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Punishment in parenting

Traditional forms of discipline such as social isolation, spanking and threats are all forms of punishment. These methods are used as an attempt by parents to ‘fix’ toddler behaviour. But do they work? And what are the consequences?

What is punishment?

“Punishment unfairly lays all the blame, shame and burden at a child’s feet, while focusing on the adult’s wants, not the child’d needs.”Punishments, Time Outs, and Rewards: Why Conditional Parenting Doesn’t Work (And What Does),

Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting.

Alfie Kohn challenges widely accepted theories and practices related to parenting. In his 2005 book, Unconditional Parenting, Alfie states punishment is: “to make something unpleasant happen to them – or prevent them from experiencing something pleasant – usually with the goal of changing their future behaviour. The punisher makes them suffer, in other words, to teach them a lesson.”.

Kohn reports on a classic study involving kindergarteners and their mothers from the 50s in which the investigators found that “the unhappy effects of punishment have run like a dismal thread through our findings.”.

The researchers consistently found that punishment was “ineffectual over the long term as a technique for eliminating the kind of behaviour toward which it is directed.”.

What are time-outs?

Time-outs are a form of behavioural modification that involves separating a child from an environment where an unacceptable behaviour has occurred.

“White some varieties of time-outs are appropriate, namely, those that are brief and infrequent, those that involve ‘care and kindness’, and those that do not isolate a child, in practice, time-outs are often administered inappropriately. The severe punishment and social isolation that is commonly done in the name of time-outs is harmful.” Dr Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine – Are Time-Outs Harmful to Kids?,

In this 2014 piece Siegel co-wrote for TIME, he highlighted that brain-imaging research found that social exclusion and physical pain trigger similar patterns of brain activity. He also wrote that isolating a child in time-out may deny the child of “profound need for connection” during times of distress.

Conditional Parenting.

“Conditional parenting is that a child must earn a parents affection. Affection is given or withdrawn if the child does something ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Most of us would protest that of course we love our children without any strings attached. But what counts is how things look from the perspective of the children, and whether they feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short.”When a parent’s ‘I love you’ means ‘Do as I say’, The New York Times.

“Punishment gives children the message that they must earn our love by pleasing us, and acting how we want them to act. I don’t think anyone purposely chooses to send their children this message, or at least I hope not. But often we just don’t think. If that was the way you were parented, and your parents were parented, and the way your friends parent, then you assume this is what must be done and it’s hard to see another way. But the way towards more connected parenting is considering these things. Considering our assumptions, expectations, and actions. What messages are we sending our children?”Sara – Unconditional parenting, Happiness is here.

Take care of yourself.

“Because, how we react as a parent has far more to do with how we’re feeling than what are children are doing. Rather than reacting to our children, we want to be able to pause, pause again and respond. As cliched as it sounds, we can’t do that if we’re pouring from an empty cup. Be kind to yourself. Don’t worry about how you parented yesterday, focus on the now. We all mess up at times, we tell and we lose our cool, and that’s ok – our kids don’t need us to be perfect (there’s no such thing).”Punishments, Time Outs, and Rewards: Why Conditional Parenting Doesn’t Work (And What Does),

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