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Harsh Punishments – Why They Don’t Work

In the heat of the moment it can be very tempting to punish our children severely. We may even feel justified in doing so. But is it effective? This article will look at the reasons why punishments don’t work and some implications for Christian parents.

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Sometimes our kids push our buttons. Okay – they can push them a lot. In the heat of the moment, we can quickly lose our temper and punish out of anger. Harsh punishments may make us feel better in the moment, but they simply don’t work in the long run. Let’s look at why harsh punishments are an ineffective form of discipline.

Punishments are a power trip. If we feel like we want to “get back” or “make him pay,”” we need to consider that we are dealing with a controlling or revenge-seeking child. We can easily get trapped in the very same snare than entangles our child. Authoritarian parenting will only serve to convince our children that power and control are the ultimate goals in life. Let us remember, the purpose of discipline is to restore, equip and train, not to “get back.”

Punishments perpetuate a wrong focus. As Christian parents, we can get caught up in our kids’ outward behavior because that is what we are faced with day-to-day. And if we are honest, it is the standard by which we feel others are evaluating us as parents. If you feel your worth as a parent hinges on how well your child behaves, you are going to do whatever it takes to make him toe the line. This external focus on behavior can lead to harsh punishments and will never provide the lasting results you seek.

Punishments ignore the heart. Punishments focus on behavior. As a result, we can be blinded to the presence of soft and repentant hearts in our children in response to misbehavior. Here’s an example:

Let’s say that your son is being wild in the house – again – and breaks the lamp. He apologizes profusely but you are mad. Really mad. Even the sight of him is upsetting. So you send him to his room and announce that he will be confined there every day after school for a month. He later tries to apologize. He even offers a plan to pay for it. You, however, are still mad and proceed to rant about a history of careless behaviors that have led up to this incident.


Take a look at your heart. Are you mad at yourself because you have not been swift in disciplining this type of behavior before and now there are consequences for you? Take a look at his heart. Is he truly sorry and willing to make it right?

To be sure, a soft heart does not erase consequences. Children need to be held accountable for their behaviors. However, if your child is truly repentant and you are sticking to a harsh punishment, you run the risk of wounding your child’s spirit and having his heart seal over again.

It’s kind of like what we learned in chemistry class: you can only dissolve so much salt in a flask of water. Add too much and no matter how hard you stir, the solution becomes supersaturated and the salt re-crystallizes and falls to the bottom. We don’t want our discipline to extend past the point of effectiveness and into the dangerous area of wounding the spirit.

Punishments hurt the relationship. If the goal of Christian discipline is restoration, harsh punishments will do nothing to help you achieve that. Granted, your kids are not going to jump for joy when they get their consequence. This is because “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11. Notice the last part of that verse – “for those who have been trained by it.” Harsh punishments will not provide training. There will be too much hurt (in both parties) for that to happen. Swift, clear and firm consequences delivered in love will. Your relationship (not friendship) with your child is the conduit to addressing issues of the heart.

[Photo credit: nik from]


This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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