Unfortunately, there are eyes on parents everywhere observing their kids’ behaviour, along with a myriad of opinions (I suspect most of them old-school) telling parents just what they need to do to get their kids to sit still, be quiet and do what they’re told.
There’s a push towards parents “doing something” to control their childs behaviour, which often involves the parent inflicting a punishment of some description.
People tend to offer opinions on quick ways to deal with problem behaviours (most of these we’ve all heard before… “go to your room”, “time out”, “you better stop that before I count to three”, “pull your head in or you’re getting a smack” or “when we get home you’re gonna be in big trouble”).
Seriously, hang around the shops for an hour and count how many times you hear these phrases being uttered!
Most of the approaches mentioned above would be considered punishments… and you might think they are quite effective.
You would be right.
They are effective… but only in the short term.
Unfortunately, punishments aren’t very effective long-term, because they have nothing to do with the target behaviour (it’s kind of bizarre since our whole society is based on the premise of controlling behaviour through a desire to avoid punishment… but that’s a debate for another day ;).
So, let’s dial it back a bit for a second here. For starters… what is punishment?
A punishment is basically anything that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour occurring.
Punishers can be positive or negative.
A positive punisher refers to adding something undesirable – for example “if you don’t pack away your toys you will have to go to your room”, whereas a negative punisher refers to removing something desirable – for example “if you don’t clean your room tonight you’re not going to the movies”.
The funny thing with punishments is, they will only be viewed as a punishment if your child believes the punisher is a negative consequence (e.g. “go to your room” may not be a punishment to a child who has all their favourite toys, a TV, playstation etc. in their room, and prefers to spend most of their time in there anyway).
Research has found that punishers can work to stop behaviour immediately, but are not appropriate as a long-term strategy.
There are more negative outcomes associated with punishment than anything else. These include:
Affecting the relationship between the person being punished and the person delivering the punishment
Demonstrating “punishing others” as the way to deal with other people’s behaviour
Eliciting negative emotions (upset, anger, fear etc)
So, back to the original question… Why should you punish your child?
If you take note of the research, although a punisher might stop the behaviour immediately, it will not prove helpful in altering your child’s behaviour in the long run.
That doesn’t mean that the answer is “doing nothing”.
Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to punishment that are very effective in improving behaviour.
If you want to avoid using punishment’s but aren’t sure where to start, check out our “Alternatives to Punishment” in the strategies section of our website.
References: Reeve, J. (2005). Understanding Motivation and Emotion: Fourth Edition. John Wiley & Sons: Danvers