Friday, 22 April 2016

Parenting: Punishment..... or consequences?

Well...... neither really, if you value the trusting and loving relationship with your children.

These days people tend to go for the idea of not wanting to punish their child as that has gotten a bad reputation. So now we use "consequences", but is there really a difference? No, it is still an arbitrary action by a parent put onto a child for not showing the correct behaviour. Does it teach the child anything? No, at least nothing you want them to learn from it, they'll learn to make sure they're not caught next time and that they're aren't worthy of being respected in a way that adults usually do amongst each other. They'll get angry with you, they might even want revenge. So in all it's  a loose-loose situation. It doesn't bring the desired learning effect.

So why do people do it? Well, I guess a lot of people don't know what else to do.  Many have probably read articles in which it is described in a lot of elaborate words how different, ans bad, punishments are in comparison to consequences. But really it's just another word for effectively the same thing. It just sounds less harsh and nasty.  So it's effectively a euphemism for punishment.
You want your child to learn why certain behaviour isn't wanted. And with that you want behaviour to change. It's possible, but keep in mind that you cannot change a person or their character, you wouldn't want anyone to try to change you. So you can only teach and give them the right example. 
Teaching works quite well through talking and good example.

For example: if you want your child to tidy up after themselves; you'll have to do this yourself as well ALL THE TIME. Don't hold your children to higher standards than yourself.
Also don't be a hypocrite. Don't expect that your children will willingly not watch TV, but then do it yourself. Or don't expect them to not play games, but you're stuck on your game boy or telephone for hours on end.
It doesn't work that way. You are your child's world. Anything you do or say is right in their eyes, they look up to you.

Unfortunately punishments are based on the behaviourism school of psychology. But humans aren't pigeons. We are complex beings with complex minds. So that whole school of thought can simply be put in the bin.  Unfortunately it's the system used in schools and most work places. Gold stars and grades in schools. Bonuses at work. It just doesn't create the intrinsic motivation which is to be nurtured. It creates a pressure to do something. It kills motivation and joy in the task. 

There are more problems with punishment or consequences, whichever way you want to call it. Think about how you would feel if the person you love would arbitrarily decide that because you made a mistake it's right to punish you for that. I'm sure that wouldn't go down well. It's completely ridiculous for one partner in a relationship to punish the other for a mistake or wrong behaviour or wrong choices or such. They talk about it, maybe have an argument about it.  But I think it's safe to say that the one doesn't just punish the other, against which the other can't do anything but suck it up. I'm sure the relationship wouldn't last long as it's considered abusive behaviour. But why is that same behaviour fine towards children. I have no clue. 

It also messes up the relationship, but a child is stuck, they can't go anywhere. And the younger the child is the worse the effects. When a child is very young it will start thinking that they must be very bad, to deserve the people who are the ones that are supposed to love the child unconditionally, to be treated by them in such anawful way.  They will know they are awful and unworthy people. 
When a child get older they may not internalise is so much, but it still ruins the trust between child and parent. I have frequently heard parents complain that for some odd reason their child developed distrust to them. And on topof that those parents then want the child to help mend the relationship and frequently even blame the child to a certain extent for the problems for not having been obedient enough. The twist in thinking never stop to amaze me. I don't understand why people seem to think they can do anything to a child that an adult wouldn't accept and that child is still going to be trusting and loving. They really need a reality check. Children are just smaller and more vulnerable and sensitive people.  So you have to actually be more careful with your actions than with seasoned adults. But most of the time, it's the exact opposite way that children get treated. Mind-boggling!

The case of Q
I want to share a case story of a fiend with you.  I've been given permission to share the story of Q. The parents of Q are firm believers in punishment, for any little detail. So for walking on the toes as a toddler Q would be punished. The expectations of the parents of Q were very high so the fact that Q started walking on the toes has a psychological issue behind it, which was then punished. But this wasn't the only thing. Any minor misstep would result in punishment. At somepoint the parents were of the opinion that something was wrong with Q as Q started behaving worse and worse.  So they took Q in to get diagnosed. The diagnosis was ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). Since I heard of this diagnosis it's been bugging me.  So I've been reading up on it  bit and frankly, the more I read, the more it disturbed me.  This is a diagnosis for non-obedient children, usually those children have been subject to high pressure or a high frequency of being punished for unimportant things,  in essence a form of abuse. So a child whose been subjected to the milder forms of abuse gets labeled, but the parents come out clean. That's twisted in my head.  
In the case of Q it didn't fully go that way, as family members regularly reported the family to Social Services for child abuse. Unfortunately it was just not bad enough for them to be able to do anything, but they did keep in contact with the family, though it didn't help Q in any way at that point. 
Eventually Q became a young teenager and decided to move. Q didn't want to live with the parents anymore, so Q moved in with an uncle. The uncle was a loving and caring person. So the uncle guided Q with loving care. As Q grew older counseling was discussed as Q bore quite some scars and had some wide open wounds from the parenting style the  parents had used. After a few sessions Q started feeling better and more trusting of the world. These days Q is a lovely and caring person, because Q was lucky to have the uncle and Social Services support the choices of Q.

Alfie Kohn has written quite a few books on the why's, what's and how's with regards to this topic. Several of his books I've read. "Unconditional parenting" and "Punished by rewards" are 2 outstanding books. Very well referenced and very well written. They are truly worth every minute you take to read them.

Alfie Kohn also has a website on which you can read many articles on various parenting and non-parenting topics. Here is the link: Alfie Kohn