Disciplining Children – When To Punish and When To Extend Grace


These are great tips on disciplining children. Keeping this for reference!

Disciplining Children

Shortly after you discover your child has made a poor decision or done something wrong you have to decide whether or not to administer punishment. One of the reasons this can be such a difficult decision is because you have many emotions and questions in your head at the time.

  • Where did I go wrong?
  • How could she do this?
  • Why didn’t I see this coming?
  • She is too young for this.

With so many emotions happening at once, it can be difficult to make rational decisions regarding punishment. When you’re angry it’s tempting to throw out harsh and heavy punishment. When you’re feeling sadness and disappointment you may tend to go light on punishment or withhold it altogether. How do you set those emotions aside and make a decision regarding punishment?

While raising 5 kids, my husband and I have developed some guidelines regarding disciplining our children. These are not necessarily hard-and-fast rules, but they are useful points to consider when deciding whether or not to punish a child.

When Not to Discipline

Children are imperfect people just like you and me. Here are some reasons to consider for not punishing a child.

  • Made a mistake – No one is perfect and mistakes will happen. If an action is determined to be an honest mistake, don’t punish it.
  • Fist time offense – There are definitely times we punish our children on a first offense. However, there are also times we use the offense as an example instead. We might say, “Remember when we talked about this?” and gauge the response of the child. If they already feel some remorse and it wasn’t a serious problem, we will offer a second chance with the understanding that no mercy will be given on a repeat offense.
  • Rules were not understood – When you learn that the child truly did not understand the rules that is a time for clarification and discussion. Punishment may or may not be necessary.
  • Already showing great remorse – Sometimes your child might already show such remorse that no punishment is needed to correct the behavior. You know your child better than anyone else, only you can decide when to forego punishment for this reason.

When to Discipline

There are times that a child absolutely needs to be punished. Here are some reasons we choose to administer punishment.

  • Willful disobedience – When rules were understood and a decision was made to not follow the rules, punishment needs to happen. A bad decision needs to have consequences.
  • Defiance – When a child does something just to defy your authority, you must address it. A defiant act is often in response to anger or resisting authority, and children need to be taught how to properly deal with anger and respect authority.
  • Lying  or Withholding the truth – Make sure your child understands that lying can take many forms. Withholding the truth, deceiving, hiding something, exaggerating, making up something are all lying. This is a serious offense in our household, and our kids know punishment will be twice as severe when lying is involved.
  • Shows no remorse – No remorse usually means the child truly thinks she did nothing wrong. In addition to punishment, you also need to learn why there is no remorse. Punishment alone usually won’t solve this response.
  • Repeat offense – Sometimes it will take more than one lesson to learn the correct behavior. There are times children will make the same bad choice over and over. In these cases it may be necessary to increase the punishment. Explain that punishment will continue to happen until the child makes the correct decision.
  • Disrespect – Talking back, mumbling under your breath, rolling your eyes, yelling, hitting, talking bad about a parent…all of these are signs of disrespect. If you want your kids to be respectful of others, you must first teach them to respect you as a parent. Respect must be taught, it will not happen on it’s own.

When to Extend Grace

There will be times your child deserves punishment and you choose not to punish them. That is called extending grace. Extending grace to children teaches them to extend grace to others. However, doing it too often can encourage negative behavior. When you choose to extend grace instead of punishment, be sure to talk with the child and explain why you are extending grace. Say something like, “Because you knew what you were doing was wrong, I should punish you. But since you seem sorry I’m going to extend some grace to you. There will be no punishment this time. If it happens again, punishment will happen.”

Most of the time the response of a child is gratefulness and love. I have gotten some of the biggest hugs and tears of true remorse from my children after extending grace. These can be precious bonding and teaching moments. Take them as often as you can.

These When to Discipline and When Not to Discipline lists are not exclusive. One thing I have learned by having 5 kids is that they are all different. It is so important to treat your children as individuals.

Do you have something to add to my list? I would love to hear about how discipline works for your family. Perhaps we can learn together.


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  1. so I love your when to and not to article… but do you have any advise on what type of consequences work when you have to discipline… I have kiddos that seem to not care about punishments… we don’t have electronics we don’t watch a lot of tv and I am a foster parent so there are many triggers that come with kiddo in trauma… but they still need boundaries and consequences…

    1. God bless you! I have friends who are Foster Parents. That is a tough job!
      I think the biggest thing I’ve learned by having 5 kids is that they are all different. It can be challenging to find what each individual kid will respond to as far as punishment goes.

      As for punishments we’ve tried…first is to restrict them from something they love. If that doesn’t work, we add some kind of manual labor. So, we might take away screen time (phones, computer, games, tv) at first. If that doesn’t do the trick we add manual labor (extra chores, pulling weeds, trimming bushes, sweeping the garage, washing cars, etc).

      We’ve also written out contracts with our older children. We sit down with them together and write out our expectations of them. Each expectation is discussed and agreed upon by them and us. We also list consequences of what will happen if the expectations aren’t met. Getting them in on creating this document before things start to go wrong is key to making it work. Then we both sign it, and we have something to fall back on that they agreed upon.

      You are correct. Children of all ages do need boundaries and consequences. Finding what works for a specific child can be challenging.

      Best wishes!

  2. All too often we get swept up in the moment. I know for me personally I have a lapse in judgement and I am too quick to punish. This is a really great reminder of when and when not to discipline our children. It all comes back to being more intentional and present in the moment.

    1. Great point, Heather! It is certainly beneficial to think about when to punish and when not to punish before you have to make that decision.
      Parenting is tough!
      Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Hi Melisha, thanks for the wisdom that you have shared in this post regarding when to discipline and when to extend grace. It is such an eye opener. I am a mom to a toddler and need all the guidance I can get on how to bring him up the best way possible. I struggle a bit with disciplining him because we cannot communicate effectively yet, since he has not mastered his language and sometimes I am not sure if he understands what I tell him. How do you discipline a child that age?

    1. Hi, Sussy! It’s been a few years since I had a toddler, but I remember those years well.

      One thing to keep in mind is that even though your son hasn’t mastered communicating, he likely understands much more than you think. Receptive language (what the child understands) develops much earlier than verbal communication skills.

      Perhaps the most important verbal command to teach a toddler is “no.” To help him really understand “no” you need to speak it firmly. You don’t need to yell, but do speak sternly and make sure your facial expression is serious as you speak. I hear many parents say “no” to their toddler in a sing-song, soft voice with a smile on their faces. That can be very confusing to a toddler. You also need to enforce “no.” If you tell them to stop doing something and they don’t, then you have to make them stop. You’ll need to redirect their attention or physically remove them from the situation. Parents should be consistent with this. If you are at home, out shopping, in a restaurant or wherever you may be, you still need to enforce “no” once you have said it.

      The reason “no” or “stop” is such an important command for a toddler to know is that it could be life saving. What if your toddler slipped away from your reach while in a parking lot and was about to walk behind a car backing up? If he has been properly trained and disciplined to understand “no” or “stop,” it could save his life! That may be a drastic example, but it is why I believe discipline is important to start even early in the toddler years.

      I hope that is somewhat helpful. The toddler years are challenging and tiring, but it is definitely not too early to lay the foundation for obedience and discipline.

      Best wishes, and thank you so much for your comment!

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