Jimmy Kimmell on the Problem with Punishing Children

[Text: What bothers me so much about punishing children is that it is a conscious effort to hurt them . . . . The question that must be asked is why we are, and have been, so willing to hurt our children in order to get them to behave---to treat them as criminals, slaves, and animals. ~ James Kimmell]

I love the above image and feel that it really encapsulates a lot of my thoughts. I personally left off punishing my daughter Sally about a year or so ago. And you know what? The sky hasn’t fallen. In fact, the opposite has happened. Moving away from the concept of punishment entirely has done wonders for my relationship with my daughter, and has also helped Sally develop greater self confidence and awareness of others’ needs and her place in the world. (If the idea of parenting without punishment seems foreign or impossible to you, I recommend this link as an introduction.)

How about you? Do you agree with the sentiments expressed in the above image? Or do you disagree?

Busting the Mommy Myth
I Co-sleep, But: Some Thoughts on Attachment Parenting
Why We Should Teach Children to Say "No"
The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Freya

    This so resonates with me. I was raised with positive parenting techniques and am using them with my son with great results. I also teach parenting classes and I am constantly flabbergasted by how people cling to the notion that they have to hit, yell, and punish their children. I point to all the evidence showing it does not work, focus on what to do instead, but it seems as if they want to hit there children. I sounds so horrible to put it that way, but it’s hard to when I ask someone what the point of spanking is when it does not work and there are more effective ways to raise a child and they answer “Because” to think of anything else.

    Someone put into words the frustration I have so long felt with this. Now I wish i could get an answer to why this is.

  • smrnda

    I have worked with kids, mostly under the age of 7, in settings where punishment was totally forbidden. So far, no disasters happened there, and looking back, I still cannot think of any instance where I think punishment would have fixed or improved anything.

    The more I work with kids, I realize that a lot of ‘misbehavior’ is just kids aren’t born with a full understanding of social rules and etiquette; it’s like learning a language, you’re bound to make mistakes on your way towards fluency, which cannot really be achieved for years.

    Another thing is I wonder whether or not calls on children to ‘behave’ are really legitimate. We expect kids to sit still and be quiet while we force them to endure all sorts of boredom, but why is this a reasonable expectation? I think a lot of the time we, the adults, just expect kids to obey all sorts of arbitrary rules for our own convenience and then we act surprised when the kids see through the pointless regimentation. I mean, in college, I didn’t ask permission to use the bathroom, but in high school, it was required. Was this really to maintain order, or was it just to pad the egos of adults who were control freaks?

    If I learned anything, was that I had to explain to kids that I myself and stuck having to follow rules and do things that I think are boring, and do lots of reasoning on why, since really, anything we tell anyone to do or not to do should have a reason.

    • alr

      I hated bathroom rules as a high school teacher. I hated the regimented hall passes. All of that. BUT…schools are legally liable for their students, thus, must know their whereabouts. If a student leaves a room and something happens to him/her and no one knew where the student was, liability issues immediately come into play. In my state, students cannot be in a classroom that is not supervised by a certified teacher at all times. Period. End of discussion. If there is not a certified teacher and students are injured, for example, the school will be held liable and insurance policies have the right to refuse coverage. The adults in the building are not “padding their own egos” but following laws imposed by non-educators. Students so often fail to realize (and continue to believe as such as adults) that teachers hardly make any of the rules on their own.

      On a practical level, I wished that I had been allowed to have a generic bathroom pass that students were allowed to pick up and use at their own discretion. But the administration had other rules that I was forced to follow.

      • Rilian

        If the students failed to realize that you didn’t make the rules, maybe it’s because you failed to tell them that. Or was it forbidden to tell them?

      • Christine

        Why would he have told them? It’s insulting to the students to have the same excessively simple concepts explained by every single teacher. These are *high school* students we’re talking about, not pre-schoolers.

  • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com Marian

    My current parenting philosophy is that it is never okay to do something to my child that it would not also be okay to do to another adult. I value cooperation over coercion. But because I don’t really have a lot of experience or examples of positive parenting, that often leads to me being too permissive because I don’t know how to set limits without resorting to punishment, or just getting frustrated and giving in and doing something that is against my ideals (not physical punishment, I would never do that, but things like pinning my daughter down and wrestling her into a diaper and clothes because she just won’t agree to put them on and we have to leave, like, ten minutes ago). I often just feel at a loss, because I have the philosophy but not the tools to implement it. So THANK YOU for posting something to help me gain the tools I need.

  • http://wideopenground.com Lana

    I do not like punishments, but I do agree with being safety conscious. This came into play several times with the children who lived with me for two years, all of which came from hard background (both abused and homeless). They would often make unsafe decisions that would harm themselves, or harm or invade others. Until they learned to self-govern themselves, depending on the situation, they had to stay in the same rooms as me, or come in before dark. At first the kids said they were grounded. I did not like that word because it missed the point. I did not keep them with me as a punishment for wrong. It was merely safety. This is not to pick on every wrong doing either. Sometimes we just make mistakes, and so the best answer is to love them anyway and give a second chance. Sometimes the issue is much more in-depth, and so the best way to love them is keeping them nearer to my side until they make better decisions, playing games with them and loving them at my side. Either way, its about love, not about ensuring punishment. Sadly, it took me a while to realize these things because I had been so programmed that a child’s heart just needs to be broken, and then you have the heart. This is so backwards.

  • Anat

    One reason parents punish is because there is a huge pressure to ‘do something about that child of yours’ when a child is known to be misbehaving. Even if the punishment doesn’t work, the parent at least can say ‘look, I made the effort’.

    • alavine

      Yes! If a kid is a little rambunctious, all the bystanders are quick to say, why doesn’t that mother just give the kid a good smack.

      • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com Marian

        Not ALL the parents are thinking that. Some parents are wondering why the parents just smacked the child. I was once in the grocery store and I saw a little girl–a baby really, couldn’t have been more than 14/15 months–hit her older sister. And the Dad just smacks her hard enough to make her really start wailing and tells her “we don’t hit.”

        I’m like… you SERIOUSLY don’t see the irony? You don’t get how many mixed messages you’re sending?

  • Staceyjw

    Parents, including myself, punish because we often lack the ability and know how to do anything differently. I know all about positive parenting, I read about it, try to learn, but knowing and being able to implement it are two very different things. I have found it exceedingly difficult to make these changes, not just from a lack of know how, but also from a lack of IRL examples to follow, and personality issues that compund these failings. We cannot afford parenting classes or the counseling that would help, so we muddle through the best we can hoping to do the least amount of damage possible.

    Please don’t assume we all yell or punish because we are ignorant, mean, or think it’s best. Even with a lot of effort, it can be tough to do positive parenting consistently. It requires a lot more patience, and a set of internal skills that some of us are lacking. I know that I start the day off right, but by the end of it, Im right back to my old ways, with the added guilt of knowing what I am doing is wrong.

    As for the OP, my first thought was “why must we mistreat criminals, and animals, and why do we treat anyone as a slave?”. If treating your kids harshly is wrong, it’s also wrong to mist rest others, even if they are a different species.

    • Ashley

      Thank you, I feel the same way. Both my husband and I were raised with spanking as the most likely consequence for any misbehavior. My parents were fairly judicious in their use of spanking (most of the time), but his parents would alternate bewween neglect / abuse.
      Even though we have taken positive parenting classes, and through experience observing that our young children do not respond well to physical punishment, it is extremely difficult for both of us to guide and teach and discipline our children in a way that doens’t involve violence.
      It’s easy to understand logically why it’s wrong, and think through things calmly in abstract. But in reality, the reflexes are so ingrained that it’s hard to handle things maturely in a given situation. I often wonder if counseling / therapy / support group would help, but it’s hard to face the stigma in a rural community and we can’t afford the cost.

      • Staceyjw

        “It’s easy to understand logically why it’s wrong, and think through things calmly in abstract. But in reality, the reflexes are so ingrained that it’s hard to handle things maturely in a given situation. ”
        Thank you for replying. I hesitated to write the comment but figured I wasn’t the only person having this problem.
        Parents are just people. We do the best we can with the knowledge and resources we have available at the time. I was raised by a mom that yelled all the time, it was just her means of communication. They didn’t use much spanking, but it’s easy (to me) to see how one can turn into the other. I am pretty sure that some counseling would help, but when you barely keep the electric on, it’s a luxury thats unattainable, even if highly desired. As a society, we give much lip service to families, and good parenting, but offer none of the services that actually support these things.

  • die Geisthander

    Reminds me of one of my favourite bits of stand-up comedy, some ill-considered language notwithstanding:

    “I really think it’s crazy that we hit our kids. It really is–here’s the crazy part about it. Kids are the only people in the world that you’re allowed to hit. Do you realize that? They’re the most vulnerable, and they’re the most destroyed by being hit. But it’s totally okay to hit them. And they’re the only ones! If you hit a dog they fucking will put you in jail for that shit. You can’t hit a person unless you can prove that they were trying to kill you. But a little tiny person with a head this big who trusts you implicitly, fuck ‘em. Who gives a shit? Just fucking hit–let’s all hit them! People want you to hit your kid. If your kid’s making noise in public, “Hit him, hit him! Hit him! Grrr, hit him!” We’re proud of it! “I hit my kids. You’re damn right I hit my kids.” Why did you hit them? “‘Cause they were doing a thing I didn’t like at the moment. And so I hit them, and guess what? They didn’t do it after that.” Well, that wouldn’t be taking the fuckin’ easy way out would it? How ’bout talking to them for a second, you fucking retard!? What are you an idiot? What are you a fucking ape? “Well, I know it’s a pain in the ass!” Well you fucked a woman and a fucking baby came out of her vagina! Now, you be patient. It’s not their fault.”

    • Noelle

      Louis CK?

    • bitwise

      That was pretty funny. And the comedian does have a point– it really is bizarre that small children are the only people you can hit. I tried to explain it like this once: What if your elderly grandmother has dementia, wanders off a lot, and generally reverts to childlike behaviors? Is it okay to hit her to make her ‘behave’? Or do you recoil from the very thought? So why would anyone think it’s okay to hit a child, who’s also weaker than you, and dependent, etc.?

  • Sgaile-beairt

    ….i am convincd that too many of these elder abuse cases, in the news, are what goes around coming around….raise up a child in the path of violence, teach him its okay to hurt the weak & dependent bc theyre dependent….and someday, you will be the weak, dependent one yourself….and you bent that twig well didnt you??

    • alavine

      I think thats a very unfair generalization. Although it may be true in some cases, Every victim of abuse deserves to be helped with out people speculating on whether they deserved to be abused.

      I’ve also seen paid caregivers abuse there charges.

    • Sun

      My dad was hugely neglectful – he’s still young and healthy and not really thinking about the future, but my siblings and I don’t have it in us to care for him when he’s old. I’m sure people will disapprove – it’s something you’re “supposed” to do. But you’re also supposed to make sure your children are healthy and educated. Since he’s been so good at making sure his own needs are met, he’ll have to continue to do so.

      So, yes, I think there are cases of elder abuse that stem from children being caretakers. People should be held responsible for their actions – it’s not right to abuse someone helpless under any circumstances (although the cops are quick to tell abused children that the same types of behaviors are their parents’ right, so long as the isolation, lack of meals, or physical bullying stays within the realm of “discipline”).

      Social pressure to care for people who have hurt you just because they’re old/ill needs to just stop; it’s perfectly acceptable to abdicate responsibility for someone who hated you or made your life miserable.

      • Rosa

        Yep. One more argument for a better social safety network – in a lot of cases, a persons children are the LAST ones who should be caring for them.

        Even if the parent was just limited, not malicious – the child who grew up being failed by the parent is super stressed out by being around the parent in a way that a stranger isn’t. That makes it harder for the grown child to do the exact same kind of care.

  • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

    Well, I think our collective treatment of criminals and animals could use some improvement, too. But otherwise ITA. I’m not as consistent in not punishing DD as I wish I were — I don’t mean I hit her or anything, because I’ve never done that, but I’m not always very patient and I have certainly done things that I intended to be natural or logical consequences but that she probably experienced as punishments. I do try, but so far I’m finding that not punishing *at all* remains an aspirational goal.

    I’m fortunate to live in a place (Toronto) where actually hitting your kids is very much not the norm; I don’t think anyone IRL has ever suggested to me or DH that it would be a good idea to whack DD, even when she was freaking out in a public place, and I can count the number of times I’ve seen another parent hit their child on the fingers of one hand. I know there are parents here who have spanked their kids, but for most of them I think it’s more of a “holy crap s/he did something that terrified me and I reacted instinctively and I’m trying to make sure it never happens again” than what I often hear from pro-spanking parents in online parenting forums, which is “My parents spanked me, I turned out fine, the whole problem with the world today is parents are afraid to spank their kids, what am I supposed to do, just *talk* to them?!” (And this is not hardcore Pearl types, either, this is just regular people.) I have said to them, “Why should it be OK for you to hit your kids when it’s not OK for your boss (or your spouse) to hit you?” I have said, “What are you going to tell your kids the first time they ask you why you’re allowed to hit them but they’re not allowed to hit you?” I have said, “Are you not a bit concerned that all your kids are learning from this is ‘don’t get caught’?” The responses have generally not been positive :S

    The thing I wish people would understand better about kids is both the ways in which they are different from adults — such as not yet understanding all the behavioural norms of their society, thinking literally, being less able to think in the long term — and the ways in which they’re exactly the same — such as not liking to be humiliated (especially in public), deserving respect, having a right to bodily integrity, having likes and dislikes and good and bad days, needing adequate sleep and regular meals. They are, in fact, PEOPLE.

  • plch

    I agree completely and so far I haven’t punished my 2 and half year old child but it is difficult, not because of me or beacuse of him but because of the ‘others’, just today he was very fussy and my MIL reaction was: ‘if it was for me, a good smack on his bum and the problem would be solved’… *argh*

  • Gail

    I totally agree. My parents often used spankings and even had a paddle. The punishment never fit the crime and it just made me terrified of my parents. That’s the way they grew up, too–my grandmother had a long flexible stick on top of her fridge that she called her switch and she’s use it if we misbehaved while at her house.

    Besides being cruel, I think the worst thing about that kind of punishment is that it sets a bad example of solving problems with violence, and it never addresses the problem at hand. If a child doesn’t do his homework, maybe it would be better to address the problem at hand (is the child having problems in school? does he/she need extra help? is he/she involved in too many non-school activities?) rather than just using physical punishment. I can’t believe I’m using this as an example here, but we watched The Cosby Show a lot growing up, and I think the parents were really good about addressing the actual problems behind bad behavior and not resorting to physical punishment.

  • Kristen

    I hate to say it, but I’ve actually had to back away a little from this approach with my son. I don’t hit or spank and try not to react in anger, but I’ve had to become harsher with my words and tone of voice than I ever saw myself being, and we have had better behavior without losing our close relationship. With my next child, I would still start out using the positive parenting model, because I definitely think it is best overall, but it wasn’t working for my son. He is extremely strong willed and intelligent. For most decisions, we negotiate and figure out something to work for both of us, and I encourage him to explain what he thinks so we can problem solve, but at 3.5, he’s still very driven by his passions and when he really wants to do something, soft words don’t penetrate the fog of his desire to do whatever it is. I have to speak sharply and sometimes physically hold him our put him in time out to get his attention and get him calmed down and able to talk rationally. When he’s intent on doing something fun but destructive, he’s single minded. It’s not that he deliberately listens and ignores, he’s just so focused on what he wants that he’s not paying me or the world any attention, and any attempt to deter him makes him irrationally angry/sobby. I think as he gets a little older and better able to control his emotions, this won’t be an issue anymore. I do think that while punishment in general isn’t effective, every kid is different and there are some situations where it might be necessary.

    • Christine

      I don’t see what you’re describing as punishment. Not punishing kids doesn’t mean that you’re never going to do something that they don’t like, that you never have to be firm with them, that they’ll always be happy with you.

  • Christine

    So far most of the comments on this thread have been about hitting children or yelling at them. What about regular punishments? I’m going to admit that I’m not sure I’m opposed to punishing (older) children. I say this partially because the line between consequences and punishment can get blurred at times. Example: my sister ate some chocolate bars that my mom had bought for an after-dinner treat. My mom made her replace the chocolate bars (with her own money obviously), and then had her do extra chores because we lived out in the suburbs, so my mom had had to drive my sister to the store to buy the chocolate bars.

    • Christine

      To clarify: I don’t think that punishing kids frequently is a good idea, nor do I recommend it until the child is old enough that they can be expected to a) know better and b)have some self control. I’m just not sure I see how the original image is actually an argument against punishing kids in general, or why rejecting the extremists’ philosophy of hitting children being ok is renouncing punishing.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I read the image as pertaining to anything designed to hurt children, and I don’t think there’s any such thing as punishment not designed to hurt. As I read it, punishment is about causing children physical pain, or shaming children and trying to induce guilt, or simply retaliating for what they’ve done wrong.

      I actually don’t see the line between punishment and consequences as blurred at all. What you describe sounds like consequences, not punishment. It’s not designed to cause shame or pain. If you think the two sound like the same thing, take a look at the link I put in the OP—it explains the difference.

      • Christine

        Actually, the link in the OP is part of why I said it’s blurring the line between punishment & consequences. The example at the end of a punitive response is quite similar. I know that my mom (and I suspect this will be true of me) would select which consequences we needed to have to deal with, and would make sure that they would have a large effect on us. After a certain point, you either end up splitting hairs over whether or not something is a punishment, or else you say that the lines are blurred. (Was me getting banned from reading for a day a punishment? Was it appropriate? After the number of times that my mom had that sort of problem, probably. Did it work? Well… it got my attention…)

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Banned … from … reading???

        Anyway, I think it’s a perspective difference, to be honest. I think the word “consequences” is misused by people when they actually mean “punishment.” (For instance, I would say that someone saying “there will be consequences!” is really talking about punishment.) For me, it’s about how you approach it. Is the goal to inflict pain and make it hurt, or to teach them something in a cooperative and positive way? Are you positioning yourself in a combative position vis a vis the child, or as an ally who wants to help? Are you discussing the appropriate solution with the child, or just dictating?

        For instance, if the child breaks a vase you could respond by angrily rebuking the child and saying “now you’ll have to pay for it” with an intent to induce guilt and shame. Or, you could respond with “Oh no! Now Aunt Violet’s vase is broken! This will make Aunt Violet sad. Can you think of anything we can do to make things right for Aunt Violet?” In other words, it’s an attitude difference. Perhaps we need better words to describe that than “punitive punishment” versus “learning about natural consequences.”

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

        Oh yes, I would get banned from reading sometimes as a punishment too. It was my favorite thing to do (my perfect weekend sometimes when I was 10-12 was to get up, eat breakfast, read for ~8 hours, eat dinner, and read until bedtime). Obviously, that meant homework or chores weren’t getting done sometimes, or I wasn’t listening to parents, or I “wasn’t being social with the family”. So I’d be banned from reading for a day or two since reading was something I really wanted to do.

      • Christine

        The reading ban wasn’t just a “take away a fun thing to do”. It was specifically because I was reading instead of paying attention or working… I can’t remember exactly, it was a while ago. (That and… it was obviously called for… I wasn’t paying enough attention to my mom at the time – I didn’t know that I’d been told not to read the next day until I got in trouble for doing it anyhow… There were communication problems in my family, my mom and I are both spectrum.)

        And the dichotomy you describe puts me all the more firmly into a grey zone – I agree that the goal is to work with the child and teach them. I need to work on not making “this will happen if you don’t change your behaviour” into less of a threat. (“If you don’t stop playing with the toilet paper you have to leave the washroom.”)

        I actually am a little old-fashioned in my approach to hitting children: I think it’s ok in some circumstances, like to keep a kid from touching a hot stove. (Of course, I say this, but every time that an example of the sort of thing I come up with arises I’ve never had to do so.) I’m also working with a 13-month-old here, so obviously I haven’t had a chance where I could spank her, but I can’t see my anti-spanking opinion changing. (I was spanked once as a child. I can’t remember why, but the “he just HIT me” certainly got my attention at the time.)

      • Anat

        Context matters. If you are banning a child from an activity because it is something the child likes doing it’s a punishment. If you are banning a child from an activity because the manner the child engaged in the activity was causing a problem it might be a consequence. There was a time when we confiscated our daughter’s books for a while because she was ripping them. (That was after redirecting the ripping activity to old phone books didn’t work.)

      • Christine

        Anat, that’s a good definition, and that’s part of why I say that I’m ok with punishments for older children (to an extent). Obviously when my daughter gets to an age where punishing her is something that is on our radar I may change my mind on this. But , as an example, had it been something other than reading (say I was watching TV) that my mom took away it wouldn’t have had nearly the same effect. (Now, I’ll grant that had it been something other than reading that was causing the problem then it wouldn’t have been as big a deal, so such a strong reaction might not have been in order.) I think that’s a large part of why I see it as being a grey area. Would I take away reading because she was hitting? Heck no. Because she wasn’t doing her homework? Well, it’s unimaginative, but like mother like daughter.

        I agree that causing shame or pain shouldn’t be a goal. I agree that children should be treated as people. Maybe part of the disagreement is coming from me learning a different vocabulary from having a healthier childhood. (In addition, not punishing my child(ren) won’t help me differentiate myself from mistakes my parents made with me, so I’m probably less concerned about it.)

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    I was spanked as a child. It wasn’t often or long (one or two smacks on the behind) and I have never felt that it affected me negatively. I can understand parents who were spanked themselves thinking nothing of repeating the same behavior. I have read research pointing to so many negatives from physically punishing kids, so I have to assume that people smarter than me are right on this one- even though its not the conclusion I would have reached on my own. With my own (future) kids I figure, why take the risk? I’m not going to punish physically if there is any chance it will be harmful…Funny how obvious that sentence seems now I’ve typed it out.

    • Meg

      That’s where the term “spank” gets funky. Some people define spank as…one spank. A spanking as two spanks. Other people define spanking as lots more spanking, including humiliation and pain (vs the single or double spank that’s just startling but not painful or emotionally hurtful). Your description of spanking (one or two smacks on the behind) is in the minority as far as I can tell – my own experience and most of the stories people have told me about childhood discipline are much more severe (hairbrushes, belts, wooden spoons, screaming, crying, running away, hiding, bruises and other marks, etc). That’s what the studies are about. A couple spanks that are surprising rather than painful are unlikely to have negative effects (although I agree with and am taking a “why take the risk?” approach as well)

  • http://www.twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    I’m so confused as to why punishment = physical harm. Punishment can mean a boatload of things. I do not have children but I do tell my dog that he will lose his privileges if he is not good! :) Jimmy didn’t do his homework and thus loses his privilege to see his friend Sam this weekend. Please explain why this is something that should not be done? If I do have children, I do envision myself giving these sorts of punishments as a lesson that you must earn things in life. If you do not do X then you do not get Y. Not getting Y is a punishment. In my current canine world this means, “You keep pushing me off the bed so you need to get down and get in the doggie bed!”

  • Sophie

    I don’t have my own kids, but I have been very involved in the upbringing of my two younger brothers (14 and 16 years younger). My response to their unwanted behaviour has always been to explain to them why their behaviour was inappropriate and how it made me feel. For example if they destroyed a belonging of mine (which often happened) I would tell them that their actions had me very sad because my belonging was special to me and that destroying things wasn’t a kind thing to do. When they were 5 and under they also got time outs, but again I always explained to them why they were having that time out. The other thing I have always stressed with them is that I always love them but I didn’t like their current behaviour. The result is that now they are teenagers and we have a great relationship. They talk to me about their problems, they are very physically affectionate and they respect the rules of mine and my partner’s home. If I do have my own children then I will use that method aa a starting point and build on it as needed. I will not be like my own mother who screamed at us, blamed us for everything wrong in her life and used emotional blackmail to control us. Her behaviour has left me and my older brother with a lot of emotional problems, and my younger brothers both have problems with anxiety.

  • Kristen

    I also think that sometimes kids need help understanding what they should legitimately feel bad about. Is that punishment intended to cause shame, or consequences? When my son does something that risks his safety or that hurts somebody else, he doesn’t always understand why it is wrong. I think it’s constructive to be very clear about the effects of his actions that he didn’t understand. The end result is that he feels bad about doing it. Then we problem solve about how to fix it. I’m not sure he would learn as much if we skipped the step where he feels bad about that he did. That helps him remember why that action is wrong. I want him to understand that right and wrong aren’t arbitrary rules and to develop empathy, but children aren’t good about predicting consequences. So when my son gets a little overzealous or rough with the cat, we talk about how it feels when he is scared or when another kid hit him, and tell him that’s how the cat is feeling, and point out that the cat is hiding now because he is scared. It’s not punishment, I don’t think, but the end result is that he feels ashamed about what he did and I think that helps him learn better. He’s very good now about being careful around animals and protective of them. I don’t want him to stay ashamed…. We always move past it and talk about how it was a mistake and he didn’t understand, but I do think there is a positive value in helping a child understand the effects of his actions, and mild guilt or shame is a necessary part of that, as long as it isn’t manipulative or done in anger. If the kid already feels bad about whatever he did and understands how it was hurtful, of course, this isn’t necessary and we can just comfort and problem solve.

  • Kristen

    everytime.Heh, I was grounded from reading too. That’s all I cared about as a kid. They took my books away until I did my homework and chores consistently for a week. It was a definite consequence, not punishment, because I was legitimately ignoring what I needed to do in order to read after repeated warnings. They had tried just temporarily taking my books away until I finished my tasks and then giving them right back, but I didn’t get any better and it kept being a daily thing where I would go to great lengths to avoid my chores and wasn’t getting how that was irresponsible, so they grounded me from reading for a week. That worked. That’s the other time when I’m not sure positive parenting will work…. When the kid doesn’t want to participate in problem solving and doesn’t care about something, like I didn’t care about my grades. Like I said, I practice positive parenting practices with my son and my high school students 95% of the time, but I think it’s a mistake to think that any method will work for every kid every time.

    • Anat

      Jim Fay and Foster Cline, from ‘Parenting with Love and Logic’ recommend lines like, “I will love you no matter how many years it will take you to finish seventh grade”. Some people get it together in later years, but when they do they are highly motivated because it was their own idea. Some of my friends who were barely passing year after year in high school got their lives in order in their twenties.

  • Karen

    On one visit to my parents’ house, when I was in my mid-20s and Husband was out in the garden with my dad, I was present while my mother agreed with some visitors that “Children are never too old to spank.” They all sort of looked at me, then “youngling” in the room. I relaxed, smiled, and said, “Just try it.” The conversation quickly found another topic.

  • DataSnake

    This may border on veering off-topic, but the mention of “the way we treat animals” in that post reminded me of something. You know how you hear stories of dogs who “turn against” their owners? Those are pretty much always dogs whose owners have been training them through punishment, deciding that they’re tired of putting up with how they’re being treated. We have a pit bull, and he’s the sweetest animal you’ll ever meet. The only time I’ve even seen him bare his teeth at someone was when I was walking him and that someone was threatening me. I credit this, in part, to the fact that we treat him as a friend, not a slave. We don’t smack him or yell at him if he disobeys, but we reward him when he does what we want. The result? A well-behaved pet who’s also a good friend.

  • Azura

    [Trigger Warning: child abuse, depression]

    I was abused pretty regularly as a kid, both physically and verbally. My mother would fly into a rage and hit me, or subtly insult me, or full on tell me I wasn’t good enough and not worthy. I was also spanked as a kid a few times. I could tell the difference somewhat, in that my parents would explain when it was a punishment while the abuse was always for no reason I could discern, but either way it still felt like a betrayal and made me afraid. One of the few times I remember being spanked as a punishment was when I called child services and they left a message on my parents’ answering machine. My father spanked me for lying and attention-seeking. Because his instinct was to hit and not to ask why, he never found out the truth until I was in high school, cutting, suicidal, and medicated. It’s rather telling that my brain codes ‘normal’ spanking as abuse and triggering when I witness it, regardless of the circumstances. Even play wrestling can set me off depending on the level of communication involved and the expression on the child’s face. While that could just be my own mental hang-ups, I still think it’s more likely that I’m picking up on the fear that hitting and such cause. It’s never ok to hit the vulnerable, even if you “came out fine”.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    We just kind of drifted out of punshing our kids. The funny thing is, our kids are very well behaved. At this point the one consistent thing I observe with kids whose parents are punishment hawks is that the kids get sneaky. I don’t personally see that they get better behaved, they just find ways to avoid punishment. Some of these kids are little schemers. I’m glad we did things the way we did, although I got plenty of warnings that I would ruin my kids. I didn’t – my kids are 18 and 13, and they are great.