Proper Punishment for 10-Year Old Boy

Updated on December 10, 2008
A.A. asks from Sunnyvale, CA
22 answers

Our son has been misbehaving at school this year. He was suspended for half a day after a few altercations in PE and most recently not allowed to play in the school football game because he got in a fight with another kid. (Physical). My husband and I were married a year and a half ago so I'm still new to understanding discipline with my stepson. My stepson's mom is not in the picture so he is with us full-time and I've been trying to encourage my husband (with the help of the therapist) to take a step back from being strictly a disciplinarian and connect with his son. My husband used to take everything away for long periods of time as punishment and I learned you should just take one thing away at a time. There was a time the punishment lasted so long even I forgot what my son was being punished for!

My question to you fellow moms is what would be the proper punishment for getting in a fight. I thought taking away everything for the weekend and giving him chores to keep him busy then taking his video games for a week, saying each behavior problem to follow will add an additional week the next time around (next time it would be two weeks). Also we will only sign him up for spring sports if he can prove proper sportsmanship during his basketball season.

He came back with a report card (he's had a substitute this entire first year as his teacher is not arriving until after the New Year) that's better than what he's had in the past. Not great by my standards but nothing negative which should definitely be commended.

So in the midst of punishing how do you properly convey your approval for a good report card?

Thanks for all of your help. I really appreciate the wealth of advice I receive from you lovely ladies!

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answers from San Francisco on

Well, if by 'proper' you mean 'effective' you might want to look at the book "Positive Discipline" and see if anything speaks to you. Sometimes kids have a goal in their misbehavior, and if you can identify it, you might be able to skip the punishment and solve the underlying problem.




answers from San Francisco on

Hi, A.;

My son got into a fight at about the same age. He had definitely been provoked into it, but we talked about the fact that, even though he had a right to be angry, the physical response was not appropriate. We then made him write an apology letter to the boy he'd been in a fight with, and hand-deliver it to the boy's house. He was MORTIFIED, but he never got in a fight again.

Good luck.

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answers from Redding on

You have your hands full.
I would venture to guess that your stepson is in need of some help.
Often children act out their rage in physical fights at school. Based on all of the changes he has faced, this acting out could have been forseen.
I project that he is struggling with:
The rage will appear in inapporpriate actions like fights when one feels they do not have an appropriate way to vent.

Abandonment over the "loss" of his mother.As he nears his teens he will be aware of her not being there, even if it has been this way for a long time.

Jealousy over your new role and now the jealousy over your new baby. He may be pushing back to see if undonditional love really exists for him.

Loss of the way things were, he is no longer the only child, it is no longer just him and dad.
What to do?
Get him some help, counselors through schools and maybe a male mentor that is not involved with the family but can be there for him.
Good Luck



answers from Redding on

I wonder if the new baby is making him feel insecure. I'd start by asking him what he's angry about or ask if he knows what is causing him to misbehave.

I've explained to my son that usually when people get really upset and act out that it is seldom really about the thing they are acting out about but really something that has been bothering them for longer.

After we go through this, sometimes I make the punishment something I do with him, like rake leaves and then we get to talk a little more.

I think it is more important to help the child identify what is causing the behavior than it is to impose strong disciplines.



answers from San Francisco on

Why are these altercations occurring? You must find the why to be able to properly address the problem.

He did great on his report card, maybe you could take him some place special for a treat. Just you and him, as a reward and there you can talk to him one on one away from family and distractions (yes, your sweet little baby can distract from this situation so get someone you trust to watch the little one) about what's been going on at school. It's the perfect set up. You show love and approval for awesome behavior and you have the opportunity to find out what's been going on, and from there you both together can come up with a plan of action.

Maybe let your husband know what you plan to do because he does need to support you in whatever plan you and your son come up with, but keep it just you and the kiddo during this talk otherwise your son may feel ganged up on.



answers from San Francisco on

Lots of people have given you some great advice A.. I agree with the positive reinforcement position; sounds like your stepson has had too much negative in his life so far with punishment going way beyond the misbehavior! He needs to be encouraged, and if he does misbehave he needs a good discussion about why and what to do the next time. Follow this up with lots of love and a 'you can do it' attitude. There are more deep rooted problem, perhaps, and you have a therapist helping you, so this is good. I would just focus on more positive and more encouragement. If he acts bad, make sure he isn't told that he is bad, but instead say "the way you've acted was bad." See the difference? Work hard on him now as it won't get better with those teenage years. Last advice, ensure your husband understands and doesn't make the same 'mistakes' with your new baby. Some of the book recommendations are a good idea. Reading about it always opens the mind and the heart. And remember, he's just a kid, and needs to learn. Well, you seem concientious of this already, so bravo for your efforts!



answers from Redding on

A. A,
I think we are in a similar situation. I too have a 10 year old step-son who's mom lives in another state so it is full time. The biggest differences are, we have been together for a bit longer and he doesn't seem to be acting out to the same extent. I can only tell you form experience what is working and not working for us. (oh yeah, he has a 16 month old baby brother too-we also have an 11 year old girl) Taking things away has never worked. I still think there needs to be that piece in some areas but don't make it as centeral. My thoughts on that are if he has lost his mother, the most important thing in his life, taking away his video games doesn't seem to be as big of a deal anymore. Loss just isn't the same when you have a different reference point. One thing that has worked is have had him decide on his punishment, he does pick something that usually makes sense and he is in more control even if it's still punishment. He has also become more responsible and respectful now that his baby brother is getting older and he can help more. He has someone to take care of and not focus so much on himself. In the end I think a big part is his age too. I hope that this has helped if only a little.



answers from Sacramento on

I think he might be acting out. A lot of families that are second marriages with older kids tend to have a period of time when the child rebels. This is due to all of the changes and having to adjust. Could the birth of your new son be playing a role. Could he be feeling threatened by your new son or feel ignored? How is your family relationship on the whole and with him? Take a look at those things and see if it gives you any answers why he is getting into fights. I think it is great that you are commending his improved grades, hopefully next report card they will keep getting better. Praise his good works and still discipline him for his bad behaviour. Ask him about the fight first, get all the facts, then decide the punishment. Remember you may be his mom in your heart and you may love him, but he could be having a hard time, whether you know it or not, adjusting no matter how long you have been married to a new mom. Be patient and make sure any punishment, praise given is given with you and your husband together, he needs to feel that you both are in this together. I know it sounds wishy washy, but that's where I would start and change tactics if that doesn't work. Good luck



answers from San Francisco on

First, I want to give you kudos for really being there for your son and wanting to step up as his mother. I have no doubt that your husband and son are grateful to you, as I and my girls are grateful to my husband.

I would talk to my child about what is going on that caused this behavior. Children don't lash out without good reason generally, It sounds like he's had a lot of changes in his life as of late and he's 10 which is sometimes when kids start showing signs of the beginning stages of adolescence.

I would also continue to encourage dad to back off the harsh strict punishment. I have found that what ends up happening with that type of punishment is the child's self esteem suffers. It sounds like he needs more "carrot" and less "stick."

I'm wondering if your son (I love that you call him your son and want to step up for him) is in therapy too. I have had great success with family therapy when my daughter was having troubles. She now is open and communicative if she's having problems instead of acting out. I am grateful for this having been set up before the teen years!!!

Make sure to give him kudos for his grades. The more you focus on how well he is doing, the more he will focus on it too. Kids thrive on positive feedback. Sounds like he deserves some.

I don't think there is one proper punishment for a fight. It really depends on the circumstances. However, an important life skill that could come from this is learning how to reconcile and make amends. Learning how to use words rather than fists. That may be punishment enough. When my daughter stole something from a girl in her class, I had her write a letter of apology. Since she had already been punished at the school, I felt the letter was enough. It was well thought out and long, but difficult for her to do. She also had to hand the letter to her personally and verbally apologize as well. It taught her how to take responsibility for her actions and she and the girl became friends after that.

I have learned to try to make use of natural consequences whenever I can rather than taking things away (unless that's an appropriate natural consequence.)



answers from San Francisco on

A 6.5 month old baby...10 year old misbehaving since school started, just about SIX months ago (OK, more like 3 or 4 months ago, depending on where you live)...could he be screaming for his father's attention the only way he can figure out to get it? Not an excuse, just something to chew on...

Good luck to you and your family. Sounds like Love and Logic would be a great tool to implement as a family. Teaches kids natural consequences without making the parent the "bad guy". Check it out:



answers from Bakersfield on

Hi A.,

For you to be so concerned about your step-son is commendible. There are a lot of good books out on child rearing, but one author is so good. His name is Dr. James Dobson and he writes with so much insight. I was having trouble with my son and daughter once and read one of his books, it said to even thank them for anything good he/she does even like cleaning their own room. It worked they talked to me better and it was like a door opened.

Good behavior is to be praised and bad behavior should be investigated. Why is he fighting? What made him mad? Also, my youngest son went through a period of anger. What my husband and I did was take him to the park and let him throw a few baskets so he could get some of the aggression out and he is such a good son now.

Good luck D.



answers from Sacramento on

Dear A.,

You don't mention in your post why your son got in the fight. Have you asked him? My brother used to get in physical fights at school and at least once he was standing up for a littler kid who was being picked on. He told the bully to pick on someone his own size and they ended up in a fight. I think that if you don't know what is causing the fights then you can't pick a suitable punishment and this time a punishment may not be the right solution. Who knows a punishment might not be needed depending on the cause. It may be that your son just doesn't know how to handle a certain situation that arises during sports and the only way he knows how to handle it is to get physical. I think I would want to find out why it happened and discuss what appropriate behavior would have been in that situation. If the behavior continues then sure I would give a consequence. Personally I'm rather concerned by the use of the word punishment and it sounds like punishment is something his dad often gives and it is unfair, i.e. doesn't fit the crime. I believe in consequences for behavior that are ultimately a punishment but I think that how you see it makes a big difference in how it is administered and ultimately how it is taken by the child. The consequence needs to be discussed up front so he can make a choice. he needs to know that if he chooses to act in a certain way then he will receive an already agreed upon consequence. This is far fairer than giving a random punishment after the fact. He needs to learn cause and effect and that he brings the punishment upon himself not that it is given out by you willy nilly. He also needs to know that you are both fair and are willing to find out what happened rather than jumping to conclusions and administering "punishments" that might not fit the crime. In the 8 years I did child care with kids this age the one thing I learned is they can not tolerate things that don't seem fair and you stand the risk of alienating him if you don't approach this carefully. It sounds to me that you already have a sense of this and are trying to help your husband be more this way too. Sit down and talk to your son and then determine whether a consequence is needed this time and during the same chat agree on an appropriate consequence should it ever happen again. Give him some control over his destiny.



answers from San Francisco on

Hi A.,
I commend you for the concern you have for your stepson, and the effort you are putting forth to help him.
What were the fights about? Is the point punishment, or understanding what the altercations were about and giving him the tools he needs to be able to deal with whatever pushed his buttons? You are right on track with trying to get your husband to have a relationship with his son, instead of just being a dispenser of punishment.

There is a principle in the Bible that tells dads not to make their children angry by having unrealistic understanding of their emotional needs and abilities. It sounds like your husband didn't have a warm loving father, so he doesn't know how to do this. Does your husband listen to you and try to do the things you suggest? I'm thinking the anger your stepson is dealing with is coming as a result of not having those deep "father needs" met.

There is a great book about The 5 Love Languages, there is one specifically for children, I think these would help you to understand how both your husband and son perceive love. Keeping peoples emotional tanks full goes a long way towards making life easier for families. I hope this helps.



answers from San Francisco on


First, I'd like to say how much I admire you for putting effort, love and caring into helping your stepson solve this problem.

It seems like he must have some anger issues which I assume he is working on with his therapist. It might be a good idea to talk with the therapist and your son together and write out a list or chart of positive and negative behaviors. You could get advice from her/him on discipline but also rewarding good behavior. Sometimes when kids have these troubles they get used to all of the attention.

I think you are on the right track with your ideas and also with trying to get your husband to spend quality time nurturing his relationship with your boy. It is his job to teach his son how to handle conflict. Your son will learn, either intentionally or passively, how to be a man. It is so important that he spends that time with him teaching him those skills.

As far as the report card goes, just tell him how proud you are. It can become easy to get caught up in the negative and start feeling as if they don't deserve praise for anything. Who knows? That bit of praise amidst the conflict could make all the difference for your son and your family.




answers from San Francisco on

Let your husband punish him and you just play the role of a loving mother, since his own mother obviously sucks. Poor kid. His mom abandoned him.



answers from Yuba City on

FIRST: With kids, always say the good thing first. "I am so pleased with the improvement on your report card!" No buts after it either!
THEN express your disappointment/disapproval of the school sitch. You do not say WHY he got in a fight. Maybe he had good reason. Which doesn't mean he SHOULD have acted on it. You see the difference? "Yeah that guy deserved a bloody nose! But you can't hit at school" etc etc
You are so right about OVER punishing! A week to a kid is like amonth to us. And take ONE thing away (i take the video. Then the TV if he gets lippy)
And remember this also: The school IS DISCIPLING him. You just have to get to the bottom of the incidents at school, he wont tell you if he feels judged. And tell him what he did wrong (fight at school) and that you know he knows better now and that you expect it will NEVER happen again.
As a step parent, your best bet is to be his FRIEND. Good luck,



answers from Modesto on

Hi A.!

It sounds like you are very "in tune" to your stepson. How lucky he is to have you :o) You are in a really tough spot, right now, so keep holding on to that patience.

First, it sounds like an awful lot of punishing is going for long periods of time. This gives him the feeling that "It doesn't matter what I do, because I'm always in trouble anyway!" It's to young for tons of grounding, that needs to be saved for when he's older. Now is the age to let him know what you expect from him, and he will simply follow through, it sounds like he's acting out for attention from his dad.

I would like to know WHY he got in a physical fight with another boy? Was he defending himself? Or did he start the fight? There is a difference, and what kind of boy are you wanting to raise? If he was defending himself then there should be no punishment. The school already handled it with a suspension.

It sounds like you are absolutly right, A.! Your husband needs to back off, and start "bonding" with his son. If it's not going to happen from him, then YOU can form a bond of trust with him. He needs someone "on his side that he can trust".

You really have different issues into your posting, and I don't want to write pages! I have been a stepmom for 16 years, and know really well how hard it is to be in your situation. I also have 2 more boys of my own, and now is a huge age for them to start developing responsibility, trust in you, and respect. It's much easier for him to deal with his own emotions if he thinks his parents are on his side.

As far as his report card goes, he's showing you "he's got what it takes" and he's fully capable of producing your expectations, but he is not behaving that way.

If he were my son, I would sit him down and don't expect for him to look you in the eye (he will be ashamed). Tell him things are moving WAY too fast in his little life, and you think you all are "trapped" in a cycle. Let him know that after you saw his report card, that you know how serious he can be. Ask him why his behavior got out of control. Tell him what you expect from him, have a few things written down. Ask him if you are being unreasonable with your expectations (he will say no, but ask). Then simply tell him you want to "start over". Wipe the slate clean, whatever. But give him a chance to show you what a great boy he is.

He just went through having a new mom, brother, and sharing his dad....of course he will act out!

It sounds like you are very loving, and care so much for him. I am sure that you know exactly what you are supposed to be doing :o) Trust yourself, A.. Mother's really do what is best!

~N. :o)



answers from Stockton on

Hey A.!

Sounds like you have your hands full!

The first thing I would do is to sit down with the boy and dialogue about what he knows about right and wrong, and what he thinks appropriate punishments for different offenses are. Kids often times come up with stuff that WE think is too harsh! Allow the conversation to be both general (stealing from the store, stealing someone's purse, kicking a dog, etc.) and specific to the situation (lying to your parents, getting in to a fight at school, etc.

Next, put a reinforcement plan in writing. Let him do the writing, if he's interested, because it gives him ownership and makes him feel involved and responsible for his life, something kids at this age really want. These are the consequences for negetive behavior, these are the rewards for positive behavior. Make the incentives something you can handle that will be important to him: dinner at a favorite restaurant, family game time, extra tv or computer time etc. The consequences should also have importance: loss of friend time, early to bed, loss of TV/Computer time, etc.

Be ready to review your consequences/rewards list as needed, because what motivates him today won't neccesarily motivate him tomorrow.

If he's having problems every day, offer a daily incentive for good behavior. If it takes a month to earn the incentive, keep trying. Sometimes the first step is the hardest. If his problems are less frequent, offer a weekly reward.

Define exactly what you are measuring. Start with no more than three conditions to define a "good day" Mine are: No bench slips, No turning your card (no in-class behaviors that result in loss of privleges at school), and No being sent to the office. If those 3 conditions are met, regardless of anything else, he has earned the incentive. If not, he has earned a consequence. Sometimes, depending on the child, the consequence can be loss of the incentive. That's a "natural Consequence", and can be a very good teaching tool. For example, you earned a trip to Baskin Robbins for bringing home a good report card, but you also earned a consequence because you were suspended. So not only did you lose your ____________ (whatever the consequence was), but we can't go to Baskin Robbins until after the consequence period is over, because I can't reward you when you're in trouble. You earned it, and we'll do it, but not until you've finished your consequence.

I hope this helps, and keep us posted! Good luck!



answers from San Francisco on

I do not have any thoughts on proper punishment for the 1st question, but I do think you are correct with the connect with his son and most importantly you need to reinforce positive behaviors. One thing you can try is instead of tv or video games, etc being a normal part of the day and if something goes wrong you take it away, try swapping it. When he has done good reward him with some play time or an hour of tv, whatever his fav activity is. A friend of mine has found this have made such a difference with her son (6 1/2) and I'm sure it would work at 10 too.

Good luck-



answers from San Francisco on

Discipline is always tricky. It sounds like your stepson has anger issues that need to be addressed. Get him into an anger management course or therapy or something. I would think he may have some feelings that he needs to deal with around the fact that his mom is not in the picture at all. I bet he misses her and doesn't understand why she's not around and in the back of his mind, he probably believes that he's done something to keep her away. He needs lots of love and to know that whatever happened, is not his fault and does not reflect on him at all. He's probably also angry with your husband because it doesn't sound like there'a any understanding, just punishment. I would definitely sick with the no springs sports if he doesn't do well with the basketball season, but ONLY if you get him some help. If you don't get him help, he won't be able to resolve these issues and no amount of punishment will resolve them for him. As for the good report card, I would give him back one of the things you took away to reward him and perhaps take him out for pizza or something. He needs some positive recognition!!!!



answers from Sacramento on

Dear A.. IT could be he is asking for attention in the wrong way .he may feel out of the picture since the baby is in the picture. MAYBE MORE POSITIVE REWARDS SPENDING A DAY WITH YOUR HUSBAND doing someting he likes to do a reward for the report card . then a day with you to do something fun when is followed the rules. some times just taking a way his favor activeites for a short time added back with good behavior . why did he have a fight? maybe someone is bulling him and he got tired of it . I like I would try taling with him more being more positive and possibley look for a reasson why has been doing these things a school. well good luck S..



answers from San Francisco on

I agree with Adrian. Sit down and talk to him in a calm manner.

Ask him what brought everything on, is there anything going on at school, why does he feel this behavior is acceptable? etc. Sometimes kids will say the most surprising things. Just remember that...NO MATTER WHAT he says...the most important things to say calm and give serious consideration to whatever comes out of his mouth.

One thing that I recently learned is to sit side by side, not face to face, when we want to have a deep conversation with someone. Face to face can easily become a defensive stance and for this type of conversation putting anyone on defense is counterproductive.

Good luck

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