Punishment is Not the Answer

by Heligirl on August 7, 2010

in Daily Ramblings,Parenting Articles,Parenting Tidbits,Positive Discipline

When I was growing up, the rules in our house were pretty similar to those in most households of the 70s and 80s: do something the parents don’t approve of, get punished.

My brother and I were spanked with hands and wooden spoons. (In fact, I remember they even had a paddle in grade school they didn’t hesitate to use on kids.) We’ve been grounded (my mother called it “on restriction”) and we’ve been put to hard labor. All in the name of punishing us for something we did.

I grew up living in fear of my mother (I still have issues with females in authority), unsure of myself and if my actions would result in negative effects, living in constant fear of letting people down, and basically not feeling the least bit confident in my actions or ability to make the right decision. I also lied a lot and was sneaky to avoid punishment.

I knew I didn’t want to punish my own children, giving them a similar future, but had no idea what alternatives were available. After studying Dr. Adler’s research as well as positive discipline/positive parenting, I’ve become adamantly against corporal punishment in the home.

The truth is punishment is a very lazy way to discipline children. I say lazy, because so many of us were raised with punishment that it’s just easier to do it than learn a new way that will definitely take more work. Punishment is attractive to a lot of parents. It gives the parent release of anger and frustration, makes them feel they’re doing something in response to the bad behavior (sense of control) that they falsely believe works.

Sadly, punishment doesn’t work. Any parent that has punished the same child repeatedly for the same misbehavior should have an inkling of this. Punishment hurts, makes the children feel bad and uses fear as a motivator. In the end, children are not learning to behave better. It ultimately engenders disrespect, anger, lower self esteem, fear and rebellion. Punishment teaches children how to lie and not get caught, as well as erodes their sense of self worth.

Think about it. To paraphrase the Positive Discipline expert Jane Nelsen, who thought that the way to get a child to behave well is to make them feel worse?

The alternative to punishment is taking the time, patience and energy to treat every misbehavior as a learning opportunity. It also requires parents to understand why children misbehave. The root answer to why children misbehave is children need to feel significance and power. If you provide these things throughout the day, you can help reduce the amount of misbehavior.

When a child does misbehave, the pressure is on you as the parent to calm yourself and deal with the situation positively. This takes practice and work on your part, but consider the result of the alternative – a sneaky rebellious child or a child with very low self esteem.

Positive discipline does not mean children get away with misbehavior. It means the parent takes the time to teach and involve the child in taking control of his or her behavior. It involves being kind but firm. It requires you to discipline with respect and love (as opposed to fear and anger used with punishment). You involve the child. You choose logical consequences to implement when rules are broken.

I firmly believe when you eliminate corporal punishment from your home, choose to show respect for your children, take the time to understand and address the reasons behind misbehavior, and dedicate yourself to learning and implementing positive parenting techniques designed to empower and encourage your child, you’ll find yourself wondering why you ever thought corporal punishment was a good idea.


Booyah's Momma August 7, 2010 at 10:23 am

Okay, are you in my head?? I just published the first in a series of posts talking about how different things are now than when we were growing up… and one of those will be about discipline. Mine will have a slightly different take… but I appreciate the way you said this. I really latched on to respecting your children, because I think it is a two-way street.
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Twitter: Heligirl
August 8, 2010 at 6:56 am

Seriously? Wow, must be something in the water. 🙂 I’m going to go over and check out your posts.

Yes, the respect thing is huge. I to this day have little respect for my mom, but it’s getting better. I want my kids to love, trust and respect me and giving it is the way to get it back.

Katie August 7, 2010 at 5:10 pm

So interesting! I was definitely raised in a house with corporal punishment, and am glad that you’ve challenged me to think about alternative ways to discipline my child. Now off to read the links to the articles and research that you’ve shared!
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Twitter: Heligirl
August 8, 2010 at 6:58 am

I hope you get lots out of learning more, Katie. Let me know if you have any questions or want more resources. I truly believe the punishment of our children only reinforces fear and pain.

Carol Ann August 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I was raised in a similar manner and it is so hard to break the mold and to not resort to the methods which seem the most familiar, the ones our parents used. We are working on it though. One step at a time, we are opening those lines of communication and making an effort to understand how pre-schoolers view the world.

Great post, Jen!
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Twitter: Heligirl
August 8, 2010 at 6:59 am

It is so hard. I slip up from time to time too and raise my voice when Sweetness has pushed me to the limit. Then I have to go to her and apologize for yelling. That shows respect. 🙂

Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) August 7, 2010 at 8:01 pm

What a wonderfully written post Jen! I was also of the era of punishment though we weren’t really spanked. My husband remembers coporal punishment in his school, it’s still a very negative memory for him. I agree, positive discipline and parenting is more respectful and loving. I like the information you have provided here , thanks so much!
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Twitter: Heligirl
August 8, 2010 at 7:00 am

To tell you the truth, after my parents got divorced, my mom cut down on the spanking and laid in on the mental abuse. That was worse in my book. The mental stuff stays with you forever.

JP August 8, 2010 at 3:39 am

You are so honest and inspiring to write about the this and the impact it had on you as a child…great job!

Twitter: Heligirl
August 8, 2010 at 7:01 am

Thanks. I sometimes have to write these things to remind myself not to stray from the positive discipline path and to never repeat with my kids what I went through as a child.

Making It Work Mom August 8, 2010 at 4:54 am

Oh my gosh! The whole time I am reading I am thinking LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES and than Bam! there it is in your next to last paragraph. I have just started experimenting with this in my house and I have to say it is really effective. The children were responsive/not fearful and the behavior did not rear its ugly head 30 minutes later because it was talked through and the child had a memory of a punishment that made sense!!!!
Thanks for the great post!

Twitter: Heligirl
August 8, 2010 at 7:03 am

I’m so glad to hear your starting to use this. I recently found another blogger with teens who I’ve asked to write a few posts here so we can better engage parents of teens. There are a lot of great parts of Positive Discipline you can put to work with them to really build your connection and their cooperation.

Colleen August 8, 2010 at 7:25 am

I admit I haven’t gotten the chance to read through some of your articles yet but I’m wondering is it possible to start positive parenting after 13 years of the old way….well let me explain the old way.

I have NEVER liked punishing my children and my husband gets on me all the time for it. He says they will never learn if there is not a consequence. I’m a FIRM believer in talking to them sometimes they hate me for it.

I didn’t realize there was a “title” for what I was wanting to do.

So my two questions are. Do you think you can pick it up now when my kids are 13,10,and 4…and how the heck could I possible implement it when my husband disagrees and my mother in law watches them during the day.
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Twitter: Heligirl
August 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Hi Colleen. Thanks so much for the comment.

In answer to your first question, absolutely, it is NEVER too late to start using positive discipline. There are a lot of great things you can start doing right away with the kids. There will be some resistance at first, like any new thing, but you just have to remain consistent. I recommend starting with logical consequences. I’m going to host a free webinar that covers this and lots of other things in a week I’d love for you to attend. I’m putting up a post with the details tomorrow. If you sign up, I’ll ask the educator to specifically address your question. 🙂

Twitter: solarchief
August 8, 2010 at 9:52 am

Wonderful article and I hope that more young mothers will try to follow your example… as long as children are aware that there are consequences for every action, there is no need to be cruel or to hit the child… but you do have to be consistent because children don’t even begin to have abstract thought (cause and effect) until they reach 13 or 14 and, even then, it’s sketchy… I think the illusion that because a woman has a child that automatically makes her a good mother has been dangerous for our children… I know a woman who used to say, “… if you don’t have power when you’re a mother, when do you get power?” She used sarcasm, cynicism, put-downs, and hour-long lectures to “raise” her children. She seriously believed she owned them because she had given birth to them.

It was not entirely her fault, she had a husband who did nothing to stop her because raising the children was woman’s work, even though he knew she was abusing his children. His excuse? “I’ve never been able to say no to her.” I think parenting is the job of both parents, which includes preventing the other from harming the child. The father or mother who does nothing to prevent child abuse within their own family is as guilty as the perpetrator, in my opinion…

[Stepping down off soapbox]… come visit when you can…

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August 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Yikes, sounds like my mom. 🙁

Alana Morales August 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

While I completely agree with you (I was raised getting spanked), I am in a situation where sometimes punishment is necessary. I have a daughter with ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder. As you know, this make for a lot of fun on the home front.

Parents would be SO much better off if they took the time to use positive discipline. Because I am also an educator, I am very well versed with the “proper” tactics, but then I think about the different parents I know with NO training. How are they supposed to know about logical consequences? This is where parenting education comes into play. Now, if we could only give out parenting licences… LOL

Great information here!

Twitter: Heligirl
August 8, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Wow, that’s a whole extra bag, but I’m sure there are things you can do. And I so know what you mean about parenting licenses. If only, right?

Mrs.Mayhem August 8, 2010 at 11:56 am

Thanks for this great post. I couldn’t agree more. When my boys were little, I took the time to use positive discipline (though I didn’t know it had a title). Then I had my daughters and was overtired and overwhelmed. I got lazy and started punishing (though not spanking). Now, I’m trying to discipline more, punish less. It really does make a difference. Respect is key.
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August 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Definitely. I”m glad to hear you did this with the boys. And I too am guilty of getting too tired or lazy. I’ll yell, and I feel terrible when I do that.

Tomorrow I’m announcing the time and date of the free webinar on Positive Discipline I’ve set up with an educator. You might want to sign up. I bet you’ll get lots of tools you can use. 🙂

Holly August 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm

“The truth is punishment is a very lazy way to discipline children.”

THANK YOU for saying that. I agree 100%.

I don’t have kids so I probably shouldn’t be commenting here, but I do think that’s the easy way out. It stops the screaming/throwing/fighting/etc. but it doesn’t teach them anything.
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Pamela August 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Wow, I could have been reading about my own childhood here! I have the same issues with my mom, which is exactly why I would never punish my child either. And I so hear you on the mental abuse thing – it is way worse.

I do admit I yell and scream when I get tired & frustrated. But it does nothing to stop him from doing the things I don’t want him to, in fact it doesn’t seem to phase him at all! So, really I can see I’m wasting my energy (not to mention my voice) by doing this. I’ll definitely be using your posts as references to positive disciplining. Thanks for the info:)
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The Flying Chalupa August 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Oooh, what an interesting topic! Punishment and discipline are such tricky topics and you wrote about them with such honesty and intelligence. I can’t even imagine hitting my kid (okay, I’ve imagined it and then I go do some deep breathing :), but you’re right – disciplining the RIGHT way takes effort and time and patience.
ps – thank you so much for visiting my site!

Barb August 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

It is so important to find the root of your child’s inappropriate behavior. It is much more effective and you can see the connection in your child’s eyes when you take the time to sit and listen. It is a great tool in the classroom too!

linda August 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Very well said! This is a great post! Many parents don’t realize what this does to the child. It lowers the childs self esteem and effects them even being as an adult. I had someone really close to me that was phyically abused as a child and he is still suffering as an adult because of his this. As I write this it brings tear to my eye. Please, there are other ways of punishing your child and physical is not the answer!

Cameron August 11, 2010 at 7:06 pm

I completely agree with this post. It’s something my husband & I have talked about a lot. We were both raised in homes that spanked & neither of us saw the benefit of it. I can remember being spanked & being super upset about it, but I don’t remember any of the reasons WHY I was spanked. I think that using positive discipline allows children to understand the why of their behavior & the how to change it. I would love to read more posts about this topic.
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LeeAnn August 12, 2010 at 9:50 am

This was a great post and it really opened my eyes to the fact that punishment DOES scare a child. I was just talking with a friend the other day about how I don’t ever want my children to be afraid of me. I really need to work on different techniques to handle the tantrums that start for no reason. Well, I know in Rylie’s mind there is a reason, but I certainly can’t figure it out. I feel like I have been yelling (and then apologizing for my yelling) entirely too much lately. It is a vicious cycle and I desperately need to break it. Can you come live with us for a month? 😉
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Susan September 29, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Amen, sister! Well said.

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