Parenting: Punishment and Self-Esteem

August 24, 2010

Cary Normile of William Penn Charter School of East Falls says it boils down to teaching your child about choices and consequences. First, your child has to clearly understand what's expected.

Instead of just saying "clean your room" then grounding them when they don't, be more specific. Do you want them to:

    1. Pick up their clothes?
    2. Make their bed?
    3. Put away their toys?
Then say those specific things and do it with them the first couple times.

Also, keep your instructions short or write them down. Kids will tune you out if you go on at length when a few words will do.

Then if your child doesn't do what you've asked, give them another chance with a specific result or consequence that will happen if they don't. Instead of saying "If you don't clean your room, you're in trouble," say something like, "If you don't make your bed and put away your clothes, then you won't get to watch T.V. for 2 nights," or "no dessert the rest of the week." And of course stick with the punishment.

Normile says many parents make key mistakes, like asking a child a question with only one right answer. "Will you take out the garbage?" A child could easily say "no." Don't back yourself into a corner. Other parents ask a child's permission by saying, "Clean your room or no dessert, okay?"

Once you've clearly stated what you want, and explained specific consequences, stick with them and give kids a definitive time frame. You may want to use a kitchen timer to tell them how quickly you want them to finish a chore, or when they can come out of their room after being punished. You can even use the timer as a positive part of making the work fun, by playing "beat the bell" and rewarding them with extra time outside, or a fun play date with their friends when they get it right several times in a row.

Normile also says don't get discouraged if your child continues to push the limits. That's their "job" as kids who are growing into young adults. Even the best child will question every rule ever made. That's when you'll need extra patience and you'll have to guard against attacking their self-esteem.

"Making a child feel worse usually doesn't make them behave better," Normile says. "You can't control another's behavior, feelings or decisions. You can control yourself and your own behavior."

So instead of shouting, threatening or hitting your child, try to react calmly but seriously to their behavior. Don't say "you're a troublemaker," or "you're ALWAYS making me angry." Avoid labeling them but criticize their behavior instead. "I don't like when you disobey me." "I don't like when you don't listen." And try not to create self-fulfilling prophecies by labeling them "clumsy, sassy, or lazy." Kids will often give you exactly what you give them. So try positive reinforcement for as long as it's practical. "I like that you brushed your teeth without me having to ask you." "I like the way you entertained the baby while I was finishing dinner."

Also separate any suggestions for improvements from appreciation. Avoid saying, "Nice job doing your homework BUT... next time do the spelling first." Keep the praise separate from the criticism. "Nice job doing your homework." Then another day suggest, "let's start with spelling from now on and get that out of the way."

When your Kids are driving you crazy, Nancy Samalin, author of LOVE AND ANGER: THE PARENTAL DILEMMA, says there are 7 ways to reestablish control without destroying their fragile young egos:

    1. Establish your priorities.
    2. Exit or wait out the situation. Remove yourself until you calm down and you can act rationally instead of reacting.
    3. Verbalize, don't criticize.
    4. Keep it short.
    5. Stay in the present. Don't bring up every time they've made you angry and re-hash old problems. No "piling on" or using words like "you NEVER help me."
    6. Put in writing what you expect from them.
    7. And quickly restore good feelings.
Hang in there and know that you'll need to repeat the expectations and consequences over and over before your child "gets it." That's normal too.

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