REASON #1- PUNISHMENT ONLY HAS A SHORT TERM EFFECT: Parents that punish their children have to do it over and over again. The punishment generally only has a short term effect and once the pain (physical or emotional) is no longer top of mind, the child will misbehave again. Kind of like how women are willing to go through childbirth again once they start to forget how much it hurts - the benefits are eventually seen to outweigh the consequences! Similarly, your child might decide that going on a joy ride in your car without a driver's license would be so much fun that it is worth getting grounded.
REASON #2 -A PUNISHED CHILD FOCUSES ON PUNISHER NOT ON BEHAVIOUR: If you punish your child, your child is going to be mad. Your child is going to spend the duration of the punishment thinking about what a mean person you are. Your child is not going to be thinking about what she did and why it was wrong. This can create a rift in the relationship between the parent and the child and be a root cause of even more misbehaviour.
REASON #3 - PUNISHMENT ONLY TEACHES YOUR CHILD NOT TO GET CAUGHT: Children that are punished frequently, learn new ways not to get caught. It doesn't mean that they will stop behaving badly, it just means that they will learn to hide their behaviour, and lie and deceive you. It doesn't teach the child why their actions were wrong or hurtful. It just teaches them to hide them from you next time.
I think if punishments are given sparingly (only when no other discipline option will work), swiftly (immediately after the damaging behaviour), fairly (e.g. making the punishment fit the crime, not punishing your child for acting out if he is acting out because he is tired because you kept him out after his usual bedtime) and in a manner that preserves attachment (e.g. "time in" rather than "time out") then they can be appropriate as a last resort. However, they should never involve spanking (or other physical abuse), never involve shaming, and always need to be combined with an explanation of why the behaviour was damaging so that the child learns from the situation rather than just learning not to get caught next time.
Until today, that was my philosophy on punishment. But reading the newspaper in the past few days has given me another reason to add to the list.
REASON #4 - YOU MIGHT GET INTO TROUBLE WITH THE LAW
Two newspaper articles in two days have highlighted the legal consequences of punishing your child in Canada.
First, a 12-year old girl took her father to court and successfully had her punishment overturned. She had been using the Internet inappropriately, so he took her Internet privileges away. Then she went to a friend's house and used her computer to post inappropriate pictures of herself on-line. At that point, the father said that she could not go on her school field trip to Quebec City. So the girl (who is in the middle of a custody battle) decided to take her father to court to get the punishment overturned. And the judge agreed that the punishment was too severe and said that the girl could go on her school trip. While I don't think that the judge should have intervened in this case, from some of the articles that I have read and interviews I have heard on this case, it appears as though the family situation is pretty messed up and the girl is probably acting out and doing things like posting provocative pictures of herself on the Internet because of problems in the home. It is her way of dealing with the crappy situation she is in. Perhaps if her father had used some of the techniques in Gordon Neufeld's Hold on to Your Kids instead of trying to punish her, he would have been more successful in improving his relationship with her and improving her behaviour.
Second, the Canadian senate finally approved an anti-spanking bill. Twenty-three other countries already prohibit spanking and Canada is almost there. Céline Hervieux-Payette, the Liberal senator that introduced the bill said:
"My objective in proposing this measure — and my personal goal as a lawmaker — is not to embarrass parents or drag them before a court of law," she said. "Rather, I want to resolve the issue of the harm done to children, to protect their rights and to make sure that parents who are not properly educated about this receive some support."
These two situations both have parents up in arms. They are screaming and yelling about having their rights taken away from them. I'll let others debate whether our courts should be involved in these scenarios or not, but I would be glad if the legal attention these issues are getting makes more parents realize that there are other options other than punishment to discipline children and turn them into good, caring people.