In order to answer the question about the necessity of punishment and whether it is a way to correct behavior, we need to find out what punishment is. I believe it is not a proper method; it is a way to take out your tiredness and irritation on your child, just to yell or spank a child. Often that is exactly what happens to a parent when they have burnt out emotionally. This way you demonstrate your powerlessness by traumatizing the psyche of a child and giving a child to understand that you as an educator are not on top of it. In my opinion, punishment should teach a lesson and not be retaliation. The main goal of punishment is to stop child’s deliberate misconduct and prevent it from happening again in the future. To achieve this goal a guilty child must understand that he did a wrong thing, feel sorry and want to improve. And that is you obligation to help them and provide support.
What you need to do so:
- there should be coherent requirements for child’s behavior in the family. They should be adequate to child’s age and abilities. There should not be any discrepancy in your behavior or in behavior of other adults in the household who live with the child (if dad throws things around the house, it will be hard for him to make a child to keep things organized);
- your child should know these rules. If you have not explained to a kid that he/she must not take other people’s things, it will be your fault, not his/hers. Consequently, you cannot punish the child for this action;
- before applying corrective action, you need to explain to a child ‘the elements of the offence’; discuss what exactly was bad. Remind the child this rule and repeat it once again;
- never punish children ‘impulsively’. Calm yourself down and make sure to calm the child. If he/she is scared, agitated, and is crying loudly, your punishment will not make sense. The child will just learn that you cannot be a source of support and protection for him/her in a difficult situation.
- look into what happened attentively. It is possible that your child was not directly guilty, in that case punishment will be underserved and will cause psychological trauma consequences of which the child will be experimenting during his/her whole life. The child is guilty when he/she misbehaved deliberately and intentionally;
- find the root cause of misbehavior. Child’s deep emotion might be behind his/her bad behavior. If you give little attention to your child, he/she will try to draw it by their actions. Perhaps, he/she does not only get less love, but does not get enough praise; you just punish and criticize your child. Or maybe emotional climate in the family is unfavorable and by his/her behavior the child tries to keep your attention away from this unwanted situation.
Your actions should always start with words. Ideally, you should state your thought as briefly as possible: “You hit your granny. You know that you must not do it – your behavior was bad. Therefore, you will not be making dinner with me and playing with the construction set. You had to explain with words what you did not like. We would have listened for you and helped for sure”. Lecturing should not last for hours. The child will not hear and will not understand you. Try not to use threats that you will not fulfill. The punishment should be in prohibiting something meaningful to a child. If you chose something insignificant for a child as a punishment, that will not work. It is very important that the punishment is adequate to the age of the child and grade of his/her misbehavior. You should be consistent. It is important to support your authority in front of the child and to facilitate child’s understanding of the concepts of “bad” and “good”. If today you punish the child for certain actions and tomorrow you just do not pay attention to the same action, you will make your child feel confused and you will lose you influence on him/her. Therefore, stick to a chosen course of action.
Choose such a way of punishment that will not harm the child! The final goal of punishment is to benefit, not to harm. You want the child to understand that his/her behavior was bad, and that he/she will avoid similar situations in the future. By any circumstances, you do not want to hurt your child as badly as possible or make him/her feel worse! He/she is already feeling badly: depressed, ashamed, and wants to forget what happened as soon as possible and never ever get in this situation again.
And last thing: the conflict situation must be resolved. That means that after reaching your goal, you should forget about it forever. And it does not mean that your child should say ‘sorry’ in front of the other people in the central square of the city. It is enough that he/she experienced this situation, understood that he/she was wrong and felt sorry about it. The conflict is considered to be resolved when the guilty party feels sorry (even if not verbally) and the punishing party sincerely forgives him/her. You do not have a right to remind your child about it in the future. For one case of misbehavior the child should be punished once and not during his/her entire life.
For example, I have one rule at home which applies to everyone. Considering that I have three boys in the house, fight is not a rare situation. Often after that they come to me to complain one to another. I did not feel like sorting out their conflicts, taking side of one of my children, because I believe they should stand for their own rights and resolve conflict situations by themselves. In this respect I made a rule that in case of a fight both participants will lose their one hour of using iPad or computer (in the evening after dinner they have such time). Depending on severity of the consequences and the fight, this punishment might extend up to three days. And it works! The number of fights significantly went down.
Unacceptable methods of punishment of children
- physically harm a child. When after the punishment child has marks on the body (abrasions, scratches and bruises), it is a crime and not a punishment. If a child experiences strong pain it is the same. There must not be any beating when educating a child;
- humiliate a child as a person. Psychologically damage a child is even easier that harm them physically. Phrases like ‘You, dumb! How one could even hit upon this idea!', 'Unprecedented idiot!’, ‘I am just amazed of how untalented you are!’ are absolutely unacceptable. When hearing these ‘diagnostic assertions’, the child perceives only one thing: ‘I am bad, nothing can be fixed, I am not being loved’. Such a child will not be able to reach his/her full potential because the closest adult has told him/her that he/she is bad, incapable, stupid and unloved. Never humiliate or insult your child. Criticize them only for their actions and behavior, and not a child him- or herself, and explain how sorry you are that it happened: ‘I felt so ashamed because of your behavior’;
- demonstrate emotional distancing and indifference. It hurts a child most of all. If for the second day in a row you are not speaking to a child because of his/her misbehavior, you traumatize him/her a lot. The child perceives it as a rejection, as a lack of love. And such punishment is incommensurable to any misbehavior in the world!
You should not also punish a child for natural developmental and personal characteristics (negligence, awkwardness, curiosity, bad memory or hyperactivity). It is not a child´s fault. Never resolve educational conflicts in public places where there are a lot of ‘spectators’. Take your child home or aside where you will be able to calm down and listen to him or her.
Do not forget to praise your kid! As a general matter, parents tend to notice faults and imperfections of their kids quickly and react very emotionally to them. Positive behavior and good deeds remain unaddressed. Imagine yourself in such a situation: you work very well, you do your best, but no one pays attention to it and reprimands you for any tiny mistake. Remember, that educating does not mean only punishment, in a greater extend it means acknowledgement and praise of any socially acceptable behavior. Praise is of a greater importance than punishment. The goal of praise is to make a child a better person when punishment is only directed to stop and prevent bad behavior.
If you believe that it is impossible to change your child’s behavior, if you cannot deal with it yourself, go to a child psychologist. They will help you sort out the situation and build effective relationship with your child.