Six-year old Bobby walks into the kitchen from playing soccer.
Bobby’s dad, Tom, had asked Bobby to take off his muddy shoes before entering the house. Red Georgia mud dotted the new hallway and den carpet.
When Tom sees the footprints, he is furious about the mess and that Bobby had disobeyed him.
”Bobby,” Tom says, his voice rising, ”for disobeying me, you’ll not be able to watch TV for a week. And John won’t be able to come and spend the night on Friday.”
Bobby starts to cry and runs up the stairs yelling, ”You’re the meanest dad in the world. I hate you.”
Punishment for misbehavior can have the undesirable consequences of resentment and anger that can damage our parent/child relationship, perhaps forever.
What alternatives to punishment do we have?
In their book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, Faber and Mazlish give seven alternatives to punishment in order to help children learn and exhibit appropriate behavior.
1. Point out a way to be helpful.
Tom could have phrased his command differently. ”Bobby, it would be helpful if you would take off your shoes on the porch and clean them outside.” Or after the dastardly deed was done, ”It would be helpful if you would sit down right now and take off those shoes. Then you can help me clean up the mud stains.”
2. Express strong disappointment in the action without attacking the person’s character.
Tom could have said, ”Bobby, I’m disappointed that the carpet is muddy from your soccer shoes. I asked you to take your shoes off before coming into the house.”
3. State your expectations.
”Bobby, I expect you to listen to me and do what I ask.”
4. Show the child how to make amends.
”Bobby, after you take your shoes off, you’ll need to help me clean the carpet. If the mud doesn’t come out, I want you to go with me to rent a carpet cleaner.”
5. Give a choice.
”Bobby, if you want to continue playing soccer, you need to remember to take your shoes off before you come into the house. You need to pay attention when I tell you to do something. Forget to take off your shoes, then no soccer. You decide.”
6. Take action.
If Tom has given a choice, such as the choice given above, Tom will have to take action if Bobby forgets to take off his shoes again.
7. Allow the child to experience the consequences of his misbehavior.
”Bobby, since I’ll have to clean the carpet tomorrow, I won’t be able to take you to the movies like we had planned.”
If our goal is to help our children learn appropriate behavior, punishment may not be an effective way for the child to see his mistake.
When dealing with misbehavior, try using one of these seven alternatives to avoid anger, resentment and discouragement in your child and to help build a trusting, loving parent/child relationship.
It may take a lot of practice to catch our reactions, but I think you’ll see it’s worth it.