How To Fix My Child’s Behaviour Without Punishment

Is it safe to say we are currently having a global reckoning with the concept of punishment?

I know this is a huge, scary topic, but with these calls to defund the police, I can see where our upbringings are being reflected into our societal expectations and vice versa. 

It is not shocking to me that a large swath of society is terrified of the idea of removing the “enforcers of order.” They think that demilitarizing and defunding police will lead to anarchy. When you are raised with the idea that the only thing keeping you on the straight and narrow path is the threat of violence towards you, shame, or loss of privilege, you’re going to believe that stepping out of line in any way can only be rectified by threat of those things! 

This concept of punishments and rewards is ingrained in us! It’s probably one of the most common lines I hear from parents who are new to Uncommon Sense Parenting:

“BUT THEY NEED TO KNOW IT’S WRONG!” 

And the only way that most of us seem to be able to come up with to “show someone that they’re wrong” is to punish them. But we know that not to be true!

People do well if they can. If they aren’t – there’s a reason!

A much more effective and durable solution is to figure out what is preventing them from doing well and fixing that.

Punishments – whether that’s a time-out or sentencing, someone, to serve jail-time – are just a Band-Aid. 

It starts at home. Changing how we respond to our children, how we solve their problems, and how we solve our own, is something that everyone has the power to do. That shift in thinking is the foundation of making these changes.

The Link Between Our Upbringings and Our Societal Expectations

In North America in particular, the laws of the lands as they stand are based off some seriously questionable interpretations of Judeo-Christian religious texts, which modern interpretations do not uphold. Regardless of your belief system: 

You’ve been religiously brainwashed since you were an infant!

Grab the scripts for crazy-making behaviour and know exactly what to say next time your toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener isn't listening.

This belief that order can only be maintained if we punish those who don’t follow the order and reward those who do, is why it’s so hard to focus on skill building and guidance. It’s a hard mindset shift. This is why so many people are having such a hard time getting on board with this idea and will even conflict themselves – while you may agree that social programs and schooling needs more funding and the second you suggest that funding might be found in demilitarizing the police, there’s a panic. Not that you disagree, it just creates a very visceral, irrational panic in us, because this concept of punishment is so ingrained! It’s not even a conscious thought. If you ask any ParentAbility member, they will tell you, it’s basically impossible to reason someone out of an irrational, visceral reaction.

If you believe that dismantling the policing structure we currently have and rebuilding it to include problem-solving structures is a good idea- you CANNOT in good conscious continue to use time-outs and reward charts and punishments like loss of privileges in your home with your children. Those two things are at odds with each other. 

If you believe that building skills and engaging in proactive problem solving is the best way to prepare your child for adulthood, then you cannot support the current structures of maintaining societal order as they currently stand. 

As we as a global society begin to have this reckoning with the idea of punishment and rewards and it’s failures, we need to be sitting with times where we slip into these old ways of doing things. It’s not going to be easy and clean, at home, or in public. 

It starts with teaching our kids to respond to unkindness with empathy and concern. It starts with teaching our kids to ask for their needs to be met and giving them tools to meet them. 

That is something we all have within our control and our realm of influence. It starts with us. As I said – it’s almost impossible to reason someone out of an irrational, visceral reaction that’s so ingrained it’s unconscious. BUT! We can model it, which is much more effective. We can model it for those around us.

Prime Example

I’ll give an example of my own son at the beginning of the last school year. He and his best friend were being bullied, often very physically and viciously. When the teachers came to me with this information they had a laundry list of “actions they were taking.” 

I listened, and I said to the teacher, “Okay, I’m not really okay with any of that. This child sounds stressed and like he’s struggling with social skills, in particular how to insert himself into play. I don’t want you to take away his recess and separate him from his classmates during instruction time. I want to know how you’re supporting his social learning.” And she really didn’t have an answer for me on that. 

So I asked to speak to the principal. The principal called me and I asked the same question – how are you supporting this child who is hurting my son? And again I got a lot of ways they were going to punish him. I reiterated that I really didn’t want him punished; I wanted him supported in his social learning. That’s when the principal said to me, “You know, in all my years working in education, you’re the first parent to ask me that. Most parents want blood.”

“MOST PARENTS WANT BLOOD.” 

We’re talking about kindergarteners here! If parents are out for blood when it involves a five-year-old, I can only imagine how that mindset translates to an adult! 

The result of this situation was that they brought in a student counselor who was trained in supporting children to build social communication skills and within a month, the incidents weren’t happening anymore! If they had gone the punishment route, this child would have ended up severely hurt, because isolating that child wasn’t going to change the fact that he didn’t know how to socially develop appropriately. It doesn’t matter what he was taught, it was a matter of him not knowing how to meet the expectation.

See how this starts with us? 
I can see the parallels between how we raise our kids and how adults seem to expect people to be treated in “the real world” so clearly, and it’s incredibly frustrating to me! 

I often have parents (either 1-on-1 clients or in ParentAbility) who struggle with this. 

“But what happens when they go out into the real world and realize that nobody will help them regulate?!” 

That is such backwards thinking. Change starts from the bottom > up, not top > down. It always has.

So let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear if this makes sense to you!

How do you feel about this? 

Do you agree: the ideas we raise our kids with have an effect on how they view the world and how we view the world?

Come and continue the conversation in the Parenting Posse with me.

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

How to Raise Well-Behaved Kids Without Yelling, Shaming, or Time-Outs

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