Punishment in parenting

What kids really learn from punishment

What does punishment teach our kids? Using punishment to teach our kids is a strategy based on fear. Parents hope that the fear of punishment will lead kids to think before doing something unsafe or undesirable. But parents are also operating from a place of fear. In conversation with parents searching for something better, I feel it in their words.

“What will happen to my child if I don’t punish them?

“How will I keep them safe in this world If I don’t teach them?”

“How will they learn to follow rules?”

“My child is small now but what happens when they are bigger and I can’t control them?”

Most of you reading were probably parented using punishment. It can be incredibly scary to move away from what we know and embark on a journey so foreign to our own experience. To trust that a different path, without punishment, will protect those we love the most.

If knowledge is power, consider me your turbo-charged smoothie.

Here’s what the research shows about punishment. When you have information, you’re empowered to chose what works best for your family.

Does Punishment Work?

Children change their behaviour quickly in response to punishment, but the effects are short-lived. Often children change their behaviour out of fear, but research shows that those changes don’t last.

Over time, the cost of punishment, particularly yelling, threats, or physical punishment, is an increase in the behavior you’re trying to change as well as increased emotional difficulties. One of the biggest costs is to the parent-child relationship. When children fear parents, trust is eroded. Raising a confident and empathic child relies on a strong, trusting relationship.

3 Things Children Actually Learn from Punishment

Children simply get better at lying or hiding their behavior. When discipline is based on punishment and reward, children will often make the “wrong” choice when faced with a situation in which they feel they can “get away with it” by not getting caught.

~ Children struggle to develop their own moral compass. They lack practice making choices based on values and instead base decisions on what possible punishment may arise. Children learn to hide their mistakes and lose out on the opportunity to learn from mistakes in the safety of their relationship with you. Parenting is complex and deeply personal. Our beliefs about parenting are rooted in culture, how we were parented, and our own experiences, values, and beliefs.

Often how we parent moment-to-moment, varies based on our own stress levels and the context (I see you, supermarket meltdowns). If you’ve been using threats, time outs, and punishment, don’t stress! There is always time to shift how you respond. Your child’s brain is wiring and rewiring all the time. It is never too late to find more effective approaches to parenting that don’t leave you both emotionally drained and feeling worse!

Remember that even as we shift toward what works, there will always be times when most of us lose our cool or resort to old habits. The good news is that a strong parent-child relationship can handle that and even grow from the experience when we find authentic ways to repair.

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