Punishment is one of the oldest forms of discipline known to humans. It’s no surprise that parents turn to it as a form of controlling the behavior of their children and make sure they are not being unruly or disobedient. But does punishing really work? Is this the best approach to instilling discipline in your child? Experts like to think otherwise, especially since they believe there are many disadvantages to punishing a child.
The thing is, punishment helps you achieve the desired outcome – temporarily. This gives parents the false idea that it’s the best approach to stop unwanted behavior. Discover why it’s actually ineffective and what you can do instead.
Why Punishment Doesn’t Work
As mentioned above, punishment is the most common form of reinforcing positive behavior in children and discouraging negative behavior, as demonstrated in this study. Often, the behavior that you dislike stops as a result of the punishment.
As mentioned, this gives parents the false assumption that punishment works. But have you thought about the long-term impact on children?
There are plenty of behavioral studies that demonstrate how punishment promotes obedience but does not help with moral reasoning, such as this one from ukessays.com. The essence of disciplining your child is to get them to behave correctly in your presence or absence. However, punishment does not achieve this.
The shock of punishment eventually wears off after some time until the person being punished (your child) develops a disconnect to the consequences of their action. The child will engage in the same behavior if they know they are not being watched, or behind the back of the person who will punish them.
There are instances when punishment becomes necessary, especially when it concerns your child’s safety. Even then, positive reinforcement can still be used as an approach.
For example, you can punish your child if they attempt to run into the street. But punishment is not the only option here. You can teach them about traffic light signals instead. If you rely on punishment alone, you run the risk of your child running into the street in your absence.
Needless to say, punishment only develops a fear of the punishment – there is no association to the action being punished. It will not deter your child’s behavior except when there is a real possibility of being caught while doing the act.
So, why do parents use punishment as a form of disciplining their children? To summarize the points above, it can be either one of two reasons (or both):
- It gives a temporary result that gives the false idea that it works (even though it doesn’t).
- It is a form of expressing anger towards the child and the consequences of their action.
Disadvantages of Punishing a Child
It was not until recently that alternative forms of discipline have been advocated by parenting experts. Prior to this, parents relied on physical punishment (such as spanking) to correct a child’s behavior. This approach perpetuates the wrong idea about the consequences of their action because they only associate the punishment with the punisher, not the reason why they are being punished.
There are long-term disadvantages of punishing a child that you need to be aware of:
- It causes the child to develop resentment towards the parents who administer the punishment. The main purpose of the punishment – the wrong behavior – is lost in the equation because the child develops fear or resentment towards their parents. Experts agree that the moment a child develops fear towards their parents, they stop learning.
- It can lead to physical harm or injury towards a child. Depending on the extent of a child’s behavior, parents often develop anger towards the child for such actions. Most parents are incapable of containing that anger and it can potentially result in serious harm.
There are several countries in the world where spanking is considered illegal. This policy is derived from studies that demonstrate how spanking, or any form of physical punishment, doesn’t work.
What You Should Do Instead
The disadvantages of punishing a child showcase why this form of discipline is ineffective. There are a few other effective ways to discipline your child that you must try instead.
1. Make Your Expectations Clear
There is nothing that open and honest communication cannot overcome. Do not underestimate your child’s ability to understand. Make it known to them what kind of behavior you expect from them. This will help guide their behavior, and you won’t have to resort to punishing them for disciplinary purposes.
2. Use simple and firm language
When your children are not listening, it’s easy to get frustrated. When frustration sets in, that is when most parents turn to ineffective parenting practices like punishment.
However, getting your kids to listen is only a matter of using simple but firm language. Use minimal language when you speak to them. Support your verbal communication with non-verbal cues such as eye contact or nodding. Get them to respond to you using non-verbal cues, too. This is a great way to practice listening and responding.
You do not need to incite coercion just to get them to cooperate with you.
3. Keep consequences of their actions related and reasonable
One of the most effective techniques of letting your kids understand the consequences of their behavior is by keeping the resulting events related and reasonable. No matter how you communicate with your child, there will be times when they just won’t listen.
The use of logical consequences is when you let your child see for themselves the consequences of their own actions. For example, if they start throwing things like their toys, you make it known to them that by doing that, they could end up destroying their toys. Or, if they destroy any valuable items in the home, ask them if they are willing to pay for the repair.
When a child realizes that they can’t handle the consequences of their action, it instills in their mind that engaging in such behaviors will bring them no good.
The Bottom Line
There are various forms of discipline available and punishment is one of the traditional forms of correcting a child’s behavior. However, effective parenting and disciplining are about building a connection with your child. You want your child to feel that they are understood and that you are using this as a learning opportunity for them.
Understanding the disadvantages of punishing a child is the first step towards promoting positive behavior and moral reasoning. This will ensure that they will behave the way you want them to even in your absence.