| Family Reflections |


Punishment isn’t the problem. How it’s given may be


arents don’t “punish” their kids anymore. If they do anything at all in the realm of discipline, it will be offering “consequences.” Not even “negative” consequences, mind you, just consequences. In fact, parents have become terrified of the notion of punishment.

“I don’t want my kids hating me, so I never punish them. The problem is, I’m starting to hate them. Their behavior is completely unacceptable a lot of the time, and I just don’t know what to do about it.”

Fair Punishment

Actually, children don’t hate their parents because of punishment. When you park illegally and receive a parking ticket, do you “hate” the police officer who gave it to you?

More likely, you’re just annoyed that you now have to throw away your money on this unnecessary expense. You also knew that breaking the rules would— if you were caught— lead to financial punishment. It’s all straight up and fair.

You want to make sure that other people leave available parking spots for you, and so you want them to leave when their parking meter expires. You’re quite happy that there’s a system in place that encourages that kind of “cooperation.”

Similarly, children have no reason to hate parents who create systems of punishment that make perfect sense and are inherently fair. Therefore, receiving a punishment for refusing to go to bed on time, coming home past curfew, or stealing money from Mom’s purse makes sense even to a child. In order for the punishment to be fair, however, it must be forewarned. Suddenly being dealt a punishment without prior warning — i.e., education as to the importance of the value being promoted and the cost of refusing to adhere to it — is always perceived as unfair, even when the punishment “makes sense.”

This is why using something like the 2X-Rule helps children gracefully accept their punishments. Under this system, a child cannot receive a punishment unless he’s been forewarned that the unacceptable behavior will produce a punishment going forward. So the first time a child takes money without permission, there’s no punishment, but there’s a warning. If the child decides to try that particular behavior again, he understands that he may receive a punishment.

An Attitude Problem

Punishment itself doesn’t cause hatred, but how punishment is delivered certainly can lead to those kinds of feelings. Essentially, when a child feels hated, he often hates back.

A ranting parent who tosses in a punishment after delivering a scorching reprimand, never wears a loving face or speaks in a loving tone when disciplining, is a parent who drips with hostility. This is what causes a child to hate the parent — not the removal of privileges, possessions, treats, or any other punishment.

Because it’s the parent’s attitude that’s the problem, feelings of rejection and subsequent dislike for the parent can be created without the use of punishment. Throwing up one’s arms in disgust and allowing the child to carry on with his inappropriate behavior can just as successfully communicate loathing.

A parent’s anger — whether conveyed loudly or silently — is toxic to the developing human being. Anger isn’t a parenting tool; it’s an emotion that arises out of parental helplessness, frustration, and fear. Parents should never attempt to provide guidance or education when they’re experiencing intense negative emotion.

Does Punishment Teach?

Punishment that’s delivered without emotional fanfare is harmless. But is it effective?

Punishment doesn’t teach new behaviors. However, punishment, or the threat of one, may be able to start a behavior (i.e., “If you don’t get into your car seat right now, then you won’t be coming with us.” The child gets into the car seat.) or stop a behavior (i.e., “If you don’t stop swinging those scissors around, you’ll have to leave the playroom.” The child stops swinging the scissors around.). The threat of punishment can also act as a deterrent (i.e., “I don’t want to park there because I don’t want to risk getting a ticket.”). Therefore, when used carefully and properly, punishment has a place in the parenting toolbox.

However, the bulk of a parent’s educational work is in the realm of guidance— teaching (reprogramming the brain). And in that realm, other tools are needed, such as providing instruction, offering encouragement, creating opportunities for practice, and giving praise and reward. And let’s remember that besides guiding and teaching, parents have one more crucial parenting task to perform: loving!

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 724)

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