your bedroom and took your hosiery without your okay and proceeded to destroy them with scissors that she didn't have permission to use. The advantage of punishing your little one by keeping Barbie off limits for a set number of days and having her help you separate whites from colors while doing laundry to help work off the cost of replacing your panty hose is that it teaches your little seamstress that her behavior was inappropriate. Her punishment will help her think twice before misbehaving in a similar fashion -- pun intended -- in the future.

3. Relieving Guilt

A young child may be ridden with remorse after misbehaving, and a timeout or other moderate punishment (can't watch a favorite TV show tomorrow) can be advantageous in that it helps relieve feelings of guilt, according to HealthyChildren.org, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Don't serve up blame and shame along with that punishment -- deliver the consequences in an unemotional way, and let your child know she'll have a clean record once she's done her time.

4. Rewarding Good Behavior

Speaking of guilt and shame, it's important to reward your little one with a big smile and a hug when she follows the rules. A heartfelt thumbs-up can give your tot's self-esteem a lift. It also teaches her that she's capable of being a good girl and that walking the line is much better than being punished. If she's never had to deal with consequences, she can't make that comparison, and may not see any difference between good and bad behavior. If bad behavior persists no matter how many hoops you've jumped through to keep your toddler or preschooler from acting out, don't despair. Making a behavior chart with a box for each day of the week might do the trick. Decide how many times your preschooler can misbehave before he's punished and how many consecutive days she must exhibit good behavior before it's rewarded.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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