This morning while I was watching some natural consequences in action I got to thinking about how people criticise those who don’t use punishment with their children. Usually saying things like, ‘kids need to learn consequences for their actions’.
This morning we were supposed to go on an excursion to the fire station with our homeschool co-op. The girls had been looking forward to it. When it was getting close to the time that we needed to leave however, they didn’t want to get ready. I asked them if they still wanted to go. They both said yes. So I told them the time we would need to leave by and that they needed to be dressed by then. They still didn’t get ready.
At this point I could have struggled with them, making them get ready, all of us ending up frustrated with each other. I could have threatened or bribed. I could have kept nagging them. And when eventually they still didn’t get ready and we were late I could have punished them to really ‘teach them a lesson’! None of this sounds appealing to me, does it to you? Actually, it sounds like a lot of hard work on my part.
Instead, I reminded them once more of the time we needed to leave by and added that it was up to them to get ready, but if we weren’t ready by that time we wouldn’t be able to go because we would be too late. They carried on doing what they were doing. I carried on biting my tongue. I actually would have somehow liked to make them see what they were missing out on and that they would regret it later! Instead I decided to let them make the decision themselves, as they are capable of doing, and also let them deal with the consequences of that decision.
As you may have guessed, we didn’t end up going. A little later in the day they mentioned that it was sad they didn’t go because they really wanted to see the fire trucks, but maybe next time they would. They seemed to accept that the decision had been theirs and not something I had imposed on them as a punishment for not getting ready, and therefore weren’t too phased about it.
As far as I can see, this morning is just one example of them learning that their actions have consequences. Real consequences. I don’t need to punish them to teach them that. Using natural consequences means still setting limits for behaviour, but the consequences always make sense, are fair, and are respectful.
Recently I’ve seen some punishment checklists circulating the internet where kids need to pick certain things to earn points as punishment for behaviour. The options are things like cleaning, cooking, emptying garbage, and I’ve even seen ‘write a nice letter to family’ or ‘eat a piece of fruit’! There were many comments of support for this way of ‘teaching’ children. Really? I am rather confused about how this teaches consequences for actions. I rather think it teaches that if you make a mistake someone will impose a random punishment on you, rather than what the real consequences of your actions might be and how to deal with them and make amends if necessary. And what effect does this have on the relationship between the child and the enforcer of these punishments? I can only imagine it breeds a lot of resentment and leads to being more careful not to get caught in the future! Not to mention all the time and effort it takes policing these punishments instead of moving forward.
Yes, I could have punished my children this morning for not listening, for not doing what I said, for making us late, for making us miss out all together! I could have shamed them and really tried to make them feel bad about something that obviously wasn’t that important to them. And I can just imagine how our day would have gone. But I didn’t need to do that. Instead, we got on with it. They made a choice, they dealt with the consequences of that choice (without me needing to say “I told you so!’), there was no arguing or fighting, I didn’t need to be the ‘bad guy’, and we had a really pleasant day together.
I don’t believe that using punishment is the only way or best way to teach children. Children don’t learn to make good choices by being told what to do and punished for their mistakes. They learn to make good choices by having practice in making choices, and then dealing with the consequences of those decisions. Life provides plenty of opportunities for that. And instead of being the law enforcer and punisher, you get to be the supporter and guide, and let’s be honest, isn’t that just a lot more fun?