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Punishment Doesn’t Teach

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Punishment. A tricky subject. I find that, more and more, parents have a hard time wrapping their heads around punishment. Or rather, not punishing their child. I often get a lot of push-back from parents about how their child has to be taught a lesson. That their child will otherwise “get away with it.” At the end of the day, punishment does nothing to teach our children. It may humiliate, frustrate, shame, upset, or demoralize our child. Punishment may fuel a child’s anxiety. Or dampen their self-esteem. It may even make a child resentful. Rather than thinking about what they did wrong and how to make it better, they may instead use that time brewing in anger and resentment and even thinking about how to seek revenge. I find punishment puts a wedge between us and our children. And punishment certainly does nothing to teach. Well, perhaps other than it is ok to yell, hit, or coerce others when they do not behave the way we want them to.

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It is helpful to reframe how we talk about the child and the behaviour. Like Dr. Ross Greene (author of “The Explosive Child”), I believe there is no such thing as a bad child. I believe that children do not misbehave because they are bad, manipulative, or (you insert your own word here); rather, children may demonstrate a problematic behaviour because they don’t have the skills they need to behave as expected in a particular moment. They may not have the skills to manage the emotions they are feeling. They may not have the words to express themselves. They may not have the control to keep their hands to themselves when upset. They may not know how to properly navigate a conflict situation. Remember, their brain regresses when upset; that part of the brain that helps them to problem solve and make good choices goes AWOL. The animal part of the brain seems to take over instead. The result? Well, we know animals tend to fight, flee, or freeze. Chances are pretty good the child does not have the capacity to hold things together in the heat of the moment. Punishing therefore does nothing to help them learn to make good choices.

So, how do they learn to behave? Well, how do they learn to read, to ride a bike, or to swim? We teach them. So, they learn to behave not when we punish them, but when we teach them. (And by teach, I definitely do not mean to nag or to lecture them). Work together, at a time when you are both calm, to problem solve together. Together, think about how can you prevent the situation from happening in the future? Think about how can you help your child in the moment when it happens again? Think about what skills need to be taught. What words they can say when they are upset. These are some ideas, but I will write a future post on this topic. =) You can also check out Dr. Greene’s work and collaborative problem solving at: http://www.livesinthebalance.org/parents-families.

I can’t remember where, but I stumbled across the quote: “Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.” We all make mistakes. We all get angry, frustrated, bored, upset. So, rather than perpetuate the cycle of bad behaviour of yelling, hitting, or name calling; let’s show our children – teach our children – how to cope and how to demonstrate those behaviours we would rather see instead. How will you show them to navigate a problematic situation with grace and beauty?

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