To punish or not to punish



We all want to raise our kids to be polite, kind, empathetic, honest and respectful. And we all know the best way to do this is to lead by example.

But sometimes this doesn’t work. Sometimes we need to discipline them and to punish them to help get our message across.

Or do we?

One parenting trend these days suggests this is not the case. It’s known as gentle parenting and it is one of the leading parenting styles that promotes peaceful and positive parenting through a lack of discipline and rewards system. No bribes. No stickers. No toys for being good. And no time-outs for being bad.

Sure, it sounds like the lazy way out but it requires a lot more persistence, patience and conscious parenting than other methods.

Leading child development researcher, L.R. Knost describes the style as “guiding instead of controlling, connecting instead of punishing, encouraging instead of demanding. It’s about listening, understanding, responding, and communicating.”

Sounds like an ideal situation – where parents and children co-exist together in a household without any conflict, any arguments or any poor behavioural concerns. But, let’s face it, it sounds like a fairy tale.

According to leading gentle parenting expert, Laura Markham, you can bring this idyllic family situation into your life.

Of course, there are many concerns with gentle parenting:

What happens if you try it and your kids won’t listen and are still acting out?

Gentle parenting advocates admit that not all children are going to respond to this approach right away. However, it is suggested that by finding out the ‘why’ behind the behaviour – is he acting out because he feels left out, because something has happened at school, because he is not getting enough sleep? – is a good place to start. Through communication comes understanding and hopefully a way to thwart this poor behaviour.

How will your child know who is boss and understand that there are rules?

Through a mutual respect, Laura Markham suggests. Treat a child with respect and they will do the same to you. According to gentle parenting advocates, a parent doesn’t need to be seen as an authority figure. Children should feel like they are an equal member of the household.

What about safety issues? If there are no punishments, then how will they learn right from wrong?

Gentle parenting experts suggest that children have the ability to learn right and wrong on their own and through example. No punishment necessary.

Sorry, but no, my kids need punishments. And they need to know who is boss.

Many kids do. Methods like one-two-three magic, time-outs, taking away toys, losing a coin and teaching your children that they have to be responsible for their actions works for many households. After all, there are repercussions for doing the wrong thing in life – like speeding or showing up to work late – and children need to understand this from a young age.

There are two sides to every parenting story and one of the biggest advocates against gentle parenting is prominent Australian psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg who has never been shy about suggesting modern day parents are “raising a generation of spoilt brats”.

Punishment and discipline, according to Carr-Gregg are essential as is saying no. After all, a child who is treated as a partner in the household but as inferior in the work force (because, let’s face it, we all have to start from the bottom when we enter the work force) can lead to frustration, anger, confusion and a whole slew of other issues too.

Another concern is the lack of reward system – yes, children need to understand that they are not going to be rewarded anytime they do something right, but there is nothing that melts my heart more than showing my son that I am proud of him for doing a good job in school than taking him out for the occasional ice cream.

Is gentle parenting right for you?

This depends on a number of things – your values, your background, your situation, your temperament and most importantly, your child’s temperament.

Gentle parenting requires a lot of self-control – after all, if you’re going to teach your children to communicate their feelings rather than lash out, then you’re going to have to do the same (even when someone cuts you off in traffic or your husband forgets to take the bins out for the third week in a row).

It can also be hard in today’s busy society when we are often tired, stressed and drained. Sometimes it’s simply easier to say “No,” and when your child asks why, to reply with, “Because I said so.”

Modern day parenting problems

You’ve probably noticed that parenting has become a lot more complex these days than when we were growing up. When we were kids, what Mum and Dad said is what went and that was that. The style was more authoritative and there was nothing wrong with a bit of punishment and a lot of discipline.

Many families choose to stick to what they know –how they were raised – and this works perfectly for many families. Many parents need their children to know who is boss, who is in control and many children require discipline and guidelines in order to thrive.

But there are options. And gentle parenting is certainly one of them.

The most important thing when it comes to raising children is that a child feels safe, feels loved and is treated with dignity and respect.