The Pain of Punishment: Finding Another Way

Most parents would agree that when their job is done, they want a child who is responsible, cooperative, respectful, honest, empathetic, resilient and courageous.
Over the next two months we will look at three widely used parenting tools: Punishments, consequences and a solution-focused approach.

By then, the reasons to move away from punishment and toward a solution-focused approach should be clear.

Typically, punishments focus on stopping unwanted behavior at any cost, regardless of the child’s feelings.

For example, Ben was chasing the dog around the house, knocked over an expensive lamp and broke it.

He was reprimanded sharply and sent to his room without any supper.

Punishments focus on the past (which can’t be changed), can be arbitrary, are often delivered in anger and are frequently unrelated to the problem.

Punishments seem effective in the short term but do not help build character or inspire growth.

Rather than teaching children to be responsible, they can teach children to lie, blame others and avoid responsibility.

Punishments also can endanger the parent-child relationship. When fear is chosen over love, the parent-child relationship is undermined.

A child sent to his room in anger as a punishment isn’t thinking,

“Gee, I made a mistake playing with the dog inside. I’ll have to figure out a way to replace the lamp. Next time I’ll take Woofie outside to play.”

Instead, he’s likely to have the following thoughts:

“Mommy is yelling. Mommy is mad. I feel scared. I don’t think she loves me.

“I don’t understand. I didn’t mean to break the lamp. It’s not fair. I’m angry. I don’t like her.

“I don’t like my life. I’m stupid. She’s stupid. It’s all Woofie’s fault! I’ll get even. I will make sure she doesn’t catch me next time.”

Consequences differ from punishment because they are reasonable, related to the problem and delivered respectfully. Ben will repair or replace the lamp.

A solution-focused approach is similar but also emphasizes the future.

Ben will repair or replace the lamp and look for ways to prevent a similar occurrence from happening again.

Next month: Evaluating consequences and a solution-focused approach.