Punishment Styles in Parenting

time out chair

Just as there are various styles of parenting, so are there various styles of punishment. Whether you are a lenient parent, or a strict authoritarian, there are different punishment styles for you to investigate to find a good fit for your family and your child's personality.

Time Outs

One of the most widely used methods of disciplining a young child is to give him a "time out" from other activities. This can be accomplished by seating the child on a specific time out chair, having him sit on a step away from activities or having him stand in the corner for a predetermined amount of time.

Time outs are effective because once the method or place of punishment is defined, the punishment becomes extremely consistent, meaning that the same consequence is given each time your child misbehaves. Time outs can be started extremely early, as soon as the child passes his or her first birthday. Some experts believe that when done properly, the time out can teach a child to take charge of his own behavior.

Time outs can be used with great effect in the authoritative style of parenting. Some attachment parents may also find this method works to great success as well.


With older children, a punishment style that can be more effective than with toddlers is the fine. When the child misbehaves, she loses a toy or privilege for a specific amount of time. For example, when the child breaks a rule about playing with a toy at the dinner table, she is no longer allowed to play with that specific toy for the rest of the evening.

Fines work well for older children, particularly when they are tied directly to the behavior in question. Fining a child can be used with both authoritative and attachment styles of parenting when done consistently and with kindness.


Extinction is a punishment style that works well for young children that are seeking to get attention through negative behaviors. Extinction, which is also called "Kind Ignoring" by Dr. Harvey Karp, the author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block, calls for the parent to withhold her attention from the child until the negative behavior has stopped.

This can be an effective means of punishment for curbing specific behaviors such as whining, or excessive question asking. It should not be used to deprive the child of basic needs.

Extinction is usually practiced by parents who are authoritarian or uninvolved. If used correctly and kindly, it can also be used to stop specific behaviors even by those parents who practice other methods of parenting.


Spanking is one of the most controversial forms of punishment style practiced today. It can be as light as hitting the child on the hand, or as abusive as hitting the child on the bare leg or bottom with a wooden spoon.

Some parenting experts believe that spanking does not teach the child to be responsible for his behaviors because he focuses on the punishment itself and not the act that got him there. Others believe that spanking can be effective in the short term for stopping an undesirable behavior, or in the case of danger, such as stopping the child from running into the street.

Most parents who spank are authoritarian in style, but those who feel that it can be used well in the short term, may also be authoritative as well.


Many parents who are indulgent, or of the free-range end of attachment parenting, feel that reasoning is a better form of dealing with negative behavior than a punishment. This may be achieved through explaining natural consequences of the behavior to your child, such as telling your child that if he doesn't wear his coat, he will get cold. Reasoning works best with older children who are capable of understanding these concepts.

Be Consistent

No matter what your parenting style or your punishment style, consistency is the key to stopping bad behaviors once and for all. Give some thought ahead of time to your punishment style, and establish a plan that both you and your partner will follow each time punishment is meted out. This will help ensure your child successfully corrects the behavior in good time.

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Punishment Styles in Parenting