As a therapist, I have never punished my children. Here's what I do instead.
No, the kids aren't running amuck and in charge of my home.
Childrearing is always a touchy topic, and with the rise of newer parenting techniques like gentle parenting and free-range parenting, people get passionate about their techniques. To be fair, parenting is a very personal journey and every parent out there will parent differently than the next. In fact, even within the same household, each child is parented differently when they have the same exact parents.
This is because as parents we are constantly learning what works and what doesn't. We're also learning that each child has a different personality and needs a different approach. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, but there are some evidence-based practices that have been proven to work well as a guide for your personal style.
When I first started having children a little over 20 years ago, my family had a lot of opinions about my parenting style because there was no "punishment" for unwanted behaviors. It seemed like a foreign concept back then, and it still feels foreign now to some people. But the truth is, my children have never experienced punishment at my hand.
When my children were younger, I had grown accustomed to defending the way I parented them, and while it was a source of frustration, it didn't change the way I approached the task. I had an advantage that not every parent has when raising children–I was in college for my bachelor's degree in child development and family relations when I was raising my first child, and I graduated when my second was six months old. I essentially had an inside scoop on how kids' brains worked and the best approach to interact with them.
This is the reason I steered away from punishment and focused instead on natural and logical consequences. I view punishment as something unrelated to the behavior. Sometimes the punishment can be a child being grounded because they failed a test, or time-out for swearing. Obviously, there are more severe punishments as well, like corporal punishment or the newer trend of public humiliation via social media. (For instance, recently a mom posted a video to TikTok showing her running over her young child's television because he was misbehaving in school.)
My children have never been punished and here's whyPhoto by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
Natural consequences always happen on their own without much parental intervention, while logical consequences are typically enforced by the parent. Natural consequences are usually predictable, and as long as your kid is in no immediate danger, then it's usually safe to let them play out.
Here's an example: When my daughter was 4 or 5 years old, she was playing outside with some friends and had taken her shoes off in front of our backyard swing set and left them there. This was a Saturday and she had P.E. on Tuesday. I gave her multiple reminders to pick up her shoes along with the warning that her shoes would be gross if she left them outside.
She continued to live her best life going to dance, school and having playdates all while she ignored my advice to pick up her shoes. When P.E. day rolled around, she happily ran outside to grab her tennis shoes and promptly screamed and ran back into the house. Her shoes were filled with slugs and spider webs, so she was unable to wear them to school and had to go in jelly shoes. This was a natural consequence for the action and not a punishment.
But what is a logical consequence? I've got an example of that too, and yes, these are all real things that have taken place, though this one isn't nearly as dramatic. My youngest is supposed to be in bed by 8 PM and lights out by 8:30 every evening, but he likes to get really silly before bedtime and wants to find ways to play more before going to bed. We inform him that all of the extra play is taking away from his television time in his room because no matter what, the television goes off at 8:30. If he wastes his "TV time," it's upsetting, but it's not a punishment.
I have found that allowing for natural and logical consequences has given my children the ability to think critically for themselves in difficult situations. One of my four kids is now an adult and two of them are teens, and they information seek through me or Google when making certain decisions for themselves. I've never shielded them from safe natural and logical consequences even when they were painful to watch, like failing a grade or gossiping behind a good friend's back.
Have I made mistakes as a parent? Absolutely. I'm not perfect and neither are my children, but from an early age, they saw me as someone to help guide them as they made their own choices. This aided them in achieving confidence in their decision-making abilities.
Every parenting style isn't for every parent or every child. This is what has worked for me, but people should do what works best for their families to raise well-rounded and kind future adults.