Many parents find the idea of deviating from the traditional punishment and reward system a bit difficult to navigate. After all, how can we reinforce boundaries without them, what are the alternatives and how much more effective can they be? Before we answer these questions, we have to examine the problem with punishment, and why we need to adapt to new styles.

Years of research have proven that punishment only really ‘works’ if the punishment is so extreme that it can be deemed debilitating, or if the person implementing the punishment is nearby. These findings do not support punishment as a means of raising socially and morally conscious people. As parents, we do not want to teach lessons that are only adhered to when we are around, and we certainly don’t want to implement anything that could be described as debilitating. Instead, we must find ways to discipline that equip our children with the tools they need to understand and set their own boundaries in the future and to hold themselves accountable for their behavior, as well as the consequences.

Instead, discipline should be approached with careful attention to empathy, compassion, and the parent-child connection. Children are still learning how to express themselves, and they need to be shown through modeling, as well as given the tools, such as language, to do so. When they exhibit a behavior that would typically illicit a punishment, take the time to acknowledge the feelings and circumstances that created it, and validate them. You can use examples of times you’ve felt similar feelings, and how you reacted, and explain why their behavior was detrimental or inappropriate.  With these things methods, children begin to develop their understanding of not only their own feelings, but also the feelings of others. These methods also encourage the connection between parent and child, rather than straining it. As you may have guessed, strain leads them to feel less connected with you and in turn leads to more bad behavior and more difficulty correcting it. If they feel that you are taking the time to understand, as well as see you modeling these constructive behaviors, the relationship is strengthened, and you can more easily guide them towards the right behaviors.

1Why Punishment Doesn’t Work and What Does

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