Listening. Cooperation. Whatever you call it, we all want our kids to do what we ask them to.
We want them to stop playing when it’s time to get ready for bed or we want them to tidy up their toys before going out to play.
We all have expectations for our children about their behaviour.
What happens when reality doesn’t align with our expectations?
Our child shouts “NO!” and runs away instead of coming upstairs for jammies and teeth brush.
Or our child drags their feet and doesn’t want to clean up.
This gap between expectations and reality is where we as parents get frustrated. Conventional parenting wisdom says, “Time for consequences!” Or at least the threat of one.
“If you don’t come right now to get ready, no bedtime stories!”
“If you don’t clean up your toys, I’m throwing them in the garbage!”
In peaceful parenting, we don’t use punishment. Consequences, threats, scolding or time outs are not in our parenting tool box.
Let’s define punishment: Punishment is anything that makes a child feel bad on purpose to shape their behaviour.
This can include scolding, yelling, time-outs or consequences. ‘Consequences’ may have once meant natural consequences but today the word has become synonymous with punishment so I will use them interchangeably. (A note: natural consequences happen with no involvement from us. Example: If you forget your coat, you will be cold.)
In peaceful parenting, we believe that a child can learn without being made to feel bad. And in fact, feeling bad often gets in the way of learning! We all want to raise great kids who will listen to us and cooperate. But using punishment actually gets us further from our long term goals.
Let’s look at the problems with punishment.
Say you’re at work and you made a mistake. If your boss yelled at you in front of all your co-workers, docked your pay and made you stay late, would that make you a better employee?
The punishment would make you angry at your boss and make you less likely to care about your job. You might even start to look for ways to ‘get back’ at your boss.
Punishment hurts our relationship with our child. (And if you know peaceful parenting, you know that a great relationship not only feels good, but is the best way we have to influence them)
When your boss yells and shames you, rather than thinking about how your actions affect the client or company, you’re just thinking about how your actions affected you and how bad you feel because of the punishment.
Punishment teaches our child to think more about themselves rather than how their actions affect others.
When your boss yelled at you, you’d probably focus on your mad feelings rather than the mistake you made. You’d feel attacked so you would probably be really defensive and not likely to admit you did anything wrong.
Punishment prevents us from admitting our mistakes and taking responsibility.
Your boss docking your pay and making you stay late would not address the reason why you made the mistake so you wouldn’t know what you could do differently or better next time.
Punishment doesn’t address the root of the problem.
After you’re called out, you might try to hide any future mistakes you make to avoid the humiliation rather than asking for help to solve the problem. You might even lie next time you make a mistake so you don’t get in trouble.
Punishment leads to lying and sneaking.
The shame you feel when you are called out might even make you question your self-worth and you might feel like a bad person.
Punishment makes our children feel like bad people.
What if instead, your boss took you aside and said, “Listen, I know you’ve been under a lot of stress at home lately. I understand. At the same time, you really messed up that report and we lost a client because of it. How can we make things better? How can I help?”
You’d feel understood instead of shamed.
You’d WANT to make things right instead of defending yourself.
You’d want to do better.
You’d ask for help if you get into a tricky spot.
You’d think about how your actions affect others.
You don’t need to be made to feel bad to learn. And neither do our children.
If you’re wondering, “But my child hurries and does what I ask when I threaten them with a consequence!”
Threats or consequences might work in the short term to get a child to scramble to comply, but this is the long game we’re playing.
Even if you want to disregard everything I said above: We want our kids to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re worried about what will happen if they don’t. Or even more serious, we want our child to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re worried about getting caught.
If this hasn’t convinced you, let the research do so. Research shows that kids who are punished are actually worse behaved in a year than those who aren’t punished. (Interested in the research? Check out the work of Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting. It’s very compelling!)
Why are kids who are punished worse behaved?
They are more disconnected so they don’t care what their parents think.
The root cause of the behaviour is not addressed so no solution is found and it crops up in other areas.
They avoid bad behaviour only if they think they will get caught, not because they understand or care how their actions affect other people.
They feel like bad people so they act bad.
Of course not using punishment doesn’t mean that our children can do whatever they want.
It means that when they need correction or guidance, we can do it without making them feel bad on purpose. We can try to support them with connection and win/win solutions. When that’s not enough, we can use kind, firm limits with lots of empathy instead. Will your child feel bad sometimes because of a limit you’ve set? Of course. And that’s okay. You’re right there with a hug and to hold them while they cry.
Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and parenting advice columnist for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 13, 16, and 19). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at sarahrosensweet.com