Spare the Rod; Will it spoil the child? (Part 1)

This is a website devoted to mental health & happiness. We believe there are many general things that can be done to increase your mental health & happiness and yet, sometimes, your compromised mental health & happiness may revolve around particular difficulty with specific relationships in your life. This next blog entry is going to talk with parents who may find their children or their particular parenting style at the center of their pursuit of mental health & happiness. We hope you enjoy it.

By Richard Primason, PhD

Of course not  — giving up the switch will not leave your child soft and unprepared for the “real world.”  Research and common experience tell us that the old “reward and punish” style actually does more harm than good. But we’re just so stuck in our ways. We keep on bribing, threatening and punishing our way out of child behavior challenges. Why can’t we give up that darn rod anyway?

Let’s break this down to two important questions:

1)    Why do parents cling to punishment as a fundamental tool when better options are available?

2)    What is an alternative strategy parents can rely on when their judgement tells them that they ought to intervene?

I’ll start with number one, and save the second for another blog soon to follow.

parentingThe plain truth is, punishment is downright satisfying! When things feel out of control, a swift proclamation of authority is a big relief to an overwhelmed parent.

Go to your room! ….. You’re grounded! ….. Hand that phone over, it’s mine now!

Feel better? Well, maybe for a little while anyway. At least you feel like a responsible parent who’s doing her job.

But are these punishments effective? — Well if your stick is big enough, its not very difficult to restore order to the kingdom. But the side effects are very costly:

  • Threats and sanctions create distance in the relationship with your child, ultimately undermining your real influence.
  • The compliance you gain may be an illusion, as your child learns to be a better sneak or liar.
  • Children develop tolerance to the power play, and you’ll need a bigger and bigger stick to get the same result in the future. You won’t like the angry parent you’re becoming.

Let’s face it, this kind of control parenting is not very good for your health and happiness.

But I haven’t even mentioned the biggest problem. With a punishing approach, the only upside is order and conformity and that’s a very low bar to aim for. Don’t you want your kids to become creative social problem solvers — to effectively manage the very real dilemmas in their lives?

Do I finish the math sheets, or play XBox with my friends?

Should I take money from my dad’s wallet? My allowance is just so tiny…

Do I tell my parents that there’s likely to be drinking at the party, and risk being told I can’t go?

Control parenting does nothing to teach our kids to creatively and effectively handle these situations. All it does is teach them to look for the power, and maneuver around it. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of ability I’m hoping my kids will develop.

None of us are perfect, but we don’t have to be. An occasional angry scolding or arbitrary sanction will not damage your child’s character. But if that’s all you’ve got — if that’s your go-to strategy when things get messy, then you’re settling for a lot less than what you could be providing as a parent.

In the next entry, I’ll describe a better alternative.

2 thoughts on “Spare the Rod; Will it spoil the child? (Part 1)

  1. Do you want your child to behave only to avoid pain, punishment or because they are looking for a reward, approval? Or do you want them to behave based on the person they want to be?

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