Strong article, but written almost ten years ago. Repeats much you have heard, and some Cranky Old Lady quarrels with. The following quote from the article started cranking me up.As B.F. Skinner’s early research demonstrates, reinforcement-not punishment-is necessary for permanent change. Reinforcement can be intrinsic, extrinsic or extraneous. According to Carol Sansone, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Utah, one type of reinforcement must be present for self-change, two would be better than one, and three would be best.
Punishment is not a dirty word. Moreover, you cannot avoid punishing a child if you want the child to survive and then thrive. Thomas Gorden, author of Parent Effectiveness Training and the less well-known Teaching Effectiveness Training, was guru of the idea that power leaders should never punish. He suggested parents and teachers should behave toward children the way therapists treat patients. Let life teach. Listen, Don’t teach, don’t praise, don’t reward and don’t punish. This spawned a number of best-selling parent advice books. Think How To Talk so Kids Will Listen or Siblings Without Rivalry. So it came to pass: Bad parents, bad teachers, bad bosses replaced bad or misbehaving kids.
Siblings Without Rivalry really cranked my goat. Even the Bible knows sibling rivalry is part of human nature. Jerome Kagan, Harvard human development researcher, says shame, one of the most powerful forces inhibiting unacceptable behaviors, develops at precisely the time small children have enough strength to hurt younger troublesome siblings. Lots of shame is left over shame and does need dumping, but not all. Children don’t know the difference between bad thoughts and bad behavior. Some religions also call thoughts sins. Creates too much shame. Behavior counts more than thoughts or feelings when it comes to what is shameful.
Sadly a group of therapists, those using an Object Relations approach, disagreed and continued the parent blaming game. Instead of seeing shame as a positive emotion to keep us from doing the unthinkable, these theorists blamed shame, rage, and depression on parents who abandoned.
The public and particularly the therapy going public preferred the Object Relations approach to Kagan’s. Blaming parents for grown up troubled feelings satisfies more than accepting responsibly for adult feelings and behavior. Part of becoming a grown up means the buck stops with you in terms of your feelings and behavior–unless you are certifiable.
The media knew blaming parents was a solid and productive sales pitch. Think of how all the media sells Mommy Dearest scenarios. If parents are not portrayed as abusive and Mommy Dearest was abusive, the media portrays them as dolts. Even the almost wonderful children movie To Tame Your Dragon portrays adults as bumbling no-nothings who can only be straightened out by a poor misunderstood child.
Seeing punishment as abuse provides a convenient out for those not wanting to accept responsibility for their behavior. Feels good to most of us to not have to carry all the responsiblity for who we have become. However , Cranky Old Lady is a bit tired of chronological adults saying “Mommy made me do it.” Well thought out and applied punishment is an act of love, not abuse.
A brief aside: abuse is physical assault leaving marks; neglect is the on-going failure to provide a child with food, shelter, medical care, and emotional nourishment. So if your parents never praised you, never hugged you, never provided you with at least the bare necessities of life when it was in their means to do so, Cranky Old Lady says you have the right to complain, but then need to move on. .
The idea parents create all adult emotional problems is psycho-babble. iMost who have been raised by less than good parents have moved on with their lives. One study showed that even among children who had been severely physically abused, the vast majority became upright citizens determined to do better by their children. Blaming parents keeps you in the victim role. The older you are, the more you need to own your own behavior and not be controlled by the past. Learn the lessons and move on.
Punishment cannot be avoided. Parents, teachers, all power leaders punish. Not smiling, not praising, not paying attention to a child are felt by the child as punishments. Then because Parents Are People, there are the more hurtful slips of parents who don’t abuse but punish unfairly from time to time. Good enough parents have bad days, bad moments.
Balance is the key. A study of enduring marriage showed that a bad moment had to be undone or compensated for by four good moments.
Where letting life teach works: Just to confuse you a bit. PET does work–but only for teens who have been taught early on how to behave. Talking so your child will listen does not work with toddlers, pre-schoolers, or the pre-teen set. Each age group needs a different approach.
- Toddlers and pre-schoolers do best with a might makes right approach, that is why they are small and we are big, why they wear diapers and we don’t. Moreover, these are the years when the child most wants to please and be like the grownups in their lives. It is the easiest time to teach good manners and how to survive not getting your own way.
- The pre-teen set does best with a kind of “Let’s Make a Deal” approach. Combine rewards for proper behavior and no reward or even a punishment for improper behavior.
- Teens can be set free to let life teach, but only if parents have the basics of acceptable behavior and live in a society supporting parental values.
HOW DOES THIS HELP OTHER POWER LEADERS? As the article points out change is possible but difficult. Here are Cranky Old Lady’s Tips for teachers, coaches, bosses, other power leaders. These work for parents also:
- Have reasonable rules, easily explained–respect others, do the work, share and care are good ones for home, school and work place.
- Have reasonable rewards and reasonable consequences when rules are broken.
- Don’t buy into drama games. Stay cool, state rules, enforce punishments. Be matter of fact.
- For those trying to start a drama game, try minimal response–raised eyebrows, shoulder shrugs, yes or no to reasonable questions and calling for a time out if the other player goes on and on.
- Know what you control and make use of all that is yours.
- Know what you don’t control.
- Remember what matters.
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