The Problems with Punishments (Short Version)

The Problems with Punishments (Short Version)

Parents often punish when they are angry because they are frustrated and don’t know what else to do. It’s what they learned from their own parents. But punishing children in anger creates a number of problems that can be both serious and counterproductive. Let’s consider some of the problems with punishments.

1. Punishments are often ineffective. Parents run out of things to take away. Children often reach a point where they just don’t care what punishment the parent imposes.

2. Punishments are hurtful “power and control” tactics, and are really a form of bullying. In our culture the word “discipline” has come to mean “punishment.” The purpose of punishment is to inflict some kind of pain with the hope of both teaching a lesson and deterring future misbehavior.

3. Through punishments children learn to bully. Children learn what they experience and what their parents model. Thus, punishments really teach them the wrong lesson: namely, “I’ll hurt you if you don’t give in to my will.” This is not only bullying, but also recipe for creating a bully.

4. Beyond bullying, children learn that violence is acceptable. American society is perhaps the most violent society in the world. Perhaps because of the way we our children?

5. Inflicting pain is not a loving act. Rather than seeing a child’s misbehavior as an expression of his needs for autonomy and independence, or his need to vent anger, the parent who punishes sees only bad behavior and uses his/her power to inflict pain in an attempt to intimidate.

6. Punishments make parents the enemy, not the ally. In the eyes of the child, the parent is now the bad guy who, by inflicting pain, invites an anger response and a desire for “payback.”

7. Inflicting pain on children causes guilt reactions in parents. This is a powerful indicator that there is something inherently wrong with inflicting pain with punishments.

8. Punishments encourage children to get better at hiding their misbehaviors. I doubt very much that children who are treated with respect by their parents will need to hide the truth from them.

9. Parents punish because they don’t know a better way. In other words, when parents punish, they show their ignorance–which simply means they haven’t learned something better.

10. Many parents rationalize that punishments are not only necessary but beneficial. Their own parents used them, and they turned out fine. But many say they have not had a good relationship with their parents, evan as adults, due largely to the way they were treated.

11. Punishments can relieve a child of guilt for doing wrong. In many cases children often feel they deserve to be punished, after which they feel relieved – and free to offend again.

12. Punishments do not exact from the child a commitment to do better next time. Finding relief for guilt through punishment is a sorry substitute for a child learning empathy, respect, self-control, and effective relationship skills, along with a commitment to treat people right next time.

If punishments are ineffective with your child, try my New School approach: the Behavior Dialogue and the Accountability Dialogue.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

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