momtalkingto3yrgirl Why Punishment Doesn't Teach Your Child Accountability

  From Dr. Laura Markham and AHA Parenting!

 "Dr. Laura....How do you hold a child accountable for her behavior without punishment?"

  "I recently read a quote from a Finnish education minister: "There's no word for accountability in Finnish...Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted." - Teacher Tom

What does it mean, to hold our child accountable for her behavior?  My definition would be that our child assumes responsibility for her actions, including making amends and avoiding a repeat, whether the authority figure is present or notSo, really, it isn't about "holding our child accountable."  What we want is for our child to step into responsibility, to hold HERSELF accountable.  Once someone takes responsibility, we don't have to "hold her accountable."

Essentially, we're talking about raising a moral child who wants to do the right thing.  Most people assume that punishment is what helps humans decide to do the right thing, so if we aren't punishing our children, they'll grow up doing the wrong thing.  That's a bleak view of human nature.  And it turns out to be dead wrong.

There's now a wealth of research demonstrating that kids who are punished are LESS likely to make positive moral choices.  That's because:

  • Punishment focuses a child on the "consequences" he is suffering, rather than on the consequences of his behavior to someone else, so it makes him more self-centered.
  • Punishment makes a child feel like he's a bad person, which is always a self-fulfilling prophecy, so he's more likely to repeat the bad behavior.
  • The most salient lesson of punishment is to avoid it in the future by sneaking and lying to escape detection, so punishment fosters dishonesty.
  • Because kids invariably consider punishment unfair, it teaches kids that might makes right and abuse of power is ok -- which makes kids less likely to make moral choices.
  • Punishment--yes, even timeouts--erode our relationship with our child, so that he isn't as invested in pleasing us.  And the more disconnected he feels from us, the worse his behavior.
  • Because punishment doesn't help a child with the emotions that drove her to act out to begin with, those emotions just get stuffed down, only to pop up again later and cause a repeat of the misbehavior.
  • Punishment makes a child feel wronged, and creates a "chip on the shoulder" so she's likely to resent making amends. 
  • Punishment makes kids look out only for themselves and blame others, rather than caring about how their behavior affects others.
  • Punishment creates an external locus of control -- the authority figure. The child actually comes to see the parent as responsible for making her behave, rather than taking responsibility for her behavior as her own choice.

One study showed that seventh graders whose parents raised them using punishment, including consequences and timeouts, were less morally developed than their peers. "Having learned to do exactly what they're told in order to avoid losing their parents' love, they tended to just apply rules in a rigid, one-size-fits-all fashion," says Alfie Kohn. 

Many of the studies referred to above are detailed in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting, and more are being published every day. You'll also find a long list of citations (as well as tips to get kids cooperating without punishment) in my post  10 Ways To Guide Children Without Punishment.

Not surprisingly, these studies also show that children who are punished (including with time outs and consequences) exhibit MORE bad behavior, not less. Not because kids who behave badly are punished more often, but because kids who are punished behave badly more often.

So if punishment teaches our child all the wrong lessons, what DOES raise a child who wants to do the right thing?  Loving guidance. Which includes limits, set with empathy.  Connection.  Modeling.  And a whole lot of love. We'll get into the details in the next post, with:  How to Raise a Moral, Responsible Child -- without Punishment.

May you make miracles today, large and small.

Dr. Laura





Developmental Milestone screeningDevelopmental Milestones Screening

The first five years are critical in a child's life. And this is the most important time to get your child support for a developmental delay or special need.

Children develop skills, or "milestones," at their own pace. How is your child doing? You only need 10-20 minutes to check with the Ages & Stages Questionnaires®, Third Edition. Your ASQ-3™ results will help you see if your child's developmental progress is on time and alert you to concerns that you can talk over with your health care provider.

Please note: ASQ-3™ is designed for screening, not diagnosis. It is a quick check for children from birth through age five. If your child is age six or older, please discuss his or her development with your child's health care provider, your local school district, or your child's teacher. Results from the questionnaire will be emailed to you within two weeks.


 Thanks to Easter Seals - Make the First Five Count




Discipline for Softies: Strategies for Pushover Parents

Our no-yelling, lecture-free, zero-threat guide to getting good behavior -- without being a tough guy.
By Nicole Caccavo Kear.  Excerpted from

My 4-year-old was kicking and screaming on the supermarket floor. She wanted cookies; I told her she could have them after dinner. It wasn't what she wanted to hear. "You need to get off the floor," I whispered fiercely. "It's filthy!" When that didn't work, I tried coaxing: "Be a good girl, honey. I'll help you." Next, I gave bribery a shot: "If you get up, I'll let you watch Scooby-Doo! later." Finally, I tried threats: "If you don't get up now, you won't watch TV or have cookies today. I'm going to count to three and you'd better get up. One ... Two ..." My daughter shrieked. I stalled, knowing that as soon as I reached "three," I'd have an even more embarrassing tantrum on my hands. I gave in again.

If you're a softie like me, you've probably discovered that implementing old-fashioned discipline techniques is not your forte. "Softies are sensitive to feelings, especially to the strong ones traditional discipline evokes in kids," says Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress. "In order to avoid them, they tend to cave on rules and consequences." Unfortunately, this means that softies' children quickly learn that acting out can get them what they want. But that's not the only problem that can develop when parents are too permissive in an attempt to keep the peace, says Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., author of the Positive Discipline series. "It robs kids of the opportunity to develop resiliency and the self-confidence to handle problems and disappointment," she explains. In other words, discipline is a must, even for pushovers. We went to the experts for the most effective strategies.

Play Deaf

Want to make sure you don't hear "poopyhead" a dozen more times today? Pretend you didn't hear it the first time, Arnall suggests. Kids crave attention, so making a big deal out of minor misbehavior will only reinforce that it's an effective way to get your attention. Playing deaf has been an effective strategy for Tara Bizily, of Edina, Minnesota: "When my 16-month-old doesn't get what she wants, she screams and flails on the floor. I've learned to just walk away," she says. "When she sees that the crying isn't affecting me, she stops."

Childproof Your Day

If you flounder when your kid has a meltdown, put the odds for good behavior in your favor by thinking ahead about his needs and keeping environments child-friendly. That's what Pamela Mattsson, of Louisville, Kentucky, does when she's stuck taking her kids with her to the grocery store -- ground zero for tantrums and acting out. "It helps to think of jobs to keep my 8-year-old busy, like finding items and checking them off the list," she says. Spending a few moments dreaming up some distractions (a fun story to share or word games) can make a tedious errand more bearable for an antsy kid -- and prevent you from having to play disciplinarian.

Grant the Power to Pick

"When my kids were 9 and 6, they used to ignore me when I'd tell them it was time for bed," says Linda Keely, of Takoma Park, Maryland. "Then I started giving them a choice: 'Would you like to go on your own or be escorted?' If they chose 'be escorted,' I'd take their arm as if we were going to a ball, use my best English accent, and lead them to the bathroom. Having options made them more cooperative."

Offering control over small decisions (leggings or tights? two books or three?) will help even a younger child feel that her desires are being taken into account, Arnall notes -- so she won't think she needs to whine or throw a fit to be heard. Just make sure you're offering options you can live with, Dr. Nelsen says (don't offer, "Put your dirty clothes in the hamper or wear dirty clothes" if you won't actually send your kid to school with stains on her shirt). Another upside: It helps kids learn to make good choices. If your 4-year-old decides to skip gloves in the dead of winter she'll probably make a different decision next time, and you won't have to be the bad guy.

Be a Master Distractor

Your toddler doesn't want to get in the stroller? Sing "Twinkle, Twinkle." Your preschooler and his pal are squabbling over a toy? Break out some Play-Doh. It may seem elementary, but for young kids, especially under age 4, taking their focus off the heated subject at hand works wonders -- better than scolding and punishments, Arnall notes. Even for older kids, humor or a change of pace can go a long way toward deflecting tension. "When my 8-year-old is ranting, I sometimes walk out the door and enter again as if I'm just coming home,'" says Tara Hobson, of Langhorne, Pennsylvania. "I'll say, 'Hi, Madeline, how was your day today?' She's usually so surprised, she starts laughing and it averts a crisis."


I NEED A HUG (By Dr. Jane Jelsen)

I was watching some videos by Bob Bradbury the other day. They are very informative and inspiring. Bob tells a story about a father who tried the "I need a hug" suggestion. His small son was having a temper tantrum. The father got down on one knee and shouted, "I need a hug." His son asked through his sobs, "What?" The father shouted again, "I need a hug." His son asked incredulously, "Now?!?" The father said, "Yes, now." The son said, "Okay," and begrudgingly and stiffly gave his father a hug. Soon the stiffness disappeared and they melted into each others arms. After a few moments the father said, "Thanks, I needed that." His son said, with a small tremor on his lips, "So did I."

Sometimes hugs don't work because the child is too upset to give or receive a hug. Adults can still try. If the child is unwilling, the adult can say, "We need some cooling off time, and I sure would like a hug whenever you are ready." Some people ask, "After the hug, then what? What about the misbehavior?" Hugs can create an atmosphere where children are willing and able to learn. This may be the time to take time for training, ask what, why and how questions, give a limited choice, use distraction, engage in joint problem-solving -- or to do nothing and see what happens next. Most of the time adults can help children stop misbehaving when they stop dealing with the "misbehavior" and deal with the underlying cause. Children DO better when they FEEL better. Encouragement is the key.

An excellent way to encourage children is to help them feel useful by making a contribution. What a wonderful way to let them contribute -- by making you feel better when they give you a hug. Of course the fringe benefit is that they also feel better. Remember, a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. Perhaps encouragement is enough to change the behavior. Too many people think children must pay for what they have done in the form of blame, shame, or pain (other words for punishment). Try a hug instead.


No Cry Solutions from Elizabeth Pantly

New School Year Can Mean Separation Anxiety. Whether you're leaving your child for school, the gym or a birthday party, Elizabeth Pantly recommends you avoid mentioning the negative and, instead, focus on the positive. Don't say, "you don't need to worry...they can call me if anything happens." This translates in your child's mind to "there must be things to worry about...and what kinds of things could happen?"  Instead, say "I know you're going to have fun with your new friends today." Or I heard you're making hand puppets - that will be exciting - I can't wait to see your puppet!"

Learn more about this SKILL, and others such as NO CRY Discipline, Bedtime, Potty Training and more by visiting Pantly's website.

Also visit the links on the right side of this page for more expert tips on parenting.

Send us a note on the CONTACT US page and let us know if you found something helpful - or if there's a topic you'd like to find more information on.  We look forward to hearing from you. You can also call us at 757-CHILDREN (244-5373).

Have a great start of the new season!


Boost Your Parenting Skills....Try these tips....

At a recent Child Fair, the sign on our display table read "Positive Discipline A-Z."  Parents flocked over. " I need this!" they decreed. 

Dr. Jane Nelson, who wrote the book by that title, is a long-trusted expert on parenting tools.  Without being a push-over, Dr. Nelson advises parents against negative reinforcement, AKA punishment. "Children do better when they feel better," she explains.  Afterall, who feels better after they've been punished?  After the moping and crying, children are at a lower level emotionally than when the punishment was doled out.  Harsh words, criticisms, raised voices, even time out, are experienced as punishment.

Nelson reminds us of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - that all of us, especially children, strive to "belong."  It is the most basic human need.  Children need reassurance that they belong to their parents and family...and that they are not at risk of being cut off from our love, protection or physical closeness. 

Regardless of a child's age, Dr. Nelson explains that most of children's undesired behaviors result from their feeling "disconnected."  This can mean, disconnected from a parent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher, etc.  "Connect before you correct," Nelson advises.  Reassure your children that, just because you're not pleased with their actions, you will always love and care about them. 

Stop Negotiating With Your Teen by Dr. Janet Sasson Edgete, is another great read. She helps parents balance "limit setting and flexibility...compassion and accountability." When setting limits, ask your teen for potential solutions to the problem at hand.  Children who are heard, even though you don't enact their solution, are more likely to accept your consequences as being fair.  Elizabeth Pantley's The No Cry Discipline Solution also comes highly recommended, especially for parenting younger children.

There are perhaps thousands of other trusted parenting tools I could recommend.  But the point is, there is so much each of us can learn about the children in our lives, and how to better foster their physical, emotional and social development.  And thousands of these resources are at our finger-tips.

This website at is a free referral service where parents can turn to find local resources, including parenting classes.   Many, but not all of the classes are free.  There are also links to Dr. Nelson's tips and hundreds of other online resources.  Search the Community Calendar for parenting classes, family fun events and more.  The database hosts information on over 1,000 organizations serving children and families in our region.  Can't find what you're looking for, call KidsPriorityOne at (757)-CHILDREN (244-5373) or 1-800-CHILDREN.  We look forward to helping!

Brenda Garrett, M.Ed., KidsPriorityOne Director
This article is published in the April 2010 edition of The Oyster Pointer, Editor, Sylvia Weinstein



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