What Do Punishments Teach?
What does my child actually learn, when I punish them?
When my child does something wrong… say lying… and I punish them by taking away their iPad, sending them to their room, or cause them discomfort somehow…
What do they really learn?
Do they learn that lying is wrong?
Do they learn that it creates distrust between us and hurts their integrity?
Do they learn that the foundation of a close relationship is honesty and preserving that is sacred?
That lying hurts other people by betraying their trust in them?
They learn that when they mess up…
I will come crashing down on them.
I won’t teach them and help them to correct their mistake.
I’ll hurt them back somehow. (Not necessarily physically hurt them, but hurt them somehow, like taking away something they love or making them do something they hate.)
Maybe I’ll shame them and make it seem like what they’ve done is so bad – that in fact, they’re bad.
Children who hear their most important, loved and cherished adult saying that they’ve done something bad bad bad – can easily hear that in fact, they themselves are bad.
And usually, when people – of all ages – are told they’re bad or interpret what we’re saying in that way they respond in one of two ways: they externalize it or they internalize it. Both kinda suck.
When they externalize it – they fight back.
They say, I’ll show you bad! Or you know what? I’ll punish you back. Next time you won’t catch me! In fact, if this is how you respond – I’m going to up my lying game, big time. And I’ll spit on your lipstick just for good measure. Or pee on the clean laundry (whatever. that didn’t really happen).
When they internalize it – it’s even worse.
Then they’re thinking: I really am bad. I’m awful. Even my mom who supposed to love me can’t love me when I’ve done this bad bad thing.
Does this sound like a child who is learning healthy, appropriate consequences? Are they learning how to correct their mistakes? Are they learning how to come back from a set back and make amends and take responsibility? Are they learning constructive problem solving skills and competence? Na.
What children do learn from being punished is that when big people don’t like things little people do – then big people can use their power to hurt little people. They learn that just when they’ve really gone and done it – when they’re at their absolute worse, we won’t be there for them to guide, to correct them and help them.
Plus – punishments actually make children more selfish – we focus on what’s in it for them. Instead of focusing on how what they’ve done hurts others!
We need to find healthy ways of setting limits and correcting destructive or disrespectful behavior – we absolutely owe it to our children and society.
Are you interesting in learning new, healthy ways of setting limits? Sign up for the Empathic Limits online course.