If you shouldn’t punish or use “the stick“, what are you supposed to do when your child acts up?
Haim G. Ginott (1922–1973) was a school teacher in Israel, a child psychologist and psychotherapist, and a parent educator. He pioneered techniques for talking with children that are still taught today. His book, Between Parent and Child, Three Rivers Press, 2003, was first published in 1965 and may be the best parenting book ever written. It is on the short list of all-time great self-help books in The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Books, John W. Santrock, Guilford Press, New York, N.Y., 1994.
Ginott felt that a child should experience the consequences of his misbehaviour, but not punishment. The problem with punishment is that it does not work. It’s a distraction. Instead of the child feeling sorry for what he has done and thinking about how he can make amends, he becomes preoccupied with revenge. Punishment deprives the child of the very important inner process of understanding the implications, consequences, and changes needed because of his misbehaviour.
Instead the parent should help the child acquire a lasting understanding and develop new essential skills by:
- expressing strong disapproval without attacking character; giraffe language fits perfectly;
- recognizing and acknowledging the child’s feelings and needs;
- stating expectations: talk about your feelings and needs;
- problem-solving together;
- inviting and encouraging the child to work on finding a mutually agreeable solution;
- brainstorming together: write down all ideas, without evaluating them, yet;
- deciding which alternatives you mutually like;
- choosing the one that the child can best follow through on; and
- taking action, if necessary, for example to model more appropriate behaviour, thoughts, or attitude.
This process takes time and requires patience. It allows the child to experience the natural or authentic consequences of his misbehaviour as opposed to being punished. In the end important lifetime skills are developed:
- how to actually make amends;
- how to make choices; and
- understanding the connection between behaviour, feelings, thoughts, needs, and attitudes.
What is the difference between punishment and natural consequences? Punishment is the parent deliberately depriving a child for a set period of time or inflicting pain upon him in order to teach the child a lesson. Consequences come about as a natural result of the child’s behaviour, such as cleaning up a mess or not being allowed to play a game because the players are too destructive or disrespectful. The child’s dignity is left intact.
When disciplining their children, why do some parents prefer punishing them, while others allow natural and authentic consequences to take place? Is it because they:
- find it easier to just give in to your annoyance and blast that little culprit;
- are too busy or tired;
- don’t know any better;
- haven’t developed the skills to be patient and control their anger or disappointment;
- lack the emotional skills of being compassionate and empathic;
- are poor communicators;
- don’t recognize or care that they belittle the child because of their parenting style, personal temperament, values, or priorities;
- believe children are possessions to be controlled and dominated as opposed to miraculous gifts to be loved unconditionally and encouraged to soak up the wonders of the world at their pace and timing.
Many authors followed Ginott’s lead. We’ve discussed the works of Sura Hart & Victoria Kindle Hodson, Marshall Rosenberg and Barbara Coloroso in previous posts. In future posts the useful twists of other authors will be discussed.