What is the best discipline for kids: spankings vs. timeouts or … pushups?

Pushups might not be a bad idea, considering that one day, I witnessed a 10-year-old boy discipline HIMSELF with pushups.

His infraction? He interrupted two adults (I was one) in conversation, then promptly dropped to the floor and knocked off pushups.

Of course, this boy had no problem doing the pushups; he had a black belt in karate.

But he did enough to get fatigued. Karate training itself is a marvelous way to instill discipline and self-control in kids.

Shutterstock/Ravil Sayfullin

“I’m punishing myself,” said Brad after apologizing, down on the floor and doing pushups.

In some karate schools, the instructor makes kids do pushups for speaking when they’re not supposed to.

Pushups are generously dolled out in the military as part of mental discipline, not just physical conditioning.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea to make kids do pushups for discipline, and unlike spankings, this classic exercise drill won’t foster aggressive behavior or teach “might makes right.”

But if the parent screams “THAT’S IT! 20 PUSHUPS, NOW!” this might make the child feel very negative towards exercise, and when he or she grows up, may completely avoid exercise.

However, if parents use a controlled take-charge voice to order the pushups (such as how a high-quality martial arts instructor does), then children won’t hate exercise when they’re older; and doing this exercise in gym class or in a fitness class at the health club won’t bring back traumatic memories.

But are pushups more effective for discipline than timeouts or spankings?

If spankings and timeouts aren’t working for discipline, then try pushups. In fact, you may want to reserve the classic spanking as a last resort.

Pushups won’t make kids cry like spankings will, and nobody will likely report you for child abuse if they see you ordering (with a controlled voice) your child to “give me 10.”

While pushups will bring on discipline in kids, they’ll also improve fitness and even boost self-confidence and self-esteem.

Spankings and timeouts won’t do that, but this doesn’t mean you should abandon the timeouts.

Timeouts have not been shown to induce aggression or other maladaptive behaviors.

So what should a parent do to discipline the child who’s become so good at pushups, that the exercise is no longer a challenge?


This movement can always be modified to increase difficulty.

  • On the knuckles
  • On the fingertips
  • With one foot in the air
  • Bringing a knee towards the chest after each push upwards (great core workout!)

You can start your kids off by having them first work off of their knees until they get stronger.

I’ve had years of experience in the martial arts, and believe me when I say that pushups are a very effective strategy for making children behave without making them feel hostility towards the person in charge.

When kids do this type of exercise, this chest/shoulder/triceps movement really does instill self-discipline.

And even though your child will not realize it at first, pushups will build fitness, strength and self-confidence.

And don’t fret about what strangers will think if they see you disciplining your child by ordering a set of 10 or 20.

I’d be willing to bet that a stranger will come up to you and say, “Hey, that’s a brilliant idea! I’m gonna try that on MY kids next time they act up!”

You can take this concept and broaden it to other forms of exercise, such as mountain climbers, jumping jacks, squat jumps and sit-ups for teaching mental discipline.

Ordering an exercise routine is NOT abuse unless the context is adverse, such as prolonged exertion in the heat without water, or if accompanied by insults and belittling.

Spankings vs. timeouts vs. pushups: You decide.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  



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