"When we use punishment, our children are robbed of the opportunity to develop their own inner discipline-the ability to act with integrity, wisdom, compassion, and mercy when there is no external force holding them accountable for what they do."
We're all familiar with the typical punitive parenting methods: Johnny does something bad, Parent doles out a lashing or a tongue lashing or a time-out or a grounding or some other consequence.
And the lesson Johnny learns? As most of us who used to be children can attest, he does NOT learn to avoid the bad behavior; rather, he learns to avoid being caught.
In other words, the punishment was totally ineffective in the ultimate goal of teaching Johnny to do better things. It was primarily effective in teaching him to be sneaky.
(And, for the kids who DO internalize the lesson to 'be good,' it is usually based on fear...I say this from experience, because I am someone who even in toddlerhood had an intense desire to do the right thing, but I can state without reservation that a fair portion of my 'good behavior' in childhood was still based on fear of punishment. A I did my share of sneaky things too. I remember one particular time I got what I felt was an undeserved spanking, and for the next several years I justified at least a dozen acts based on the conclusion that I had already had the punishment for them. My parents read this blog, but I betcha they had no idea about that, did you mom and dad?)
We have a dog. We also have a rule that she does not climb on furniture or go into bedrooms. She is allowed to roam freely through most of the house, but I don't want the dog hair in my bed or bedroom and so bedrooms are off limits. She usually sleeps curled up right in front of our bedroom doorway--even when our door is open, she knows not to come in. (Of course we trip on her if we get up in the night, but that's forgivable.) Sometimes, however, when we're not paying attention to her, she slides a paw over the threshold. Then another paw. Then a nose... A few times she has come right into our bedroom. The moment one of us makes eye contact with her she bows her head and backs out again...but so long as nobody is looking, she tests the limits of the rules.
I'd like to think that my kids are smarter than my dog. If she knows how to be sly, then so do they. Do I think they can get away with stuff without my knowing? I am certain that sometimes they do. Do I want them to think that 'anything goes so long as you don't get caught'? No Way!! I want them to think about the things they chose, and make good choices of their own volition, not just because of fear of punishment.
Do I inflict punitive punishments sometimes?
Yes. It's culturally normal and it's habit besides.
But I have been trying to use them less.
My oldest son (age 10) knows what when I catch him at something we'll be sitting down and talking about it (admittedly some of those talks are more calm than others), but it's pretty rare that I lay out a punishment as such. Mostly I ask him to articulate why he did what he did, and we talk about the reasons for the rules (including my entertaining petitions to change them if he makes a good argument for such), and we come up with better solutions for the next time he faces a similar situation.This method takes a lot more time and energy (and self-control) than just smacking his naughty little behind (most gentle discipline does). In my heart though, I believe that it's more effective. And my kids are worth it.
Of course, rewards aren't any better than punishments. More about that tomorrow!!