WHAT'S WRONG WITH PUNISHMENT?
All we have learned from the study of Developmental Psychology and human behavior points to the negative effects of punishment. Punishing and neglecting the needs of children are at the root of most, if not all, of society's problems.
Before I explain the reasons for my stand against punishment, I want to share with you a real-life story from my distant past.
A neighbor was in daily continuous conflict with her three-year-old boy. One of her many problems was getting him to stay in bed and go to sleep. She and his father were grappling with him every night until after midnight. One day this exhausted mother said to me, "I spanked him last night until I could not raise my arm and he still would not stay in bed."
What we can learn from this mother's dilemma:
PUNISHMENT WILL NOT BRING THE RESULTS YOU WANT.
Unlike the experience of my neighbor, punishment will actually "work" to bring short-term results sometimes. At what cost?
For a little boy who would stay in bed after the first spanking, what has it cost him? What has it cost his parents?
Here are some of the costs:
Punishment threatens, weakens and can destroy the critical Attachment bond. A child will not feel drawn to an adult who makes him feel bad either physically or emotionally.
You, as the punisher, are casting yourself as your child's adversary to be avoided, feared or deceived.
Punishment fails to address the needs motivating your child's behavior. When the need behind a behavior remains, the symptomatic unwanted behavior continues or reappears in a different form. One week a child's symptoms of an unbearable level of stress may be hitting and biting. The next week, added to his aggression, he may be throwing tantrums or throwing toys..
Whatever control you may gain through punishment will only be temporary and will leave you searching for new and better methods of control.
My observations over the years have told me this: If a parent assumes the role of punisher, the child will automatically fall into the role of punishee and perform in such a way as to "deserve" punishment. He takes on the behavior to fit the role assigned to him through punishing.
When we see a child as needing punishment, he comes to view himself in the same way. Not having been given the opportunity and support to learn self-control he adopts the parent's belief system and relies on their punishments to keep him in line.
I learned it is quite easy to raise a child without punishments or "consequences" of any kind. When it is possible to raise a well behaved, well functioning child without punishments, it is tragic to see the inhabitants of advanced societies routinely punishing children of all ages from babies to teens.
Years ago, people who observed my well-behaved pre-schooler would ask in puzzlement. "If you don't punish, what do you do?" I could only answer by saying, "Nothing." This was like being asked, "When you remove a cancer, what do you put in place of it?"
Sometimes I would try to explain about his "good" behavior being a reflection of my P.E.T. training and our resulting relationship, not of any control tricks I had discovered. This thinking was new and unheard of back in the sixties and would be brushed off as strange. Now, fifty years later with masses of research to support working with children instead of doing things to them, we still see a large percentage of our population clinging to Traditional long-standing belief in punishments as the answer to problems with children when, instead of being the answer to problems, punishments exacerbates them.
Some professionals regarded as experts are writing books telling you how to control your child through the application of various combinations of punishments and rewards. Some such writers and Parenting coaches have begun to feel uneasy about punishment and, not knowing how to give up their reliance on coercion, fool themselves and parents seeking advice by giving punishment a new name.
They call it CONSEQUENCES.
There are deep psychological reasons why some adults want to bring physical or emotional pain to a child. For a good understanding of one particular phenomenon, I refer you to Alice Miller's book, FOR YOUR OWN GOOD,* and her interesting website www.alice-miller.com Although her focus is on physical punishment, she warns against all punishments and manipulations of a child's behavior.
Some, such as time-out, are as damaging as inflicting physical pain.
Please read my analysis of this control measure in the chapter on
Children who live under the constant threat of punishment or
so-called consequences are living with a continual undercurrent of fear. Fear of parental disapproval and loss of love undermines all facets of healthy development. John Holt, in his book, HOW CHILDREN FAIL,** told us how fear interferes with learning. Today's developmental psychologists have explained how fear effects the hormonal and immune systems of babies and children.
Fear distorts a growing child's perception of the world and contributes to pathologies leading to personality disorders, aggression, violence and gang activity. Recent research into the workings of the brain is revealing early fears to be the cause of later health problems including obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
The stress children live with in a punitive environment will have negative life-long effects on their physical health as demonstrated and reported in January 2012 by Dr. Jack P. Schonkoff at Harvard's school of Child Health and Development.
Click on: PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM ADVERSITY KEY TO HEALTHY DEVELOPMENT
For an in-depth study of the ways in which childhood fear generates into adult health problems such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension, please read SCARED SICK by Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley who also wrote Ghosts FromThe Nursery. ***
*FOR YOUR OWN GOOD
Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence
By Alice Miller 1983 Farrar, Straus and Giroux
**HOW CHILDREN FAIL
By John Holt
1964 Pitman Publishing Co. New York, NY
By Robin Karr-Morse with Meredith S. Wiley
2012 Basic Books
A Member of the Perseus Books Group
GHOSTS FROM THE NURSERY
Tracing The Roots Of Violence
by Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley
1997 Atlantic Monthly Press New York, NY