Punishment not the answer for struggling students

Lecturing or punishing children when they bring home a bad report card may lead to lower academic achievement, according to a new study of middle school families just published in the Journal of Family Psychology and reported on the University of Michigan’s website.

When there are underlying problems at school causing poor academic performance, punishing kids is not the answer, says study lead author Sandra Tang, a research fellow in the University of Michigan Department of Psychology.

The study reinforces the importance of one of the key principles of the Triple P  Positive Parenting Program: providing a positive learning environment. The authors also referred to previous research findings that warm and loving parent-child interactions and an interesting and educational home environment appear to foster better academic achievement.

Tang and study co-author Pamela Davis-Kean, a professor of psychology and a research professor at the Institute for Social Research and Center for Human Growth and Development, used data from a longitudinal study of socioeconomic and health outcomes of 500 U.S. families.

Parents described their home environment, and also described how they would typically react to their child bringing home a report card that was worse than expected.

"Punishing and lecturing also does not provide the child with concrete skills or strategies for improving their grades," Davis-Kean said.

If poor results were due to a child not spending enough time on schoolwork, then it could be helpful to limit outside activities. But harsh discipline could backfire by creating negative feelings about school, and being overly controlling can make it harder for pre-teens to learn to manage their own problems.

The research recommends that parents should try to work out – preferably with the help of teachers – whether underperformance at school is due to a lack of understanding or not enough time being spent on schoolwork before deciding on what parenting strategy to use in response.

The study can be downloaded from: