Even those of us who are against smacking will routinely use other discipline techniques to control and mould our children’s behaviour from a very early age. Below is a list of non-physical discipline measures in common use today that come highly recommended by ‘experts’, and a description of what is really going on psychologically for the child.
Time-out – Removing a child from a situation for inappropriate behaviour for a set number of minutes. Often an apology is required before the time-out can end.
When our children behave ‘badly’ they are either reaching out in some way, they simply haven’t learnt yet that certain behaviour isn’t ok, or they need reminding. However, rather than listening to them and looking behind (or beyond) the behaviour, this method excludes our child, shaming and ignoring them, and leading them to the conclusion that no-one wants to be with them in a moment when they really need loving support. Our children need to know that in their worst moments we are there for them.
“For the frustrated and uncomfortable child, time-out offers enforced silence and the feeling of being rejected by one’s parents. A youngster who misbehaves and then is given time-out feels hurt. This hurt, combined with the frustration that caused the youngster to misbehave, gives birth to anger. And discipline practices like time-out, which create hurt and anger, can harm a child.” Peter Haiman, Ph.D, (The Case Against Time-Out, Mothering Magazine, 1998).
Grounding – Prohibiting a child from attending a particular social event or from engaging in particular activities. This technique may also incorporate particular tasks or chores which must be carried out instead and are designed to teach children appropriate behaviour.
Again, it doesn’t look behind the behaviour or address it in any way. All this will encourage is sneakiness and lying to ensure they don’t get caught and there is no lesson learnt. We won’t know our authentic child, just the parts they want us to see.
Taking Away Privileges – Prohibiting a child from taking advantage of certain privileges (usually those that they have earlier abused with inappropriate behaviour). Privileges are usually restored when a child can prove, through his/her behaviour, that (s)he understands and appreciates them.
Same deal as grounding; our child doesn’t learn to appreciate the effect of the ‘bad’ behaviour this way. They aren’t intrinsically motivated to behave appropriately, they are doing it to ensure they don’t get punished. Therefore, even if their behaviour improves in our company will it when we aren’t together? What would be their motivation for behaving well?
Ignoring Bad Behaviour, Rewarding Good Behaviour – This is where any bad behaviour is ignored and good behaviour receives praise and rewards. The theory being that children thrive on attention of any sort, even negative attention, so they may be behaving badly to get a reaction.
So despite our child’s desperate attempts to communicate with us with the tools they have, rather than respond to their emotions, we ignore them. When our child finally gives up trying to reach out, we reward them. This only teaches our children that it’s best to bury their emotions in front of us, because we don’t want to listen.
Punishments –This is where the child is made to do a chore or something else they dislike as punishment for the bad behaviour.
If you view your child as someone who is still learning and figuring out the world, as someone who requires regular guidance and feedback and who deserves respect, then punishment for making a mistake makes no sense at all. They also will only learn to act a certain way for fear of getting caught, rather than being intrinsically motivated to do so, and often will behave very differently when adults are not present.
Overall, all these methods – both physical and non-physical – encourage us to exert control over our child’s will. This only leads them to behave in certain ways for fear of our reaction, rather than from a choice they made themselves because it made sense. Fear creates a disconnection between us and our child as they begin to hide their true selves from us. But if we don’t use punishment or discipline then what can we do? Are we left powerless? The good news is that we do have parental tools at our disposable, we just have to change what’s in our toolbox. Here are some healthy alternatives to punishment that will help move us closer towards a loving, respectful connection with our child and develop their sense of self.
About Chaley-Ann Scott
Chaley-Ann Scott is a parenting author, sociologist, counsellor, and mother-of-four. She writes widely on parenting and education for various publications, and is the author of The Shepherdess; A Guide to Mothering without Control.