Punishment Versus Consequences

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We read a very interesting chapter last week in the Parenting Book Club. The chapter itself was about alternatives to punishment. Before I became a parent, I thought I’d be this very strict disciplinarian because I wanted well-behaved children. Once I became a parent, I remembered how the strict disciplinarian approach worked on me as a kid (not very well). Aside from it just making me be scared of getting in trouble, it didn’t really teach me anything other than to not get caught no matter how small the offense. There had to be another way, I just wasn’t aware of it.

Over the years I tried different approaches. I read articles and researched parenting styles. After being exposed to a lot of different methods from cultures all around the world, I liked the idea of natural consequences. You see the disciplinarian method I grew up with focused on punishment. Say I didn’t do my chores, I wouldn’t be allowed to go to an afterschool event with my friends. The thought process is that would teach me to do my chores next time so I could go to the event. The thing is, it actually caused anger and resentment.

Although I didn’t do my chores the day of the event, leading up to that day I’d been doing my chores and homework regularly. So for weeks I’d had permission to go and did everything I was supposed to. The day of the event I was busy working on homework so it would be completed before I left. There wasn’t time to do both my homework and my chores, something I hadn’t thought out before leaving for school that morning. Using the disciplinarian method, my permission to attend the event was revoked and I now had to miss out on something I’d been looking forward to for weeks that was completely unrelated to not doing the chores themselves. It made me feel like everything I’d done was for nothing and was overlooked. It also felt unfair because there wasn’t a conversation involved just a punishment chosen haphazardly.

As a parent, I’ve found natural consequences work and make sense. It’s also better preparing my children for what they will experience as they grow up. As an adult, there hasn’t been a time that I’ve been punished. At work, I knew what was expected of me and what the consequences were should I fail to do my job or break the rules. In my life, I generally know what can happen as a result of doing or not doing something. Natural consequences are directly tied to choices. It’s cause and effect and putting the child in a place of empowerment. They’ll learn that the choices they make yield results.

Natural consequences look more like this. My daughter is expected to keep her room tidy and make her bed every day. Part of keeping her room tidy is making sure she puts her dirty clothes in the hamper. When I do a load of laundry, she brings her hamper to the laundry room. That weekend, we go to a nice family dinner and she knows exactly what she wants to wear. When the night comes and we all start getting ready she can’t find her outfit. Come to find out, instead of putting it in the hamper the last time she wore it, she tossed it on the floor next to her bed. It didn’t get washed and since it’s dirty she can’t wear it. She’ll have to wear something else even though she was really looking forward to wearing her favorite outfit.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s not the end of the world. She’s disappointed but she’ll just have to find something else and get on with the evening. She can’t get mad at me for not washing it because she didn’t put it in the hamper to be washed. The consequence starts and stops with the choice she made to toss her clothes instead of putting them in the hamper. While this is a simple example, it goes to show the difference between a punishment chosen to take something away and a consequence that plays out on its own. It’s a learning opportunity. She’ll remember that the next time she goes to toss something on the floor instead of putting it in the hamper. Whereas she might not remember had I decided to not let her watch her favorite show for leaving her clothes on the floor. It’s hard to connect a punishment with the choice when it’s not directly tied to it.

Punishment generally feels unfair to a child because often times the consequence isn’t directly tied to what the child did (or didn’t) do. While I can justify it as the parent by explaining it, at the end of the day it’s not a consequence it’s a punishment I’ve deemed fitting for the situation. The word punishment itself means “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution” according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary. So the very word itself shows why I’ve moved away from punishment and embraced consequences. I have no desire to teach my children in a way that makes them feel like they have to pay for something. I want them to learn from their choices and that every decision they make has a result.

Switching to consequences instead of punishment took a lot of work on my behalf. Not because it’s more difficult, most of the time it’s actually easier because the consequences unfold naturally. It was difficult in the sense that I had to reframe the way I handled situations. Instead of thinking in terms of punishment, I had to look for the opportunity to have a conversation so that my daughter could see how her choice brought on the consequences both when she desired them and when she didn’t. It’s an opportunity for her to learn the cause and effect of choice as well as a way of giving her power over her own life. Instead of her focusing on how unfair the situation is or how mean I’m being for punishing her, we’re talking about what she could have done differently for things to work out the way she anticipated.

If you’re interested in furthering the discussion or finding other methods to use in your parenting, I’d like to encourage you to join the Parenting Book Club. We read a unit each week and have a discussion that’s open indefinitely on the unit post. If you don’t have time to read, you can always listen to it! For more details, visit the Parenting Book Club. If you’re already a member, check out this week’s unit here.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on punishment versus consequences. Were you punished or did you have natural consequences as a child? Do you think natural consequences is something you’d like to implement if you don’t already do that at home? Feel free to share in the comments.

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18 Replies to “Punishment Versus Consequences”

  1. Punishment Vs. Consequences OMG🤡🤡🤡🤡🤡 boy nothing going there but quite appropo right now. I will say Though that i thought I would run my house and children like a well oiled machine. I would NEVER do that as I judged moms from my single glass house . Yeah right!!! You won’t believe what you’d do…..👶🏼👶🏼👶🏼👶🏼👶🏼👶🏼 just to take a shower 🙏🙏🙏🙏

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    1. Haha yeah it’s easy to be a parent when you don’t have kids, that’s for sure! For me, it’s taken a lot of work in the sense that I’ve had to discover who I want to be as a parent and how I can be that person. 9 years experience and I’m still just getting the hang of it. Every time I think I’ve got it, the dynamics change. It’s one of those things that you just have to navigate the best you can.

      I take showers when they’re asleep, so like 2 am. Just kidding. But night time when it’s quiet and I can light some candles is a momcation in my house 🙂

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  2. This is a great method and one that makes much sense. As a mom of young adults, I can tell you that for me this method became much more difficult when the consequences of their actions turn out to be of a more serious nature. It is extremely difficult as a parent to sit back and watch your teen child move forward with a decision that you know will have consequences that will a huge negative impact in their life moving forward. As a parent it is extremely difficult to watch and stay quiet without offering guidance. I for one couldn’t do it as they got older. So to me it’s all about a balance. Know when to speak and know when to stay quiet. When it is simple things, like your example of clothes on the floor is works well. It’s when they get older things are not so black and white.

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    1. Yeah, I can understand how it can get more tricky as they get older. I haven’t reached those years yet though they’re just around the corner. I have been conscious of them though because I know how I wish those years would have been for me. I will say that I don’t think natural consequences means that we stay silent and just let everything play out. As a mom, communication is key and teaching my daughters to make good decisions is a very big thing for me. I was raised being afraid to make a bad choice because of the punishment I’d receive but not taught how to make good choices. With my daughters I want them to make good choices because of the consequences they desire not because they’re afraid they’ll get caught. It starts with the little things now. Listening, understanding, talking to them. I try not to make her feel bad about the choices she makes but understand where she was coming from, why she made it, and what she’ll do differently next time. I can’t make choices for her and expect her to become an adult who makes good choices. Sometimes I let consequences play out and that’s enough others there’s a conversation around it. We all have to learn our lessons in life and if I try to shield her from them, she’ll probably learn the hard way. I don’t have it figured out, that’s just the theory based on my life experience that I’m going by. We’ll see how it plays out… ❤

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  3. This is great and I know exactly where you’re coming from. Punishments were doled out by my father left and right for sometimes very silly things and it definitely didn’t make me a more responsible teen/young adult because the cause and effect were all noodled up in my brain! I am trying my best to teach my daughter about consequences to her actions and to get her thinking about them. But yes faithlovesoul, I also get what you mean about those consequences becoming scarier as teens!

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    1. As a mom, I put myself in my daughter’s shoes and just remember being so mad about the unfairness that I didn’t even think what I did was bad enough to deserve the punishment. Now I understand it’s because they weren’t directly tied it was just what I wanted most in the moment that was taken from me. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’d love you to join us in the book club as we explore ways of being more effective with our conversations around consequences and other parenting related topics. Check it out and see if you’re interested. Either way, wishing you all that you need to support you on your parenting path ❤ ❤

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  4. I agree Niki, Punishment is negative reinforcement, instead of positive reinforcement. So I do believe your philosophy is one that works very well. And although I did practice it while my children were young, as they became older is just became more difficult. With that said, thank God they both turned out to be very responsible and kind young man and woman. There is no perfect, in a box method. What works for one child doesn’t work for another, even with siblings. You seem like a very loving, kind and understanding mom. Your girls are lucky to have you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, there’s no one way that works. We all do the best we can. I just try to be mindful that I’m trying to raise people not fabricate robots. I have my moments, trust me! But at the end of the day, my girls know that I’m human. I own up to my mistakes and work through them in front of them. As for the rest, I just do what works and find ways to change what doesn’t. I’m glad that you’ve raised two wonderful young members of our society ❤

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    1. Glad it’s something you’ll try. We try to make a game out of cleaning up. Either a race to see who can put them away first or count them as we put them away. I’d try letting them know before hand that whatever toys come out of the box have to go back in. Then I’d let them know that should there be any toys left out those ones won’t be able to be played with because we talked about toys going back where they belong when they’re done being used. We have to make sure that there’s a clear expectation so it doesn’t feel like a punishment rather the results of choosing not to put the toys away. This is just an example as I don’t know the ages of the kids or what would work for them but it’s what I do with my own toddler. I hope you find what works for you guys ❤

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