Punishments are common place in Western parenting, from time-outs to loss of privileges, the different methods are widely varying amongst the families who use them.
On one end of the scale we have those who punish harshly and physically, and then there are those parents who prefer “gentler” options such as the naughty step or time-outs.
Though the second group may feel they have little in common with the first, there remains a united result.
The truth is that punishments (of ANY kind) just do not work.
The trouble is that for the parent who is using these techniques, they may not agree. Why? Because after they hand out a smack or a time-out, they see an instant result. The child appears sorry, their behaviour may improve and it seems that they have “learned their lesson.”
I suppose I should say not that punishments don’t work – they do in some cases in the very short term – but when looking at the overall picture, they absolutely do not. Parents who punish never seem to do it just once do they? You never hear a mother say “Oh I took away her favourite book when she was six and she’s never misbehaved since!”
It is proof in itself they don’t work, simply by the sheer volume of times a parent will have to repeat a punishment to see lasting results. I have seen parents who give “time-out” three or four times in the same morning, or making the same unheard threats of loosing their swimming trip over and over again. I have seen children removed from playing, or sent to the “naughty step” only to repeat the behaviour just moments later.
Punishments teach our children lessons, as all our actions do. Unfortunately for both sides, these lessons are not the ones we want our children to learn:
- We are not on their side.
- We can exert our will over theirs.
- They should lie or hide their natural impulses in order to avoid being punished.
- They are unable to resist their natural impulses, which always seem to lead to punishment, so they must be somehow “bad” as a person.
- This behaviour gets the undivided attention of a parent. Negative attention is better than no attention.
- Mum/Dad isn’t fair.
- Mum/Dad doesn’t listen.
- Mum/Dad doesn’t like me.
Punishing leads to rebellion. We are all naturally drawn to freedom and autonomy, yet we so frequently steal the freewill of our children, coercing, forcing, humiliating and destroying their trust in us.
Yet the ironic thing is that without punishments, without artificial consequences, those “well behaved” respectful children you long for will emerge.
Children are naturally “good” people. They want to imitate their elders and please us too. By expecting the best of them, they will deliver in bucket-loads. But so often we expect higher standards from them than we are prepared to give ourselves.
Just this weekend I was offering around a tub of mango to my family. I offered it to my Mother in law first.
“No,” she said.
I then offered it to my three year old nephew.
“No,” he smiled.
Without missing a beat she turned to him and chidingly corrected him – “No thank you.”
When I pointed out to her that she hadn’t said thank you herself, she was surprised. She hadn’t realised that she hadn’t said the words.
Our children can only be as “good” as we are ourselves.
Punishments don’t work, but that doesn’t mean our parenting toolbox is empty. Fill it with connection, trust, communication and respect instead, and watch as those behavioural issues melt away into nothingness.
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