Tag Archives: Old fashioned punishment

How to punish children properly (and get their attention)

Reforms are afoot in the United Kingdom: children in the UK will be taught languages and coding and teachers will be able to impose old-fashioned punishments, like writing a sentence over and over again and pick up the rubbish. Just like the bad old days, when education was synonym of  discipline, but not necessarily development.

I am not a teacher, but I know a few children and if they are anything to go by, these kids are not likely to be impressed or scared by forced line writing. OH NO. They know better, so if this cabinet wants to teach them right from wrong, it’d better change strategy.

Since giving unsolicited advice is easy, I will volunteer.

Dear Mr Gove,

if you really want to instil sense of  duty and discipline in these kids, you must rise to their level, touch their imagination, their intelligence, their creativity, their sense. Kids may be young, but they are sensible, practical and resilient. If you really believe in punishment, you might as well do it right.

Here’s a piece of advice from a partial member of the public, with no teaching experience, but one who has had 1st class teachers and a 1st class mother (also a teacher); get a mirror.


Get each class a mirror. Every time a child is caught talking or being disruptive or being lazy (read: no homework done), you get the teacher to hand the mirror to the offending child and get him/her to say: “I have taken myself for a ride. I have let my laziness/giddiness stop myself from doing something good for myself.”

The other kids will laugh, the offending child will wish to be elsewhere, but at the same time s/he will also get the message: if you misbehave or are lazy, you lose out in the end. That’s one lesson they will not forget in a hurry.

You shake your head, Mr Gove, you don’t believe me but I can guarantee you that it works. It worked for me.

When I was 8 I was a chatterbox. I could not help myself: I had to talk, until one day my teacher made me stand up and, having given me a beautiful hand mirror, she made me say: “I let my chit-chat stop myself from paying attention and now I will never know ___ (whatever she was teaching at the moment). I have lost out, I have taken myself for a ride.”

I still remember. It hit me where it hurt: my pride. I don’t remember my friends’ laughter, and I did not feel humiliated, but angry: I had lost something.

I had missed a moment of complicity between my teacher and those who had paid attention, I had missed a trick and marginalised myself. 

That hurt. 

In her punishment, my teacher had shown her respect for me, her willingness to believe that I was mature enough to see the silliness of my actions. She had also left room for hope. Silliness is not incurable: all I had to do to be included in the magic of the lesson was to pay attention. I could do that and I did.

She achieved her purpose without having me write overbearing sentences 1000 times. I would have forgotten that in a hurry (plus my super Lady mother would have roared at the teacher’s outdated methods. Yes, I said ‘roared’ and parents would protest just as energetically today in the UK, albeit in a more Anglo-Saxon fashion)

Bottom line: kids are kids and they need our guidance, but they are not stupid. Respect them and they will get the message. Push them around and they will declare war on you. Can we afford to wage war on them? Here’s a war with no winners, if I ever saw one.

So, save us all tons of chalk and a generation-worth or resentment and admit you got it wrong. Get a mirror, utter a mea culpa and start again on the punishment front, if you must. Only, this time, ask a few teachers and parents for their opinions, while you are at it…

Best Wishes,