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Is there room for "punishment" in GD?

3462 Views 88 Replies 34 Participants Last post by  IdentityCrisisMama
I've recently had an "incident" with a friend. She spanks and firmly believes in punishment as the only way to discipline. She buys the whole lot about kids testing you, you must start early, etc...and she wonders why her strong-willed 5 year old just gets more and more to handle every day.

Anyways, I was writing to her explaining that my method of discipline (GD) does not use punishment, that many families around the world successfully use this method, etc.

But here on these boards I see references to parents who use punishments (the time-out threads come to mind), or who say they "have no problem with punishment".

At the risk of starting a labelling punishment a part of GD? Or is GD just about not hitting. I always thought that GD was about non-punishment based discipline methods.
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I thought it was about no punishment.

I get confused, too. A lot of the "positive parenting" and AP-discipline books out there *do* talk about using time-outs, and consequences.

I guess there is a continuum of methods that AP type parents end up doing.

Sometimes I wonder if some things are just semantics. For instance, if toddler is acting up and hitting other kids, mom takes him out of situation and goes home. I see scenarios like that here, and this is not considered punishment. I mean, doing nothing at all would be permissive parenting, right? But I do think that a small child could perceive many things as punishment, even if they are logical and GD-based. A very sensitive child will think the world is falling apart if mom removes him from a situation for his or others safety. He may even feel as though he is being punished, even if he doesn't get a "time out" or spanking.

Maybe some of the difference is also in the spirit in which the parenting is done. Such as, a time-out can be as simple as mom/dad recognizing child is overstimulated and having trouble not grabbing from other kids. Mom takes him aside with her for a minute, to take a break and help him calm down. This is essentially a time-out. And may be necessary in some situations. But a time-out can also be the same situation, except with the parent yelling and forcing child to go sit by himself for a set amount of time. This way seems more like a punishment to me, whereas the first is about helping the child to feel better so he can act better.
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I think of GD as parenting without punishment but I admit that I do see that there can be times that "time out" would be considered a natural or logical consequence to a behavior rather than punishment.

For purposes of this discussion, however, I will state that while I don't have a problem with time outs used in this fashion, they are completely ineffective for my DD and I don't use them.

I agree that there is also the great possibility that this is one of those grey areas of semantics. For example, it may be considered "punishment" to make a child sit in a stroller if they don't want to be there. If you knew the circumstance was that the child was unwilling to hold hands walking through a parking lot and was too big for a sling, you might see that the stroller is therefore a natural consequence to an unwillingness to hold hands.

If you saw a child sitting miserably in a stroller and you knew that the child was there because the mother wanted her to try on shoes at the shoe store and she was refusing, that might therefore be considered a "punishment".

I think it is important to analyze what preceded the so-called "punishment" because in fact it might just be a natural or logical consequence.

I think of GD as much more than just not spanking - to me it is also not very GD to lecture your child about their behavior in front of others. I think that those types of discussions should be done privately so that the child doesn't have any feeling of humiliation at being reprimanded in front of others. GD is about preserving the dignity of a child, about treating them with the same respect you would expect from them.

Interesting question!
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I don't think there is room for punishment in gentle discipline. And, the type of time out where a child sits by themselves is considered punishment in my book...

I do what most others here do, give choices, allow for natural consequences and learning experiences, and talk.... I think that setting appropriate limits and having reasonable expectations are keys to avoiding conflicts.

I always thought that "pure gentle discipline" was disciplining without punishment. Disciplining without hitting is part of that, but not all of it. I know people that don't neccesarily hit their children but they are NOT gentle in the least.....
I'm one of the people who has no problem with punishment.

I do think a lot of it is semantics. I intensely dislike a lot of euphamisms. No matter how much I read about "consequences" and the like, I think it is still punishment. My kid wouldn't care whether she couldn't do X because she is being punished or because it is a consequence of Y. She's still going to be ticked that she can't do it.

There is also the problem of different kids having different temperaments. I have two who are like night and day. Each is motivated very differently and they respond to discipline in distinct ways. As an example, one of mine is very, very sensitive to having adults raise their voices--she'd rather do ten time outs. The other is impervious to yelling. I guess what I'm saying is that what would be gd to one would be very harsh to the other.
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That's a hard question to answer.

How old is the child and what sort of punishment are you talking about.

My kids are OLD compared to some of these kids.

I would challenge a lot of moms (in a sweet loving throw my hands up sort of way!) to deal with my dd who is 8 (well 9 in about 2mos) without any form of 'punishment'. You know, even the word 'punishment' sounds so harsh. It sounds like spanking.

I hear a lot of people bashing dr phil for his theory on working with kids and using their 'currency'. I will agree that with young (young) children that may seem unfair. But when you send a 10 year old upstairs to brush his teeth and 2 SECONDS later he has turned on the TV (and a very inappropriate show with his 6 yr old brother in the room! GRRRRR) and is sitting on his BUTT! Sorry - the tv goes! Is that punishment?

Man! I started ranting on your thread! Sorry about that.

Anyway, I think it's just like the CIO thread - it is individual. It depends on ages and stages. It depends on what definition of punishment you are talking about. Natural consequences work great for little ones. Not so good for older ones.......

Sorry I got on a soap box. I really didn't mean to.

And my post is really light hearted and goofy - hope that comes across - maybe I should put in some smilies.....
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I think there's a lot of confusion with the terms "natural consequences", "logical consequences", and "punishment".

Natural consequences are those that occur naturally, without intervention from a parent. Making a child who runs in a parking lot sit in a stroller is not a "natural consequence". If a child is teasing a cat and the cat scratches the child, that's a natural consequence.

Logical consequences are punishments with a connection to the "offense". A punishment as something you do to someone after he does something, to try to decrease the likelihood that he'll repeat an action. So, if a child teases the cat and you remove the child from the room where the cat lives, that's a punishment that is also a logical consequence. If you make him sit in the time-out chair for 5 minutes, that's just a punishment. I do think intent can determine whether or not something is a punishment... so if you approach the cat-teaser and say, "Hey, that's not kind. Let's give Pepper a break and go tear some lettuce", and the child thinks this sounds like more fun and goes with you, that's not a punishment, that's problem-solving.... even though the end result is the same as with the logical consequence above, i.e., the child leaves the cat's room.

With that said, I do try not to use any forms of punishment, and I've been parenting without punishment for 11+ years now, through easy years and really, really hard years. I have slipped and threatened punishments, but I've always taken it back after I calmed down and we talked. Some people would consider that wishy-washy, but since my daughter knows that I don't believe in punishment, it seemed like the only way to be true to my own beliefs and allow her to trust that I'll do what I say.

I'm not sure if I think gentle discipline means no punishment - I like the idea of a continuum, with no punishment on one end.I think gentle discipline must be non-violent and respectful, and solution-oriented rather than training-oriented. Not punishing is a goal, not a requirement.

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Originally Posted by Dar
I'm not sure if I think gentle discipline means no punishment - I like the idea of a continuum, with no punishment on one end.I think gentle discipline must be non-violent and respectful, and solution-oriented rather than training-oriented. Not punishing is a goal, not a requirement.

I like that. That sounds nice. Very well put.

In a perfect world, I would love to be able to talk and work through each problem. I strive to be a better parent and do just that. I believe a lot of it is circumstantial. I have three kids, three years apart. It's hard to put that into practice. I have noticed that my younger two are MUCH more manipulative and sneaky. They are more observant than the eldest and put it into practice so to speak.

Isn't it just great though, that they are so different and such individuals.

Nice post Dar!

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Wow, these are great responses!

A situation arose this evening that brought this thread even more to my mind...

DD has just, literally in the last 2 days or so, begun to venture into the category of doing things she is asked not to do. Up until now, discipline consisted mostly of getting her to do things, not NOT do things.

So we've been working on keeping her crayons in the open box on the coffee table, rather than scattered all over the place. I feel she is ready for this lesson. Tonight she picked up the box, I asked her to put it down and not dump them out. She looked right at me, and dumped them, then giggled.

I stared at her, expressionless. As in, "we are not amused". Before I could decide how to react next, DH pipes up from the sofa "okay, DD, no more swing then". "Swing" is this game they play where he holds her and swings her in the air. They had been doing this several minutes before the crayon incident. At the time of the incident, she had neither asked for "swing", nor was she expecting it. It was obvious to me that what he said didn't even register to her. But I was not happy.

I said that it was a completely illogical statement. What does the swing game have to do with the crayons. Not to mention, it was so out of context I don't think she even understood what he was saying. I said to him, since you aren't planning on playing that game, what are you going to do, wait until tomorrow and then bring this up again? Like she is even capable of connecting two such distant events.

He asks me what I would do, and I said "logical consequences", such as removing the crayons temporarily (note: I'm not decided on this yet; this is new territory for me and I'm still searching for a method). He says "both are punishments to her".

Now, forgetting for a minute the whole time factor, but he has a point, and it's a point others here have made, like EFMom. From the child's POV, punishment sucks, whether it's related or not. And logical consequences (defined as Dar did) still mean the parent must perform the punishment, and therefore exercise power over the child.

So, after that long winded story, I'm beginning to search within myself for the distinctions desribed here, and decide what to do (that's for another thread, however).

So, are "logical consequences" perceived by the child differently than "random consequences" if both are acheived due to the authority/power of the adult?? And if so, how does this fit in (or not) with GD?
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You know, I'm not always sure where the line is exactly between consequences and punishment. But in my mind they have to be correlated with the action somehow. So yes, I would agree with your response Piglet, to the crayon incident. If ds does stuff like that, then the crayons get put away. To say no more swinging would be a punishment, and even if that was cool with me, at that age I think they are way too young to correlate that. (I almost laughed when I heard dh, in a moment of frustration, say to ds "If you don't stop doing such and such, you're going in the corner." It was so ridiculous that I couldn't even take it seriously. Not only have we never done any kind of corner punishment, or even a time out, but just the idea of watching him try to enforce such a thing made it hard for me not to laugh.)

Someone mentioned above that putting a kid in the stroller if they run in the parking lot is punishment. While I have not yet had to deal with that decision, I'm not sure that I agree. If they are not going to listen to basic safety instructions when in a parking lot, then they need to be kept safe another way, which may be the stroller. I can see how this may be considered a natural consequence rather than a punishment. When ds wouldn't hold my hand crossing the street, I had to pick him up and carry him, which he was not happy about.

I'm kind of racking my brain to see if I can recall doing anything that I would consider punishment rather than a consequence. If ds plays too rough, despite repeated requests to be gentle, then I walk away and don't play with him anymore. If he hits the china cabinet with his golf club, we put away the golf club. I can't really think of anything that I would consider punishment off the top of my head, but again, it may come down to individual differences in the way it is defined. Today my neighbor told her ds that if he hit my ds again they were going home. Later on he hit my ds, and she carried him kicking and screaming out the door. So was that punishment, or a natural consequence?

I can see punishment being used with an older child - grounded for breaking curfew, for instance. Some could argue that this is a natural consequence, but I could also see how it is considered a punishment as well.

So I guess my answer to your original question would have to be that no, punishment does not have a place in gentle discipline. But I can see where there is a gray area about what is punishment and what isn't.
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Originally Posted by oceanbaby
Someone mentioned above that putting a kid in the stroller if they run in the parking lot is punishment. While I have not yet had to deal with that decision, I'm not sure that I agree. If they are not going to listen to basic safety instructions when in a parking lot, then they need to be kept safe another way, which may be the stroller. I can see how this may be considered a natural consequence rather than a punishment. When ds wouldn't hold my hand crossing the street, I had to pick him up and carry him, which he was not happy about.

That was me! And I must have really been typing incoherently because I think I was misunderstood by Dar, too.

What I meant to say is that if one were to see a child sitting in a stroller looking miserable, the circumstances that led to it could have been a logical consequence (such as he was running in the parking lot and therefore needed to stay in the stroller for his own safety) or a punishment (i.e., he didn't want to try on shoes at the shoe store and his mother stuck him in the stroller for misbehaving). I know that the natural consequence for running in the street is to be hit by a car, therefore I was defining it as a "logical" rather than a "natural" consequence.

But what I was trying to say (in my incoherence!) is that the end result is the same: a child is forced to sit in a stroller against his will. The reasons why may vary, but therefore, does that make sitting in the stroller a punishment or a logical consequence? I was saying something about how a lot of this GD stuff can involve parsing semantics.

At least I think I was saying this. I may have confused myself (and all of you) even more so by trying to explain myself.

Bowing out now until I have something coherent to say....
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But wait! I'm back. Piglet, I understand what you are chewing on and I have had similar discussions with my DH. Yes, taking away the crayons are a punishment in your DD's eyes. But the connection between "dumping crayons" and "losing crayons" is one that will not be made overnight, it will take months and months (and months!) for that type of message to sink in. But it will sink in if done consistently. If random consequences (or punishments) are inflicted (i.e., "no swinging") then the child has no chance to develop the ability to link the events of dumping crayons means no crayons. Dumping crayons could mean no swinging. Or no video. Or no playground. And that is why so many kids get confused and seem to be out of control - they are out of control because they don't understand the connections between what they do and the resultant "punishment" (or consequence!).

Now, I know you didn't ask
but I will say that I think a better consequence to this scenario is that she is taught to help clean up the crayons. Therefore, you don't have DH on your case about how it is a punishment.

Or you could do what I do....wait until she's in bed and then clean up the crayons yourself!

Oh lordy mama, save this post. In a few months you'll be wishing for the days when dumped crayons were her biggest infraction! And you'll have all of us to help you through it!
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My son is only 9 months old and we have a long way to go before the more complicated stuff starts (right now I'm just redirecting/diverting my li'l crawler), but I've committed myself to GD. I'm watching this thread with interest.

I really admire what Lab and Dar have said. Well said, both of you

I think there's a balance in everything and each child, as each parent-child relationship, is unique. The best I can come up with is "know your child" and go from there. If you know your child falls apart at the slightest raise in voice, something else may be in order, something gentler just might work.

From all my readings (and I've read a lot of books already) I gleaned that discipline is like medicine. Make up your mind what the last resort is in your mind (mine is time-out). Think of other, gentler, more low-keyed solutions you like, write them down, post them somewhere. Back to the medicine analogy, always try the lowest "dosage" first, and hey, it just might work. Why resort to e.g. logical consequences when a simple explanation might have done it? If it doesn't work, work your way up on the ladder (I have many before my last resort). I may never have to use time-out. Let's hope so.

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One thing I'm hearing from pretty much everyone who has posted is that they want their child to understand the paradigm that if they do something "wrong", something unpleasant will happen (or something pleasant *won't* happen). Psychologically speaking, that's pretty much the definition of punishment. It doesn't matter of you're talking about losing the option to walk in a parking lot or play with crayons or brush one's teeth when one choses.

Not punishing means I advise, I predict, I suggest, I distract, I brainstorm, I change my behavior, I let it go, I talk about my needs and feelings, and probably lots of other things. I have a whole lot of tools to use because I chose *not* to punish. In some ways it's much harder, but also, after 11 years of working things out, my kid has the expectation that issues between us *will* be worked out in a way that is at least acceptable to both of us. It's more like the relationship most of us have with power-equals - spouses, friends, whatever. And it does work...

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I can understand where semantics come into play, discipline and punishment are on a continuum. I think penalties are imposed as a form of restitution if you will -eye for an eye and that is not the same IMO as making amends as is the case with gentle discipline. I also believe punishments are directed at the person not the behavior. GD is directed at the behavior leaving the childs and parents dignity intact. Punishments do not seem to speak to the underlying reasons why a behavior occurs. From the childs viewpoint all logical consequences will not be pleasant but they will be behavior specific quite different than a punshment IMO.
This is the best thing I have read about the difference between punishment and discipline:

Discipline Gives Life to Learning

1.Is always solution oriented.

2.Shows kids specifically what they have done wrong, or states the problem clearly.

3.Gives kids ownership of the problem and encourages them to be responsible.

4.Leaves their dignity intact and is always respectful.

5.Never threatens withdrawal of parental love.

6.Strives for a win-win situation.

Punishment Fuels the Fires Of Resentment, Anger and Revenge or Forces retreat and withdrawal

1.Punishment is reactionary.

2.Does something to the child.

3. It is adult oriented and suits the parent's needs.

4. Teaches kids to avoid punishment.

5. Is only "effective" as long as the fear of punishment is prevalent.

6.Does not invite the child's participation in solving problems.

7.Perpetuates the game of win and lose.

Every time you need to discipline your child, ask yourself: "Is this discipline aimed at helping my child find a solution to the problem at hand?"* If your answer is no, it is not discipline, but punishment.

It's interesting that we use punishment because we want children to feel badly for what they've done - we want them to develop a conscience - we want to teach them right from wrong. Yet when I ask parents to remember back to a time when they were punished, few of them remember feeling badly about what they'd done and fewer still report a desire to make amends for their wrongdoing. Some of them couldn't even remember what they'd done! Often, people remember only their anger towards their punisher.*

When we punish kids we back them into the corner.* We don't give them space to feel badly for what they've done wrong.* If we want children to be responsible - we must give them the space and skills to be able to respond.

We want our children to view discipline as something to strive toward in their lives because it will help them achieve what they want.* Punishment used as discipline turns discipline into something children want to avoid at all costs.* Punishment teaches children avoid getting caught and can put children into danger.* It provokes rebellion and resentment or forces kids into retreat.


That mast paragraph rings so true with me. I want my DD to have self-discipline. I want her to make the same decision she would make if I were standing over her shoulder when I am not there, KWIM?

Piglet - a solution to the crayons - keep them in a basket. Where it's easy for your child to dump the out and put them back without too much effort.
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Ok! Let's continue in the same vien.

I am hearing a lot of great ideas for young children. But my children are much older.

Here's the scenario. It's bedtime. I have to work the next morning early and have a babysitter coming. I want the children (3 kids - 3 years apart - 10, almost 9 and almost 7) to pick up their toys and mess from the day, brush teeth, blah blah blah. I explain to the kids that if they get everything picked up and all goes well the next morning while the babysitter is here, we'll go to the waterpark when I get home. I explained that if I have to come home and do a lot of work, then we can't go.

So of course, they all mess around. Not only do they NOT do what I want, but it is almost 9 pm and all three are literally RUNNING through the house. Now this may not seem like a big deal to some, but seriously, you've got three kids, two of them almost 5 feet tall, running around like monkeys, playing a battle game (or kitty or whatever it is they call it). I am VERY frustrated. I tell them no water park.

Honestly, I appreciate that I could have sat down with them and talked. But sheeeeesh, what is wrong with asking a 9 and 10 year old to brush their teeth and expecting them to do it. Plus, it was late, I was tired and they were completely ignoring me. I should not have to stand over them to get them to do something at this age.

I will say however, that I love luckylady's post and plan to put it on my fridge. What a great way to instill in parents the ideas of discipline.

Anyway, any ideas. I want the kids and I to have a fun, easy summer. I know, 100% for sure, that I need to be more patient. And consistent. But come on, I get tired of asking if the bed is made and the kid going into hysterics.

Didn't mean to hyjack the thread. I really do get curious about GD from the aspect of older children.
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I think of GD as gentle discipline- and some punishment can be gentle. So I think there is room for it. However, I personally don't agree with actual punishment unless it is in the form of a natural consequence (you hit again, so we have to go)

I also know a woman who woudl send her kids to a talking spot when they would fight. She had 5 kids and they'd come to her yelling and wailing about each other. she'd send them to talk and they could leave the spot when they were both happy with the outcome of talking it out (older children). The one time I saw it they sat there resenting each other for a minute and slowly started talking about it and then it got to smiles and then they were off playing again. I don't really consider that punishment, but it has a similar ring to it.

All in all I think if someone gently punishes their children it is their choice and right. I just choose not to. I'm just happy that they are using non-violent forms of communication.
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