Is punishment part of parenting?

As parents we generally assume that punishing our children is simply part of the job description. Whether that be taking away their screen privileges, sending them to their room or giving them a smack on the bottom. 

In fact a study conducted by UNICEF in 2014 found that 94% of children worldwide are punished regularly and somewhat shockingly eighty percent are spanked, pinched, or hit.

But this isn't a blog debating the morality of hitting your child or taking away their iPad - it is about the question of effectiveness. Does punishing children work? If you give way to your fury and hit your 8 year old will that deter them from future bad behaviour? If you remove their privileges or confiscate their toys will it stop them from having tantrums or teach them listen? Evidence suggests no.

Countless analyses of physical and non-physical punishments show that while they may gain immediate compliance, the behaviour of the child is unlikely to improve as a result. In fact it is likely to worsen. 

There are a number of issues it seems with punishment.

1) Causing pain can be ok -as Elizabeth Gershoff points out one of the problems with punishment (especially corporal) is that it sends a message to your child that in certain circumstances it is ok to cause someone else physical or psychological pain. 

2) Don't get caught - when you discipline your child for doing something you disapprove of they often perceive themselves as being punished for being caught rather than the act itself  and therefore rather than changing their behaviour seek to hide it;

3) It must be REALLY good! - punishment can also increase the allure of the targeted behaviour or object. By banning a child from doing something without explanation of why it is harmful can make it appear more exciting. We don't take away the fireplace because a child reaches out to touch it - we explain that it could hurt them and that is generally sufficient. 

But evidence also shows permissive parenting is damaging in its own way so what options are we left with? Research suggests that clearly setting boundaries is important, yet it is equally important to separate the behaviour from the emotion, and to explain why the action isn't acceptable.

So next time you are faced with bad behaviour try these suggestions from positive parenting psychologists:

1) Talk - sit down with your child and take the time to explain why you are upset by what they have done

2) Find solutions - work with them to come up with solutions to what is upsetting them or think of alternative ways they could behave in future situations

3) Emotion coaching - help your child label their emotions and explain that while it is ok to feel angry, frustrated, overexcited it is not ok to hit the wall, have a tantrum, jump on the sofa.

4) Time out - if things have escalated too far and talking isn't possible then give them time to calm down in their room or outside and then talk.

Evidence shows that taking a positive approach to parenting will not only have the most lasting benefit for their behaviour but also for your relationship and their wellbeing. 

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