How to Avoid Using an Illogical Punishment

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My 5-year-old (almost 6) often has his tablet taken away because he will pinch or hit or kick his little brother who is almost 4. Then the 4-year-old will let him use his tablet. Should I not let him do this? Or should I just let the 4-year-old make that choice? -Mary, Topeka, Kansas


Dear Mary,

Oftentimes, as we live through The Dark Ages of Behavior Management, questions about how to handle kids need to be significantly reframed in order to give an answer that will be helpful and make sense. I am afraid this is the case with your question. The good news is that I will give you an alternative to the illogical, ineffective punishment that you are trying to use, in the form of a logical consequence.

First, there are two tracks, and never the two shall meet: keeping kids safe, and consequences. Next time your kid hurts someone, remove him immediately and place him in another room so that everyone is safe.

You have now taken care of track one. Here’s how I would handle track number two, a bit later after I have emotionally recovered from watching a person I love injuring another person I love:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. It looks like you made your brother feel super scared, hurt, and upset by pinching him. This is really sad. How are you going to solve this problem?


Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. Bye now. Feel free to leave the room as soon as you have solved the problem.

Kid Whisperer leaves the room and goes to live his life. If Kid leaves the room without solving the problem (he won’t be able to do so, in all likelihood) Kid Whisperer will lead or carry him back to the room.

Kid Whisperer (having come back to the room after enjoying some alone time staring off into  the middle distance and thinking envious thoughts about his childless friends): Oh, dear. Have you figured out how to make your brother feel safe?


Kid Whisperer: Would you like to try that again?

Kid: I don’t know.

Kid Whisperer: Would you like some help solving this problem?

Kid: I guess.

Kid Whisperer: You could give your brother a break from you. What would work best: should you stay in your room until dinner to give him a break, or should you just make sure you stay out of whatever room he’s in until dinner?

Kid: I should just stay in my room. My favorite things are in there, and he would just follow me around anyway.

Kid Whisperer: I hadn’t thought of that. You are probably right. Okay, you can either tell your brother that you are sorry or just tell him that it won’t happen again.

Kid: I’ll just tell him that it won’t happen again.

Kid Whisperer: Hug or no hug?

Kid: Hug.

Kid Whisperer: Sounds like a plan.

You can facilitate The Brother Summit while keeping in mind that this is your 5-year-old’s problem, not yours. After your younger kid has a vacation from the older one, the moment your oldest makes the youngest feel unsafe in any way, including threats or hurting, take the oldest away again. Repeat the above process, with a new and more involved plan for keeping his sibling safe.