We look at mindfulness, emotional intelligence, communication and thinking skills but also behaviours that are difficult to manage.
Some of what I present to parents may challenge them and make them see their own behaviour and its impact on their children in a new way.
Yesterday we discussed the difference between punishment and consequences and I personally find it easiest to differentiate between the two when I think in terms of person and behaviour. Consequences respond to the behaviour whereas punishment focuses on the person and implies that there is something wrong with the person and that the person therefore deserves punishment, i.e. “you are bad and that gives me the right to punish you.” Consequences say: “You broke this vase that doesn’t belong to you, therefore you need to replace it/make amends.” Consequences teach responsibility for our own behaviour and an understanding of cause and effect. For every action there is a result. The choices we make have an impact on our environment and the people around us and it is our responsibility to deal with the consequences of the choices we make.
Punishment on the other hand, teaches judgment and violence because there is a person who is apparently ‘right’ and ‘good’ judging another as ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’. In addition, the person doing the judging has the power to dish out whatever they perceive to be an appropriate form of punishment. A punishment is not a natural consequence of the behaviour but an unnatural, artificially chosen response aimed at teaching some kind of lesson. Ironically, it often involves the very kind of behaviour that is being judged as bad such as when violence is punished by counter-violence. As it is not a logical consequence of the behaviour and therefore artificial children often perceive it (rightly so!) as unfair. Using the example of the broken vase, punishment could be anything from banning a child from watching TV, grounding them, or any other random response that will cause them upset while being completely unrelated to the initial behaviour and the natural consequence of that behaviour.
The biggest issue I have with punishments is that there is an underlying assumption involved about people’s intentions and motivations. Punishment assumes a conscious choice and intentionality. In the example of the broken vase for example, punishment assumes that the vase was broken on purpose, that ‘evil’ intent was somehow involved, which then goes back again to assuming that there is something inherently ‘bad’ within that person that needs to be punished. As none of us are able to read minds (at least as far as I know) I advise to be very careful with judgments and punishments because they can quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies. It is much easier for a child to prove you right than to try against all odds to prove you wrong so be careful what you project onto them.
Lastly, punishments leave very little room for learning through mistakes. If every mistake or wrong choice is seen as a sign of bad character and punished as such, there is no room left for experimentation and learning through experience.
When I talk to parents about separating the child from the behaviour I need to stress that we need to do the same with ourselves.
When we engage in study or any form of self-development, it's important to bear this in mind. We are not trying to change ourselves, but our behaviours, and when we become aware of ourselves engaging in unhelpful or even harmful behaviours there is no need to judge ourselves as 'bad people' or ‘bad parents’. Just as when we deal with our children engaging in unwanted behaviours, we need to employ the same strategies when dealing with our own: separate the person from the behaviour. Do not withdraw love from yourself, do not judge yourself but solely focus on the behaviour, its consequences and ways to change it. Don't use it as an opportunity to punish yourself. You don’t deserve punishment any more than your children do.