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The Downside of Emotional and Physical Punishment – and the Upside of Alternatives

After many months of not writing consistently, I’m readying myself to utilize my voice more fully to grow positive parenting in my heart, home and the world. Today, I invite you to accept my humble invitation to participate in the third annual Peaceful Parenting No Spank Challenge, hosted by Amy Bryant of Parenting Beyond Punishment to leave punishment behind and reap the benefits of positive parenting.  

Photo Credit Gabriella FabbriWhile punishment is still alive in well in our world, it does have a downside – actually many. Here are a few and after you read through them, consider the powerful alternatives we have that can drastically change not only our personal relationships, but the fabric of relationships all over the world. If you would like more clarity on what punishment is, please read Ways to Discipline a Child – Clarifying the Differences Between Punishment, Permissiveness and Discipline.

Punishment short circuits understanding.

When we seek to create a negative experience in our children (or teens) we miss a vital opportunity to experience and increase four types of understanding because our focus is on punishing doing the teaching, instead of our healthy connection.

  1. Our own self-understanding: Why do we feel moved to punish? What emotions are we feeling when we feel moved to punish? How could we channel what we feel into a more effective means of teaching? Where did this belief that punishment is necessary come from and do we really want to continue punishing? Ultimately, how do I want to show up in this situation and what can I do or do I need to learn to be able to show up in this way?
  2. Our understanding of our child: What motivates our children or teen’s behavior? How safe do our kids feel in sharing their motivations with us (if they are known)? How can we help them learn with safe, non-harmful means of guidance? What does it feel like to be a child in this situation?
  3. Guiding our children in self-understanding: How can I support my child in learning about him/herself in this situation? How can I show up such that my child will learn as much about her motivations, choices and inherent potential as she does about the negative consequences of certain actions? How can I be a safe space for my child to grow and learn?
  4. Mutual understanding: How can I allow this situation to be a bridge between me and my child, instead of a great divide? How can we both be heard and benefit here? How can we both learn from this situation? How can I encourage openness and collaboration?

Punishment strains relationship.

Ask any kid and not one of them will tell you that punishment helps the parent-child relationship (except for those in such strictly adhered to punishment regimens that they are literally brainwashed to believe it’s necessary to be punished to learn). Unfortunately, we live in a world where many adults feel it is necessary to punish to teach, but this falsehood is hurting our relationships. Guidance is necessary at times, but the infliction of emotional or physical pain is not and the strain which comes from punishing leaves wounds on the relationship. Each time a kid is punished the once loving connection with the adult is altered, and many times diminished.  

Punishment send mixed messages.

We continually tell kids and teens not to harm others, yet punishment based parenting says we are to hurt them to teach them. We don’t make sense. Our kids feel this mixed message which in turn informs their beliefs, choices and actions. We need to be clear in what we are offering our children and punishment cannot offer a message that our kids can interpret clearly.

Punishment doesn’t create the results we really want in the long term.

What does punishment do in the long term, other than teach that harming someone is necessary for them to learn? The other big message in punishment is that we need external control to learn. We need someone or something outside of ourselves to really internalize knowledge. This is incorrect and leads to a host of issues including the reliance on external motivation and rewards to accomplish anything in life. All we have to do to check on this is look at our own motivations. How many are from fear and rewards? Punishment sets this up for us.

Punishment creates and reinforces hierarchy.

Punitive parenting places the parent in power, and leaves the child powerless. How different is this from slavery or any other type of oppression? Depending on its application, not much. I know, hard to hear but honesty is healing. We live in a world with hierarchy, but parenting does not have to be a dictatorship. Our kids need to know their own power to feel, communicate and collaborate as innovative contributors in the societies to which they belong.

So, what are some viable alternatives?

While my writing style may be very blunt, especially in this article, I speak from experience as a parent who has punished, who’s seen all of these downsides at work in my own family and who is choosing another way. Our children need us to make another choice. Here are some ways we can begin:

We can start by listening.

We can learn to listen to our own feelings and our children’s as we learn to separate our issues from theirs. We are likely to need support and possibly some therapy to do this. Underneath layers of emotional and mental conditioning there’s likely to be some pain. Seek the support you need. Be as courageous as you want your child to be.

We can learn loving guidance.

We probably didn’t grow up in families where loving guidance was used consistently. We can learn the skills of positive parenting, though. We can learn what to do when it’s hard, how to be the example in our families and how to nurture responsibility through taking responsibility for our own thoughts, beliefs and actions as parents.

We can clarify our boundaries.

We come to parenting with a whole host of ideas about right and wrong. We might find ourselves saying no or becoming angry, when we’re not even sure that what we’re upset about matters in the big picture. We may also not be comfortable with limits and boundaries, and therefore find ourselves withdrawing or feeling angry when our kids don’t cooperate. We can learn to discern what really matters and how to communicate that clearly and respectfully.

We can learn how to collaborate.

One skill we probably all want for our children is constructive problem solving. We want them to feel like they can meet a challenge with courage, responsibility and kindness. As parents, we can learn how to collaborate and work to find and implement solutions together so we are actively practicing these skills in our families. We all grow this way and any movement to punish falls away as we realize that we can actually problem solve as a team.

We definitely have our work cut out for us. Which is why I’m inviting you to participate in the third annual Peaceful Parenting No Spank Challenge. Click here to join this free challenge today that starts April 1, 2016.


Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.

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