Punishment is the dreaded word dropped like a bomb on the child by teachers, elders alike. But wait what are we punishing the child for. Are our punishments working? Are they helping the child to evolve or making them pretentious?
Replace punishment with consequences: For starters try using the word consequences. Punishment puts the onus on the one meting it out while the kid feels like a victim. Consequences puts the onus on the kid and the behavior which has resulted in
punishment, or should we say consequences. Punishment is doled out at the spur of the moment while consequences have been decided upon in advance.
Criticism is a form of punishment: Children thrive by approval. Be cautious of the words used when interacting with a child. Words may make or break their confidence and their faith in themselves. Only persons of strong will power can turn negative judgment of them to good account. Children are still developing will power. Brain and impulse control keeps developing even in the 20’s. Thus expecting that a good reprimand will motivate the child to exert greater will power to perform better is expecting too much from them.
Rule setting along with consequences: Rule setting is a very important family activity that most of us don’t undertake. And thus when they don’t act the way they should, the consequences feel like punishment to them. Set the rules for what is unacceptable and the consequences thereof. Children should be part of the rule setting activity so that they understand that they have brought upon the consequences when they act a certain way. The article ‘Art of Rule Setting’ explains how to set rules effectively.
Follow with the consequences: It will be difficult. Your kid will resist it. It will require an iron hand. But once your kids get it that certain actions will bring forth certain consequences no matter what, they do start falling in line. If followed diligently along with other rules it works. If you don’t follow what you say you are undermining your own importance and losing authority. Also subconsciously kids pick up the message of not giving value to one’s own words which is detrimental in the long run. How many relationships have been sabotaged because we have not kept our words.
Avoid Labeling the Child: Make the action the star, not the child. Saying to a child “Bad boy” or “Don’t be a bad girl” is to make them feel bad as a person. That diminishes their motivation to change their behavior. Once it sets in their mind that they are essentially bad getting them to “behave” becomes more difficult. Children with Low Self- Esteem are more likely to suffer with anxiety and depression in adulthood. Reinforcing that child as a person is innately good; it’s the actions that are either good or bad gives them the opportunity to change their behaviors in future.
Listen mindfully: As much as we wish it otherwise, a child views the situations very differently from us and so listening mindfully is very important. Many a time unacceptable behavior is simply their way of displacing their anger or showing their discomfort. It doesn’t mean that they don’t face the consequences. What listening does is makes the child more receiving of the consequences rather than feeling punished unjustly. Also we need to teach our children from a very early age to communicate their discomfort and anger in more constructive and agreeable ways.
Skill Building: Sometimes we find punishments and consequences aren’t working well. We may think children are doing it purposefully and that if they will they can do better. But the truth is children would do better if they could. And so we as parents, caregivers, teachers need to go beyond the behaviour and address the deficits that are leading to the unwanted behaviour. We need to build the skills that will fill the deficit rather than trying to fix the behaviour alone. also need to see do children possess the skills that are needed to perform the actions rightly. For example for a child who is prone to anger we need to build in patience and compassion, one who cries on facing a new challenge we need to build confidence and for one who is self centered we need to lead them to higher consciousness.
Conclusion: Children could do better if they could. Set rules effectively and make children a part of it. Listen to the child and explore what lies behind behavious. Focus on tools that will raise the consciousness of the child rather than which
punishment/consequence will get the job done. Claim your own calm in the centre of chaos and radiate that calm onto the child.