Things We Know About Punishment
1. Punishment is best at teaching what not to do.
If a child is pulling the cat’s tail and you yell loudly enough or spank hard enough, the child will likely stop, at least for the moment. On the other hand, if a child is really resistant to doing homework, there may be no amount of yelling or nagging or spanking or grounding that will produce any serious effort whatsoever. Parents sometimes acknowledge becoming virtual prisoners in their own kitchens after insisting their child stay at the table until at least a few math problems are done. Punishment is typically ineffective in teaching children to do anything that they can avoid by stalling.
2. The effects of punishment don’t last very long.
Research shows that even though punishment may stop a behavior for the moment, it is unlikely that children really learn from it not to do the same thing later. Therefore, punishing children does not help parents achieve their goal of helping their children internalize responsible behavior.
– – – – – – – – – – –
Parents are not interested in justice; they are interested in quiet.
– – – – – – – – – – –
Bureau of Criminal Justice statistics show that over two-thirds of prison inmates are re-arrested within three years of release, and who knows how many of the other third simply are not caught for their repeated crimes? These facts provide further evidence of how truly ineffective punishment is as a means of teaching lasting responsible behavior.
3. Children who misbehave most benefit least from punishment.
Children who typically do what is expected of them may respond to even mild chiding by quickly obeying and trying not to make the same mistake again.
On the other hand, children who repeatedly break family rules typically respond, even to harsh punishment, by continuing the same behavior. Some children actually challenge parents to punish them more, perhaps smirking as they do so. This can lead to a vicious cycle of misbehavior and increasingly harsh punishment as parents react to what appears to be complete disrespect and a direct challenge to their authority. When such children trust a therapist enough, they may admit that getting spanked hurts like the dickens and that they surely do not smile on the inside; they just are not about to let parents know how much it hurts and gain the upper hand. As a result, even more severe and more frequent punishment is unlikely to produce any real benefit and may even have a sizable detrimental effect.
4. When punishing, parents often lose sight of their goals.
When parents react to unacceptable behavior by punishing, there is a very strong likelihood that in the process they will lose track of the original expectation. Sending a child to his room for failing to take out the trash may seem like a suitable response, but the trash sits where it was. Typically, focus on punishment distracts parents from the original responsibility, which falls by the wayside. I have known children who admitted preferring a slap to doing some detested task. It is important for parents to maintain their focus on the task at hand, realizing that side-tracking to punish may defeat both their intentions to assure the child completes the task and their longer term goals of teaching their child to be responsible.
5. Punishment injects anger into parent-child relationships.
It is rare for parents to punish because they really want to; rather, they do so out of frustration at their lack of success with other forms of discipline. Similarly, children react to punishment with hurt and frustration, as well as with anxiety about disruption in parental love and support. If this joint distress is allowed to develop into a family norm, it may lead to deep-seated resentment and anger that can come to taint all parent-child interactions.
(This list is continued in Part 4)