By Cynthia Klein
Parents desire to have loving relationships with their children so they will be trusted and their children will seek them out for support and advice.
While teaching my parenting classes, it becomes clear that well-meaning parents are resorting to ineffective punishment strategies, which hurt the relationship, because they just don’t know what else to do.
The parents are not happy with the lack of cooperation and respect they are receiving. They are also not happy with the lack of their own emotional control and how they are treating their children. Under duress, they can quickly resort to using the same negative parenting tactics they experienced as children.
This approach is not leading them on the path toward the supportive and harmonious family that they want.
Parents report using “consequences” (threats) such as, “If you don’t pick up your toys right now, you won’t play any video games.” Imagine how you felt as a child hearing this type of threat. As an adult, you may think this sounds like a logical consequence, yet the tone, word usage, and word placement creates a threat. As a result, parents report being mocked, ignored, or even laughed at by their children with comments like, “You’re not going to take it away.”
Parents are stunned and embarrassed when their kids sound just like them.
One mother recounted how her son threatened her with “If you don’t let me play, then I won’t brush my teeth.” Threats, that once put fear into these parents as kids, do not create the close relationships the parents in my classes want with their children.
In an attempt to be nicer than their parents were, they begin with “nicer” controlling strategies, such as asking politely, explaining their reasoning to win agreement, and giving rewards. This approach still didn’t work with many children. With no positive responses with these “gentler” attempts, parents resort to unsuccessful punishment strategies, such as instilling guilt, pleading, yelling, and threatening.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t work to take an obedience strategy that is based on instilling fear and manipulation, and then expect cooperation, respect, and responsibility instead.
This isn’t logical. In order to create a successful family, punishment methods must be discarded and replaced with discipline methods that teach important life skills.
The following parenting strategies are focused on controlling children to get compliance. Often, children learn either directly or indirectly that they are a bad person. Regretting poor choices upon self-reflection is desirable, yet for a child to think of oneself as a fundamentally “bad person” is detrimental to making better choices in the future.
Replace the following authoritarian punishment strategies:
- Isolating children when they are upset as a means to teach them that emotional outbursts are not acceptable. Sometimes called “time-outs.”
- Using shaming and judgmental language to belittle, such as “You should have …” or “You’re so stupid, careless, etc.”
- Creating rewards and bribes to control behavior.
- Designing a contrived consequence that feels unfair, resulting in a barrier of anger and resentment against the adult rather than self-reflection by the child.
- Ignoring, discounting, or ridiculing your children’s thoughts and feelings.
- Yelling to gain compliance.
I recommend using an ally discipline parenting approach in any family that wants to break this cycle of authoritarian power over children. Announce your new approach to the family members as you gradually replace your punishment strategies with new discipline strategies. Here are examples of how to guide and teach children.
- Take responsibility for the impact of your behavior by deciding on your actions with this question in mind, “Is what I’m about to say or do going to build or break the relationship because that’s ultimately all that matters?”
- Listen openly with curiosity to their thoughts and feelings so children can get unstuck, build trust with you, and feel safe.
- Use respectful directives, such as “After you (work), then you can (play),“ or “It’s time to (work).”
- Solve problems together so they can learn how to think logically and creatively.
- Set clear negotiable and non-negotiable rules that will shift as your children mature.
- Receive your own emotional support so you can parent from wisdom rather than from fear.
If your goal is to create a family who sticks together through thick and thin, learn more about the benefits of my Ally discipline approach. A good first step is to use the “After – Then” strategy as an effective directive to gain cooperation, rather than commanding, asking, or threatening. Contact me to learn how.
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