Anne arrives back from lunch five minutes late. You ask her to make up the five minutes after school. Staying after school is Anne’s punishment for her negative behavior, likely discouraging her from being late again. Punishment, or negative consequences as some people prefer to call them, can take a number of forms. I have listed those which I feel are most agreeable to the classroom, starting with the one I like best…

Natural Consequences

To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy. Hippocrates.

The best lesson children can learn is facing the natural consequences of their actions. You let events take their natural course, and do nothing. This means Joanie does not get a mark for her art project because she forgot to hand it in. Paul does not know what to do for an hour because he was late for class and missed your instructions. Having children follow through on the natural consequences of their actions speaks louder than any warnings or reprimands you give them.

Unfortunately, this passive style does not fit for all problem behaviors. You cannot stand by and let Roger pulverize Brian, because Brian should learn, “That’s what happens when you name-call guys bigger than you.” As well, behaviors that perform a duty, disrupt the activities of others, or damage someone else’s property must be interrupted.

Another example is Melanie and Susan: whispering, giggling, and passing notes during your science class. The natural consequence would be for you to let them carry on, and hope they miss out on some vital bits of information. But if they are both bright girls, even if they do miss out, chances are they’ll catch up later on. Furthermore, if you don’t say anything, your other students may see you as being weak, showing favoritism, or think they too can get away with misbehaving.

A compromise solution is to institute a logical consequence, emanating naturally from their misbehaviors. For instance, you might ask the class if they are having the same problems you are concentrating, because of the whispering going on. Ask them, “What do you think we should do about it?” One alternative is giving Melanie and Susan the option of sitting together in the back of the room and whispering for the remainder of the class. You could explain how this would be more agreeable for everyone, since they could continue their conversation, free of interruptions, and you as well as the rest of the class would be saved from their distractions.

The key ingredients to logical consequences are (a) they derive from a misbehavior; (b) children are given an option; and, if possible, (c) other children in the class help arrive at the solution. A good book on implementing logical consequences in the classroom is Logical Consequences, by Rudolf Dreikurs and Loren Grey, 1968.


If you find yourself getting irritated or mad at a child, then it is time for you to consider ignoring. Some behaviors, especially attention-seeking ones like whining and temper tantrums, are best handled by pretending the behavior never occurred or the child is not there. For instance, without an audience Janet will find it less her while to have a temper tantrum.

Ignoring, however, only works if children know the corresponding right behavior. For example, a child may not know he’s doing anything wrong by interrupting your conversation. By ignoring him, you may confuse him or provoke him to talk louder so you will hear him. Also, even if children know the appropriate alternative behavior, ignoring usually leads to an initial worsening of their behavior, until they realize it is not getting them anywhere.


Remember when your mother used to say, “Go to your room–“? This was a terrible penalty. Now when a mother says the same thing, a kid goes to his room. There he’s got an air conditioner, a TV set, an intercom, a shortwave radio–he’s better off than he was in the first place. Sam Levenson.

The misbehaving child is removed from a reinforcing situation to a non-reinforcing one. For example, during lunch Danny is opening his mouth to show everyone his food. He is creating quite a sensation with the other children. You tell Danny to take a seat in the back corner of the room, where he can no longer gain attention for his misbehavior. Danny should use this time alone to think about what he did wrong, and how he can behave better the next time.

Time-out works best when you keep these pointers in mind:

–talk as little as possible. Do not discuss, negotiate, or justify. Any extra attention on your part, even telling a child he should know better, may encourage him to do it again. Later on, when he is behaving properly, you can bring up any left-overs you still want to address.

–don’t make children sit out too long. Punishment is a symbolic experience. Sitting out five minutes has just as much impact on a child as sitting out 30 minutes. In fact, the shorter period will likely make a stronger impression, because it increases the likelihood of him following through on it correctly. It is unreasonable to expect a child for half an hour to sit still, facing a corner, without talking. Five minutes is long enough for most children in the primary grades. You can add on a few minutes for older children, or take away a few minutes for children who find it hard to sit still.

–if a child refuses to go to time-out. Your first response is to add on more time; however, if you get beyond 20 minutes, it’s time to take action and either physically escort him there, or recruit some help.

Taking Away Privileges

A child who is not behaving appropriately loses some of the privileges other children are getting. You can explain to him that it wouldn’t be fair to the other students if he got the same privileges as them, when they are trying much harder than he is. This could mean excluding him from a community outing, or letting him go on the outing, but restricting his freedom. Be careful you do not exclude children from activities which target a major problem they have. For instance, it would not be therapeutic to make a child who needs socialization skills, miss his soccer practice.

Making Punishment Effective

  1. Always use in conjunction with rewarding positive behaviors. Punishment tells children what they did wrong; however, it does not tell them how to correct it.
  2. Spell out rules, and what will happen if children do not follow them.
  3. Be preventive and try to make up rules before misbehaviors occur. If a child does something which you have not established a rule for, try not to consequence him, but rather use his misbehavior as an example for the new rule.
  4. If the punishment involves a time period, make sure children know for how long. If you just say, “Go to time-out,” you are inviting the child to ask, “For how long?” This draws you into an explanation, which does not belong in the time-out procedure.
  5. Punish the behavior, not the child. A good rule-of-thumb is to describe specifically what the child did wrong. This way you will avoid making comments like, You’re a bad boy,” or, “How does you mother ever put up with you?”
  6. Punish immediately after the misbehavior, so children connect their behaviors with the undesirable consequences.
  7. Make punishments fit misbehaviors. Stay away from applying one punishment to several misbehaviors. For this reason I like logical consequences, because they force you to link consequences with misbehaviors.