10 ways to guide children without punishment (part 1)
Dr Jozelle Miller
September 4, 2018
10 ways to guide children without punishment (part 1)

How children learn to behave without Punishment

Source: Laura Markham Ph.D. (Psychology Today)

Not many parents buy into the idea that children can learn to behave well even without punishments such as spanking, consequences and time-outs.

According to Dr Markham, it is indeed possible and when asked how will children learn how to behave, she replied, children learn what they live. The most effective way to teach kids is to treat them the way we want them to treat others: with compassion and understanding. When children are spanked, punished, or shouted at, they learn to act aggressively.

Even timeouts – symbolic abandonment — give children the message that they’re alone with their big scary feelings just when they need us most, rather than being an opportunity to learn how to manage their emotions. That doesn’t mean parents should renege on their responsibility to guide their children by setting limits, such as no running into the street, no hitting other children, no peeing in the street, no screaming and running in church, no kicking the dog. But these are limits, not punishment.

Are you wondering how your child will learn not to do these things next time, if you don’t “discipline” him when he does them? Then you’re assuming that punishing children is needed to “teach the child a lesson.”

Actually, research shows that punishing kids creates more misbehavior. Being punished makes children angry and defensive. It launches adrenalin and the other fight, flight or freeze hormones, and turns off the reasoning, cooperative impulses. Children quickly forget the “bad” behavior that led to their being punished, even while they’re processing the emotional aftermath of the punishment for weeks. If they learn anything, it’s to lie and avoid getting caught. Punishment disconnects parents from their children so they end up with less influence with them. It even lowers IQ, since kids who don’t feel completely safe and secure aren’t free to learn. Quite simply, punishment is never an effective means of raising a responsible, considerate, happy child. It teaches all the wrong lessons.

If, instead, parents stay kind and connected while setting limits, their children will internalize what they’ve lived. They don’t resist their guidance, so they feel connected, and they see their impact on others, so they’re considerate and responsible. Because they’ve had parents who modeled emotional self-regulation, they’ve learned to manage their own emotions, and therefore their own behavior. Because they’re been accepted for all of who they are, they’re in touch with their own passions and motivated to explore them.

1. Regulate your own emotions.

That’s how children learn to manage theirs. You’re the role model. Don’t act when you’re upset. If you can’t get in touch with your love for your child, then what would a really fantastic parent do right now? Do that. If you can’t, then take a deep breath and wait until you’re calm before you address the situation. Resist the impulse to be punitive. It always backfires.

2. Honor feelings.

When your child is hijacked by adrenaline and other fight or flight hormones, he can’t learn. Instead of lecturing, do a “Time-In” where you stay with your child and let him have his meltdown in your attentive presence. Your goal is to provide a calm “holding environment” for your child’s upset. Expressing emotions with a safe, attentive, accepting adult is what helps kids move through those feelings and learn to self-soothe so they can regulate their own emotions eventually. Don’t try to reason with him during the emotional storm. Afterwards, he’ll feel so much better, and so much closer to you, that he’ll be open to your guidance about why we don’t say “Shut Up” (Because it hurts feelings) or lie (Because it cuts the invisible cords that connect our hearts to each other.)

3. Remember how children learn.

Consider the example of teeth brushing. Start when she’s a baby, model brushing your own teeth, make it fun for her, gradually give her more of the responsibility, and eventually she’ll be doing it herself. The same principle holds for learning to say Thank You, taking turns, remembering her belongings, feeding her pet, doing homework, and most everything else you can think of. Routines are invaluable partly because they provide the “scaffolding” for your child to learn basic skills, just as scaffolding provides structure for a building to take shape. You might be mad she forgot her jacket again, but yelling won’t help her remember. “Scaffolding” will.

(To be continued next week)