Use Natural Consequences Over Punishments Or Rewards

Dear Dr. Fournier:

What do you consider to be an appropriate amount of discipline for a teenager struggling in school? What I mean by that is, how much grounding, television, Internet and phone privileges are the right amount? How much is too much?

Henry L.

Birmingham, AL

Dear Henry:


A “right or wrong” mentality can easily lull us into the notion that there is one single reason for a complex problem. Few life situations can be tracked to a single cause, and there are dangers in using a “right or wrong” problem-solving technique. Regardless of a problem presented, if we turn it into the problem that fits our solution, we resort to our pre-established ideas to make them fit the situation at hand.

If we believe that children who are given everything will do poorly in school, then can we also say that only children who are not given everything will do well in school? It sounds absurd when we try to look at this situation from two different angles.

Our society nurtures parents who want to give everything to their children, but this affluence has little to do with whether a child knows how to cope with school demands. Although having clothes and a car might be distractions for certain teens, they certainly do not make children want to fail.

If you work, consider what will happen if you don’t get your work finished. Do you ever think your boss will say, “You haven’t done your work, so bring me your laptop. You are not allowed to use it until I give you a better assessment,” or “you’re grounded this weekend. I’ll need your phone, too.”

As parents, we need to fight the “right or wrong” mentality that says a child’s behavior has everything to do with how much we reward or punish him. When our children have difficulty in school, we have to deal with it as a difficulty with school. You might be able to reward your dog with treats to get him to learn a new trick, but do not try to throw your children a bone and expect them to immediately jump over all obstacles in their way.


The only natural consequence for missed material is for a child to go back and learn it. However, this applies to only what he has missed and not what he has already learned! In addition, if your child hasn’t done his work, it doesn’t matter when you find out. The consequence of not doing his work always needs to be to do it. Your child has a job and he goes to work every day.

Help him learn the responsibility that goes with work and let him reap rewards through his own accomplishments.

Parents whose children are not succeeding in school must stop believing that they can punish or reward their way to success. Throw away the notion that there is one “right” answer to the problem, and instead ask yourself with an open mind:

  • “What am I assuming my child knows how to do that he or she is demonstrating that he or she cannot do?”
  • “What holds my child up from being able to experience success with his or her work every day?”
  • Once you can answer these fundamental questions, then you are ready to develop the learning solution rather than a reward or punishment.

    The challenge is not to find a “right” answer, but to learn to ask the right questions.

    Dr. Yvonne Fournier
    Dr. Yvonne Fournier


    Yvonne Fournier
    Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. She has followed her own roadmap in becoming arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today.