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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Punishing Really Teaches Children Nothing

(weekly Practical Parenting article as seen in The Review Atlas 1/11/11 edition)

When asked, most parents admit that they often feel as if their discipline techniques are ineffective. Many of those same parents confess however, they don’t know what else to do. Therefore they continue to punish the same way, day after day, hoping that at any moment they’ll somehow, magically get a different, desired result. All the while parents are exasperated, struggling and hating feeling like a bad parent.

This doesn’t have to be.

When asked how they discipline parents usually admit they use time-out and punishments. Rarely does anyone admit to spanking or verbal reprimanding (although I’d wager most parents do one and/or the other to some extent).

There is one glaring problem with this type of discipline; it never teaches what you expect your child to do. The reason why we take the time (and waste our breath) punishing our children is because we don’t want them to repeat an undesirable behavior. But instead of telling them what is acceptable we yell, punish and threaten our kids. How will your child ever learn what is acceptable behavior if you never tell them?
Because discipline is not working for so many of us we constantly flounder between different techniques. If we could just land on one style of discipline that actually worked we’d sleep better at night feeling a small sense of accomplishment.

Here’s the thing; all children, I repeat all children, by and large explore, dare and challenge their parents. Ornery is normalcy.

Watch how the cycle of ineffective discipline works. Joey wants a toy his brother Junior has. So he hits Junior. Hitting is wrong so you jump into the situation and verbally scold Joey. In frustration Joey hits the wall. This makes you angry so you send him to the time-out chair. He won’t stay. So you yell louder and take Joey by the arm to his room. Joey is very angry at you so he kicks the walls while lying in bed. You enter his room and tell him if he doesn’t stop you’ll take away his new bike. He’ll declare his hatred for you. You’ll give him a lengthy lecture on how that hurts your feelings and he’ll be forced to say he’s sorry for something he’s not.

All that time, energy and effort because really all you wanted was to teach Joey that there are better ways to getting a toy that he wants.  

Legitimately little Joey felt frustrated. He flailed around hitting and yelling and being naughty because he didn’t know how to deal with his feelings of frustration. I propose this entire scene could have played out differently with one small change from the very beginning.

Allow me to introduce you to a little parenting technique experts call natural consequences. When Joey hit Junior he should be reminded that hitting is not allowed and is an unacceptable behavior. The loving adult should tell Joey what he could do instead of hitting when he wants a toy. If Joey hits again he will not be allowed to play with his brother.

I recognize this suggested technique seems a little anti dramatic. I mean, isn’t an infraction like hitting worthy of a big, long, drawn out punishment? However, hitting Joey for hitting his brother makes no sense. Do you think you can teach him to not hit by hitting? Likewise, yelling, forcing an apology and removing snack time are irrelevant to the behavior you desire. We grownups understand the loss of privileges because our adult minds can connect that concept. Very young children are not as advanced thinkers as we are. If you want to curb improper behavior, you’ve got to make the punishment fit the crime.

If Joey hits Junior, Joey cannot play with his brother. Period. No arguing. No yelling. No fussing with a time out chair. No threat of removing privileges later. It’s simple. If you can’t play without hitting you don’t get to play.

If you don’t eat your dinner, you can’t have dessert. If you spill you drink, you clean it up. If you throw your juice cup you loose it. If you smash your toy I’ll take it. If you write on the wall I get your markers and you help scrub the wall. If you play with mommy’s cell phone, I’ll put it where you can’t reach it. If you forget your homework you get a zero.

You would be surprised at how effective and simple this technique is to apply in your home. Threats are eliminated. Bribes become obsolete. You no longer have to hold your child down in the timeout chair. Over time I believe you will see a marked improvement in your child’s behavior. As you simply and naturally allow for consequences when inevitable infractions happen in your home or between siblings, you’ll notice your child making connections. As those mental connections are made, your child can begin to curb his own behavior thereby making your job as a parent easier.

And who can argue with that concept? The way we handle discipline as parents can actually make our jobs easier or harder. I vote for easier! Why? Because I’m the Mom and I said so! That’s why!

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