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How to Punish Without Punishing Yourself

It was late in the afternoon on July 4. We had planned to go to the evening fireworks display. Our children were arguing more than usual. I threatened them, hoping they would stop: "If you don't quit arguing, we are not going to the fireworks." What a foolish thing to say. If they did not go, we did not go; there was no way we would have found a baby-sitter at 5:00 p.m. on the Fourth of July, as every teenager in town was going to the fireworks. The children did not stop, and we did not go. We were punished along with our children.

A better punishment would have been to separate them when they started arguing, and make them play alone. I did not think. I got angry and made a foolish threat that ended up costing me more than my children. Think carefully before talking. Anger can get you in trouble. Think about how the punishment will affect you and the rest of the family. Will this punishment disrupt me? If you have a child who likes to control you or others in the family, choose his punishments carefully. Be sure that the punishment only affects your child who misbehaved and not anyone else. Do not say, "We are not going until you clean your room." If you are going somewhere he wants to go, this threat may work. If he does not want to go, you have just given your child a lot of power. No one can go until the room is clean. You are giving this child control over the entire family. Who is being punished?

What do you do with your child who is not permitted to go somewhere with the rest of the family? Get a baby-sitter and then go and have a good time. You may want to have your child pay for some or all of the cost of the baby-sitter. Your child will learn that his misbehavior will not prevent the family from having fun. Select punishments that impact your child, not you. Your other children will learn something, too. Misbehavior only affects the one who misbehaves.

Parents often wonder how to take TV privileges from one child. If they have to shut off the TV, the other children will be punished. That's true. Do not shut the TV off because one child is restricted. That punishes everyone. Watch TV as usual. The child who is being punished has to go in another room. That's the true punishment. If no one can watch TV because he cannot watch TV, you are giving your child control over the entire family. Who is being punished?

Use Punishments That Are Easy to Enforce
Choose punishments that you can enforce easily. This will enable you to follow through. If a punishment is inconvenient or laborious, you will be less consistent. A father told me that he would lock up the video game for three hours whenever his son would disobey:

"How often do you lock up the game?"
"Once or twice a week."
"Does your son obey all the other days?"
"If he did, would I be talking with you?"
"Why don't you lock up the game every time he disobeys?"
"If I locked that game up every time he did not do what he was supposed to do, I would be locking that thing up ten times a day."
"Why don't you do that?"
"It would take me forever with all those cables and plugs."

Dad is using a punishment that is inconvenient, so he does not follow through consistently. His son is not learning to obey; he is learning that he can disobey as often as he likes and only lose his game once or twice a week. Dad has probably identified an effective punishment-taking away the video game-but he needs to be more consistent. He needs to lock up the game every time. If the video game cables make this punishment cumbersome, then Dad needs a more effective way of administering the punishment.

Explain the Punishment
Tell your child the purpose of the punishment. When you explain punishment, you increase your child's understanding and cooperation. Explain that you are on his side. You are not the enemy. You are trying to help him make better decisions in the future:

"I am not trying to hurt you or make you angry. You are being punished because you made a poor choice about your behavior. I want you to learn from this so you will think differently next time. I do not want you to think I am out to get you. I am not. I am out to help you."

Explain that you are not trying to get even. Ignore irritating comments such as, "You expect me to believe you are doing this for me. Sure you are." Only explain it once. Do not become caught in lengthy explanations and arguments.

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From How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!. Copyright Sal Severe, 2000. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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