Want to know a dirty, little secret about punishment? It
Punishment may be able to control a child's behavior
temporarily while they're small or when they are in their parents'
presence, but it cannot control the person. As with all
humans, outward behavior is merely a reflection of our inner
selves: our needs, our hurts, our emotional states.
While the temporary "payoff" of punishment may be
compliance, the need behind the behavior is never addressed. Those
needs merely get driven underground, and often emerge later in
more potentially damaging behaviors such as lying, sneaking,
anger, outright rebellion, depression, aggression, addictions,
In the same way that treating a brain tumor by merely taking a
pain reliever doesn't address the underlying issue, masking the
symptoms of an underlying need with punishment-induced compliance
doesn't solve the problem; it intensifies it.
Want to know another dirty, little secret about punishment? It
requires constant escalation.
In order to maintain the temporary effect of controlling
behavior, the punishment, or threats of punishment, must
constantly be ramped up. Parents who start out with popping a tiny
hand escalate to smacking a chubby little leg, then paddling a
small bottom. Over time, as their children's needs, which have
been driven underground, emerge in ever-increasing behavioral
issues, parents often find that they are resorting to yelling,
threats, and physical punishment more and more often.
|Even parents who use punishment-based parenting
approaches other than physical punishment find that they must
escalate and escalate to keep their children under
"control". Behavior charts, time-outs, grounding, and
removing privileges are some examples of non-physical
punishment-based parenting. While these behavior modification
techniques may be less painful to children physically, they still
don't address the underlying needs being communicated by the
behavior and often are nearly as destructive to the parent/child
Using isolation such as time-outs or sending children to their
room separates them from their source of guidance and comfort just
when they need it the most. This not only misses a golden
opportunity to help the child learn coping mechanisms for dealing
with their emotions, but also fractures the very connection that
should provide the safety for expressing those emotions. Using
behavior charts, removal of privileges, grounding, etc. separates
children from their parents by creating an us-against-them
mentality that inevitably leads to conflict instead of creating a
teamwork mentality that leads to cooperation.
Here's the thing: effective parenting, and effective discipline,
specifically, don't require punishment. Equating discipline with
punishment is an unfortunate but common misconception. The root
word in discipline is actually disciple, which means
one who is guided, lead, taught, and encouraged.
Many of today's most popular self-proclaimed parenting
"experts" equate physical punishment with discipline and
go to great lengths to describe the best methods and tools for
hitting children as well as instructing parents to maintain a
calm, controlled, and even cheerful demeanor as they
"lovingly" hit their children.
It is interesting to note here that, when it comes to the law,
crimes of passion are treated as less heinous than premeditated,
planned, and purposefully executed crimes which are termed
"in cold blood". And yet when physically punishing a
child, a crime in many places across the globe, hitting in anger
or frustration (i.e. passion) is deemed wrong by proponents of
spanking, while hitting children with calm and deliberate intent
(i.e. premeditation) is encouraged.
||It is also interesting to note that, in the
not-too-distant past, husbands hitting their wives was also viewed
as not only a societal norm, but also a necessary part of
maintaining a harmonious, successful marriage. The core belief
behind "reasonable smacking" of wives was that there was
no other effective way to control them. I agree. If controlling
another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear,
intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are the
means of control.
But, if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trust
relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, and
communicating are the tools for success.
Many parents simply don't know what else to do. They were
raised with spanking and other punishment-based parenting methods
as a means of control and "turned out okay" so they
default to their own parents' choices without researching
alternatives to spanking or considering whether "okay"
could be improved upon.
Is it just possible that children who are hit learn to hit?
That children who are hurt learn to hurt? Perhaps the lesson they
are learning is that "might makes right" and violence is
the answer to their problems, the outlet for their stress, the
route to getting others to do what they want.
People throughout history have complained about "the
trouble with kids today" and they've pinned all the ills of
their society on supposedly permissive parenting. They've ranted
about out-of-control children, disrespectful youth, entitlement,
spoiling, disobedience, violence, self-centeredness, etc:
"The children now love luxury. They have bad manners,
contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders ...
They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict
their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the
table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their
teachers." - Socrates, 5th Century BC
"What is happening to our young people? They
disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore
the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions.
Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"
- Plato, 5th Century BC
"I see no hope for the future of our people if they
are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all
youth are reckless beyond words ... When I was young, we were
taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present
youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of
restraint" - Hesiod, 8th Century BC
"The world is passing through troublous times. The
young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have
no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all
restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes
for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls,
they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior
and dress." - Peter the Hermit, 13th Century AD
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Maybe, though, there isn't really
any "trouble with kids today." Maybe the problem is with
parents who repeat the patterns their own parents set or with
societies who view normal stages of development as somehow
|Maybe "kids today" are just kids like
they have been through the ages, full of exuberance and curiosity
and learning their way in a great big world. Maybe a listening
ear, gentle guidance, and trusted arms to turn to are really all
children need to grow up into kind, helpful, responsible,
productive members of our society.
The bottom line is that addressing our children's underlying
needs, the actual causes of their behavior, instead of just the
behavior itself, is a far more effective parental approach, and is
significantly better for a healthy, mutually respectful
parent/child relationship. Sending our children out into the world
as adults with their needs met, with coping mechanisms for those
times when stresses overwhelm them, and with the knowledge of a
safe haven, where comfort is always available, is a powerful way
to change the world for the better.
Maybe, just maybe, sowing peace in our homes is the answer for
our children, our families, and our world, after all.