Punishments are never “one size fits all.” The goal of punishment is to provide a learning lesson about behavior and consequence, and in order for the punishment to be successful, the type of punishment you choose must be appropriate for the offense. Sometimes, writing-based punishments can do more harm than good for your child’s behavior. Consider the pros and cons of writing sentences for punishment, and if you choose to issue this type of punishment, ensure the writing experience is constructive and beneficial to your child in some way.
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Some aspects of writing-based punishments can be beneficial for your child. Sentence-writing exercises promote fine motor skills and provide practice with spelling and handwriting. When a parent makes a child sit down in a quiet area and write for punishment, her focus and attention becomes occupied in a way that can prevent angry outbursts, temper tantrums and other misbehaviors that result from boredom or restlessness during unstructured time-outs.
If writing-punishments aren’t structured properly or are repeatedly used, they can send and reinforce negative messages about writing. Your child might begin to associate writing with punishment, which can hamper her motivation and enthusiasm for school writing. She might also neglect to see writing as a liberating, expressive form of communication and instead, view writing as unsatisfying “work.” According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress: 2011 Writing, and reported in the "Orange County Register," almost 75 percent of U.S. students have sub-par writing abilities. Children who are made to write sentences repeatedly aren’t learning how to develop their written language -- rather, they’re simply copying letters and words for a meaningless writing objective that doesn’t include the construction and expression of ideas through words, and they’re doing it begrudgingly, which can reinforce their reluctance to write for other purposes. Lastly, trying to reinforce good behavior -- by having your child write “I will remember to put away my toys when I’m finished playing,” for example -- is simply ineffective, according to the International Child and Youth Care Network.
If you decide to enforce a writing-based punishment, structure the writing activity to provide purpose, personal expression and choice in writing for your child. Instead of requiring her to write a set amount of sentences or a specific number of words, provide her with a list of relevant topics to choose from. Ensure that the topics reflect the misbehavior, but also, encourage personal reflection and expression. For example, “How could I have managed my anger better?” or “How would I feel if someone broke my toy?” Look at the content of the writing when determining what’s enough instead of page lengths, grammar quality or word counts -- the writing should be reflective, expressive and descriptive.
Consider other, more effective forms of punishment instead of writing exercises. Loss of privilege is one way to deter misbehavior. Another idea is to enforce a restitution punishment, which encourages children to take accountability for wrongdoing and rectify their mistakes by fixing or replacing broken or damaged items.