3 reasons why punishments don’t improve kids’ behaviour, according to a child psychologist – and #2 makes so much sense

“Kids have to feel good inside before they bring out that goodness as good behaviour”

Daughter kissing father on the nose
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Picture this common scenario: a challenging parenting situation comes up (which is inevitable) and your knee-jerk reaction might sound something like this: “go to your room!” or “no iPads for a week!”. 

If you follow a tiger parenting style, threats and consequences might be how you were taught to discipline your child, but more evidence is stacking up that a gentle parenting approach (without shame, blame or punishment) could transform behaviour and boost your little one’s confidence in the long-run. Instead of removing privileges or taking away something your child values, Dr Becky Kennedy is an advocate for a connection over correction approach when it comes to ‘bad’ behaviour. In her latest Instagram reel (find her @drbeckygoodinside), the parenting psychologist and author of Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming The Parent You Want To Be, reveals three reasons why punishments don’t really work.

3 reasons why punishments don’t improve kids’ behaviour

A post shared by Dr. Becky Kennedy | Parenting

A photo posted by drbeckyatgoodinside on

  • Punishments don’t build skills: Children are born with a full range of emotions but lack the skills to effectively manage them, leading these emotions to manifest into bad behaviour. “The way to improve behaviour is always to build skills and punishments never do this,” says Dr Becky. 
  • Punishments add shame: When we constantly implement consistent and corrective actions, like taking away a toy or not allowing your child to have dessert for the next three nights, it can make them ashamed of themselves: “Shame leads to a frozen state, and if a kid is in ‘freeze’, they can’t learn, they can’t grow and change,” explains Dr Becky.
  • Punishments reflect to a kid that they’re a bad kid: Children react to the image of themselves that we reflect back to them, and that’s how they build their identity. The mum-of-three advises: “We can’t be saying to a kid ‘go to your room’; ‘what’s wrong with you’, and then expect them to improve their behaviour. Kids have to feel good inside before they bring out that goodness as good behaviour.”

Dr Becky’s post was flooded with praise from parents who agreed with the psychologist, like this comment: “yes! And thank you for such valuable content, amazing and definitely a life changing book and podcast!”, but users were also interested to know how they can get a partner on board if they believe punishments are the only way. Another agreed and said: "is this a guy thing??? My husband does the same. I hate it. I don't parent like him, but it feels "wrong" for each of us to do our "own" way of parenting since we are a family that lives together." Understanding that punishments might not be the most effective approach in guiding children requires a shift towards compassion and empathy, and by doing so, we not only build stronger connections with our children, but also create a nurturing space where they can learn, grow and thrive.

Learn more about the different parenting styles to find one that suits you and in other news, should we just let kids do what they want? See the reaction to being a 'yes' mum.

Daniella Gray
Family News & Wellbeing Writer

From building healthy family relationships to self-care tips for mums and parenting trends - Daniella also covers postnatal workouts and exercises for kids. After gaining a Print Journalism BA Hons degree and NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Nottingham Trent University, Daniella started writing for Health & Wellbeing and co-hosted the Walk to Wellbeing podcast. She has also written for Stylist, Natural Health, The Sun UK and Fit & Well. In her free time, Daniella loves to travel, try out new fitness classes and cook for family and friends.