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  Home  > Child/Family Wellness  > Myth: Punishments Teach Kids to Behave

Myth: Punishments Teach Kids to Behave

Fact: Research shows that punitive disciplinary measures make children more disruptive, aggressive, and hostile. A child who is punished by his parents is more likely than others to break rules when away from home and to take his resistance and resentment out on others. Punitive discipline leads children to feel worse about themselves because they assume they must be bad if someone keeps doing bad things to them. It spoils the relationship between a child and the adult who becomes, in the eyes of the child, someone to be avoided.

When we punish someone, it appears that we teach only what he is not supposed to do, and offer insufficient guidance on what he should do instead. Looking deeper reveals that punishment doesn�t even teach us what not to do, much less the reason not to. What it teaches is the desire to avoid punishment. The emphasis is on the consequence of the action to the actor, not the action itself. The child�s silent response to "Don�t let me catch you doing that again" is "OK - next time you won�t catch me." Threats teach blind conformity, not responsible decision-making with the ability to act accordingly. The use of violence - spanking or slapping - teaches that violence is an acceptable way of expressing anger, and that if you are powerful enough you can get away with hurting someone. It teaches that when you are bigger or stronger than someone else, you can force the person to do what you want.

Adults routinely punish children. We ground them or isolate them with "time-out" procedures. We use physical violence and humiliate them by yelling at or criticizing them in public. We withhold things they enjoy - food, or companionship. At school we subject them to F's, playground citations, and suspensions - all of which may be threatened in advance or explicitly described on a list of "consequences," which is, perhaps, no more than the approved euphemism for punishment. While these findings have been known a long time, punishment remains the dominant form of discipline in this country, and discipline, in turn, is what we seem to think children need.

Use of "Natural" or "Logical" Consequences

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