(Paul Katz/Getty Images)
TV chef Jamie Oliver cooked up some controversy this weekend when he admitted he gives his kids hot peppers if they misbehave. “It is not very popular beating kids any more; it’s not very fashionable, and you are not allowed to do it, and if you are a celebrity chef like me it does not look very good in the paper,” he joked at the BBC’s Good Food Show in London. “So you need a few options.”
The parent (with wife Jools) of four — Poppy, 12, Daisy, 11, Petal, 5, and Buddy, 4 — says his go-to move is to “give them chilies for punishment.” Oliver told the audience he even tricked his eldest into downing über-hot Scotch Bonnet spice one time when she ticked him off. “Poppy was quite disrespectful and rude to me, and she pushed her luck,” he explained. “In my day I would have got a bit of a telling-off, but you are not allowed to do that. Five minutes later she thought I had forgotten and I hadn’t. She asked for an apple. I cut it up into several pieces and rubbed it with Scotch Bonnet, and it worked a treat. She ran up to Mum and said, ‘This is peppery!’ I was in the corner laughing.”
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Creative? Yes. Advisable? No way, says Dr. Fran Walfish, echoing reader comments in the U.K.’s Daily Mail that labeled Oliver “vengeful” and “a bully” for the prank. “There are all different styles and methods of punishment parents use to educate their children, however I believe tricking a child into eating spicy chili pepper is harshly punitive and falls under the category of abuse,” the Beverly Hills psychotherapist tells Yahoo Parenting. “It is especially disturbing to learn that Jamie Oliver was in the corner ‘laughing’ as his daughter ran to her mum for comfort.”
Jamie Oliver with his family (REX USA/Mothercare/Rex)
His mirth is no laughing matter, adds the expert: “Making light of your child’s discomfort and pain can be sadistic, but more likely [this] tells me that Mr. Oliver was caught in a personal power struggle with his 12-year-old. And this is the least effective position from which a parent needs to impart discipline for supportive learning.”
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But Oliver isn’t the only one doling out bizarre punishment as an alternative to spanking and time-outs. Parenting website iMom.com details a list of “creative corrections" from The Facts of Life alum Lisa Whelchel’s book of the same name. The examples Whelchel champions run the gamut from silly to seriously authoritarian:
A mom of three consistently crazy-loud sons turned the noise on them, says Whelchel: “If her boys did not take their commotion outside, she would make them sit down and listen to the Barney theme song for 10 minutes. For adolescent boys, it’s torture!”
A father of a boy shirking his backyard cleanup job of pooper-scooping after the family dog was ordered to run through the yard barefoot. Whelchel notes, “From then on, their lawn was perfectly clean.”
Whelchel recommends putting the phrase “Hold your tongue” into actual practice on a child. “Have her stick out her tongue and hold it between two fingers. This is an especially effective correction for public outbursts.”
And for chaos in the car, Whelchel offers this tip from a friend: “If things got too raucous or there was too much fussing between siblings, she would cry, ‘Noses on knees!’ Her children then had to immediately touch their noses to their knees until she determined that they had learned their lesson.”
Regardless of how you approach discipline, Walfish urges parents to consider — before acting — how their actions will affect their relationship with their kids. “The objective of all parenting, rewards, consequences, and punishments should be to teach your child to inhibit negative impulses and poor choices, including disrespectful talking,” she says.
In other words, while Facebook shaming — the punishment du jour lately — certainly sends kids a message, it might not be the one you are going for. “Out-of-the-box punishments, including mocking your child on social media in front of his peer group, may be creative, but risk causing serious damage to your precious parent/child relationship,” she explains. “When in doubt, parents should reach out to a child psychologist or school counselor. Don’t risk breaching your precious relationship with your child or teen, which may take months to years to repair and rebuild.”