Growing Children

Photo by Rev Stan

When we grow plants, we give them what they need to grow and be successful: sunlight, water, supports, fertilizer, and other nutrients. If they are having trouble growing, we look to see what else they may need or what we need to change. We don’t blame them when they fail. Instead we look at what we need to change. Hurting the plant or putting it away and ignoring would be pointless. We look to what we can change to help the plant thrive. Our success as a gardener is dependent upon whether or not the plant is thriving.

Growing children is not so different. Punishing them doesn’t help them to be better. Hitting only hurts them and our relationship. Putting them away in time out doesn’t address the situation or help them to be better. Growing children have needs that must be met: sunlight, water, nutrients, support, and love. When their needs are met, they thrive and we get to watch them develop and unfurl into the wonderful people they are.
If there is a problem, rather than blaming the child and punishing him, we need to look at what needs are not being met and work with him to help him grow.

I’m Not Raising Corporate America

Photo by Justin Lowery

I’ve often heard parents rationalizing punishments and rewards by citing the real world. When the kids grow up, they’ll be in the real world. In the real world, they’ll have to get a job and then, they had better be prepared. Punishments and rewards are everywhere, in the real world.

This misses a key point. I’m not raising Corporate America. I’m raising my children. So, while some day they may find themselves in a corporate position faced with a choice to make, right now they are children living their lives. I don’t run my family by Corporate America’s values – to gain as much money (i.e. reward) as possible, often at the expense of others. And frankly, if my children are ever in such a position, I hope they look beyond the immediate reward and follow what they know in their hearts is the right thing to do – not because of someone else’s beliefs or because of some extrinsic reward – but because they are following what they believe.
In Corporate America, a person can make the choice to walk away and leave. They voluntarily choose to be in that position to earn a wage with whatever consequences go with their choices. Except in rare occassions, children do not have the choice to leave their parents and family of origins in order to find a more suitable position should they deem it necessary. Arbitrary punishments and rewards only exacerbate that parental power. If you want to compare punitive parenting with the work force, a more likely comparison would be with slavery. There is no chance of leaving besides running away with the hope of not being found.
Most of us look for jobs that are rewarding. However, that reward generally isn’t the almighty dollar. The most rewarding jobs are the ones where people are doing what they enjoy intrinsically. A few companies recognize this. Google is a prime example of this, despite its huge size. Employees at Google have a voice in matters. Recognizing that happy workers are more productive workers, Google strives to provide an enjoyable work environment rather than trying to control its employees.
At the end of the day, however, work isn’t all there is to life, and most people would say that their relationships are what really matter to them. Rather than trying to control our children with punishments or rewards, we talk to them – like the people they are. Sure, some of the people in our family are smaller and younger, but these are still relationships. And the last time I checked, we are living in the real world.

Rewards: the Other Edge of the Sword

Photo by Lemsipmatt

Behavioral training uses punishments and rewards in order to extract desired behaviors from the subject in question. Numerous studies support that the use of punishment in children, regardless of whether or not the punishment is physical in nature, has detrimental effects. Besides dissolving the connection between parent and child, punishments do not help the child to do better or improve the behavior. Many parents deem this to mean that they should rely on rewards instead. What they fail to realize, and what research also  supports, is that rewards are merely the other side of a two-edged sword.

It may seem benign to offer a reward in order to get a child to do what we want. It seems simple enough. However, by offering a reward for a specific behavior, you are simultaneously offering a punishment in the form of the withheld reward in the event that the desired behavior is not produced. Regardless of form, they both heavily involve extrinsic motivation – fear of punishment or the hope of a reward – in order to coerce others into behaving in a certain way. Behavioral training does have its place. Used short term, it has helped many people change habits. Used as an extrinsic tool to aid an intrinsic desire, behavioral conditioning has its benefits. However, B.F. Skinner, the founder of behaviorism, along with other noted researchers in the area such as Ivan Pavlov, were adamentaly against the use of behavioral therapy as a parenting technique. Long term, behavioral conditioning erodes a subject’s reliance on intrinsic motivation. Eventually, when the reward or punishment is no longer offered, or no longer is considered substantial by the subject, there is no longer motivation to continue the desired behavior. Reputable behaviorists do not recommend punishments or rewards as the basis for a parenting system.Lack of intrinsic motivation has aided in many monstrosities over time. When people rely on fear or rewards to motivate them, they are less likely to stand up for what they believe in or to have a strong sense of values. They are more easily manipulated and swayed by others. Some parents may view this as a positive side effect, but that opinion generally changes when the parent is no longer the figure the child turns to for extrinsic motivation. Children who are raised without extrinsic motivation are more likely to have deeply held personal beliefs and to act upon those beliefs, regardless of what other people may think.

training daughters…

A coworker was relegating to my husband at work about an incident he had experienced with his teenage daughter the night before. He had been yelling at her for something when she said something he felt was in a disrepectful tone – backtalk, at which point he slapped her across the face hard. I can only imagine what my husband’s face looked like at that revelation. His coworker went on to explain that he hated to do it but that it had to be done. My husband made a sarcastic comment about training daughters for how they should be treated by men and then said he wanted better for his daughter.

Children come into this world unknowing of the world or its inhabitants. They haven’t yet learned of social graces or how to interact with others. They learn these things by watching us. How we treat others, especially the ones we love, has a lasting effect. It shapes not only how our children treat others but also how they allow others to treat them.

A strong, confident, loved woman doesn’t suddenly allow a man to hit her and accept that that is the way of life. Abused women, and those who abuse them, have learned somewhere along the way that it is acceptable or that they are an undeserving exception. Most fathers would protect their daughters from some other man hitting them, and yet many of these same men are teaching their daughters that being hit, being belittled and degraded, by a man is acceptable.

two wrongs don’t make a right…

Misbehavior and punishment are not opposites which cancel one another out. They enforce each other,breeding resentment, hurt feelings, and more of the same. No matter how you look at it, two wrongs don’t make a right.

coping mechanisms to parental power…

Children’s coping mechanisms to deal with parental power:

  • Resistance, defiance, rebellion, and negativity. People will fight back when their freedom is threatened.
  • Resentment, anger, and hostility. People want to be in control of themself. When others hold power over them, they feel resentful.
  • Aggression, retaliation, and striking back. Parental domination via authority leads to frustration. Frustration in turn can lead toward aggression. If you hurt me, I’ll hurt you. 
  • Lying or hiding feelings. People may lie to avoid punishment. Lying is a learned response and not a normal part of life.
  • Blaming others, tattling, and cheating. When multiple people are competing for rewards or to avoid punishment, they may resort to trying to make others look bad in an attempt to make themselves look good. Punishments and rewards promote competitive behavior ina family rather than cooperation.
  • Dominating, bossiness, and bullying. Children may attempt to dominate smaller or younger children based on the power over behavior modeled by parents.
  • Needing to win and hating to lose. A person may develop a strong desire to win and look good and want to avoid looking bad losing or looking bad. Life becomes a competitive world with the child against everyone else. This is evident in reward-based families where the parents give out positive evaluation including but not limited to money, gold stars, sticker charts, and verbal rewards.
  • Forming alliances and organizing against parents. Children may band together and agree to tell the same story in order to avoid punishment. Instead of identifying with family, where authoritarian parents hold all of the power, children begin to identify instead with same age cohorts dealing with similar power struggles. They may feel pressure to do drugs, have sex before they are ready, skip responsiblities, or participate in illegal activities.
  • Submission, obedience, and compliance. Children may submit out of fear of punishment from parents. For some, this may suddenly switch to resistance and rebellion. Others will retain the intense fear of people in positions of power, passively submitting to authority, denying their own needs, afraid to be themselves, and avoiding conflict.
  • Courting favor. Some people will work to play up the authority figure and become a favorite or pet. They are often targeted by others.
  • Conformity, lack of creativity, fear of attempting anything new, and fear of failure. Creativity comes from a freedom to experiment and to try new things and combinations. The fear resulting from being powered over stifles creativity and results in conformity.
  • Withdrawing, escaping, fantasiing, and regression. A person who quits trying to cope with reality may withdraw in order to escape it. This can be manifested by daydreaming or fantasizing, inactivity, passivity, and apathy, regression to infantile behavior, excessive screen time, solitary play, sickness, running away, joining gangs, eating disorders, and depression.

conflict: the no-lose method (part4)…

The no-lose method of conflict resolution allows parents to discover what is really going on with the child. When you use your power to enforce your own solutions, you don’t unveil the true underlying feelings and needs. In order to deal with an issue, you have to know what the real problem is first. Once you have worked with your child to discover the cause of conflict, solutions generally become apparent.

Aspects of the no-lose method of conflict resolution:

  • Both parties possess equal or near equal power. Neither holds power over the other.
  • The solution must be acceptable to both parties. This is  method for finding solutions which work for everyone. This may look completely different in different families or with different individuals.
  • Involves the principle of participation. Individuals are more motivated to carry out decisions when they are involved in the decision making process. Less enforcement is required in order to implement the proposed plan because all parties are vested in the plan and the outcome.
  • Encourages and requires each involved party to think.
  • Results in less hostility from everyone because both parties are agreeing on a mutually acceptable solution. Both parties leave the situation feeling good because the conflict has been taken cre of and no party has lost, ultimately bringing them closer together. 
  • Eliminates the need for power. Both parties are working together toward a solution. There is no need to grapple for power and no need for coping mechanisms to deal with another person’s power. Allows each party to respect themself and the other person, allowing everyone to win.

The no-lose approach to conflict resolution treats children like people. Parents are able to communicate to their children that the children’s needs are important and that the children can also be trusted to be considerate of the parent’s needs.