What’s the point of punishment?
Clarification: For this article, I define “punishment” as “penalty.” I’m talking about any consequence imposed by a parent on a child for misbehavior.
There are certainly many differences between different disciplinary techniques, but I believe parents usually use them for the same reasons:
“My child ran into the street, therefore he or she must be punished.” “My child disobeyed me, therefore he or she must go to time out.” “My child hit his or her sister, therefore he or she must experience consequences.”
But why? Why respond to misbehavior with a punishment or consequence? What do you hope to accomplish?
Here are some reasons parents have for using any form of discipline:
- To stop a dangerous behavior
- To teach that a behavior is not acceptable–ever or within a certain context. For example: It’s never okay to hit your little sister, or It’s not okay to scream at the dinner table.
- To empathize the importance of what we are trying to teach. To show that we are serious about it.
- To assert our authority as parents
- To teach that there are consequences for behaviors
- To prevent the behavior from reoccurring
- To make amends for damages caused by the behavior
These are all legitimate goals. They are part your job as a parent. They are not, however, all the same goal. The same tactic may not work for every goal.
There are many ways to protect and teach, to show you are serious, to assert your authority, to help a child make amends. Punishment may help in some situations, but it is only one strategy.
I often hear from parents that the whole day has become one misbehavior followed by a punishment, another misbehavior followed by a punishment, another misbehavior followed by a punishment . . . and on and on.
When this happens—or before it happens—stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish. Identify the particular goal(s) you have in mind.
Instead of thinking: “I need to punish,” you can say to yourself “I need to protect” [or teach, or prevent, or assert, or whatever the goal is at that moment].
Meeting your goal(s) may require several different actions. You may need to discover more about why the behavior is happening; you may need to change the environment; you may need to involve your child in creating family rules—the list of problem-solving ideas is endless.
Identifying your goal(s) is the first step.
Originally published Parenting Success Network