Parenting without Punishment
I’d like you to think about how you were disciplined growing up. Did your parents often yell at you or send you to your room? Did they ‘ground’ you and not allow you to go out or see friends for a period of time? Perhaps you had to write sentences or do extra chores? Or perhaps, corporal punishment was standard protocol. If so, do you think it was effective in helping you learn, or was it just unfair?
The truth is, punishment as discipline is just a form of intimidation. It’s dished out, not to teach, but to shame, guilt, coerce, and condemn. It comes from a place of frustration and a desire to maintain control, rather than a desire to connect. Understandably, it tends to backfire. Instead of encouraging self-awareness, it can develop defensiveness and fear of getting close to others, not to mention poor self-esteem. In some cases, it can provoke retaliation and revenge. When it comes to discipline, there is a much better way.
The first step is to never make a decision on discipline when you are triggered, angry, or upset. When we are in this heightened emotional state, it can be very difficult to think logically and reasonably, and we can be influenced by our emotions to react instead of respond. If we feel out of control, we are much more likely to lash out in an attempt to remain in control. We can say or do things that seem harsh and unfair, only to feel pangs of regret when the storm has passed. If we give ourselves some distance from the situation, we can think more objectively about how to handle what comes next with compassion and care. I wonder what would happen if we could say “I’m quite upset right now. I need some time to think about how we should handle this. Let’s talk about it tomorrow, okay?” Waiting until we are calmer can give us the chance to parent based on our values and principles, rather than from a place of frustration or disappointment.
The next step is to set a consequence, rather than a punishment. A consequence is a result of an action - which means it has to be related. If a child has stolen money, an appropriate consequence might be that they have to sell something of theirs to earn that money back. If they have failed to do their homework, cutting back tv or game time for an hour or two each night so that they have time to get it done, is reasonable. Unlike punishment, which aims to inflict shame or suffering, consequences provide a direct link between actions and their outcomes. When we set consequences that are related and reasonable (or logical), children gain the opportunity to cultivate a sense of accountability as they learn to consider the cause-and-effect relationship of their choices and actions.
Teaching children that there are real-life consequences to their behaviour, and not just arbitrary punishments that only parents will impose, can help them become more prepared for life as an adult. It allows them to learn empathy and a greater understanding of how their choices impact on others and themselves. They’ll be empowered to learn from their mistakes and develop a strong inner-compass, which they can use to practise making better decisions. They won’t always make the decision you want, but you’ll be sending the message that they are trusted enough to handle the outcome, good or bad. By facing appropriate consequences, they’ll also be able to learn resilience and coping skills necessary to navigate challenges, problem-solve, and bounce back from setbacks.
More importantly, when relationships are based on mutual respect, rather than fear and compliance, parents can become trusted sources of guidance and support. It builds secure relationships and also shows children what good boundaries and open communication look like. By embracing this approach to discipline, it means parents can create an environment that promotes emotional safety, connection, and growth - they can break the cycle of ineffective parenting practices that were passed on to them and transform the way they love, and lead.