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Why Punishment-Based Parenting is (Often) Lazy Parenting

admin July 13, 2012

Oh, harsh…did I really just say that?

Yes, I did.

Now, before those of you who punish your children for misbehavior — I’d venture to guess over 90% of you — get upset with me, hear me out: I do not think that parents who punish are bad parents.  I do not think they intend to be lazy.  I do not think they always are lazy, in any way.  And I do not think there is just one right way to parent.

Plus, sometimes I punish my kids too…and I know it’s because I was too lazy to do it the right way.  Curious?

We Are All Lazy Sometimes

Ever have a day when your kids are nutso, off-the-wall crazy (like you seriously wish you had a padded, sound-proof room to stick them in?) and you just want them to stop, like right now?  I bet we all have.  And on those days…have you ever screamed at them, sent them to time out, or spanked them?  Because you were losing your mind and didn’t know what else to do?

That’s lazy parenting.

We all do it.  Because we are human and we have bad days and we say and do things we should not.  It’s okay, in the sense that we should forgive ourselves for doing the wrong thing and acting out towards our kids because of our own bad moods.  But that doesn’t mean we won’t call it what it is: it’s lazy.  And it’s not good.

It’s my own lazy behavior, and my own desire to remain lazy (because, you know, it’s easier) that prompted me to write this.

What is Lazy Parenting?

When I say “lazy parenting,” I mean that the kid has done something wrong — disobeyed something you asked him to do, mistreated a friend, etc.  And your response is a half-hearted “Go sit in time out!” and you set the timer.  Or, you spank him in anger because you are at the end of your rope. There’s no discipline here.  There is just punishment from a disconnected, frustrated parent.  The child does not learn anything.

I do believe it is possible to use punishment, even spanking, in a non-lazy way.  If you calmly warn your child about inappropriate behavior, you get down on his level and make eye contact and really engage him, you administer the discipline in a loving and connected way, and your attention stays on him until the situation is complete — that’s not lazy.  It isn’t really about the style of discipline used, or if discipline is used at all.  It’s about whether or not you are truly connected or engaged with your child during correction.

But the thing is, a lot of parents who rely on a punishment model tend to get distracted.  They’re dealing with other children, trying to cook dinner, or even talk to a friend.  Their attention is divided.  It seems perfectly okay to stop for the few seconds it takes to march a child over to the time-out spot, look him in the eye briefly and say “We don’t hit!  Now sit here for two minutes and think about how you should treat a friend,” then walk away and continue whatever your previous activity was.

It is not possible to have a positive-discipline situation that happens this way.  Since there is no punishment, then there is no correction whatsoever without engaging interaction.  And if there is no correction at all, that is not parenting.

Those of you who are new to the idea of positive discipline, are you listening?  No correction at all is not parenting.  It is certainly not positive parenting.  Children with positive parents are given guidelines and are corrected for inappropriate behavior.  They are just not “punished” in any traditional sense.

Listen to your kids

Bindaas Madhavi via Compfight

Why Laziness Doesn’t Solve Anything

I told you I’m writing this because of my own laziness.  Sometimes I’m so exhausted by a child’s behavior that I just want it to stop, already.  Especially if I feel like I’ve addressed it calmly and gotten down on their level already.  Out of sheer frustration I march a child over to time out and say, “If you can’t stop hitting people, then you can sit over here by yourself for awhile.”  Gets the child (temporarily) out of my way, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem.

That’s right, there’s a problem.  And it isn’t, for example, that my child keeps hitting someone.

The problem is that small children often don’t know how to get their needs across to us.  They don’t know how to say “I’m too excited!” or “I’m too tired!” or whatever.  They act out because they have a need that has not been met.

Notice that children who are older — say, 5, 8, 12 — do not hit people, generally.  Whether they were punished for it or not, they no longer do it because they have words to explain their feelings.  I’m really not sure what the point of punishing a child for hitting is, anyway.  Does it make a 2-year-old stop doing it?  Or do they continue to do it when upset until they have outgrown the phase, 2 or 3 or 4 years later?  In my experience, the latter is true.

So if the goal of punishment is to stop the behavior, but in the long run punishment isn’t stopping the behavior…why punish?

What To Do Instead

When a child is acting out, we need to figure out why, instead of just saying, “Don’t hit.”  Instead, try, “Hitting people makes them sad.  Are you feeling sad right now?  How can I help?”  This usually results in my son (3) crying and saying, “I’m sad!  I need a hug!” and sometimes explaining what’s wrong.  Hitting is a way for a small child to say “I need some help but I don’t know how to tell you.”

Although punishment isn’t the answer, that isn’t to say the child shouldn’t be corrected.  They will learn faster to stop hitting if you provide them with a better way to express their needs. “Hold on a minute.  Hitting hurts people and makes them sad.  Tell me what you need.  Are you hungry?  Tired?  Did the other kid take your toy?” and then walk them through the interaction as needed.  “Oh, if someone takes your toy, you say, ‘That makes me sad.  Can I have it back?’  If you need help, come ask Mommy.”

We have to walk them through it as many times as it takes until they are developmentally ready to get it.  We will have to walk them through it as often as we would have punished them for it.  The difference is, they’ll handle it better and feel more connected to us if we don’t punish.

This requires getting down on their level and being ready to respond to any inappropriate behavior.  It also means being ready to end a play date, have an early lunch or nap, switch activities, or otherwise meet your child’s needs even if it is not what you would prefer to do.  If your child is tired but you want to keep talking to your friend, don’t be surprised if he melts down, and don’t punish him for it.  2- and 3-year-olds do not have tantrums to annoy you.

When children are listened to and supported and not punished through ages 1 – 3 or 4, they become much more reasonable and capable.  They being to stop acting out with tantrums and hitting and biting because they can speak well.  They develop some self-control and the ability to wait (a short amount).  These behaviors cease when they are developmentally ready…and punishing them doesn’t make this happen any faster.  Punishing them just makes the parent feel like they are “doing something” about the child’s inappropriate reactions.

(Of course “inappropriate” is what society has deemed “inappropriate” for people/adults…not what is actually developmentally inappropriate for this small child!)

My oldest (who, admittedly, was not parented positively during the majority of her 1 – 3 year old years) can now talk to me at length and rarely ever cries or throws fits.  She still whines some…which is probably because I don’t listen as well as I should.  She’s very confident and generally mature, though.  She just spent her first time away from me — 4 days!  And it was her own choice, too.  She’d never been away from me longer than 12 hours previously but decided she was ready to stay with her grandparents.  We talked to her nightly and she’d tell us what she had done that day and that she was not ready to come back!

Positive parenting works.

Why Punishment-Based Parenting is (Often) Lazy Parenting

What if It Doesn’t Work?

There are times that positive parenting doesn’t work.  If, for example, it is just not your style, or you fall into the trap of not correcting your child at all.  Believe me — it’s worse, ultimately, not to correct or teach your child at all than it is to punish him (especially if you’re not doing it in anger).

The most important thing is that you are engaged with your child, knowing his needs, meeting his needs, loving him, and teaching him.  Exactly how you accomplish that will be a bit different from home to home.

So why write this?  And why the provocative title?

A lot of parents have a lot of misconceptions about positive parenting.  It’s equated with “permissive parenting,” or as I like to call it, “not parenting.”  Many people think that positive parents just let their kids do whatever they want and totally run wild.  It can even look like that sometimes when a child is throwing a fit and a parent is sympathetically offering a hug instead of punishing the child.  I wrote it to clear up those misconceptions and explain why positive parenting is a good and valid method.

I also wrote it because I know that when *I* am not trying really hard to be involved and positive that *I* am being a lazy parent.  I assumed I wasn’t alone.  I know that sometimes I just want the kids to be calm and nice and not fight anymore and do what I tell them, already.  I know sometimes I yell at them or stick them in time out because I am just so over the disobedience and creativity that small children are so good at.  I really have to shake my head and think How do they come up with this stuff?!  And how do they do it so quickly and make such a mess?!  But that’s what small children do.  I needed to remind myself that when I am frustrated and I just want them to “behave” that I am being lazy.

(Again…not that children shouldn’t be corrected.  But parents need to understand that learning to “behave” is a process that takes years, lots of love and grace, etc.  Correcting a small child today and expecting him to remember tomorrow or next week is just not going to happen.)

Understand?  I’m writing this to myself, and to other parents who say “I’m in your shoes.  I want to do a better job.  I want to understand how to help my children grow into wonderful young men and women.  I want to get past my own selfishness and laziness.”

In case you’re wondering “How in the world is this Biblical?  The Bible clearly says we are to spank,” I don’t believe that.  The “rod” is figurative and many of the passages regarding the rod are written about teens…not small children.  There are absolutely no passages that advocate striking a small child for normal, developmental behavior.  This article explains it all nicely.  The core thing we are to impress upon our children is their need for the Lord and to help them love Him and follow Him, and to love all other people too.  We do not need to physically (or otherwise) punish them to help them achieve these goals.

What do you think about positive discipline?  Does it work in your home?

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15 Comments

  1. Nicely written article. My kids are older, and I find it especially hard to discipline my 24 year old, she just doesn’t listen. She’s just too big for the “naughty” chair. LOL!! Seriously, though, it seems pretty commonplace to see moms judging other moms these days. Parenting is not a contest to be won. There is no trophy or blue ribbon when they’re grown. (At least I didn’t get one..) We just have to do what works for us as parents.

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  2. Have you read Parenting with Grace by the Popcaks? I’m reading it now and it seems right up your alley. I have a 15 month old that I’m having to work hard to remember that all his hitting, biting, pinching, yelling, throwing, banging, mess-making, etc. is really not misbehavior at all because he’s really too young to commit such. But that it is my job to be tuned in to his needs, and teach him how to express himself so that he can use his body and his abilities for good, in service to others, and to do it all out of love.

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  3. Thank you so much for this post! It came through my Google Reader at just the time that I needed it — we’ve been struggling with our 20-month old hitting us and we’ve been so frustrated and he won’t stop and we’re at our wits’ end and we’re going crazy! OK, maybe that’s a tad dramatic, but it’s been hard.

    We’ve tried putting him down as soon as he hits and saying “Don’t hit.” or “Gentle”, but that hasn’t been working. I think what he likes about hitting is that there is an immediate reaction to his action. That is, if I do X, then Y happens, and that works with all people. Cool! (in his mind, at least).

    I try to remember your words that I need to walk him through the correct behavior as many times as necessary. I am definitely getting down on his level more often to talk to him and it IS making a difference.

    You have given us a direction and steps to take and I am so grateful for that. Thank you!

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  4. I like this post. But I think the word lazy isn’t accurate. Laziness and exhaustion are 2 different things. I think most of us who choose to put the child on the naughty step to finish nursing the baby, make dinner, etc.. are just exhausted, not lazy. But, you are right, punishment and discipline are also 2 different things! I am going to try this more with my 5 year old who uses hurtful words more than hitting now. Thanks.

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  5. A great and timely reminder… I agree, positive parenting is NOT permissive parenting, though many people confuse them. I think sometimes we do want things to happen more quickly, our children to mature faster, annoying or immature behaviors to stop NOW. I do not “punish” per say but I do struggle with yelling, which is stemming from my frustration and desire to see something end IMMEDIATELY. When I do that, it always makes things worse… thankfully because of my strong relationship with my children, I can apologize to them and we often end up having good conversations after the anger flare, but I am aware that they are more likely to happen when I’m getting fed up and focused on behavior more than teaching and parenting (is there something going on to cause the bad behavior etc…) Problem is that my girls & I tend to all get cranky and “misbehave” at the same time! (I do consider my own outbursts of anger at immature behavior to be misbehavior and lack of control, and also maybe I just need a break, a moment to regroup, etc.)

    Rambling! sorry…

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  6. Oh good grief. So let me get this straight… your child does something REALLY bad. He’s 3, so he should be just past the biting stage, or wrapping it up, at least. You’re telling me that when that child bites, you let him burst into tears and get off the hook because he’s frustrated and he tells you so? Good job. That ensures he’ll do it again. He’s getting the attention he wants from you as the result of bad behavior. Bad behavior is to be isolated and given the extinction treatment. Now… this means paying attention to your child when they do right, which I’ve seen many parents not do, also, but I’d much rather encourage the good than the bad. What you’re suggesting is just silly, and you’re letting your children walk all over you.

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    • No, Heather. You aren’t in my home and you don’t know what my kids are like most of the time. They do NOT walk all over me, and I really resent your suggesting that. We all have different parenting styles and you need to get used to the idea that that’s okay. Don’t want to parent your children according to “positive discipline?” Fine, don’t. But if you leave any further comments insulting me or any of my readers because we differ, they will be immediately deleted and you will be banned. There are ways to get your point across without rudeness and, just like I do with my kids — I will IGNORE you and remove you from participation if you cannot understand that.

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      • Just a question, why are you so defensive about her comment? I actually do follow this parenting technique, I’m a very very peaceful parent. But reading this article,while helpful,it was also hurtful to hear other moms not following your technique being called lazy. Her response is appropriate for someone who was just called lazy. She should feel insulted. I would too. You yourself said we all have different parenting techniques and everyone needs to realize that’s ok, but from your article, you Blatently insulted people who use different techniques than you. And then threatened to ban someone for disagreeing. So,have you realized that is ok for others to have a different approach? Like I said,I follow this technique almost to the T, and one thing your lacking is practicing what you preach.

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        • I’m not sure you read the article. I didn’t call parents lazy. I said certain approaches can be lazy…and yes, I’m guilty of it sometimes, too. It’s okay to admit it, and look for better ways. No need to get angry and name call.

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  7. First of all, do I have a different definition of punishing from you? I consider punishing to be a consequence for bad behavior–things like time out, having to do an extra chore, losing computer time, etc. These punishments should be administered without emotion, not while you’re yelling and screaming. And in my experience/from my observations, administering effective punishments takes a lot of effort. I don’t consider yelling to be a punishment, nor do I consider “Fine, I’m just sick of this! We’re not going to go to the park because you did blah-blah-blah” to be a punishment. Those are expressions of frustration by a worn-down parent. This is my first time to your blog, so I’m not very familiar with the temperaments of your children, but I can assure you that if you were my son’s mother you would need to utilize purposeful punishments at times in order to correct him. The key word there is purposeful–like you said, a half-hearted time out is not going to work very well because you’re disconnected from the child.

    “I’m really not sure what the point of punishing a child for hitting is, anyway. Does it make a 2-year-old stop doing it?” In my experience with my 3-year-old, yes. If I am consistent with giving punishments when he does certain unacceptable behaviors, those behaviors happen less often. Purposeful punishments help him understand what the boundaries are. I am trying to learn not to be too harsh when I discipline him and to recognize which things to let go. But he’s my only data point, since my daughter is really small still. Oh, and I completely agree with you that we need to be aware of underlying causes behind things like hitting. I have learned that if there are too many children, if my son is tired, if the chemistry with the other kids is wrong, etc., then he is more likely to start hitting. In those cases we go home early and no punishment is given.

    Lastly, I feel that I need to point out that children will not think like an adult, even if you talk them through it. Most kids will not get much out of it if you try to reason with them and talk them through a situation that they’re not ready to understand. I know this works great with some people’s kids, but for most of the rest of us it’s futile to sit down with our small child who can barely speak in complete sentences and try to convince them to say things that are beyond their comprehension or speaking abilities. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to say things to my son that are completely over his head just to appease the moms who seem to expect that–even though my son is not learning anything from it.

    Please know that I am making this comment respectfully and that I am not trying to be argumentative. I have a very challenging little boy and it hurts my feelings when my friends with mild children can’t understand why I can’t get him to behave better using their methods, so for the sake of other moms like me I felt that it was important for me to speak up.

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    • This sounds like a simple case of you having incorrect expectations for your child. In the long run, you are setting yourself both up to fail. Thee are a lot of good books out there on peaceful parenting and normal child development. I suggest you hit up amazon or the library.

      Your defensive attitude is typical of someone trying to convince themselves that their mistakes are not mistakes. It is understandable, but not it does not excuse you from trying to learn more and do better.

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  8. I really appreciate this post as a young wife with no kids yet. My parent are divorced and I had to deal with two different styles of correction. I lived with my mother so she knew exactly how to handle me which was explaining things carefully in age-appropriate ways and then taking away some sort of privilege or what have you. My dad, while well-meaning, would usually scare the daylights out of me (he’s a larger imposing man who is built like a bear) with either yelling or spanking in anger which left me confused for many years as to what he deemed appropriate behavior. This effect was compounded when he remarried and his new wife had an even shorter fuse than he did.

    Because of these experiences, my husband and I plan on disciplining in positive ways that are appropriate for each child, using spanking as a true last resort. This would include a child inflicting harm on someone (family, pets,friends) or doing something dangerous to them or others. But I must admit that I would sometimes have reservations about it, even when I barely remember what discipline my mother did. All I knew is that it worked well for me and I didn’t have the confusion and trauma that my dad’s punishment-based ways. I find it very encouraging to hear that this works well. Only God knows what our future children’s needs will be when it comes to correction but I’m glad that I’m not alone in believing positive correction works.

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  9. Great read for me! I’ve just written a post on this (as I feel I’ve slipped into lazy parenting) and have included this link as a great reference. 🙂

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  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been praying for wisdom and help with parenting recently. This article was really encouraging to me. I have had a rough month of pregnancy with constant (moderately painful and unproductive contractions about every 10 minutes). My patience is thin and I have been yelling and “lazy.” In order NOT to excuse my yelling behavior because of how poorly I am feeling, I have made a chart with each child’s name (for myself) and make a check everytime I am punishing instead of teaching/disciplining. It has helped to keep me accountable.

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  11. […] Why Punishment-Based Parenting is (Often) Lazy Parenting | Modern Alternative Mama […]

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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