A Simple and Effective Discipline Strategy for Boys

By December 10, 2012General

Due to a number of requests on this Instagram picture I shared about my son doing push ups, here is a post about why and how we use push ups as a discipline strategy.

I have two girls 10 and 8 and a boy who is 5. When the girls were little, time out worked well as a discipline strategy. As they’ve gotten older, when a consequence is needed, I make them write sentences or a paper explaining a better solution to the problem they faced.

But my boy….

Let’s just say…sitting and writing are NOT terribly effective. Lately, I’ve used a discipline strategy that has really worked well.

What Has Worked For Us

If he misbehaves, he does push ups. It’s kind of a miracle consequence for us. Here’s why:

1. It is a great energy release for my high energy boy. Half the time that he gets in trouble it has something to do with ALL. HIS. ENERGY. Push ups help wear him out and calm him down a bit.

2. I can assign push ups anywhere. He’s old enough that even if we are at a store and he is not showing self control, I can assign push ups (that we’ll do later at home) and it’s just the boundry he needs to help him make better choices. Note: I used to forget by the time we get home, but now I just have Siri (iPhone reminder) remind me when I get home.

3. He likes push ups. As a boy who wants to be big and strong, he kind of likes doing push ups, so making him follow through isn’t a challenge. I always praise him if he does a lot in a row without stopping and that makes him beam. It might seem odd that I assign a consequence that he likes, but my goal with consequences isn’t to make him miserable, it’s to help him think twice about his actions.

4. They are stinkin’ hard to do. No matter how much he likes them, push ups are still hard to do. He knows he can only do so many, and that he’ll be hurting tomorrow if he has to do too many.

It Takes Two

Push ups are kind of easy to whimp out on. Kids can use their knees, have bad form or not go down as low as they can. I’m pretty drill seargant-ish about good form and doing a full push up. This can be a hassle, but I like to be a part in his consequence. We count the push ups together. Sometimes (not terribly often) I’ll even do them with him.

It can be a hassle.

I don’t want to just assign something and walk away.

If he disobeys, I want the consequence to be a bit of a hassle for me. It prevents me from punishing him without following through and teaching him. It requires me to be involved in the whole process so that we can work on the character issue that caused it. We are a team. I’m his “coach.” If he’s struggling in some area, then I need to walk with him through the consequence, practice right responses and work it out.

Push ups as a consequence has worked really well for us.

I figure he’ll either be the most respectful kid in kindergarten or the most ripped kid in kindergarten.

What creative consequences have worked for you and your family? Click here to join the discussion!

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  • Southern Gal says:

    Ha! My husband has a military background and he has used push ups or squats as a disciplinary action on our sons. It worked wonders. Another thing that worked was sending him outside with a shovel to dig holes. One delivery guy asked if we were getting him to dig our pool by hand! He remembers those days fondly. He loves working outside.

  • Lisa C. says:

    I only have girls, but something like this might work for at least one of them. But I vividly remember my parents coming to chaperone my 5th grade camp. My dad (of course) was in the boys’ dorm, and those boys were rowdy. He ended up making them all “Hit the deck!” and do pushups until they were ready to go to bed. Well, all except for the kid with the broken arm. He had to do situps. I certainly heard about my mean dad from all the boys the next morning! 🙂

  • Sherri says:

    I love this.

  • Susan says:

    We have used this too! With a son who has sensory issues and tended to mis-behave when his engine was running just a bit too high, it was very effective at burning some of the energy out too! Also, it was great for building strength!

  • as kids, my mom would have us pick weeds- and getting rid of weeds was what she wanted us to do to our character- I think it worked!

    • Grateful Mom says:

      What a beautiful idea. Not effective as we’re buried under snow this time of year…but a great idea for spring/summer. It’s also something we can do together, a task that never seems to have enough time devoted to it, and is truly therapeutic. I have to remember this one!!!

  • Ashley says:

    Love it! I was wondering about how many do you make him do at one time?

    • Kat Lee says:

      I usually assign them in increments of 10ish – depending on the situation. He’s had to do as many as many as 50 for one offense… Although, that is very rare. Normally it’s just 10 -20.

      For example, if I ask him to do something, he is assigned pushups each time I have to remind him. Same thing if I call him and he doesn’t respond.

      He usually does them 10-15 at a time and takes a little break in between.

  • Kristin says:

    I really like this idea for a discipline for boys. I have 2 girls (9&6) and a boy (3) also and my boy seems to really give me a run for my money. For my girls it seems easier to come up with ideas for discipline. One thing I have been doing lately that really seems to work is this: my girls, for whatever reason, seem to paint the bathroom counter with toothpaste EVERY time they brush their teeth. So I informed them that I will check after each has brushed and if there is tooth paste left on the counter they get to clean the whole bathroom. This includes scrubbing the toliet, shower and counter/sink. It’s amazing how that solved the problem! I also put this to action in the kitchen. I explain that I expect them to put away their dishes, clean up after they make and eat snacks including throwing away the wrappers. If they leave the mess then they get to clean the kitchen for me. Wipe down the table and counters, sweep the floor and load the dishwasher. It’s been great, I don’t wind up cleaning the never ending hurricanes of messiness and its their choice to either take care of their messes or not but the consequence is there if they choose not to.

  • Candy says:

    We do this, but we also make them run in place for a few minutes if they are caught running in the house or the crab walk around the foyer for a few laps.

  • Kathy says:

    My husband and I are involved in therapuetic foster care. These are kids that are in foster care because of their behaviors in the home, so they come to our house to learn new skills. We have to have doable consequences and consistency. We have used physical activity like this for boys for several years with excellent results. We often like to couple the activity with a goal, moving a wood pile, raking leaves, digging a hole to plant a bush, pulling weeds, etc. because it also builds self-esteem in seeing a job well done. So when we assign this type of activity we set a goal rather than a time because 30 minutes of leave raking may not get much done but rake this section of yard until it’s done they can take as long as they want. Life doesn’t move on for them until the job is completed. if they decide they want to take 3 days to do what should take 30 minutes then that’s a choice they can make. They come in for meals, go to school, whatever, but free time, fun time doesn’t happen until the job is done in a manner that is acceptable to me. They usually want to get it over with as quick as possible but some kids will get really stubborn about it. By the way, we have 4 boys of our own that received the same type of discipline and they are all very respectful, kind and helpful young men now and they are also very fit.

    • Kat Lee says:

      Wow. I must first say thank you for all you do to help young boys who need the wisdom, direction and love you and your husband have to offer.

      Second, thank you SO much for chiming in. I love hearing from someone further down the road that something I’m doing has a good chance of being effective.

      I also love your idea of attaching it to a goal. We certainly have some leaves that need to be raked…

    • Hey Kathy, My husband and I are foster to adopt our 3 year old nephew. He moved in in July and time outs have very quickly lost their effectiveness. We moved 2 weeks ago and he’s really started acting out. I like the idea of having him help with work around the house as a consequence for his behavior in part because I think it will help reinforce the idea that this is his new home too. Have you tried this approach with someone as young as 3? Was it effective? What kinds of tasks is a big 3 year old with a 12 month learning delay capable of? Thank you!

  • I cannot wait to try this. I’m a single mom and my little boy is ALL BOY. He has energy that never ends. I’m 43… so I’m already tired. He’s amazing most of the time, but there are those times when he’s definitely over-tired or over-stimulated… and I think he’d love the challenge of doing these.

  • Jamie says:

    This works! I used this with my now-15 year old when he was becoming a little sassy at 12. He also had to run around the block (1/4 mile) and we could increase the laps just like we increased the increments of push-ups. My daughter responds much more quickly to having to read the offense to dad, etc. than physical punishment. My 15 year old is away at prep school now and when his little 9 year old brother was getting sassy, I texted him and asked for advice. He replied back quickly. “Make him run and do push ups til it hurts. It works!” By the way, my 15 year old really did respond and is such a lovely person. Parenting is day by day, though! Good luck and thanks for sharing!

    • Kat Lee says:

      That is so neat that you have a mature enough 15 year old that you can ask for his input on handling his younger brother. I love that!

  • Kimberly Holty says:

    Ha! I do jumping jacks. and yes perfect form is important. Half-hearted attempts without slapping at the top, etc. show that his attitude is still bad. I also make him count out loud. Which proves to be the hardest part (for him) because he is still mad at me for whatever infraction. If he only does 5 when I said 10 or even 9 – he tries to get by with less, he has to start over! and yes it works!

    • Kat Lee says:

      I love it! I may have to mix things up and throw in some jumping jacks too.

    • Sue says:

      I have used jumping jacks with my girls and they are EFFECTIVE! I started it a few years ago when my oldest was probably 9 and it has been a sanity saver! I add 10 more for every complaint or argument and also insist that they count out loud. If the requirement has gotten high and I see that their attitude has improved I join them. They appreciate the company and it becomes a bonding time because we usually end with laughter.

  • Mariah says:

    I LOOOOOOOVE THIS IDEA! I have 5 boys and I always get to a point in discipline where I’m running out of fresh ideas. We also use cleaning efforts to discipline our boys (it takes a good amount of energy to scrub our kitchen floor). Last week we were desperately trying to find a discipline idea that would get the boys to clean up after themselves without a battle EVERY TIME. I sent the two oldest up to their room (5 and 7). When I called them down I had an even bigger mess waiting for them. I went to great lengths to scatter ripped paper, toys, crayons, books- anything that they usually make a mess of times 10. When they stood there with their eyes wide I let them know that if they never picked up this is what our house would look like all day and that I was not going to put up with any trouble during clean up time anymore. If they give me problems now they know I will make their mess bigger and harder than it was. Of course I had to stand there to make sure the job was being carried out and to let them know when to pick up the speed or to say they are doing fine and to keep it up. It really is like being a coach. Boys need to be challenged and even pushed to so they can turn around when they are done and see the difference they have made in the end. BUT they also need encouragement and they need to know you believe in them. The encouragement balances out the the challenge you are putting them up to and prevents the challenge from turning into one big put-down. That doesn’t mean I get all mushy huggy in the middle of a challenge, it usually comes in the form of clapping and a firm cheering on… something like “Common guys you can do this.” or ” Let’s go- just a little left.” or Common your doing better now, keep it up. You’ll be done before you know it.” And when we are done with whatever their challenge was (cleaning, picking up, scrubbing, doing laps, and soon to come push-ups…) I clarify what needs to happen next time and try to point out something good that just happened as a result of their work. If they picked up ill say “See? look how nice you just made our living room look” or if it was running laps I will ask them if they got their energy out and when they say yes, I remind them how our bodies and minds can work better when we get out our energy in a good way. Once it’s all wrapped up I have found that asking a “two option” question is the best way to go. Something like ” Ok now do you want to have a snack or help me with the dishes?” It helps them snap out of it if they are still in a mood and lets them know it’s over, we are moving on. And once they let me know what they want to do next they get a big hug and we move on. Does it work perfectly every time? No, but this is basically the outline I try to stick to, and sometimes the positive results almost shock me!

  • There was an English teenager in the Olympics with the gymnastics horse because he was sent in there when he was naughty. It’s a great idea, thanks for sharing!

  • Mary says:

    I’m with you on push-ups for boys! I’ve got three boys, 15, 14, and 9, and the push-ups work wonders! They even work with our autistic two! Our military background made us choose PT as a consequence, but push-ups are always number one on the list.

    Now, do you have any advice for girls? We don’t know what to do with this little pink thing! She’s got more than 6 years of attitude in that little body and everything makes her cry!

    • P. Weir says:

      Mary, my youngest daughter (youngest of 5 children) was weepy, too at that age. Everything was a crisis to her. I discovered that adding omega-3s to her vitamins changed her attitude within minutes, literally. She would go from crying to singing in 5 minutes! Her focus and concentration, retention and co-operation, ability to make decisions all were positively affected. Moms of several children are often omega-3 deficient with those later pregnancies.

  • Kendra says:

    OH! MY!! WORD!!!
    Kat, you might just be my new best friend. First, the Plan to Eat website is saving my life with meal planning and now this!! We have three boys 10, 8 and 5. The older two are in karate and have to do push-ups or supermans (squat down then jump to full extension ending back in the squat) for discipline in class. It has never occurred to me to implement this at home but, thanks to you, it will be the new standard.
    THANK YOU!!!!

  • Stacy says:

    I love this. My son is the same way and he does tae kwon do and they make them do push ups too when they aren’t doing what they are supposed to. So after time out didn’t work at home we started push ups and could not be happier.

  • Faith says:

    WOW!! I believe this just might be an answer to prayer! For 3 years now we have been trying to find ways of disciplining our now 6 year old boy and nothing I ever read seems to work. Last week I ran into someone I knew at the store and she takes care of her grandson and I know she has had discipline problems with him (he came from a rough background) and she shared this same concept with me and now I read this and everyone’s comments today on inspired to action. Hmmmm….I’m thinking God may be trying to tell me something!” Can’t wait to put it to work! Thanks Kat!!

  • Jenn says:

    I just posted this Facebook status not 10 minutes before I read your post! “So what do you do when your almost 5 year old son suddenly starts disrespecting you, sticking his tongue out, and mouthing off? This is whole new territory!” I’ve been having him stick his nose on the wall, but realized a lot of his misbehavior is he has way too much energy, and nothing to do with it this winter but get into trouble. We’ll be trying out this suggestion!

  • LaToya says:

    I have two boys, 3 and 6, and I have been struggling to come up with discipline ideas that don’t involve spanking, yelling, or otherwise just making my children feel bad. Now I can use some of these ideas to challenge my boys and build their self-esteem and character as a way of discipline. I am new to the website but I love everything I have read so far! Keep up the great work and thanks for all of the wonderful advice!

  • Gail Medaris says:

    I love the push up idea! I have three girls (12,9,7) and a three year old boy! He is a ball full of energy and three has always been the hardest with all of our kids and it is all ready starting and he just turned three. I guess my question/concern is I don’t want physical activity to become a negative thing! Have any of you experience that when they grew up they didn’t want to do physical activity because it was used as a consequence?

    • Kat Lee says:

      It hasn’t been a concern for us at all, but I imagine it might depend on the child. Actually, just today, my son had to do 5 pushups for not obeying promptly and he did 31 just because he wanted to see how many he could do. At least on him, it’s had a very positive effect – building his confidence and self esteem. I do always compliment him on how strong he is and what good form he has.

  • Amy says:

    This is a life-saver! Just when I was needing something. I have 3 kids: 2 boys — ages 4 and 6 and a little girl, 3. My 2 boys (but especially my oldest) could power Manhatten with their energy!!! I hate to “punish” them for how God created them (yes…I really do believe that God created boys to be busy and conquering!), but I want to disciple them to bring it under control — to harness it so that it can be used for God’s work (and productivity) and not just destruction!!! This is a great solution: it provides discipline, direction, and helps to build sefl-control! Thank you all for your wonderful comments!!!

  • Lizzy says:

    My oldest son has AS which makes it difficult to get our point across with discipline sometimes. He literally doesn’t grasp how a consequence will affect future choices. The main issue (for discipline) we have with him is attitude. In an effort to teach him that being grumpy/defiant is not something we do in this house he gets sent outside to sit on the front porch. This allows both him and us a chance to cool off. He is allowed back inside when he can talk nicely/respectfully and is ready to obey. If he comes back in and starts whinging again – it’s straight back out the door! So far it seems to be working 🙂

  • Renee says:

    I grew up with one sister, so having two boys now is uncharted territory for me! I’ve tried so many things for discipline but nothing has clicked for us. I am definitely going to try using push-ups for my 4.5 y.o. I’m not sure if this is going to work for my almost 3 y.o., but it’s worth a try!

  • Shannon L says:

    OK Kat
    Somewhere in my stuff I missed this post!!! But oh my today was the right day to read it!! Our Sons (6,5 and 2 1/2). Have WAY too much energy and have been very tough to disapline lately!! I feel like all I have been doing is yelling…we’ll all that is going to change push ups are being explained at the dinner table tonight!! THANKS so much for the idea!!

  • Cyn says:

    I have two boys and one girl and my husband and I didn’t exactly have our kids do push ups as much as just holding them selves up in a push up position(lean and rest). That worked wonders for us with all three kids. I’m glad to know other people use this as well.

  • June Park says:

    PS one of my daughters has a high energy level so it is sexist to say boys are the only ones like this. When I taught young children there were girls and boys who were calm as well as girls and boys who were not.

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  • Chrissy says:

    Thanks for this! I have been struggling with behavior issues with my son and can not believe I never thought of this! He was doing football and when he finished (he is 7) he became super wild…nowhere to release energy! Isy make it high knees push ups.

  • Jeff says:

    I think this punishment should be for your daughters and your son. Instead of being a sexist parent, use your discipline method equally. The girls will not break when they do exercises. They are not fragile. Both genders benefit from this punishment technique because it not only teaches them the right thing to do, it also makes them physically healthier.

    And if your girls are overweight, even better reason to start being less sexist.

    • Kat says:

      Thanks for your comment Jeff….but to quote one of the great classic movies… “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

      If you’ll read through my post again, you’ll notice that I don’t assign consequences by gender. I assign them by what *works* (note the first and second paragraphs).

      I appreciate your concern and welcome contrary replies, but I encourage you to thoroughly read a post so that you can respond in a way beneficial to the overall discussion.

  • Tiffany says:

    I have a 7 year old boy, almost 8, and have been having a very difficult time in the past 3 years with him. He seems very angry and is easily set off by the littlest things. I find it hard to discipline him effectively because of it. If I’m too hard on him I feel like I’m just making him angrier, so I loosen up a bit, but then he starts walking all over me. There is an obvious lack of respect. I’m wondering if he’s already too old to start trying this form of discipline and also if it should even be something I should be trying on a kid who is already angry and aggressive.

    • Kat says:

      Honestly, it’s hard to say without really knowing the situation. One book that I’ve found helpful is called “How to talk so kids will listen, and how to listen so kids will talk.” I wonder if it might help you get to the root of his anger?

  • Marilyn says:

    I don’t know where this form of punishment was done, and I see that it was a year ago, but for future reference…my daughter (in CA) gave her boys squats as a punishment and the 8/9 year old went to the school nurse the next day complaining about his muscles hurting. The school called CPS on my daughter. She was told that squats and push ups were considered an excessive punishment (she gave them 10-20) and that she could no longer use this as a deterrent. Your children can, on the other hand, do squats and pushups as part of an exercise program. Go figure!