Wʜᴇɴ ᴄʜɪʟᴅʀᴇɴ ᴀᴄᴛ ᴜᴘ: Pᴜɴɪsʜᴍᴇɴᴛ ᴠs. ᴜɴᴅᴇʀsᴛᴀɴᴅɪɴɢ

Last night my son answered me in a very defiant way, I mean in a mean one. How is one to react to that when one is, like me, against giving out punishment?

Punishment is THE quintessential correction of bad behaviour that can be immoral at times. Here is a short story to explain why I do not adhere to it. This does not mean that I am against setting boundaries and creating authority and that my children are to be treated like brats.

We did not obey, we said a bad word, we answered wrong, so we are punished. The punishment itself can be all the colors of the rainbow, except that these in question are still rather dull and dark. I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t have fond memories of my punishments.

Remember once when you were punished in your childhood? I’m sure you all have a memory like that when you go back in there… Maybe you even still feel the emotions that go with it.

The situation that comes back to me is when I was deprived of playing outside with my friends for a week. I can see myself sitting in my room, crying, and hearing my friends laugh in the distance. They were playing, having fun, without me. I can still feel the emotion today. However, I don’t remember why I was punished.

Punishment works, that’s for sure. But the question I would like to raise here is – What do we do with the dark and dull emotions that it gives rise to in our little humans? How do they manage their emotions? Well, let me tell you, most of them don’t know how to manage any of that.

We didn’t know a thing about emotional management either. We silenced it, sometimes after a good little handful of screams, tears and sometimes even fists, but in the end, we silenced it and buried it in our hearts which will always keep track of it.

Let us now ask the question of the long-term effects of punishment. Jane Nelsen’s “Positive Discipline” centres around the concept of caring, but firm education that is non-punitive. Let me summarize the consequences of punishment:

“Punishment puts us in a downgrading relationship of authority, and as long as adults have the heart to want to win, they will make their children lose by placing them in a situation of inferiority” … I know that stings.

And to add another little layer to that – I wonder why so many adults, myself included, suffer from lack of self-confidence, lack of self-esteem, lack of legitimacy, and I seem to not be able to see it myself…

Do not worry, I am not throwing such a large statement at you without offering you a positive and constructive alternative. Being a mother of two kitties myself who are 11 and 13 years old, I have already gone through many tense moments where either a good old slap or a punishment would have been the ideal response at the time, but I never resorted to that.

I would like to share with you what I did last night when my son disrespected me. Well, at first I must admit that I started seeing stars, but I managed to contain myself. I was so dumbfounded that I wouldn’t have known what to say anyway.

I sent him to his room and give him a card with questions to which he should answer calmly. He himself calls it the “reflection sheet”.

The said card contains 6 questions which revolve around two things, i) the emotions he feels and what he thinks of how me and my daughter feel following this situation, which we have to admit, can still sour you up, and ii) if he does not want it to happen again, what solution he suggests in terms of avoiding this kind of situation in the future.

After a moment of reflection, my son came to see me and we read the answers together. So, he felt ashamed and guilty, as he thought I was sad and that both my daughter and I are fed up with his disrespectful behaviour.

And after that came what was essential for me. He didn’t want it to happen again because “I don’t like when mom doesn’t like me”. Dreadful, but does he still really believe that because I get angry and send him to his room, I don’t like him?

I can then tell him about the unconditional love that a parent has for his child and that even when I get angry at him I still love him. What I dislike the thought of, however, is the behaviour he will have as a consequence that wouldn’t be his real one.

The last part of the discussion is essential, as it is about finding a solution together so that we can avoid this situation in the future. It’s a much more constructive way of engaging together with the child on the solution rather than just imposing a set-in-stone rule on them that they will not willingly adhere to.

The final word here will be about paying attention to emotions. Undigested emotions, such that are not understood, will become barriers to the children’s development in adulthood.

I always ask my children about the emotions they feel; where they are located in their body, what their color and shape is. We give them their place and then, together, we let them go, either by a breathing exercise, or by a small visualization, or simply through a big, loving hug.

Be gentle with yourself, take care of yourself so that you can take better care of your own children.

With love.

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