Punishment is a tool designed to make a child “pay for what they did” and to feel bad about the way they acted. The belief is that the bad feeling will stick with them and motivate them to not repeat the behaviour or action.
But punishment has side effects that can create more problems for the parent then they originally had. For example, making a child feel bad can backfire and motivate them to hide and lie about their mistakes. It can also damage the parent / child relationship.
Think back to your own childhood and remember a time when you were punished. How did you feel? How did you feel about yourself at that moment? What did you want to do as a result of the punishment? How did you feel toward the punisher?
I’ve asked these questions numerous times in my workshops and not once did any adult say they felt good about anything in that moment. We now know that making a child feel bad about what they did affects the way they think and feel about them self.
You wouldn’t buy one jacket to fit all of your kids, and you wouldn’t take one prescription pill to fix every sickness you come down with, so why would you use one form of discipline for all behaviour situations. Each situation requires a different solution.
It’s not easy being a parent today and knowing what response should be used with every challenging behaviour. And it’s hard for a parent to change habits when they don’t have the right skills to replace ineffective techniques with more effective ones.
That’s why I believe that parents should commit to becoming a life-long student when it comes to raising children. There are many great books that offer successful strategies and lots of parenting classes and workshops offered in the community.
Begin by looking up information on, or getting help with, consequences and using them to replace punishment. A consequence is much more respectful to the child and can have longer lasting positive effects on him or her and the behaviour.
And a consequence does not always have to be about the child; it can be about the parent. For example, if the child uses words that are hurtful to the parent or the child hits the parent, the consequence could be that the parent makes a strong statement declaring a refusal to let anyone hurt them physically or verbally, and then leaving the area where the child is.
This type of response demonstrates (and teaches the child) about keeping them self safe from being hurt. The consequence is the child losing access to the parent in that moment. For example, the parent could say, “I don’t let anyone hurt me,” and then quickly walk away. In this example, there was no need to do anything to the child, resulting in a higher level of learning on the part of the child. Having trouble believing this? Try it the next time your child acts out this way.