Punishment in Perspective
Parenting gently does not come naturally to me. Yes, I started the site and the carnival but that is passion not ease. Although I don’t consider my parents abusive they did parent punitively and I was spanked. I struggle often with yelling, controlling, and even wanting to spank. That is why the invigoration of the carnival is so welcome to me. I want to share with you one of the techniques I most often use when I need a “gentle” nudge back onto the gentle path.
Imagine your child is your spouse
I’ve been married to a wonderful man for 13 years. We fight, we argue, but we love each other very much. We’ve even been through dark times due to infertility that almost tore us apart. We do not blithely float through our marriage. We actively evaluate and adjust course to keep us on the track to a happy and fulfilling marriage. I think to say that we try to treat each other gently is an understatement. We love each other, recognize each other as unique, wonderful, flawed people who we chose to build a strong relationship with.
Imagine defining your relationships with your child that way. My child is a unique, wonderful, flawed person who I love and choose to build a strong relationship with.
What would this look like and what wouldn’t it look like. Let’s look at common parenting practices in this light.
Punishment – My husband disobeys me, smarts off, or makes me mad. I hit him.
Reality – this is called assault or spousal abuse. It is not ok. And it doesn’t work. I”m sure it would NOT strengthen our relationship but make him want to go very far away from me. This is a breach of trust – disrespecting his whole person and body.
Non-punitive – If my husband hurt my feelings (smarted off) or did something I asked him not to do (disobeyed) I would tell him how I felt and what I thought should happen. I would say “that hurt my feelings/upset me and I don’t feel comfortable with you when you do ____.”
Punishment - My husband write on my wall with a sharpie. I ignore him and won’t talk to him to show him I’m angry.
Reality - this is called the silent treatment and is really immature and passive aggressive. It is selfish – it says I’m not happy and I want you to figure it out and fix it and I don’t care to hear your side. My love is contingent on your actions and you aren’t getting any (sometimes in that way) until you shape up!
Non-punitive - Being passive aggressive does not help me get what I need and it erodes the relationship. What I want is not to have to clean sharpie off the wall and I *do* (or should) care what his reasoning was. I can respect his point of view (writing on the wall was fun!) AND disagree with his implementation (behavior) and ask for an alternate plan that meets both our needs.
Punishment - My husband leaves his socks on the floor so I won’t let him watch football.
Reality - I hope this sounds silly to you. The problem with “consequences” in traditional parenting is that they are arbitrary and don’t teach anything. And even though it does sound weird I do want to teach my husband. If I’ve decided that socks is a big issue for me (optional, don’t forget) then I need to talk to him about my needs. Honestly he probably doesn’t care about socks as much as me and wasn’t trying to spite me when he did it. He just forgot. If I can focus on his wonderful qualities and not make a deal out of socks, better yet. I was on my way to the hamper anyway.
Non-punitive - What do you want a husband that obeys your every command for fear of you taking away his privileges? Or do you want the socks in the hamper? If it really frustrates me: “honey, can you go in the room and pick up your socks, please?” If it moderately frustrates me: “honey, I picked up your socks. Can you use the hamper next time?” Or, just do it and don’t say anything. It is just a sock.
Punishment - My husband spills his juice on the floor. I launch into a tirade about what a slob he is and how he always does this and now he better clean it up.
Reality - Jumping from juice on the floor to a character assassination is a far leap. How does that make him feel? Like a failure and like I don’t even like him let alone love him right now. I guarantee when you freak out about a spill it is your emotions spilling over about something else. You don’t feel appreciated for all the cleaning you do? You wanted him to wait till dinner to have some juice? Something else.
Non-punitive - ”oh man, I hate it when that happens. Here’s a towel. Need some help?” I empathized, offered help and implied that I trust him to clean up his own messes. In other words he is a strong and capable man. If you have an underlying emotion then see “time out” above.
The next time you think about punishing your kids stop and think a minute about if you would do the same to your significant other. Of course there are some differences due to age – like preparing you child for transitions, offering choices, etc. – but when they do something you find “wrong” treat them as a unique, wonderful, flawed person who you love and choose to build a strong relationship with and see what unfolds.
Please join us all week, June 25-June30, 2012, as we explore the world of gentle, effective parenting. We have new posts each day by talented authors providing us with insight into why gentle parenting is worth your time and how to implement it on a daily basis.
We are also giving away several parenting book and other goodies from our sponsors this week. Please stop by and enter to win!
This year’s beautiful motherhood artwork is by Patchwork Family Art. Visit the store to see all her work.