Parenting without Punishment: Savvy Siblings

NPN RTD featureThis post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Dr. Laura Markham, author of  Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.


Parenting without punishment. The knee-jerk reaction to that phrase from much of the population will be a grouchy proclamation that that is the problem with kids today: no discipline. But parenting without punishment doesn’t mean no discipline, and it definitely doesn’t mean not parenting. Discipline actually means to teach, something that research shows punishment fails to do in the way we think:

  • Photo by symphony of love (Flickr)
    Photo by symphony of love (Flickr)

    When children are routinely punished for transgressions, their focus is on avoiding punishment rather than rectifying a wrong or learning how to do something better. The use of punishment actually delays the development of empathy, making it harder to see the point of view of others. Punishment makes kids selfish. Learning and empathy help them care about others.

  • When parents set limits without empathy, their children miss out on valuable opportunities to develop self-discipline. They are extrinsically motivated, and therefor need outside influences to control them. Conversely, children who feel as though a parent, guardian, or other figure understands them, they internalize limits, choosing to act based on reason and consideration rather than on fear.
  • Children who are raised with punishment learn to punish others, including their siblings. Punishment utilizes a power play, with parents holding power over children. Children, feeling powerless, try to increase their feelings of power or raise their standing in the power hierarchy by lashing out against siblings, tattling, or otherwise trying to make themselves look better than their siblings. It’s a competition, with your love and attention as the trophy.
  • When children are punished for fighting, the resulting resentment tends to be channeled against one another in the form of revenge.
  • When children learn that their emotions are unacceptable, they bottle their feelings inside. This can result in depression for being bad or in anger, which they are more likely to take out on their siblings.
  • Children who are punished learn to bully others. When parents yell, children are more likely to yell. When parents hit, children are more likely to hit. Withdrawal of love or connection or other privileges teaches children to manipulate others with power.

What punishment teaches is that those with power control others. It teaches revenge rather than conflict resolution. It teaches children to ignore their feelings until they can’t handle those pent up feelings anymore. It teaches children that they are bad.

Our children don’t need us to be enforcers, punishing for indiscretions and mistakes. They need us to coach them, showing them that we care and understand, connecting with them where they are, and working with them to figure out the root cause of the problem and to find a solution which works for everyone. They need us to be there to help guide them through these situations as they learn. Before long, due to our guidance and modelling, they will be working out their problems on their own.

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