Punishing children – Yes or no?

Does punishment equate to disciplining a child?

Text by Bhumika Vikam

“Children may forget what we say to them, but they will never forget how we make them feel.”

Many of us have heard the terrified statements like, “If you don’t do this, you will not get this”, “Wait till dad comes home, he will give you the right punishment”, “If you don’t want to listen to what I say, don’t talk to me”. We can also easily recall how these would make us feel. Punishment is something which is going to cause harm to anyone, be it physically, emotionally or mentally; and when it comes to children, in my opinion, punishment is a big no.

Previously we have seen how important early years are for every child’s growth and development. Punishment has that energy of completely hindering a child’s growth and development. Many times parents see punishment as the other word for discipline. To discipline children, they find punishment as the only alternative. Every parent wishes to have a loving, respectable and self-disciplined child. But for that punishment is not the appropriate option. What is appropriate is using the correct parenting tools.

If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach. If a child doesn’t know to swim, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to multiply or add, we again teach. But, when the question comes to discipline and behaviour, do we preach, teach or punish? As Pam Leo has quoted, “You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better”. So, the main key is to make children feel better.

According to a child psychologist, parents roughly fall into 3 categories: the first one, a small category of parents who instinctively do everything in a ‘good enough’ way, the second even smaller category of parents who are gruesomely abusive to their children, and the biggest portion of parents are in the middle of both these- they are far from being abusive, but aren’t completely like the first category. They are worked up and anxious hence end up being too lenient one day and too harsh the next. They are not consistent with their behaviour with the child and hence end up creating an inconsistency in the child’s behaviour too.

The way that parents discipline their children is how children discipline their peers. For example, if a parent hits a child to discipline him, the child shall hit his peers too; if a parent disciplines a child by kind words, the child shall use kind words too. Thus, inconsistency will create a further chain of inconsistency. Let us take an example of a parent who has just punished a child for using the parent’s important notebook for doodling. After some hours of neglecting the child or not talking to him, the parent starts to feel guilty for shouting and punishing her little one. She makes up her mind to go and give some attention to the child and give him a hug. As soon as she goes to the child, the child responds with an unexpected behaviour. The child tries to ward off from the parent. The parent now shows love and respect to the child. But the child feels confused and perhaps the child’s mind has already thought of revenge and maybe learned that the only way to teach something is by using harsh words and punishment. The parent leaves the child with confusion between love + attention and harsh words + punishment. Being too lenient or too punitive both can cause problems. Being punitive, breeds resentment and often leads to increased violence.

When a child is punished for his/ her mistake, instead of understanding the mistake, learning from it and making corrections, the child’s mind will get into that phase of revenge or transfer the same kind of punishment.

But now the question is how do we replace punishment and teach the necessary without being punitive and harsh in nature? Here is the key:

  • A very good way is to be polite while talking about the problem and talk about solutions. Telling your child politely what went wrong and what you expect and feel is an important parenting tool. Let’s look at the example of the parent whose important notebook was doodled on. The parent can sit with the child and calmly say, “I get frustrated when my things which are important to me are used for doodling”. “I would like to sit with you and find a solution to this wherein you can doodle, but at the same time it ensures that it is not onto anything important.” “It will be helpful if you can come to me and ask me prior permission if you could use a particular notebook”. “Would you like to suggest a solution from your side”.
  • It is helpful to use words /phrases like, ‘I expect’, ‘I feel’, ‘you can do this or you can do this’ etc.
  • Be consistent in your behaviour.
  • Show different solutions and ways to correct mistakes.
  • Always tell children, ‘It’s okay. Everything has a solution. We shall together come up with some solution.

Remember, “When the milk is splattered all over the floor and those little eyes are looking at you for a reaction, remember what really matters: It takes 5 minutes to clean the spilled milk. It takes much longer to clean up a broken spirit.” – Rebecca Eanes

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