Living with Children: Why Punishment is Necessary

“The purpose of parenthood is not to control, coerce, or punish children to be ‘good’. The goal of parenting is to grow children capable of feeling all of their feelings and to become empathetic problem solvers, and to help children reach their full potential.

No, I didn’t go to the other side. That’s a quote from a recent Washington Post column by parent coach Meghan Leahy. I checked the date because that’s the kind of romantic blah-blah pundits were churning out in the early 1970s, which is when simple childrearing became parenting.

Leahy means well, but she is sadly mistaken. Helping children feel good is not the goal of parents. Well, in a way, that’s because parenthood and simple childrearing are polar opposites in every way. Parenting is about making sure kids “feel all their feelings and become empathetic problem solvers,” whatever that means and however that is measured. Simple parenting, on the other hand, is about becoming responsible citizens, which requires, in no particular order, that children learn to control their emotions and know the difference between right and wrong. The goals of simple childrearing are clear. No one has to wonder what is meant by “knowing the difference between good and evil”.

It’s not clear what Leahy recommends when a child is belligerently defiant, out of control, deliberately destructive, or otherwise pre-sociopathic, which is what children, bless their hearts, are prone to be. Like all postmodern progressive parenting experts (no exceptions), she thinks childrearing before the 1970s was bad. Never mind that children before the 1970s respected and obeyed adults (with a wink with the occasional exception) and were much happier than children today, who seem more interested in creating dramas on social networks than by preparing for adulthood.

Properly disciplining a child is a battle against the forces of chaos that every child brings into the world. This battle is fought on behalf of the child by the important adults in his or her life. These adults must love the child unconditionally, lest they allow anger to direct their disciplinary behavior and accomplish only what is counterproductive for all concerned.

I kind of understand Leahy’s antipathy to punishment. When used as the centerpiece of discipline, it causes more problems than it solves. But its disadvantages are not inherent; they are a function of overuse.

Leahy gives the example of a toddler who defiantly refuses to stop jumping on the couch when instructed to do so. She advises redirection and providing the child with other things to jump on. Great ideas, if only they worked. Just ask the parents. They will attest to the fact that all toddlers have oppositional defiant disorder. Worse still, toddlers all believe that what they want is the way things should be. Heaven help us all if a toddler picks up this sociopathic belief in their teenage years, let alone into adulthood.

Bought your little one an expensive trampoline to jump on? So? He prefers jumping on the couch, if only because it drives you crazy, and driving you crazy, not jumping up and down, that’s his favorite sport.

Which means he needs a message that will overcome his determination to make sure everything goes his way. In other words, the punishment.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at; readers can email him at [email protected]; due to volume of mail, not all questions will be answered.