Restitution as an Effective Child Discipline Strategy

Restitution is a helpful way to get kids to learn from their mistakes.
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When your child hits, takes something without asking, or hurt someone's feelings, saying sorry may not be enough to change his behavior. Even worse, he may damage the relationships with the people he hurt.

Restitution is one of the most effective ways to change a child's behavior. It teaches kids new skills and encourages them to make healthier choices in the future. All the while, it helps them repair the relationships that they've damaged.


Here are seven reasons why restitution works: 

1. Restitution Promotes Self-Esteem

Restitution helps kids recover from their mistakes in a way that promotes healthy self-esteem. When used appropriately, restitution doesn’t make kids feel shamed or humiliated. Instead, it helps them feel empowered.

2. Restitution Teaches Self-Discipline

Restitution can be a great way to teach children self-discipline. When kids are given opportunities to think about how they should attempt to correct misbehavior, it helps them understand how to make better choices in the future.

Kids who are given restitution learn how to think for themselves about how to make amends when they’ve made a mistake. As they grow older, they will be better prepared to think for themselves when they’ve got a problem.

3. Restitution Encourages Kids Take Responsibility for Their Behavior

Restitution ensures that kids are taking responsibility for their own behavior because they are given a negative consequence where they have to do the work.

If a child sits in time-out while her parents scrub the walls she just colored on, her parents take responsibility for fixing her mistake. If the child is made to clean up the walls, she learns to take responsibility for her own behavior.

4. Restitution Normalizes Mistakes

Mistakes are part of being human and restitution teaches kids that mistakes are normal.

When parents say things like, “Why did you did you do that? What’s wrong with you?” it often causes kids to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior. A child may begin to lie to get out of trouble or may go to great lengths to cover up a mistake.

In contrast, teaching kids that mistakes are normal encourages them to be honest. When children understand that making mistakes is part of life and that how people deal with those mistakes is what matters most, it increases the likelihood that they’ll accept responsibility. Instead of claiming, “It’s not my fault,” a child who is given restitution is better prepared to say, “I made a mistake. What can I do to address it?”

5. Restitution Teaches Problem-Solving Skills

Including kids in the process of discussing how to make reparations can be a great way to teach problem-solving skills. Both the offender and the victim can be included in the discussion about what would be a fair restitution.

Including children in the discussion helps them begin to think about solutions to problems. This increases the likelihood that they’ll be able to do this when you’re not around. Kids can greatly benefit from learning how to provide restitution when they’re on the playground, the sports field or spending time with friends.

6. Restitution Teaches Kids About Feelings

Restitution is a great way to teach kids about other people’s feelings. Apologizing and doing a favor for the victim reminds him that the victim has feelings too. It also helps kids see how their behavior directly impacts others.

Saying, “It makes your brother feel really sad when you take his toys from him,” helps build empathy. Then, when a child has to perform restitution, he is able to see how he can help make amends for his mistake, which is part of building long-lasting and healthy relationships.

7. Restitution Gives Kids an Opportunity to Right Their Wrongs

When kids perform restitution it helps them see how they can begin to “right their wrongs.” It shows them that just because they made a mistake, it doesn’t mean they should be punished or can’t ever recover.

Instead, restitution shows them that when they’ve hurt someone, they have an opportunity to repair some of the damage. Instead of carrying around the message, “I’m bad because I hurt my brother,” restitution can help kids learn, “I made a mistake by hurting my brother but I’m going to do my best to make it up to him.”


Choi JJ, Bazemore G, Gilbert MJ. Review of research on victims experiences in restorative justice: Implications for youth justiceChildren and Youth Services Review. 2012;34(1):35-42.

Ty A, Mitchell DG, Finger E. Making amends: Neural systems supporting donation decisions prompting guilt and restitutionPersonality and Individual Differences. 2017;107:28-36.