Thursday, July 12, 2012

HTTSKWL&LSKWT: No punishments?!


Part 3 in my review of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

It is really hard for almost anyone to accept the notion that we can raise happy, healthy, well-behaved kids without punishing them for their wrongdoings. I admit the thought of not punishing my kids makes me nervous. But at the same time, some of what got me started on this journey to read a million parenting books was my sinking feeling that time-outs are sort of lame and unproductive.  I guess it was that sinking feeling plus a body of research that says that punishments don’t work (and some are pretty harmful to kids, ahem, spanking). But how can punishment NOT work? I was punished nonstop as a kid, and look how awesome I turned out I turned out fine. More or less. (kidding, I hate that stupid, "I turned out fine" argument.)

But at some point, you have to ask yourself: am I teaching them to correct their behavior? OR am I teaching them to avoid punishment? Are you conveying to them, “I don’t like what you did, and I expect you to take care of it.” OR “I don’t like what you did, and I expect you to suffer!”

To illustrate this distinction, one of the authors (in the new version’s updates at the end) talks about a high school student who was seriously injured at a party involving alcohol. His friends, in an effort to avoid punishment rather than solve a serious problem, focused on destroying evidence of the party instead of helping the student who was hurt. During the precious hours that were lost, the child went without help and ultimately died from his injuries. Just a super depressing story for you to keep in mind when you punish your kids.

Punishment versus Consequences

It is important to remember: not punishing your kids is not the same thing as not allowing them to experience consequences. However, many times consequences are just a new word for the same old punishments {seriously, do a Pinterest search for creative consequences. Hint: a consequence has a context. So a list of not-fun things to make kids do (without any relationship to the precipitating action)? Those are punishments. Don't get me wrong, those are way better than hitting your kid. But they are still mislabeled}. For example, if you are sending your kid to his/her room to physically separate him/her from someone they are too angry to interact with in a healthy and productive way? That looks a lot like a timeout. But the difference is, one is solution focused: stay here until you calm down. The other is problem focused: stay here because you messed up (and I doubt any kid is thinking about what he did wrong or how he will not do it again; instead just how angry he is and how much he hates his parents). Same thing applies to taking a toy away from your child. If you are doing it to protect her or her sibling from something that is being used dangerously, that is a consequence. If you are doing it because she threw a tantrum, or talked back to you, or colored on the walls, that is a punishment.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about strategies for disciplining beyond punishment. But I just wanted to get everyone thinking about (or rethinking) punishment. Bottom line, do you want to raise someone who is focused on solving problems or on avoiding punishment?
Read Part1 and Part 2 and Part 4


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