[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost available on Amazon and other major retailers]
Want to know a dirty, little secret about punishment?
It doesn’t work.
Punishment may be able to control a child’s behavior temporarily while they’re small or when they are in their parents’ presence, but it cannot control the person. As with all humans, outward behavior is merely a reflection of our inner selves: our needs, our hurts, our emotional states.
While the temporary ‘payoff’ of punishment may be compliance, the need behind the behavior is never addressed and those needs merely get driven underground and often emerge later in more potentially damaging behaviors such as lying, sneaking, anger, outright rebellion, depression, aggression, addictions, etc.
In the same way that treating a brain tumor by merely taking a pain reliever doesn’t address the underlying issue, masking the symptoms of an underlying need with punishment-induced compliance doesn’t solve the problem; it intensifies it.
Want to know another dirty, little secret about punishment?
It requires constant escalation.
In order to maintain the temporary effect of controlling behavior, the punishment, or threats of punishment, must constantly be ramped up. Parents who start out with popping a tiny hand escalate to smacking a chubby little leg, then paddling a small bottom. Over time, as their children’s needs which have been driven underground emerge in ever-increasing behavioral issues, parents often find that they are resorting to yelling and threats and physical punishment more and more often.
Even parents who use punishment-based parenting approaches other than physical punishment find that they must escalate and escalate to keep their children under ‘control.’ Behavior charts, time-outs, grounding, and removing privileges are some examples of non-physical punishment-based parenting. While these behavior modification techniques may be less painful to children physically, they still don’t address the underlying needs being communicated by the behavior and often are nearly as destructive to the parent/child relationship.
Using isolation such as time-outs or sending children to their room separates them from their source of guidance and comfort just when they need it the most and not only misses a golden opportunity to help the child learn coping mechanisms for dealing with their emotions, but also fractures the very connection that should provide the safety for expressing those emotions. Using behavior charts, removal of privileges, grounding, etc. separates children from their parents by creating an us-against-them mentality that inevitably leads to conflict instead of creating a teamwork mentality that leads to cooperation.
Here’s the thing, effective parenting, and effective discipline specifically, don’t require punishment. Equating discipline with punishment is an unfortunate, but common misconception. The root word in discipline is actually disciple which in the verb form means to guide, lead, teach, model, and encourage. In the noun form disciple means one who embraces the teaching of, follows the example of, and models their life after.
On the flip side, the root word in punishment is the Latin word punire which in verb form means to penalize, chastise, castigate, inflict harm, humiliate. There is no noun form of punire or its English equivalent, punishment.
Many of today’s most popular self-proclaimed parenting ‘experts’ equate physical punishment with discipline and go to great lengths to describe the best methods and tools for hitting children as well as instructing parents to maintain a calm, controlled, and even cheerful demeanor as they ‘lovingly’ hit their children.
It is interesting to note here that, when it comes to the law, crimes of passion are treated as less heinous than premeditated, planned, and purposefully executed crimes which are termed ‘in cold blood.’ And yet when physically punishing a child, a crime in many places across the globe, hitting in anger or frustration (i.e. passion) is deemed wrong by proponents of spanking, while hitting children with calm and deliberate intent (i.e. premeditation) is encouraged.
It is also interesting to note that, in the not-too-distant past, husbands hitting their wives was also viewed as not only a societal norm, but also a necessary part of maintaining a harmonious, successful marriage. In fact, a man who epitomizes the words calm and controlled, Sean Connery, shared his thoughts on the ’reasonable smacking’ of his wife in a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters in which he explained the necessity of using punitive methods to control women.
The core belief behind ‘reasonable smacking’ of wives was that there was no other effective way to control them. I agree. If controlling another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are the means of control.
But, if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trust relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, and communicating are the tools for success.
Many parents simply don’t know what else to do. They were raised with spanking and other punishment-based parenting methods as a means of control and “turned out okay” so they default to their own parents’ choices without researching alternatives to spanking or considering whether “okay” could be improved upon.
Consider this, more than 90% of American parents admit to spanking their children, and yet the common contention is that it’s a decline in spanking that is responsible for the purportedly escalating rates of youth violence and crime. Is it really the less than 10% of children who aren’t spanked who are responsible for all the problems of our society? Or could it be that the 90% of children who are subject to violence at home in the form of being slapped, paddled, smacked, yanked, whipped, popped, spanked, etc. are taking those lessons out into the world? Is it just possible that children who are hit learn to hit? That children who are hurt learn to hurt? Perhaps the lesson they are learning is that ‘might is right’ and violence is the answer to their problems, the outlet for their stress, the route to getting others to do what they want.
People throughout history have complained about ‘the trouble with kids today’ and they’ve pinned all the ills of their society on supposedly permissive parenting. They’ve ranted about out-of-control children, disrespectful youth, entitlement, spoiling, disobedience, violence, self-centeredness, etc:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.” ~Socrates, 5th Century BC
“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” ~Plato, 5th Century BC
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” ~Hesiod, 8th Century BC
“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.” ~Peter the Hermit, 13th Century AD
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Maybe, though, there isn’t really any ‘trouble with kids today.’ Maybe the problem is with parents who repeat the patterns their own parents set or with societies who view normal stages of development as somehow abnormal.
Maybe ’kid’s today’ are just kids like they have been through the ages, full of exuberance and curiosity and learning their way in a great big world, and a listening ear, gentle guidance, and trusted arms to turn to when inevitable mistakes are made are really all children need to grow up into kind, helpful, responsible, productive members of our society.
The bottom line is that addressing our children’s underlying needs, the actual causes of their behavior instead of just the behavior itself, is a far more effective parental approach as well as being significantly better for a healthy, mutually respectful parent/child relationship. Sending our children out into the world as adults with their needs met, with coping mechanisms in place for those times when the stresses overwhelm them, and with the knowledge of a safe haven where comfort is always available when the world hurts them is a powerful way to change the world for the better.
Maybe, just maybe, sowing peace in our homes is the answer for our children, our families, and our world, after all.
*Also printed in The Natural Parent Magazine
Dear Customer Service,
I think my computer needs professional help. I just don’t know what to do anymore. It won’t respond to me half of the time, and the other half its response is so slow it might as well not respond at all! I need help, and I don’t know where else to turn. Here’s the story:
I remember how excited I was when I first got my computer. I carefully cut the tape on the box, gently lifted it out, and gingerly settled it in the well-appointed and super organized office I’d had decorated and waiting for what seemed like forever.
Now what to do? I’d never owned a computer before and was so nervous I’d somehow break it. I searched through manuals and how-to’s for dummies, looking for tips from experts and guidance from other computer owners with years of experience. It was so frustrating because everyone seemed to have a different opinion about what to expect and what was important and how to handle all the hardware and software issues that were bound to crop up with computer ownership.
Over time, though, I got more comfortable in my new role as a computer owner. My tentative key tapping became more confident, and I operated my computer like a pro. But then minor irritations began to creep up. I’d input a command and have to wait for my computer to process before it responded, but why should I have to wait? I’d issued the same commands hundreds of times since my computer had arrived. Shouldn’t it obey instantly? I certainly thought so! So, I’d push the enter button a couple more times, and then a couple more, then some other buttons, and the darn thing would freeze up on me!!! Seriously?!?
I’m no push-over, believe me, and I wasn’t about to be manipulated by my own computer! So, I started unplugging it every time it froze. After a few minutes, I’d plug it back in again, but even after extending its time-out of the outlet to longer and longer periods, my computer was still giving me that ring of delayed obedience and then freezing when I pushed its buttons. So, I started giving it a gentle whack on its CPU. (No, I was not abusing it. I was just giving it a little tap to get its attention!) But nothing seemed to be working. I was still having to wait for it to process my commands, and it was actually getting worse!
Then my computer started popping up demands, right in front of what I was working on! ”Updates needed.” ”Virus software update available.” Me, me, me. I want. I want. I want. Isn’t it amazing how completely self-absorbed computers are? Didn’t my computer realize I had a schedule to keep? I had things that needed to get done, an agenda, a life! And on top of all that, I’d just purchased a new little laptop that needed my attention. Why couldn’t my computer understand that it just had to do what it was told and stop giving me a hard time?!? Selfish, that’s why!
Well, time went on and my computer kept up it’s delayed obedience and just kept escalating its constant demands with pop up after pop up after pop up. But I knew better than to give in. All it wanted was attention! So I alternated between time-out of the outlet and well-deserved whacks to the CPU, but all I got was slower and slower obedience, longer and longer freezes, and just general unresponsiveness.
I’ve tried to be a good computer owner, but I’m at the end of my tether. Please help!
Computers are designed to process input. Basically, that means you get out what you put in. That “demand for attention” is actually your computer communicating a need for input from you, whether it’s for an update or a virus scan or whatever it’s indicating it needs. If you meet it’s needs, that will not only stop the ”demands” but also free it up to run more smoothly and responsively for you. As far as the “delayed obedience,” that’s just how computers are built. It needs time to process your input so that it can respond appropriately. Pushing its buttons over and over is actually causing the freezing you’re concerned about, and unplugging your computer when it freezes just shuts it down right when it’s trying its hardest to work things out. Remember, interaction between owner and computer is the core of computer processing. Finally, stop “whacking” your computer. Call it what you want…hitting, tapping, popping, or whatever…it’s just causing internal damage and resulting in the very problems you’re trying to solve.
Shak N. Mihed
[Portions reprinted from Gentle Discipline: Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
“Although the evidence against spanking is in the form of correlations (not direct causal proof), the effect is more robust than for the correlations that have served as the basis for other public health interventions, such as secondhand smoke and cancer, exposure to lead and IQ scores in children, and exposure to asbestos and laryngeal cancer.” (Scientific America)
Yes, you read that right. There is less evidence linking secondhand smoke to cancer, lead exposure to developmental delays in children, and asbestos to cancer than there is of the short and long-term detrimental effects of spanking. Study after study has confirmed that spanking (not just physical abuse, but any physical act of correction-smacking, hitting, swatting, slapping, paddling, switching, etc.) is directly linked to greater aggression and other behavioral issues, impaired cognitive development, and increased risk of depression and anxiety in childhood as well as long-term mental issues in adulthood. (See research here) And yet the American public is still reluctant to dismiss the physical punishment of children as an option for parents and school systems.
It is not unusual for public opinion to evolve slowly. Until recent years husbands hitting their spouses in the US was considered “reasonable chastisement of wives” and “a private family matter” by the courts and by law enforcement even though it has technically been against the law in all fifty states for decades. Now domestic violence in the US is viewed with outrage and abusers with disdain.
While the tide is ever-so-slowly turning regarding public opinion of the physical punishment of children, in excess of 80% of Americans still believe spanking is a necessary part of raising a child according to a survey cited by a UN report. And in the 19 US states where corporal punishment is still legal in the public school system, wooden paddles are used on children as young as preschool, and parents’ permission and/or notification is not even required. By contrast, in every branch of the US military and in the US penal system, physical punishment has long been outlawed as it was deemed ‘cruel and unusual’ and a ’use of excessive force.’
Clearly there is a disconnect when it comes to physical punishment of the most vulnerable and defenseless of our citizens, our children. Even in the face of study after study detailing the detrimental effects of physical punishment on young children, more than 90% of American parents still admit to spanking their toddlers and preschoolers. The responses to a recently released study linking a significantly increased risk of mental illness in adulthood to being spanked as a child point to some possible reasons for that dichotomy:
- ”I was spanked, and I turned out okay.” Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, but why take the risk?
- “I don’t want to raise a rotten brat!” Studies link spanking to increased aggression and other behavioral issues, not decreased.
- “I spank my kids because the Bible commands me to.” Spanking is not one of the Ten Commandments. (See here)
- “They’re my kids, and nobody has the right to tell me how to raise them!” Our laws are civil agreements as to what is and is not acceptable in our society. We once agreed that slavery was acceptable. Now we know better, and our laws reflect that. As research continues to reveal the detrimental effects of spanking, public opinion will begin to shift and our laws will naturally follow suit. It is the way of a democratic society.
- ”Nothing else works!” Thoughtful, proactive parenting works. Here are some positive parenting ideas to try.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of parents not only deeply love their children, but are also making the best parenting decisions they know how to with the information and experiences they have to work with. That is why it is vital that the discussion and flow of information remain open and civil when it comes to spanking. Change does not come easily, but to happen at all it must have an atmosphere of honest, open communication in which to blossom.
[From The Gentle Parent: Discipline Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
Toddlers and preschoolers are still in the early stages of learning to communicate verbally. Add to that the fact that they have little-to-no impulse control and very immature social skills, and you’ve got a recipe for an instinctive physical response (i.e. hitting, kicking, biting, hair pulling, throwing things, etc.) to situations in which they are frustrated, angry, scared, or just tired and out-of-sorts.
Many parents who practice gentle discipline wonder where their little one picked up the behavior, not realizing that it is a normal and age-appropriate reaction, albeit an unacceptable one. Very often parents are advised to spank their child to train them not to hit others, especially those who are smaller and weaker than they are. (more…)