Punishment is outdated…or is it?

Punishment is outdated…or is it it? How faith-based families discipline their children

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

One of the most frequently used methods of parenting is spanking. Shocking? Yes, but parenting polls continue to report that parents “fall back” to old habits of when they where parented. In the past, American society advocated for parents to spank their children. A sign of good parenting used to be if you spanked your disobedient child or not. Today, the American attitude is just the opposite. If a parent spanks their child, they are considered abusive and threatened to be reported to the authorities.

The reason for this shift in parenting methods is obvious: Too many parents spank out of anger and hurt their children. There is another reason for not spanking that is a lot more reasonable: it isn’t effective and there are so many other parenting tools that can be used. Long-term, negative outcomes of spanking is delinquency, substance abuse, and psychological problems.

Punishment and Discipline is not the same thing. Punishment refers to threatening, hitting, or using harsh treatment that might include prolonged isolation, humiliation and shaming behaviors. Discipline is about teaching or guiding children in the right direction so that they can be responsible people.

Christian parents use the verse, from the Bible, that “whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24. This verse has nothing to do with hitting children. It is all about guiding children and being a moral leader and example to them.

Another verse states: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4. Parents that use punishment do not produce children who feel happy and confident. It teaches them to be sneakier and models force as an answer to problems.

If parents today really thought about their own upbringing, they would remember that spanking didn’t help them. Many would tell stories that were terrifying and painful, emotionally and physically. Why use that method to parents our own children? Better to find tools that work.

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The Key to Cooperation is NOT What You Think It is…

Science backs up we have always known about human relationships: Attachment is the key to connection. Connection increases the likelihood of cooperation from family members. It doesn’t guarantee it. Nothing guarantees it. Not even threats or punishments.

People who have a heart to heart connection want to please one another. They think about others first and can literally feel pain if they hurt or disappoint others. This does not happen when there is no connection or it is weakened.

Somehow parents got the idea that compliance was the goal of parenting. We want obedience because we want to protect our children and teach them about life. This has moved from center to focus on children doing what we tell them to do because we said so! Discipline has become punishment and parents idea of self-worth has been tethered to children’s behavior. It is time to re-focus on connection and not compliance.

Caution: Don’t read this next section if you don’t like God! 

The simplest way to a child’s heart is to pray with them. That’s right if you pray for your child both you and your child have to open that rusty door of your heart and a connection can be made.

Rene Brown, in her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” explains this well: “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.”

When I interview Christian parents about how often they pray for a family, the answer is rarely or never. Why, when this is a basic tool of the Christian home? I believe it is fear and mistrust that builds up over time and the lie of compliance as the goal of parenting takes over the home.

Try asking your child what he or she wants prayer for before they go off to school. In order for them to tell you, they have to risk opening up their heart to do so. If you honor that gift of insight and pray for them, you can follow up at the end of the day on how things turned out. This can lead to more prayer together and more intimacy in the relationship. Connection struggles solved!

If your child doesn’t trust you to tell you what they want prayer for, tell them you will pray for them anyway and speak into them what you already know about their challenges with friends and math assignments and sibling conflicts. Don’t use this to control. Genuinely express your desire for their success and wellness. You will be rewarded with a stronger attachment and greater cooperation.

Parents need to stop thinking about how to “fix” their children’s behavior problems and begin to look at how to “re-source” them instead. Stop trying to stop tantrums or talking back and start re-connecting them to the source of the problems. What is your child needing that he or she cannot get or getting that he or she doesn’t want? Decode and recode your children to add social skills, self-soothing, understanding, competence, attention, love, affection, security that is driving the behaviors in the first place. 

It is time to put away punishment and use discipline which is to disciple or teach/guide a child to appropriate behaviors. The goal is not “stop irritating mommy” today but learn to live life successfully tomorrow! You can never deal with a negative by using a negative and expect a positive outcome. 

Visualize who and what your child is becoming and connect them to that source of choice-making, problem-solving, character. 

New evidence shows that certain types of praise can actually backfire, making kids less successful and giving them low self-esteem.

One recent report explains the results of two experiments that compare the results of “person praise” (praise for personal qualities) and “process praise” (praise for behavior). Overall, person praise (“You are so smart!”) predisposed children to feel ashamed following failure, since they attributed the failure to their own self – some intrinsic quality. Process praise (“You worked really hard!”), on the other hand, did not have this effect, as children attributed failure to a factor that they can control – some extrinsic quality.

A similar study reveals the results of three experiments that tested the effects of inflated praise. Overall, inflated praise sent the message that kids need to continue to meet unreasonably high standards. Inflated praise decreased challenge-seeking behavior in children with low self-esteem, causing them to miss out on learning experiences. However, in children with high self-esteem, inflated praise had the opposite effect. It inspired these kids to continue to set high expectations for themselves.
Generic person-centered praise implies that a child has a specific quality, such as intelligence, aptitude, or other talent, that is responsible for his or her achievements. Non-generic process-centered praise implies that a child’s achievements are performance-based. Person praise has been found to increase the attention that kids pay to errors – their own and others. Such attention is caused by the belief that an error threatens the possession of a positive trait. Further, after an error or failure, children who received person praise displayed less task persistence, less task enjoyment, and worse task performance.

In general, inflated and/or person-centered praise undermines motivation in children with low self-esteem. However, when sincere process-centered praise is heaped upon children, it encourages performance that is attributed to controllable causes, promotes autonomy, and establishes attainable standards and expectations.

We all think our children are great, and so we should. But, as parents we must also be mindful of setting our kids up for failure with inappropriate praise. Praising hard work seems to be a much better motivator than praising intrinsic qualities that the child has no control over.
Achievement is the result of performance and behavior, not always inherent traits, and children should be motivated to love learning, engage in new experiences, and even risk failure to achieve goals. Praise should help children flourish, instead of becoming an obstacle to success.

via Punishing with Praise | Brain Blogger)

How to be a Positive Parent


What is Positive Parenting?

Wouldn’t it be nice if children came with an instruction manual? The ways in which we are expected to parent our children today is often different from the way we were parented. Social attitudes have dramatically changed parenting expectations about work and family life, about discipline, about communication, about sibling rivalry, about homework and more. Without sufficient guidelines to help modern-day parents, they are left feeling helpless and frustrated.

To cope with these changes, parents need to adopt more positive parenting techniques. A positive parent provides children with structure and security, with love and limits,and with self-control and self-respect. Raised in this atmosphere, children will develop healthy attitudes about relationships, and they will be more responsible and have a healthier sense of self.

Positive Discipline

Because many parents were raised with punishment, they have a misunderstanding about how to get cooperation and teach respect without yelling, spanking or using time out. Positive parents understand the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline engages children’s thinking brains and helps children make important choices about what is right and wrong. Punishment uses aggression, isolation and shame to coerce right behavior. Discipline models self-control and respect. Punishment creates fear.

‘Positive discipline’ parents encourage children to find their own solutions to problems while acting as a coach or emotional tutor. These parents act as a model of what they want their own children to be. They avoid “do it because I told you so” or “do what I say, not what I do,” because they know that children who hear this will behave when parents are around but do what they want when they’re alone or with peers.

Positive Parenting Tips

One of the simplest ways to be a positive parent is to offer children choices: “Do you want milk or juice with breakfast?” Two choices are enough! If your child says she wants soda, repeat the choices again. After going a couple of rounds without a choice, step in and make the decision for her. Don’t back down at this point; stand your ground and offer firm limits. Your child will be more ready to make a choice about drinks tomorrow. You can offer a lot of choices to your child throughout the day, so that making decisions becomes natural. After a while, your child will feel empowered about her ability to choose, so that the need for a power struggle decreases. This will help you as a parent to feel more competent about your skills as well.

Another positive parenting tip is to show lots of empathy for a problem your child brings up, such as a teacher who gave him a low test score. Quizzing your child about why he got such a low grade or pointing out that he didn’t study like he had been told to can turn into a fight rather than the chance to problem solve together. Instead, you can say, “You’re very upset about this score. You felt you should have gotten a better one.” Follow this empathetic response up with a positive brainstorming comment such as, “What could you do next time to get a better score?” At first children who hear these responses will defend themselves, but over time they will offer some ideas about the need to study more, prepare better, or perhaps get a tutor. Engaging in problem-solving conversations can help a child learn how to do better in school and life.

Making these positive parenting changes is not easy. Parents will fall back into old, negative patterns. That is just one more opportunity to model change. Be honest about the mistakes. Talk about how you will correct them next time, and let your child witness your transformation.

How can you punish an abused child?

I recently watched a movie called “Unthinkable” (CAUTION: Movie spoilers ahead) and was shocked by the intensity of the violence. At first I turned it off then later went back to finish watching the movie. There was something about the plot line that drew me back in. The subject matter was simple: A terrorist sets up nuclear bombs throughout America, is captured, and then tortured to tell their locations. Yes, tortured. Aside from the more obvious political messages here, there was a subtler, frightening psychological message.

No matter how much the terrorist was tortured physically or mentally he never broke. He suffered but he continued to play mind games with this capturers till the very end. What would hold a person together despite such horrific punishments? I realized what the answer to this question was when the terrorist stated that “he deserved this” for all the bad things he had done. The movie never really described what these “bad things” were but it was enough of a mindset for him to endure unbelievable torture. His captors tried everything to break him: reason, empathy, brutality, mind games, more brutality and finally more brutality. They just kept upping the ante on the terrorist with the belief that eventually everyone breaks. He didn’t.

What struck such a cord in me was that many of the children I work with, who have been mistreated,  have this “terrorist” mindset. Their behavior says: “What can you possibly do to me that I have not already endured in a much younger, more vulnerable state as an infant or young child?” So many of the children who adopt this “defiant” attitude have a deeper narrative that they deserve the punishments they are getting. Children internalize their abuse and believe that they are responsible for what happened to them. In fact, they often believe that they are “damaged goods” unworthy of love or kindness or anything good. They may set up caregivers to make them angry and want to punish them. It is easy for an adult caregiver to play right into this narrative and reinforce the very thing they want to change in the child. They may not beat them or leave them in a closet for days but we do use other punishment-based techniques (lock them up, move them from home to home, shame them with words or actions, make them carry out sentences, etc) all with the hopes that they will express their guilt and shame and change their behaviors.

I think the end goal is a worthy one. We want to help the child see things differently but our methods need some updating. Hope for this is coming from the field of neuroscience which is why you will see so much of this in this blog. It may not be the final answer but it is allowing us to see the small, hurting child behind the big terrorist mask. It is telling us that children’s brains and minds are affected by their mistreatment and we must go back and redo attachment-based treatments to help them rebuild the mental and physical capacity for love and affection and moral reasoning too.

I know it sounds like I am hard on the adult caregivers. I guess I am but we are the ones who have to do something different. We can’t expect the child to “get it” and explain it to us. We have to look deeper to see the alternative narratives for the child to live out. That will take time and patience. Unfortunately, we caregivers are products of our own culture and parenting narratives. A shame-based approach to parenting is how many of us were raised and so, it is the only approach we  know how to use. If time out for an hour in a child’s room doesn’t work, what else is there? More time in the room? Perhaps we should yell louder or threaten more? Obviously not. The answer to my title: How can you punish an abused child, is simple. You can’t.

The mission of the Parenting Toolbox blog is to give parents more tools. I used to teach a lot of court-ordered parenting classes where parents where referred to learn non-punitive parenting skills. I quickly learned that you got no where trying to debate the punishment mindset. I realized that I couldn’t really win the “spank/no spank” argument. I might get some compliance from the parent but there was no change in insight. My focus became teaching other things the parent could do by giving lots of parenting tools. This worked. It is my vision to see parents better equipped and hurt children healed with this blog as well.

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