When I was in college, a friend of mine said to me, “Remember when we were kids and we were punished, and then we had to say we were sorry for what we did? I said I’m sorry, but I never knew what I was sorry for.” At the time, I thought her comment was kind of funny and didn’t think about it much until I became a mom.
In my beginning days of being a mom, I think I watched a little “too much” Supernanny. I set up small quarantined area in the house for when my daughter did something I thought was time-out worthy. Once it was for eating a flower in the backyard when I told her to put it down. These were my “your choice/consequence days.” — “You can put the flower down or you can go into timeout. It’s your choice.” In my mind, I was justified. It could be poisonous, and I was protecting her.
Another time, when my daughter was around two or three, she pinched her little brother. I told her to go into her room to think about what she did. My sister burst out laughing and said, “Do you really think she’s going to go into her room and think about what she did and how she’s remorseful for it? She’s going to in there and think her brother is a jerk and think you are too!”
I started to question what I was doing and why. Part of that led me to question punishment in general. I went to lectures and read books by Alfie Kohn, Naomi Aldort, Harvey Karp, Pam Leo, Haim Ginott, Aletha Solter, and others and started to question my beliefs around punishment.
Many people, once they’ve become open to the idea that punishment doesn’t work or doesn’t fit into the paradigm of who they want to be as a parent, ask “Now what can I do? If I ‘can’t’ punish my kids, what can I do instead?” This post gives you a few answers.
Ten Gentle Alternatives to Punishment
by © Chaley-Ann Scott, author of The Shepherdess: A Guide to Mothering without Control
Many of us don’t feel comfortable using punishment with our children, but we don’t know what to do instead. We feel we have to punish bad behavior to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and to teach our kids a lesson. Without punishment, how will they learn right from wrong? The good news is that children can and do learn how to become kind, responsible and socially acceptable without us using punitive measures. Instead we can use the respectful alternatives shown below:
1. Look behind “bad” behavior and assume positive intent. We are encouraged by many parenting experts to either ignore or punish bad behavior, but this means we may miss out on an opportunity to listen to what our child is trying to communicate to us. If we see a tantrum or bad behavior as “naughtiness,” then ignoring or punishing our child will make sense. If we see it as a loud emotion that our child is trying to communicate to us the only way they know how, then ignoring or punishing doesn’t make any sense at all. All it does is encourage our child to stop trying to communicate their needs to us because we aren’t listening.
Also, what constitutes “bad” or “‘good” behavior is very subjective. Looking deeper at the behavior often makes us understand it more. Behavior that appears naughty or destructive most often through a child’s eyes is just innocent exploration and a quest for further knowledge. Sometimes it is just their way of communicating an unmet need. That can be hard for us to grasp, having been conditioned into believing children are naturally manipulative, sneaky, lazy and greedy. However, if we see our children through a more positive lens, where we trust that they are doing the best they can, we find it easier to accept that they are still learning and figuring out their way in the world.