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Mac Bledsoe's Parenting With Dignity program.
Reasons Punishment Doesn't Work
By Mac Bledsoe
Buck Minor, the cowboy on our ranch, used to always say,
"If you teach an animal a lesson by meanness or cruelty, don't be
surprised if the animal remembers the meanness and cruelty and forgets the
lesson!" His statement, for the first time, caused me to investigate the
effectiveness of punishment as a tool for changing human behavior. Here's
what I found when I conducted the investigation.
First, let's define punishment for the sake of our
discussion: Punishment will be considered to be any artificially created
consequence for a given behavior. (This definition would then include any
spanking, grounding, sending to the bedroom, removal of privileges,
withholding of allowance, timeout, etc.)
Punishment guarantees a "push-back" response in all of the
(A "push-back" response is simply the natural human resistance to change.
Any time that one attempts to change a child's behavior the child will
resist. Add punishment and you will insure more resistance to change.)
Punishment removes the focus of both the "punisher" and
"punished" from the behavior in question. When a parent resorts to
punishment both the parent and the child begin to pay attention to the
punishment, its fairness and its enforcement. This allows the child to
stop thinking about the decision process that brought about the negative
consequences in the first place. Next, the child is not engaged in
creating a new thought process that will bring about better decisions and
outcomes next time. A spanked child will think about how their fanny hurts
and how they want to run away from home but seldom will think about how to
Punishment focuses anger on the "punisher." When we resort
to punishment it gives children someone else to be mad at or someone else
to blame, and when they are mad they do not have to face their own
behavior and consequences. The resulting anger interrupts responsible
thought for both the child and parent. A child sent to his/her room will
seldom or never think about how to behave properly but rather will think
about how unfair his/her parents are or some equally negative idea.
Punishment induced behavior "extinguishes" rapidly. In the
absence of punishment, the negative behavior returns. Behavior that has
been shaped by punishment will disappear soon after the punishment has
disappeared simply because the child has not been included in the
reasoning and personal profitability in the desired behavior. A child who
was spanked for running beside the pool will look around to see if anyone
is watching and finding nobody will take off running. It becomes a game of
not getting caught.
Punishment traps the "punisher" into maintaining the
punishment schedule. "You made the rules, now you must enforce them." The
goal should be to let the natural negative consequences of the child's
behavior do the enforcing. When you introduce punishment, the child then
may turn it into a game of seeing how much they can get away with without
you catching them. A grounded teen will continuously ask to go out to
constantly test the parent's will to follow through. To enforce the
grounding the parent is likewise grounded by the obligation to insure
Punishment does not teach accountability. The "punisher"
(parent) is responsible to see that the child's behavior changes. If you
use punishment, by your actions you have accepted responsibility for your
child's behavior. Your actions say loudly and clearly, "You are not in
control, I am." If you accept the responsibility for your child's behavior
then he/she will have to learn to be accountable when he/she is outside of
your influence, and the outside world is a tough teacher! A child who is
spanked for being mean to a sibling simply learns that the biggest person
gets to hit and accepts no accountability for deciding to act kindly
because it is a good way to act… even adults don't act that way.
Most of all, punishment denies a child the right to
experience the real consequence of their actions. The reward for good
performance is... good performance. Seldom is it necessary for us to
provide the reward, and the same is true for poor performance. The
punishment for poor performance is… poor performance. As parents we need
to point out the negative consequences inherent in their negative
behavior, we do not need to create new ones. We can serve as a big help to
our children if we help them foresee potential problems and the natural
consequences of some of their possible decisions. The consequence of being
mean to a sibling is that the child has made someone else feel bad and
being viewed as mean. Point that out clearly to the child while at the
same time guiding them in appropriate action. When you resort to
punishment a child will simply deduce that, by your action, you are meaner
than they are. (If you act in anger they might be right!) Note: There are
a couple of situations where it is unreasonable to let children run into
the natural consequences of their own poor performance. If it is illegal,
immoral, or life threatening then we must act as the adult in their world
and step in to prevent major injury, incarceration, or violation of
society's rules of decency.
If you use punishment as a tool it may work to stop a
particular action. If you send a fighting kid to his room he may have
stopped fighting for the immediate present. Sometimes that is necessary to
do. The error comes when we think that the punishment has taught the child
what to do in the next situation. It has taught the kid NOT to do
something… but it has not taught them what to do! That is our job as
parents… teach them what to do and how to decide to do it!
The Punishment for poor performance is... Poor
The reward for good performance is… Good Performance!
"It is not the duty of adults to create new punishments,
but rather to point out the negative consequences inherent in the child's
negative actions… and to suggest positive alternatives."
A closing note: If this is the first article by us that
you have read, you might feel like we have advocated that you throw away
one of your most often used tools for working with your kids. For tools
and skills to use in place of punishment either get copies of
previous articles or
spend some time perusing our
and you will find many "replacement techniques".
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