Mom Going Viral for Making Son Do Push-Ups in Public Restroom

The boy, who lives with ADHD and ODD, was acting up in Hobby Lobby and his mother had had enough—but does this type of punishment do more harm than good?

photo illustration of boy doing pushups against tied background
Photo: Illustration by Parents Staff; Adobe Stock (1)

Enforcing discipline can be a tough call for a lot of parents. You don't want to overdo it, you don't want to underdo it, you don't want discipline to backslide into punishment if you can avoid it—it really is a slippery slope. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong, and that's just the nature of being a parent. We try to do the right thing even when we don't always know what the right thing is.

Case in point, a recent viral Facebook photo of a mother making her 10-year-old son do push-ups in a public restroom. The post accompanying the photo read, "To the woman in the Hobby Lobby bathroom. If my hands weren’t full of children I would have applauded you. As your son gave you the back talk of the century, you stayed calm and collected while adding 10 more push-ups to his already growing number." The post, written by Molly Wooden, who has two young children of her own, continued, "We need more parents like you, who aren’t afraid to parent their own children because of what someone else might think. He said, 'Mama, this is the bathroom floor, grossssss.' She said 'Maybe you shouldn’t have been acting obnoxious. (They have soap for a reason.) 10 more.' Random woman of Hobby Lobby, I love you. Keep on raisin’ them boys right!"

The mother, who was later identified as Nicki Harper Quinn, told CNN that her son has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) and that he'd been "doing what normal 10-year-olds do, touching things and bothering his little brother" and just generally not listening. Well, Harper Quinn had had enough of her son's defiance and took him into the Hobby Lobby bathroom to do push-ups as a consequence for his bad behavior.

The photo has garnered lots of attention and support from parents across social media. But this type of punishment may not be as effective as folks seem to think. According to San Diego-based family therapist Lauren Cook, there are several issues that arise with this type of punishment. "Not only was having the child do push-ups in the bathroom unsanitary (and potentially a violation of other customers' privacy), it was also publicly humiliating."

"Knowing that the bathroom floor is unsanitary and typically a private place, requiring a child to do push-ups in this setting is devaluing and dehumanizing," says Cook. "This is a harmful dynamic where the child is learning that if they try to advocate for themselves, there is further punishment."

While most parents recognize the need for assertive parenting and discipline, there is a difference between discipline and shaming. And expert consensus is clear–shaming does more harm than good.

Disciplining children is never a simple or straightforward task, so the American Academy of Pediatrics offers clear guidelines on the use of positive discipline as opposed to punitive discipline. Here are some things you can put into practice at home:

  • Model appropriate behavior and explain behavior expectations.
  • Set firm limits. Have consistent rules so your child will always know what's expected of them and be sure to explain expectations in age-appropriate language.
  • Give consequences. Ensure your child knows what to expect if rules and limits are broken and stick with those consequences. Consequences should be related to the behavior you'd like to correct. For example, if your child throws a toy, remove the toy and don't give it back for a set amount of time.
  • Catch them being good. Acknowledgment of good behavior is just as—if not more—important than correction of negative behavior. Praise your child when they do a good job.
  • Plan ahead for situations that might result in behavior problems. Discuss the situation with your child beforehand so they know what to expect and how you'd like for them to behave.
  • Redirect. Sometimes something as simple as redirection can help a bored child stay out of trouble.

When it comes to children with ODD, consistency and communication are key—provide clear boundaries and, most importantly, positive attention.

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