We do not punish our kids. Ever. My 7.5 year old has never had a time-out, favorite toy withheld, or had to do chores to earn back things that she loves. My soon to be 10 year old has not had a time-out since he was two, and has never experienced another form of punishment. I am a recovering yeller, and had severe PMS for years, so they do not live in a home free of meanness, but they have never been intentionally punished. In fact, they are intentionally not punished.
Punishment never made sense to me. We gave my oldest child time-outs for a while because we didn’t know we could find a better way, but even during those horrid times I never understood how isolating him in those big-emotion times was going to help extinguish a behavior that his two year old self didn’t understand. Taking away something one of my children loves always felt mean. I understood it for what it was: an exhibition of my power and their weakness and that was not what I wanted to teach them. Plus, I wanted my kids to know they could trust me, not fear me.
I do of course want my children to know how to act appropriately and respectfully. I value personal accountability. The rules of society apply to my children and my children make mistakes. The fact that we do not punish our children does not mean that we ignore inappropriate actions. It does not mean that I turn a blind eye, act like it was not their fault, or trivialize the severity of their actions to protect their feelings. What it means is that we correct behaviors respectfully and with the goal of keeping their self worth intact- that means avoiding shame.
When one of my children does something wrong, it is not my opportunity to make them feel like they are a worthless loser, less than, or stupid. It is my opportunity to guide them- to show them what the appropriate behavior is and that it is okay to make mistakes.
Punishment feels to me like exploiting weakness and letting kids know very early on that mistakes are shameful and that taking accountability for them lowers our value. We adults who have lived through some stuff know the opposite is true. We understand that owning our mistakes increases our value and makes us incredibly strong.
When those mistakes do happen, or even if it was something intentional like a lie, what do I do if I do not punish?
First, I recognize that it is going to be really embarrassing for my child when I call them out, so I proceed with their emotional well being in mind while still being direct. They are going to be embarrassed. They can also know that they are still valued and loved through that embarrassment.
Second, I call them out at the right time. For my son, it is in the moment. He likes to know right away what he needs to do to correct things. He is older -almost 10- he knows that he is loved through the embarrassment and has made enough mistakes/wrong choices that he knows the correction is quick and he is loved madly through it. He listens to what I have to say, usually apologizes, and we move on. Boom. No big deal. No tears. No shame. No punishment. Behavior corrected.
My daughter is younger. She is seven and a different personality. With her it is mostly better that I wait until we are snuggled on the couch, not hungry, thirsty, or grumpy, and I have my arms wrapped around her. Sometimes she already knows that she did something that was out of line. Sometimes it is new information. Sometimes I ask if she wants to come up with a plan so it does not happen again. Sometimes I ask if she understands why the action was problematic. In that moment though, when we are calm and connected I can assess where she is and truly guide her toward better behavior.
I will learn more as I go, but I can tell you that this is working. Our family life, while still needing improvement, has never been better. My kids and I are in a rhythm that is the stuff of dreams for me. Other than once a month when PMS monster comes out, our days are generally pretty calm, easy, and punishment free.
We Do not Punish Our Kids: What are the Benefits of a Punishment Free Home?
My children are emotionally intelligent. I have experienced so much personal change by becoming a real guide for them instead of a punisher. It allows me to be authentic with my children. It has pushed me to get over parts of myself that were lousy. It has made me learn self control and techniques to stop yelling and be nicer.
Living without punishment has allowed me to get to know my children for who they are. Rather than using a one-size-fits-all protocol from a magazine, their guidance is individually tailored to who they are at that moment in time.
My kids knowing that their self worth is valued by their dad and me gives them cart blanche to try things and fail. They take risks. They generally tell the truth because they do not fear having been wrong about something. When they make an embarrassing mistake they know they will not be shamed by me or their dad. These things open up a world for them which would have been closed if they grew up with punishment.
Better than that, having a punishment free home creates a family dynamic where real learning and guidance can happen all day everyday. Instead of associating mistakes or bad choices with time-outs or power trips, they associate them with learning. They are learning what it means to be personally accountable- and not just semantically. They are learning it because they are living it.
As my regular readers know my family is not perfect. What I can say with certainty is that we are better. We are so much better than we would have been if punishment were part of our lives. I am grateful that we do not punish our children. Ever.
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