Google+ Authentic Parenting: Four Ways to Resist Using Punishment in the Face of Misbehaviour

Friday, April 20, 2012

Four Ways to Resist Using Punishment in the Face of Misbehaviour

When faced with a misbehaving child, do you ever find it hard to choose the gentler, non-punitive approach to address the situation? Do you feel torn and pulled between what you read about and what your instincts or experience lead you to think is the right thing to do?

Perhaps you have wondered at some point if this non-punitive stuff will actually get the right message across or if it’s just the new hip thing to read about and then feel guilty over when it does’t play out like it was supposed to. You may wonder if your children are really going to learn about not hitting siblings if all they are encouraged to do is to go cool down.

Can children really learn without some artificial consequence like no TV privileges because they interrupted an important phone call you had to make? Can a child learn without being spanked after they have just purposely knocked down their little brother? I will not pretend to have a magic ball, but researchers have looked at this extensively and they say yes! Children are more than capable of becoming resilient, sociable, well adjusted, polite, happy beings that distinguish right from wrong without punishment.

So what’s a parent to do to override the sometimes automatic, sometimes ingrained idea that punishment must be the thing to do? Here are four steps that may help:

1. Separate child and behavior: Remember that what is undesirable is the behavior you are dealing with not your actual child. Making your child feel bad is not really going to motivate them to change – it’s going to make them…feel bad! Focus on all the positive qualities your child has and use them to find a way to overcome the behavior.

2. Examine your intent: Before making a decision on how to handle the situation at hand, ask yourself if you are hoping your child will learn something from the experience or if you somehow wish to make them feel ashamed, bad, show them who’s boss or if you want to get even. Many of us grew up in such a culture that punishment for doing something less than desirable was the norm. It’s difficult to separate those feelings now as adults. Acknowledging that we might be trying to do what was done to us is a really important step in order to move forward.

3. Cool down: The misbehavior has happened, you cannot make your child jump back in time to un-break the vase or un-say the bad words in front of auntie Sally…You do however have the choice to cool off before you address the situation. Provided everyone is safe, if you need to take a breather, say so and follow through. Not only does this model self-control, a vital tool for your children, it helps you get back to rational mode. When you are cool and calm, you can think of how to address the behavior, how to meet the need your child is experiencing and how to approach the situation so actual learning and re-connecting can take place.

4. Let go of the fear: Many parents say they need to punish so they know the message is getting across, not just to their kids but to those around them. Many parents are also afraid that if they don’t punish misbehaviors, their child will never learn. Research tells us otherwise: Children do not learn long term lessons from punishment. You can read more on that herehere…and…here!

You are not failing your child when you choose to go down a more gentle path. You are not failing as a parent when you don't punish and instead trust your child and learn to trust yourself that connection and learning will take place when the time is right. Usually that time is when everyone I calm and connected not in the heat of the moment.

So, how do YOU deal with that moment when you must make a choice on how to handle misbehavior? Do you usually react and regret it or do you cool down and connect before correcting? What is working for you? Please share your thoughts!

Peace & Be Well,

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  1. Unfortunately, I am way too often so tired and fed up that I react (badly) and regret immediately - but I keep on reading good advice and trying to use it more and more. Not quite there yet, and rather ashamed of it to be honest.
    Thanks for giving another nudge in the right direction.

    Met vriendelijke groeten,


  2. In the same space as you, Jade. Thanks for the helpful reminders, Ariadne...

  3. Nicol and Jade - thank you for sharing and your honesty. Would be nice if there was a magic switch...good for you that you keep on's a journey - don't give up :)

  4. Nicol and jade with you both on this one. Mums report for me constantly reads.. tries hard but must down better. ;-) Onwards and upwards


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