Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Time Travel Tuesday: Discipline without Punishment

This week's Time Travel Tuesday post is an oldie, but a longie: Discipline without Punishment. It's one of the posts where I tried to lay out a case for non-punitive discipline which is based on my principles as an Objectivist. There are lots of examples, and includes the Ambassador Analogy (which is not something I made up). I get the most hits on this post from Google searches. By far.

The reason I wrote this post--and the other parenting posts I've done--and the reason I do the podcasts with Kelly and teach classes, too--is because I aim to challenge the premise that children must have something unpleasant done to them when they misbehave in order to help them "get" the lesson that they've done wrong.

From the original post:

I should define what I mean when I say "punishment." I'm talking about an arbitrary, adult-imposed sanction upon a child for a specific transgression. If you run out into the street, I'll smack your bottom. If you scream at me, I'll make you sit in the Time Out Chair. If you throw a toy, I'll smack your hand. If you hit me, I'll hit you. If you break something precious of mine, I'll send you to your room. If you speak rudely to me, I'll withhold love, affection, or television privileges. If you lie to me, I'll ground you. In other words, punishment is something negative I'll do TO you in order to let you know you did something wrong (or something I don't like).

Punishment is a "something else" done to the child when he misbehaves. Specifically, it's a negative "something else." (Reward systems, which I consider the flip-side of punishment, are positive "something elses." But that's another post.)

I think most of us assume that of course you must punish! How else will the kid understand? I wrote a bit about my own struggles with this notion in the original post. This wasn't immediately obvious to me when I was first reading about Positive Discipline. I could not understand it. Accepting this premise required a paradigm shift for me, and it was not immediately apparent that I should, you know, shift that paradigm.

If you do think punishment is necessary, then I challenge you to examine that premise. (And if you'd care to challenge ME in the comments, then by all means, please do! I definitely love discussing this issue, even with people who disagree with me. As long as we can all behave.)

Why is imposing a punishment on a child necessary when he has done wrong? Is it to make him feel remorse? Is it to make him learn a lesson? Is it because he's not actually rational yet and must be treated the way we treat the smarter of the dumb animals? Is it strictly a behaviorism negative reinforcement thing? Are you worried he won't learn how to behave unless he is punished? Why? What might happen if he must accept the consequences of his actions, but without the (negative) "something else?"

Another question I am asked is--well, if you don't punish, then what do you DO? They'll get away with murder! It'll be chaos! Nobody will respect the adult! [Answer: Positive Discipline!] This question exposes another underlying assumption--that not punishing means not setting any limits; that not punishing means protecting children from unpleasant consequences of their own making.

We do not punish, but limits are set around here. They are enforced. But that is where I stop. I do not add another layer of punishment on to what happens.

If you lie, you lose my trust. I will have a hard time believing anything you say for along while. You will experience what it feels like to have people doubt your word when you ARE telling the truth. But you are not hit, or sent to your room.

If you make a huge mess, you clean it up. But you do not sit in Time Out for 10 minutes to "think" about what you did.

If you smack somebody upside the head, you experience all kinds of consequences like losing the person's trust, getting to watch them cry about what you did to them, knowing Mom is upset with you, having to stay away from the person you hit so that their body will be protected, maybe having Mom's help in holding your arms down until you are back in control of your own body, needing to make amends and try to right your wrong. But you are not hit by me (the most ironic reason to spank ANYONE ever) in order to learn not to hit. You are not required to sit in your room for a Mom-determined amount of time. You do not lose your allowance for the week.

The original post long, but if you are interested in why we don't use punishment (EVER! Not even with very small toddler people!), I think this post is worth a read. I'll quote my conclusion here:

The best thing about positive discipline techniques is that they are very compatible with my principles. When I am guiding my children through a situation, I am focused on reality; I'm thinking about ideas that are important to me; I'm treating my children as individuals; I'm making sure they treat me and others as individuals with rights; I'm protecting them from catastrophic harm; I'm staying out of the way of them experiencing the consequences of their actions; I'm ensuring that they are thinking about things for themselves instead of accepting an argument from authority (me). 
PD tools reinforce the virtues which I try to exercise on a daily basis for my own happiness. When I slip back into JJ&E [Judge, Jury, & Executioner] mode (and I do), I'm not a happy mommy. I don't like thinking up punishments and enforcing them; I'd rather enforce the rational rule. I don't like implicitly asking my kids to do something merely because I want them to do it; I like them understanding that it's important to do something because it's right to do it (even if they don't like it in the moment). 
In the words of Aristotle: we are what we repeatedly do; excellence is not an act, but a habit. With rational, reality-based limits, kids will get experience making good and bad choices, and lots of practice in how to navigate the local customs. I think they'll enter adulthood with experience and skills in their own toolboxes to help them be happy, productive adults.

Read the whole post here. I'd love your comments!


Jennifer Snow said...

Heh, my Mom used to use a "punishment" that made sense to me with my brother Benjamin. When he was being a real pill (viciously acting out against other people) she'd make him go to a room away from everyone else. 99% of the time he'd immediately fall asleep. Because he acted out when he needed a nap.

But overall from what I've seen punishing kids doesn't accomplish anything other than making them upset and resentful.

T.L. Ryder said...

Time Outs are probably one of the most abused parenting tools in the history of parenting tools. Originally Time Out was meant to be a tool for the kid, to give them a bit of time and space to regain control of themselves when they were emotionally overwrought. It's not a very effective punishment technique because it wasn't originally designed to be a punishment but instead was meant to teach an important coping skill.

Time Out abuse makes me sad. :( It can be so valuable and useful if used in a positive and non punitive way.

Kyle Haight said...

My mother once suffered an epic time-out fail when she deployed it against my brother and me. We'd been fighting and she put us both in time-out until we both agreed that we could be let out.

Big mistake. See, I figured out that I cared less about being in time-out than my brother did -- which let me turn the parental punishment into a weapon I could use against him. Boy, did that put my mother in an awkward position...

cmos said...

I am in the process of shifting my parenting techniques/philosphy towards positive discipline but there are still some cases where I'm not sure what the natural consequence is for an action. For instance, my 3-year-old can be very vocal and very relentless when she wants something. Lately at meal times she just keeps screaming the same request over and over. First of all, we do not jump at any request when it is being screamed at us. Second of all, her requests are often unreasonable. Thirdly, it makes meal times very tense for the rest of us (her brothers are 7 & 8). Is it punishment to remove her from the dining room or a natural consquence that she can't sit with us if she's screaming?