The topic of punishment is a hot topic of debate for parents. In this Episode 105 we explore punishment and whether it is good or bad. We had our own debate in Episode 33 where we talked about punishment. This topic has come up more and more with the dads I talk to and recently in some additional parenting classes I am attending. I can here it now…”When I threaten or do take away my son’s video games, he behaves. Well, I bet he does. It seems quite difficult for people to accept the idea that punishment isn’t the answer to solving your children’s issues, getting them to do something, or when they do something “wrong”. For context here, I’m primarily referring to situations where you may “ground them”, take away their electronics or toys, or provide a long or severe punishment. Telling your child to go to their room can simply be a technique to cool off, both for them and you. The key is the follow up and we’ll touch on that later.
So why do we typically punish our kids? Here are a couple of reasons:
– We want to teach them a lesson
– We want them be accountable for their actions
– We want to correct their behavior
That is what we want the punishment to do. The problem is that punishment doesn’t result in any of those things. So why do we punish our kids? Why do we have the perception that punishment works?
1) We don’t know what else to do?
2) It makes us feel better’
3) It does and can provide a quick fix…focus on the quick fix
4) It’s easy to do – punishment is easy
So what do we do then if we are not going to punish them? When our child does something we deem inappropriate or bad, how do we handle it? I know how my mother handled it. When we did something bad and came clean, she first would thank us for telling the truth and then give us a hug. Then explain why what we did was bad or who could have been effected by it. It became a learning process.
The example I have is when I was caught lighting fires under people’s house. I admitted to it and did not get punished. Instead I was educated on the danger of fires and what it can do.
Punishment risks the bond and connection between two people being broken. You get punished enough, your not going to tell the truth, you’ll lie to avoid punishment. You will also not learn the correct behavior or response.
What happens when you punish someone (and this goes for adults as well), they focus their attention on you who punished them rather than themselves and what they need to learn. For example, if you yell at an 8 year old child to “get up to your room and you will not play video games for a week”. The child is completely focused on how much of a jerk you are. They are not focused on their behavior that got them in the situation.
So what do we do? We are firm and kind. Here are a few things that can be done instead of punishment:
1) You have to set limits – If something was never discussed or never taught, it’s really not fair to get upset at someone. If your child has never heard that balls are not to be bounced in the house and then a vase breaks, they may not have ever been aware of that rule. It’s certainly common knoweldge to us, but not to a young person unless they are told.
2) Thank them and give them affection, if they are coming to you to disclose something. Meaning your daughter comes to you and says “dad, I wanted to tell you that I took money out of your wallet. Telling the truth and the communication between you is much more important than you showing “who’s boss”.
3) Related consequences – In this wallet example, if the child spent the money, they are going to have to pay you back. But extra punishment is not warranted. The time needs to match the crime. If the child gets dirt in the house, they have to clean it up. They don’t get something taken away.
4) Ask them what they need to do or how it could be fixed – A good example of this is with grades. Parents will bribe, punish, or do whatever. What about asking the child what they need to improve in school or you being more involved with their schoolwork to see where they may be struggling. If it’s a matter of focus, then it’s setting up proper routines at home to accomplish what they need to.
5) Provide an explanation – Explain why they shouldn’t have done what they did, specifically the effects on other people or what can happen. The lighting fires example from my childhood is a good one for this.
6) Teach correct behavior – Most importantly is for them to understand how they could have handled the situation better or what they “could have done”. This can often be discivered simply by asking questions. “What could you have done differently? What do you think you will do next time you are in this situation. Having them come up with the solution offers a much better chance that it will work.