In the two previous articles, I showed what can happen when you allow intense frustration to govern how you manage children: parents resort to punishment rather than using discipline. Following this further, when you punish using any of the techniques I listed in the last article (verbal threats, guilt, shame, physical pain, or the silent treatment), it can become harsh very quickly.  As a result, harsh punishment can produce undue stress on children as well as some real negative problems. For starters:

Harsh punishment can sabotage a child’s ability to learn new behaviors

Like many parents, the mom in our previous articles believed that her son Joey had “to feel bad” to learn from his mistakes. Granted, punishment does put an end to unwanted behavior because Joey will naturally try to avoid the physical and/or emotional pain that it brings. However, there is yet another side. Children tend to avoid behaviors that get punished not because they know better or have learned their lesson. Instead, they tend to avoid getting punished because they don’t want to experience the debilitating emotions that it can produce.

As for learning new behaviors, punishment only helps children learn what not to do (stop throwing sand) rather than learn what to do (build a sand castle and play nicely with your brother).  That’s not all.

Harsh punishment can undermine the parent/child relationship

When harsh punishment is used routinely, it can be costly because children tend to lack the emotional closeness they need from their parents. Even more, children may develop a chronic sense of being personally threatened when they are punished harshly.  It can prompt children to focus on their distress and need for safety instead of seeing their parents as a source of emotional support. Even more, children may avoid confiding in their parents for emotional support and guidance, especially as they become teens. As a result, the relationship with parents starts to lose the emotional safety it needs to thrive, and everyone begins to suffer!  What’s the negative impact of harsh punishment?

Harsh punishment models aggression

Have you ever heard the phrase “Monkey see, monkey do?”  Back in 1961 Albert Bandura studied children’s behavior after watching an adult model act aggressively towards a Bobo doll.  Compared with children not exposed to the adult model, those who viewed the model’s actions were more likely to lash out at the Bobo doll.  Bandura became a pioneering researcher of observational learning.  His findings showed that children learn by observing others.  Children watch and, more often than not, imitate others.  Therefore, harsh punishment can teach children to settle things by force rather than talking, negotiating, or learning to collaborate.

A Point to Ponder

Yes, punishment stops unwanted behavior, but the negative impact of punishment can sabotage learning, rupture a child’s intense need to belong, and models aggression.  Rest assured – there is a better (and easier) way to manage unwanted behavior in children!

Stay Tuned…

In my next article, you will learn about the alternatives to punishment. In that article I will reveal how asking two simple questions can change how you manage your little one and your relationship with him.


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Steve Cuffari

Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more affective. He is the founder of inTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today's parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive.         read more about Steve Cuffari here...

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