Help your child rather than punish

Punishment Doesn’t Work – Help Your Kids Instead

Neuroscience and parenting educator Nathan Wallis explains how helping your child, rather than punishing them, can encourage good behaviour

5 min read

 Toddler – Article by  Nathan Wallis

Punishment Doesn’t Work – Help Your Kids Instead


We’ve had a long, long tradition in New Zealand of basically punishing children and thinking that this is what makes a good person.  There seems to be a core belief that we have all these bad behaviours that need to be punished away in order to create a good child.  That’s what we used to think before we had research (before everybody had Google in their lounge and you could actually check out for yourself if these things work!). They don’t work. There is no research base for punishment.

Generally the trend is actually that punishment correlates with delinquency.  The more you are punished, the naughtier you’re likely to be.  So the only reason we punish is because it’s a tradition, not because there is research showing it leads to good outcomes.  And no, there is no ‘right’ amount of punishment, it’s 100% negative all of the time. Absolutely zero research to support even the “mildest” of punishment.

Nowadays we tend to take away the word ‘punishment’ and use the word ‘consequence’. But basically it’s the same thing.  Yes, natural consequences are important.  But I want you to think of it in terms of the framework ‘punishment versus helping’.  You don’t need to punish your child, you need to help them.

Help your child rather than punish

Tell your child what to do instead of what not to do

Now that we have Google in our lounge and we can actually look at the evidence that works for thousands of children, we know more.  The number one method for changing a child’s behaviour is called ‘cognitive training’.  Don’t worry about it being a big word – it basically just means telling the child what to do instead of what not to do.

So, when the child goes up and smacks another child over the head in order to take a tractor off them, rather than saying, “oh naughty! No smacking! Naughty, naughty, time out!” – replace those words with a phrase that tells the child what they should have done instead. Something like, “mate, if you want a turn with the tractor, you need to go up to your friend and say, “can I please have a turn after you?” – this is cognitive training.

Help your child rather than punish

Your child will learn through repitition

Now I don’t expect the child to turn around after one turn and say ‘oh thanks Dad, that’s great, I’ll do that from now on’.  But if every time he is smacking someone over the head and snatching a toy you respond by saying “mate, if you need the toy, you need to go up to your friend and say ‘Can I please have a turn after you?’ Then wait for your friend to give you a turn”….

By the time he is three you would have said that one hundred times and you will probably have a three-year-old who is walking up to people and saying ‘Can I please have a turn with that toy after you?’ If all you do is punish without helping, you will probably have a 3, 4 and 5 year old that is still smacking people over the head to get the toy!

The First 1000 Days Really Are So Important - Let Me Help You

Come along to one of my talks to understand the brains a bit better (and pick up some parenting tactics)

Nathan Wallis

Come along to one of my talks and learn how our interactions with our kids play a critical role in defining their future, not just their genes!

I’ll guide you through the stages of brain development that happen across childhood and reveal little tricks to make parenting easier.  Don’t worry, I explain the complexities of neuroscience in plain language so you can really understand, using humour because humour makes learning easier!

See below for upcoming dates. or follow me on Facebook to stay informed.

Describe the behaviour you want

I know it’s difficult to not say ‘don’t’, ‘no’ and ‘stop’ because it’s deeply ingrained in our culture to do that, but just to be clear – using these words is not research based at all.

The research will say you achieve the fastest change in the child’s behaviour by describing all the behaviours that you would like to see, and really giving no life and no voice to the behaviours that you don’t want to see.

It’s that simple.

Help your child rather than punish

Expert Profile: Nathan Wallis

Educator, Neuroscience Researcher, Dynamic Speaker

nathan mikaere wallis

Nathan Wallis is a Neuroscience Educator, researcher, child trauma counsellor, parenting expert and prolific speaker.  It’s Nathan’s ability to break down the complexities of neuroscience with plain language, humour and actionable tips that sees him sell-out around 200 seminars in New Zealand, Australia and China each year.

He has also developed an app which summarises the mountains of neuroscience discoveries on infant brains into 4-minute video clips.  The app also provides practical advice on topics such as teething, sleeps and tantrums – all in Nathan’s signature plain-speaking and enthusiastic style.

Follow Nathan on Facebook , check to see when he is next presenting in your area, or search for his app, ‘Parenting Baby’s Brain’, in your Android or Apple App Store.

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