How to talk so kids will listen… Chapter 3: alternatives to punishment

We are here on a sensitive topic, a topic on which Nico and I still aren’t completely aligned.

Reading so much, I have evolved. I now understand much better what my friend Patricia was talking about when she was telling me about the difference between a consequence and a punishment.

A consequence has to a direct relation with what we are trying to correct. A punishment doesn’t.

Examples : « You can’t use my computer because you did not come home on time. » is a punishment.
« You can’t use my computer because last time you did not turn it off, and you know there are shortages here. » is a consequence.

Problem is, there is not always consequences… That’s why we tend to go for the punishment !

But the thing is, I don’t believe anymore in punishment…

The other book, specifically about teenagers, explains really well the reasons for avoiding punishment, so you will need to read my post about that one to really understand it, when it is written… (Later note: it is now written, you can find it here.)


So, how to avoid punishment ?

First, obviously, by better anticipating problematic situations.
That is to say, try and avoid problems, so we don’t even have to think about punishing. Easier said than done?
Sure, but that is the idea of implementing all our new modes of communicating and cooperating! Those exposed in the previous chapter about cooperation are already a good starting point…


Despite that, we can always reach a blocking point. In such a case, how can we react ?

Here’s what is suggested in the book:

1. Express your feelings strongly
(but refraining from the use of any label…)
« I can’t stand to see a child hit another! »

2. State your expectations
« When I lend you my tools, I expect you put them back in the box. »

3. Show the child how to make amends

4. Give the child a choice
« You can play with the ball outside, or play with something else inside. »

5. Take action
Let him experience the consequences
« I see that you chose to stay indoors » –  removing the ball


We had a problem with Oscar, who was leaving his computer lying around on the floor.
There’s an example when the switch in the communication is very clear :
Instead of saying « If you leave your computer on the floor again, I take it away. », we can say : « You have the choice: either you take care of your computer, in particular by not leaving it on the floor, or you decide not to use it. »

It is exactly the same approach of the problem, but the message insists on the fact that he is the actor, he is not only suffering what is being imposed on him…


Despite all this, we can still find ourselves in a repetitive problematic situation. We can then open the discussion and move on to a true 5 step problem solving method.
1. talking first about the feelings and needs of the child
2. talking then about the feelings of the adult
3. seek solutions together, noting all the ideas, without judgment
4. read and decide together which solutions to keep
5. take action
These steps are particularly suitable for older children (see Chapter 4 of How to talk so teens…), but also work with small, as evidenced by this example here.
Side effect of this method of problem-solving: once the child is accustomed to this method, it is an approach that makes sense for him, also in his relationships with others (his brothers and sisters for example).

Back to the book post

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