As a psychotherapist in the Washington DC area, punishment is a topic that comes up in many conversations about parenting in my counseling sessions with children and families. I started this conversation last week in the blog, To Punish or Not To Punish? You can access that blog here https://thesibleygroupdc.com/punish-not-punish/
Different people have different opinions on whether and how much to punish, and their opinion is usually directly correlated to their parenting style. When I first meet with a family in counseling, I try to work with parents to help them identify and adjust their parenting style. Research into parenting has shown 4 basic styles:
- Authoritarian – These parents have high demands and low levels of warmth.
- Authoritative – These parents have high demands combined with high levels of warmth.
- Permissive – These parents have low demands and high levels of warmth.
- Neglectful – These parents have low levels of both demand and warmth.
While no parent has just one parenting style, most of us have a default parenting style especially when we are stressed or busy. Do you recognize yourself in any of these styles? Go ahead, be honest! Ask yourself, “what is my “go to” approach when I’m stressed, tired, and confronted with a difficult behavior?” The most effective parenting style is “authoritative,” which entails providing structure, expectations, and limits along with a loving family dynamic. In other words, you cannot punish without love. While not always easy, this parenting style is what we all want to strive for especially during times of stress.
If you classify yourself among the styles, other than authoritative, it is okay. Try targeting what area of your parenting may need more attention—greater warmth or higher demands and expectations. Once you target that area, then you have a place to focus your efforts to improve your parenting moments with your child.
For parents who tend to punish before they comfort or praise, consider this strategy. Alan Kazdin of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic suggests that Before you punish, ask yourself 2 questions: “Can I let it go? And how can I build up the positive opposite [behavior]?” In other words, if this is something I must punish, how can I positively reinforce when my child does the behavior I want? Depending on the age of your child, it may be done simply by saying, “Thank you, I really appreciated when you did x.”
You can also help your child earn rewards for good behavior, which can help you develop that highly structured and highly loving family dynamic. Additionally, try having a high ratio of positive to negative interactions with your child. Depending on what studies you look at, it is suggested to have anywhere from a ratio of 10 to 1 to 4 to 1 positive to negative interactions. I suggest aiming for 10 positive interactions and you will most likely hit somewhere above 4.
For parents, who struggle with having realistic, firm expectations of their children’s behavior, try working through these questions. In his book, No Drama Discipline, Daniel Siegal, MD suggests you ask yourself 3 questions when it comes to discipline:
- Why is my child acting this way?
- What lesson do I want to teach in this moment?
- How can I best teach this lesson?
In his other book, Parenting from the Inside Out, Siegal explains, “Children benefit when parents create structure in their lives. A child learns which behaviors are appropriate within the family and the larger culture by the limits set by parents.” (p. 218) Some adults struggle to set limits on a child’s behavior because it is inherently a tense situation that can damage the relationship between the adult and child depending on how it is handled. Siegal suggests that to limit the stress on the relationship, adults should tune into their child’s emotional state by empathizing and reflecting back to their child what he or she wants without giving in. Siegal also stresses that you don’t have to try “fix it,” you just have weather the uncomfortable feelings that might arise when you set limits. Remember, setting limits with our kids helps them to develop these basic skills–learning to wait, sharing, maintaining good impulses, having good manners, and being in control of their behavior.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but there are guidelines that can be followed to help you be as good of a parent as possible. Parenting is equal parts love and structure/demand, and you cannot do one without the other. Try working on your parenting style with these tips in mind.
Kazdin, A. E. (2008). The kazdin method for parenting the defiant child; with no pills, no therapy, no contest of wills. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Siegal, D. J. & Hartzell, M. (2014). Parenting from the inside out: How a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Siegal, D. J. & Bryson, T. P. (2014). No drama discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind. New York, NY: Bantam.