That’s right, I absolutely NEVER punish my child. If I’m being completely honest I did punish him once, I guess just to give it a try. It felt so completely wrong that I’ve never even been tempted again, and that was 3 years ago.
Pissed off parents have no shortage of punishments to choose from. There’s spanking, of course, or the ever-popular time out. There’s grounding your kids, taking away things that they like (that’s the one I tried), or forcing them to do something unpleasant.
If you’re looking around for justification for punishing your child, you’ll find that, too.
But there’s another radical option. It involves having a connected, cooperative relationship with your child instead. I know. Far out, huh?
To have the kind of relationship where you come together in joy, you have to give up punishments. You just do. Punishment has no place in a family.
Let’s talk through the reasons I don’t punish my child and why you shouldn’t either.
Punishment is the lowest form of communicating with another person. They do something you don’t like so you do something they don’t like. It’s terrible. It’s tempting. I get that! But it doesn’t belong in one of the most important relationships in your life. You are willing to put in a lot of effort to be a parent. You struggle to do right by your child. This is another area where you’re going to have to step up. Reacting to your child’s actions that you don’t like with care and consideration takes a little more effort. You can do it!
Punishment is, by definition, doing something to another person that they don’t like. This pits you and your child against each other. It makes you adversaries. It forces you into a policing or jailer role. That doesn’t feel good to you, and it doesn’t feel good to your child. Your relationship is capable of being full of joy and connection. That starts with setting aside punishment.
You only reach for punishment in relationships where there’s an imbalance of power and you’re on top. You don’t punish your romantic partner. You don’t punish your boss. Punishment is something done by people who think they own or control another person. You can imagine how you would feel if someone tried to punish you. It’s just as disrespectful to do it to your child.
When I think about whether I want to punish my child, I ask a simple question: Do I want him to be afraid of me? Do I want to be the big bad guy in his life? My clear answer is no. I want my son to look up to me as a source of wisdom and guidance. I want him to see me as a partner and an ally. That can’t happen if he is afraid of me or afraid of the punishments I give out.
When you punish your child, you teach them to focus on themselves, their behavior, and how to avoid punishment. This is a very narrow focus, and may not send the message you intend you send. I’d rather teach my son how his actions affect other people and the world. I’d rather teach him to examine whether his actions reflect his values and intentions. I can’t do that if he and I are both focused on punishment.
You’ve been a kid before, right? So you probably remember what it was like to be punished. Did you spend your time outs reflecting on what you did wrong? Did you spend your time sulking after a spanking appreciating your parent’s wisdom? No. It’s natural for kids to respond to punishment by thinking horrible thoughts about their parents and plotting how not to get caught next time. They learn to work around their parents.
Many kids will respond to punishment by internalizing the worst interpretation of what you’ve done. They will think, I’m a bad kid. I’m a bad person. My parent doesn’t love me. I’m so much trouble and can’t do anything right. You may not intend to send these messages, but that’s what punishment does anyway.
You might want to teach your child values like generosity, forgiveness, creativity, cooperation, connection, intelligence, and peacefulness. Punishment doesn’t teach these things, of course. Punishment can only teach values like coercion, control, might makes right, and vengeance.
Kids can’t learn when they feel afraid, belittled, disrespected, rebellious, or submissive. Learning only happens when the mind is open and receptive. You might think you are teaching proper behavior with your punishments. However, you are more likely to be teaching your child to avoid you and your judgments.
The most important part of parenting is the connected relationship between you. Punishment drives a wedge between you. It pits you against one another. It makes it that much harder to reach your child the next time. Punishment simply doesn’t belong in the middle of a loving relationship. It will erode the trust between you. When your child does something you don’t like, you have to reach for solutions that build on your connection, not ones that whittle it away.
When I don’t punish my child, a whole new world opens up where we can relate to each other in a positive and authentic way.
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