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Jinnae Anderson: Painful punishments vs commonsense consequences

My mom wasn’t much into punishment so I must have done something really, really bad for her to order me to my bedroom that day. I went but, angry and rebellious, I refused to stay there. She threatened to tie my door shut. I looked her in the eye and dramatically took a step out of my room, calling her bluff.

Now she was mad. She fastened a rope around my doorknob, pushed me into my room and ran toward the stair rail, where she planned to tie the other end of the rope.

I, however, was having none of it. I wrenched my door open, grabbed my end of the rope and pulled it toward me. We were now literally engaged in a parent-child tug-of-war, each of us pulling with all our might.

This next part is seared into my memory, a moment forever frozen in time: At the peak point of the struggle my mom and glared at each other — two pairs of eyes sending daggers of intense anger, even hatred, toward the other. We held that glare for several long seconds. I had never looked at my mother in that way before, and certainly I’d never seen her glower at me in such a murderous manner!

Then … I gave in. She was my mother, after all, and I wasn’t ready to totally usurp her authority. I stepped angrily inside my room and let her tie me in.

Punishment, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution.” The goal of punishment is to inflict some kind of discomfort or misery on the wrongdoer. My mom, bless her heart, was doing what all the “good” parents did in those days. She didn’t know any better.

Thankfully, these days we have a few more parenting strategies in our tool bag. One of the biggest tools is being able to choose consequences over punishment.

You may ask, What’s the difference? Aren’t consequences really the same thing as punishment? The answer is that, even though both a punishment and a consequence may be unpleasant, the intent of a punishment is to hurt or inflict pain on a child whereas a consequence is allowing a child to experience the result or direct effect of an action. Unlike punishment, the goal for giving consequences is to teach and guide a child in a way that leads them to make positive choices in the future. Additionally, where punishment is never logical or natural, consequences usually are.

Everything we do in life has consequences. When we make our home like the real world in this way, we help to prepare our children for the real-life outcomes that will come when they leave the safety net of our home.

When a strong dose of empathy is delivered before the consequence, we show our children that we are on their side — which we are. This is not, “Oh man, buster, you’re in trouble!” This is, “Oh sweetie, this is so sad.” Instead of us standing opposite our child like my mom in that tug-of-war, angry and blaming, we are standing next to our child, together looking sadly at the misbehavior. Instead of our child blaming us because we are imposing a punishment, this enables our child to look at the behavior, to think about what they did wrong and how to make it right — if not this time, then the next.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. Night after night, your four-year-old refuses to go to sleep. She yo-yos in and out of bed, and when she’s in she is calling for water, calling for you, asking for one more story. Late at night she finally nods off.

If this has become a habit of parental manipulation, it’s time to deliver a consequence. One morning, your daughter is ready and excited to go to the park, just as you’d planned the previous day. When she asks about packing a lunch, you look at her sadly and say, “Oh, this is such a bummer. I am too tired from trying to get you to sleep last night to take you to the park.”

Will this be easy? Will your child thank you for the excellent lesson and move forward? Most doubtful. She will probably cry, and beg, and promise to do it differently tonight. To which you can respond, “I’m sure you will. For now I just need to have a restful day.” Stick to your guns on this one: your child needs you to set and keep loving limits.

While this one consequence may not turn bedtime around, a few more like that and she will get the message– without raised voices or other relationship-damaging reactions.

Next example: Your teenager speaks to you in a rude, disrespectful tone. Here’s a logical consequence, delivered calmly and respectfully: “Oh honey, I’ll be happy to speak with you when your voice sounds like mine.” Note the empathy, which comes before the consequence is provided.

When we are empathetic and respectful toward our children while still setting loving limits, our children will (eventually) be empathetic and respectful toward us. Allowing our children to experience the consequences of their actions, with us lovingly at their sides, helps them to develop self-responsibility and an inner GPS that can guide them now and in the future — when we may not be around to remind them of the right thing to do.

While it’s not always easy for us to allow the circumstances of life to teach our kids, It’s incredibly effective. Unlike tying a child in their bedroom and similar punishments, natural consequences let our kids keep their dignity and, happily, serve to deepen the loving, caring relationship that we share.

Jinnae Anderson is the Parenting Specialist for the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. Contact Jinnae at janderson@nevco.org or 530-238-5608


WHAT: Nurturing Parenting 8-Week Series with Jinnae Anderson, Parenting Specialist for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools

WHERE: Zoom calls from the comfort of your own home

WHEN: Evening session Wednesdays 6:30-8:15 p.m. March 23-May 18 (no class April 13). Morning session Tuesdays 10-11:45 a.m. March 29-May 24 (no class April 12)

COST: Free to Nevada County parents and guardians

MORE INFO: Email janderson@nevco.org or call 530-238-5608

Jinnae Anderson

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