In this month’s blog I want to discuss the use of punishments and rewards in parenting, as a tool to set boundaries.

In my work supporting families, I have dealt with a wide variety of issues and behaviours, ranging from school non-attendance to parental separation, and everything in between. Regardless of the issue/behaviour however, the parent was almost certainly trying their very best to get things under control. Unfortunately, almost always to no avail.

Why were their efforts to no avail?

Let me try to explain what I see as the difficulty. Usually parents will try to control the child by using punishments or rewards, or a mixture of both. Now, this is quite understandable that we, as parents, fall back on the punishment reward system, after all, this is probably how we were parented right? But now a days we know a bit more about the effectiveness of using this system, or perhaps I should say the ineffectiveness of it.

We now know that punishments usually elicit a fight or flight response, where the child will only be interested in figuring out how not to get caught or it will make them rebel against us. Furthermore, we know that rewards might, for a short time only, control the child but they may not have a lasting effect.

In both of these scenarios, we can be sure there is no learning taking place. Namely the child is not learning how to behave or what to do instead of the behavior we are asking them not to do, they are simply managing it for a time.

The punishment and reward system is based on the idea that children needed to be controlled which is now quite a negative assumption. We really want to shift that perception and flip it on its head. Instead, we want to look at children as people in their own right who are capable of understanding, collaboration and empathy. By doing this it will change how we interact with them.

What do we do instead of using punishments and rewards?

Instead, we want to tap into the child’s motivation and look behind the behaviour. What is going on for them?

So, the next time you feel yourself going to react to an issue or behaviour with a punishment or reward: stop, take a breath and ask yourself what is really going on for your child and how can you respond in a way that motivates them.

Maybe your child hasn’t grasped how to share yet. Ask them what they think they need to do in order to more easily and readily share. How will it feel for them and others when they can share.

Maybe your child has disobeyed your request. Have a conversation with them about why they disobeyed. Explain why you asked them to do what you had asked. Ask them how they can change that behaviour going forward. Have the conversation.

Contact me here to make an appointment for parent coaching.


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