Every parent punishes, right? How else will kids clean up their mess, do their homework, stop fighting with their siblings, and learn from their mistakes?
But what if punishment doesn’t teach your child the lessons you’re hoping it does?
What if instead it makes your child think they’re “bad” and “worthless” and motivates them to lie to you?
What if it disempowers your child and makes them less capable of being successful in life?
It’s a scary thought!
That’s why, if you want what’s best for your child, this may be one of the most important articles you read.
You’re about to learn why, despite your best intentions as a parent, punishing your kids is a mistake. It doesn’t accomplish what you think it does and it actually harms your kids in the long-run.
Let’s say your child is doing something you deem as misbehaving or acting out—such as throwing a toy at a sibling.
Or failing to do something that’s in their best interest or wellbeing—such as eating a healthy meal or doing their schoolwork.
As a parent, you don’t want them to think their behavior is acceptable or okay.
You want them to stop what they’re doing so they don’t hurt themselves or others.
You want them to learn a lesson or learn to be more responsible.
You want them to cooperate with you so they remain healthy and safe.
So what do you do?
These are all punishments we think are effective in getting kids to behave.
And in the short-term, these types of punishments sometimes do get us the results we want.
Our kids stop whining. They finish their homework. They clean up their mess. They apologize.
Therefore, we feel satisfied that the punishments we dish out work, because our kids cooperate and do what we expect them to do—most of the time. We breathe a sigh of relief that—at least for the time being—our children:
But in the long-term, none of these things predict the long-term happiness and wellbeing of your child.
In fact, punishing your kids to get them to “behave” and “act responsibly” is hurting them in ways you’ve probably never even imagined.
“Punishment works if all you want to do is stop the behavior. But what is the child thinking, feeling and deciding?” asks Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline and a featured expert in the Flourish program, Parenting Traps.
Let’s say your child threw a toy at their sibling. You tell them you’re taking the toy away and then you send them to their room“to think about what they did”.
What are they thinking, feeling and deciding?
They’re probably not thinking about how their behavior was hurtful to their sibling or how they need to apologize and do better. They’re likely thinking about how unfair your “rules” are, and how wrong they think YOU are.
They may ponder how they can get away with it next time.
They’re plotting revenge. (“I’m going to get my brother for telling on me!”)
They feel resentful and angry. They may tell themselves they’ll just lie to you in order to avoid getting punished next time. (“I didn’t do it!”)
They may feel rebellious, doing the opposite of what you’re telling them to do.
“They might become compliant. I worry about that,” says Dr. Nelsen. “You do not want obedient children because obedient children obey whomever they put above them. If they obey their peers, that can be dangerous.”
It can lead to mischief if they’re young or taking drugs or to participating in risky or illegal behavior when they get older.
Another way we may punish is yelling at them or lecturing how “bad” they are for misbehaving.
But hearing this from a parent doesn’t make a child want to take responsibility for their behavior, it only leads them to conclude that THEY are “bad”, not their behavior, according to Dr. Nelsen.
She says that rather than teaching responsibility and self-control, this form of punishment causes kids to feel shame and self-loathing. It doesn’t inspire them to come up with creative solutions or to take self-responsibility.
Punishing children with time-outs, yelling and lecturing doesn’t motivate them to think through the consequences of their behavior next time. It only leads them to believing they’re incapable, unworthy and unlovable, which may prompt them to unconsciously act out these negative beliefs about themselves.
They’ll believe they’re bad, so they’ll act bad. They’ll believe they’re incapable, so they’ll act incapable.
And that’s a big reason why you keep having to
They get stuck in this punishment-shame-rebellion cycle, and never get a chance to learn to take responsibility for their actions.
They become adults who believe they’re victims. Who lack self-control. Who are entitled or narcissistic.
Which is why punishment is a mistake and likely creating the opposite of the kind of future you envision for your kids.
When considering whether punishment is a mistake, you might wonder, “What is the alternative?”
If you ignore the behavior, they may accidentally do something that harms them or others.
If you let them do whatever they want, it will only escalate the problem because they’ll run all over you.
Punishment is a mistake, but permissiveness has its own set of problems and unintended consequences.
Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be one or the other.
There’s a way to parent that isn’t punitive or permissive, but still gets you the results you want now (children who know how to solve problems and consider the consequences of their actions)…
While ALSO showing you how to create the structure that makes it likely your kids grow up to be happy, confident, thriving adults.
You want to do what’s best for your kids.
But what is best? Sometimes as parents we “wing it” based on how we were raised, or do what we assume should work, but are frustrated when it doesn’t work. We think it’s our kids who are stubborn and unruly. Or we think we are inconsistent. Neither are necessarily true.
We simply don’t know what we don’t know.
That’s why we decided to turn to some of the world’s top experts and get their insights and advice on how to avoid the most common mistakes with parenting, and what to do instead.
When you subscribe to our free expert advice newsletter, you’ll get information-rich articles delivered to your inbox, with tons of actionable tips and specific advice to help you make positive changes in your parenting approach. These are articles by psychotherapists, authors, speakers and experts with decades of real-world experience working with families.
You’ll also learn:
As parents, we’re going to make mistakes. And that’s okay—mistakes are part of life. They’re an opportunity to learn and do better, for ourselves AND our kids.
That’s why we at Flourish want to give you the tools you need to make your job as a parent much easier, more joyful, and more connected.