What sort of “punishment” is appropriate at school (in 2016)?

I was chatting to a friend earlier when she recounted a story that shocked me. She told me of her son (about the same age as S), getting into trouble at school. The headmaster went up to her a couple of days ago and said I just want to let you know your son was sent to my office because he wasn’t listening and he was splashing water in the bathroom. His clothes got wet and he had to be changed.

“Listen, there’s nothing to worry about, he’s a gorgeous, lovely boy but we just wanted to let you know. I’ve told him that we have good boys and girls at this school and that next time if he was sent to my office, I’d call mummy or daddy and he didn’t want that.” said the headmaster.

This mum accepted it and picked her son up from school as usual. At first he didn’t say anything to her but later on in the afternoon he mentioned he’d been sent to the headmasters office and that he had to face the wall. *This is the part that shocked me* The kid isn’t even 4 yet.

The mum chose not to make a big deal out of it in front of her child but the next morning she went up to the headmaster and the conversation went something like this:

Mum: My son told me he got sent to your office. But he also mentioned that he had to face the wall?

Headmaster: Yes, he had to sit on the floor and face the wall because (and he said this quite dramatically), I was too angry to look at him.

Mum: *shocked face* Okay

Headmaster: He has to learn that he needs to be compliant.

Mum: But I don’t think shaming him is going to achieve that.

Headmaster: He is a strong willed child, you know that! We have to try different methods.

Mum: Yes but it’s also the kind of thing you heard done in the 60s.

Headmaster: I promise you, we’re not doing anything harmful here. He needed to face the wall so that he had no distractions, nothing to see, nothing to think about, except what he’d done. It’s tough love and sometimes it needs to be done but the key word here is love.

Now, is it just me that’s fuming or is this appropriate “punishment” for a top private school in North London. In some circles this child is still deemed a toddler. He’s at nursery, he’s not even four. He got pulled in to the headmaster’s office for essentially being playful.

As a parent, am I over reacting? Should schools be allowed to deal with children’s “bad” behaviour in a manner they see fit? Should the headmaster have been upfront with the mother about what happened rather than wait for the child to tell the mother?

As most people know, I’m an advocate for gentle parenting. That’s not to say I don’t raise my voice or get angry/snappy at S from time to time. But I try my best to approach his tantrums from a space of understanding, using my words to explain what I deem appropriate/inappropriate.

I went to boarding school in India and was punished in a variety of manners. I had to kneel, I had to kneel holding a stack of books up in the air and I once got smacked on my palm with a metal ruler because I was sticking up for my friends. I was a good kid in school and that happened to me so you can only imagine what happened to the kids who weren’t so compliant.

And that takes me to my next point. Compliant!? How boring would the world be if all children were compliant? We’re in 2016, surely school’s should be finding new ways to challenge “strong willed” kids rather than shame them into believing they are not good because they’re not doing as they are told. What ever happened to thinking outside the box?!

This is a subject that I’m quite passionate about (in case you couldn’t tell). I was having a conversation with another mum 2 weeks ago who referred to the English system as “Victorian”. She was comparing it to the more laid back casual American approach. She couldn’t understand why children as young as 4-5 were given home work everyday and pushed to write in a certain manner and be reading at that age as well. That’s not to say all English schools are bad but having seen 3 children go through school and excel, she did feel a lot of pressure was being put on her 4th child by this school.

Look, it takes all sorts and I’m sure there are many parents who would be happy to have the school deal with their children as they see fit. But I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t. I’d love your opinion. Am I being too soft about this?


Practical Parenting Series: Neil McNerney

Today’s practical parenting seminar was with Sabrina Marasovich and author Neil McNerney. He is a marriage and family therapist and counsellor and the main topic he spoke about was leadership styles.

We’re all wondering what kind of parent to be. There is so much out there but one of the difficulties is finding a style that works for us. Your style of parenting should depend on what your child is up to.

How do you lead your kids when he comes to school work? As parents we use the word helping alot but most kids love to be independent and don’t really want our help (or need it!) but they do need our leadership.

There are several different types of students:

Responsible student – we all want this
Anxious student
Defiant student – 1. In your face defiant 2. Sneaky defiant
It’s not my fault student
Blaming student (similar to above but passing the blame to someone else)

There are 3 main leadership styles:

1. The supporter
2. The consultant
3. The boss

Most of what we do well when we’re parenting fits into one of these 3 leadership styles. So when should you do each of these?

The Supporter
The one we love to do. All the things we think about when our kids our young, the good stuff. Complimenting our kids, cheering them on, encouraging them. Being there when they are crying and sad or upset. The supporter is there for our kids during the good times and the bad times. But we so often mess up being the supporter. E.g. – Your son comes up to you, he’s in 4th grade and he’s been getting C’s and D’s. Today he comes home and he has a B- on his vocabulary test. You say “great job” and then go on talking and talking which takes away the compliment. Things we’d say might be: What can you do next time to keep that grade up?
But when we say that, what they are hearing is “This grade isn’t good enough!” Another one we say is “See, I told you if you study harder you’d do better” but all your child hears is “I told you so”. “Keep up the good work” is another negative one. All the child hears is “Why do I have to focus on the next one, why can’t you stay happy with this grade?” Neil’s advice was “praise the child and then keep quiet! Move on quickly so you don’t end up saying something the child misinterprets!”
We also need to understand the differences between boys and girls. When boys get overpraised, they see it as being evaluated. When girls get overpraised, they see it as relationship building.

I’m proud of you vs. I’m impressed with you – Sometimes when kids are doing well and getting better at something, we say “I’m proud of you”, it sounds to them like “We’re ashamed of you when you’re not doing well”. So instead replace it with “I’m impressed with you”.

It’s important to get our children to self-evaluate. Ask them “How do you feel about your better grade?”

The Consultant
A consultant is somebody that has a certain expertise in a field, has good observational skills and then is able to communicate those observational skills to effect change. As parents, we have certain expertise in life that we’ve learned over the years and we try and communicate this to our children. When we don’t do it (giving advice) well, we’re nagging. Being a great consultant is to be a) tentative in your advice (how you begin it and how you end it). b) have shoulder to shoulder communication – When you have some tough talking to be done with your kids, rather than get angry and then go up to your kids face to face, talk to them “shoulder to shoulder” (at a table, at the kitchen counter, in the car, etc.) Have what you want to show them in front of you so that you can look at it together. It decreases the intensity of the situation.

“The more that we try to parent out of an angry place, the less successful we will be”.

If we can stay calm during the little things, we’re showing our kids that we can stay calm during the tougher things as well and our children will trust us more.

The Boss
The Boss is the one that rewards and punishes. We all tend to be the boss quite quickly, especially when we get frustrated. And when we are the boss, we tend to become the punisher and over-punish. It’s important to recognise stop behaviours and start behaviours. Stop behaviour is when you want your child to stop doing something because it is wrong but start behaviour is not wrong, it just means the child should be doing something else instead. Stop behaviour should be punished and start behaviour should be rewarded.
With that in mind, when you think about homework, is that a stop or start behaviour? It’s a start behaviour. And therefore, rewards rather than punishment work a lot better for children. Rewards are more motivating. Sometimes though it is how you phrase things. E.g. – “If you don’t finish your homework, you can’t go to the football game on Friday night”. That sounds de-motivating and like a punishment. Instead you could say “If you finish all of your homework this week, you can go to the football game on Friday”. This makes it sound like a reward and the child will feel like they are working towards something.
We have so many opportunities in our child’s life to shift things around, to move from what sounds like a punishment to something that sounds like a reward.


We should aim to approach our children with the supporter or consultant leadership role before moving on to the boss leadership role. However, if we have a particularly defiant child then only the boss style will work.

It’s better to be responsive parents rather than reactive parents. The mistakes we make as parents greatly reduces when we respond rather that react.


I’ve really enjoyed listening to the first two seminars. However, I do feel like sometimes there is a lot of over analysis of how we should speak to our children. A friend on Facebook put up this quote up yesterday: “It is our job to prepare our children for the road…not prepare the road for our children”. And this really resonated with me. By watching every single thing we say to our child so that that they are not de-motivated or so that we don’t hurt their feelings, are we raising children who will be unable to handle the world out there?! Because I can tell you, people out there aren’t worried about our feelings or how what they say affects us.

What do you think??