An Even Better Alternative to Positive Punishment

positive punishment

Which of these scenarios has played out the most at your house?

Your family is sitting around the dinner table. Your child takes a bite of his food.

Scenario One:

Child: Yuck! This is gross!

Mother: What did you say? You’d better not complain after the trouble I went through to cook for you. You are being very ungrateful. If you complain again, you can’t have a treat after we eat.

Scenario Two:

Child: Yuck! This is gross!

Mom: When I hear words like that I lose my desire to make a good dinner for you. What I’d like to hear if you’re unhappy with your food is, “Mom, thanks for making dinner for me, but I don’t really like this meat.” Then you and I can come up with a plan for having more foods you do like. 

There are three reasons why the second scenario is way better than the first, for you and your child.

It allows your child and you to be heard. 

Even if we don’t always like what our children are thinking or feeling, knowing what’s going on in their head can help us parent and guide them. We want our kids to feel comfortable sharing their true selves with us, otherwise, they’ll just say what they think we want to hear and eventually not open up to us at all.

So in the first scenario, it’s not so much that the child expressed distaste for his food, it’s how he said it.

It teaches your child to express himself respectfully. 

If we immediately shut our children down when they do something wrong, we lose the opportunity to teach them the right way to act. {Tweet This} In this case, the mom in the second scenario shares her own feelings respectfully, and then teaches her child how to share his. 

It teaches your child problem-solving. 

The final way we benefit from scenario two is teaching our children to problem solve. Again, this moves beyond positive punishment to actually changing behavior with the child’s involvement. So, the problem-solving part of this scene might play out like this:

Mother: Okay, let’s talk about what we can do when you don’t like something I’ve made for you to eat. What ideas do you have? (At this point, write down all ideas. Hold back from saying this like, “Oh, that won’t work.” You can talk about each one when you’ve come up with your complete list.)

Child: Well, I could just not eat that food at dinner. Or, I could grab something from the snack drawer.

Mom: Okay, let me write those down. I was thinking you could make a list of the foods you like, and the ones you don’t like. I also think you might be able to try at least one bite of any food, and if you don’t like it you can tell me in a respectful way.

Child: Umm, what about if you do a menu before dinner and I can make myself a sandwich or something if I don’t like what you cook?

At this point, mom and child go through the list.

Mom: Well, I don’t think I can agree to you grabbing a snack for dinner.

Child: And sometimes I already know I don’t like a food, so I don’t really want to take a bite. But I could do the list.

Mom: Okay… how about this… I’ll try to avoid things on your don’t like list, but if Dad and Chris like those foods and I make them anyway, you can come in the kitchen before dinner and make something easy you do like.

When we give our children a chance to work on a solution we’re preparing them to function in the real world. That’s positive without the punishment.

What do you think of giving your child a chance to be heard?


  • Jennifer

    I really like your post topic. I have three boys (12, 10 & 7) and I’ve definitely heard similar comments from them in the past. My way of working through it is slightly different, but I agree with your option # 2 as being a good choice. Our boys have pretty strong personalities, so I know if asked them to help me come up with meal ideas, they’d automatically see it as punishment. What I’ve done in the past, is given them the FULL responsibility of making a meal for the whole family. In most cases, this is something that can be accomplished by children that are around 5 years and older. One time, my youngest son made us peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, with sides of baby carrots with ranch and grapes. As we started to eat, he was on the edge of his seat with anticipation, waiting to hear our reaction and hoping that we were happy with his creation. In that moment, he had an understanding of how much effort and care it takes to serve others and how much it matters that it’s appreciated. I always let them know that I’m well aware that they won’t like everything that’s made for them, but as long as they appreciate my efforts, we can always work out a substitute For that item, in the future. Every child is different, so this may not be every parent’s choice, but it’s definitely kept our boys polite when voicing their opinions in regards to our meal options. Nothing teaches empathy like first hand experience.


      Wonderful idea! Thanks for sharing!