Not many parents buy into the idea that children can learn to behave well even without punishments such as spanking, consequences, and time-outs. According to Dr. Markham, it is indeed possible, and when asked how will children learn how to behave? She replied children learn what they live. The most effective way to teach kids is to treat them the way we want them to treat others: with compassion and understanding. When children are spanked, punished, or shouted at, they learn to act aggressively.
Even timeouts – symbolic abandonment — give children the message that they’re alone with their big scary feelings just when they need us most, rather than being an opportunity to learn how to manage their emotions. That doesn’t mean parents should renege on their responsibility to guide their children by setting limits, such as no running into the street, no hitting other children, no peeing in the street, no screaming and running in church, and no kicking the dog. But these are limits, not punishment.
Are you wondering how your child will learn not to do these things next time if you don’t “discipline” him when he does them? Then you’re assuming that punishing children is needed to “teach the child a lesson.”
Actually, research shows that punishing kids creates more misbehavior. Being punished makes children angry and defensive. It launches adrenalin and the other fight, flight, or freeze hormones, and turns off the reasoning, and cooperative impulses. Children quickly forget the “bad” behavior that led to their being punished, even while they’re processing the emotional aftermath of the punishment for weeks. If they learn anything, it’s to lie and avoid getting caught. Punishment disconnects parents from their children so they end up with less influence on them. It even lowers IQ, since kids who don’t feel completely safe and secure aren’t free to learn. Quite simply, punishment is never an effective means of raising a responsible, considerate, happy child. It teaches all the wrong lessons.
If instead, parents stay kind and connected while setting limits, their children will internalize what they’ve lived. They don’t resist their guidance, so they feel connected, and they see their impact on others, so they’re considerate and responsible. Because they’ve had parents who modeled emotional self-regulation, they’ve learned to manage their own emotions, and therefore their own behavior. Because they’re been accepted for all of who they are, they’re in touch with their own passions and motivated to explore them.