Sunday Scribblings #37 Punishment and Rewards

This week’s Sunday Scribblings topic is Punishment and Rewards

ha ha

As you might know if you’re a regular reader, we try to parent sans punishments or rewards. It’s a novel concept to some, but seems normal to us. But it is pretty difficult to parent in this way when the whole world seems to be set up to punish or reward everyone – especially children – for behavior, actions, decisions, etc.

Take a day and try to notice all the carrot-and-stick approaches you see. They’re everywhere. And always with the “good job” these days. Wally climbed out of the cart at the store today (it was time to go) and an employee said “oh, Good Job!!” Please. Last spring, my mom continually praised Wally for sliding “Oh, Good Slide Wally!” I suggested to her that it was really just gravity and not any special talent on his part.

These days, parents are advised to reward children for doing the simplest, most every day tasks. Using the toilet. Eating a meal. Doing chores. Whatever. In our house, certain things are just expected. Wally does not get rewarded for using the toilet. He doesn’t get rewarded for eating his food. He doesn’t get rewarded for doing simple tasks. He is just expected to do these things. To reward him for them would be to change them – he would no longer be using the toilet because it’s just nicer than going in your pants. He would be using the toilet because he gets M&Ms. He would no longer be doing his “chores” because we all have to chip in when we live together, he’d be doing them for the reward. I don’t want to make him into a reward whore.

Nor do I want him doing things because he’s afraid he’ll be punished if he does not. Using the toilet to avoid a spanking instead of just to stay in clean pants. Helping out around the house because he’s afraid of being yelled at instead of just because we all have to chip in. Doing what he’s asked because he’s afraid we’ll leave him instead of doing it just for the joy of getting along and making others happy.

Nor do I want him to feel that he has to earn our love. We give it freely. He should not have to earn it with good behavior, or particular actions.

There are some in the Christian community who criticize this parenting style as being not Christian. God punishes us, they reason, so we should punish our children. But does God really punish us? I do not think so. I think God lets us experience the consequences of our behavior, good or bad. But this is not the same as punishment – it’s not some cosmic lightening bolt sent down to zap us. I believe that we will be rewarded at the end of our journey, for sure. But in the meantime, I don’t think God baits us with carrots along the way. He does choose to bless us, and abundantly at that. But those blessings are given out of love, just because. Not because we’ve been “good.” Goodness, if God only blessed those who were “good,” do you know anyone who would ever receive a blessing? I sure wouldn’t.

So we strive to do with Wally what God does with us. Let him experience the consequences of his behavior (and implementing consequences when necessary – I can’t let him experience the consequence of running into traffic, but I can implement the consequence not being allowed to walk independently near traffic). And choose to bless him out of love, and just because. Not because he’s earned it.

We don’t want to be implementing punishments/”consquences” that have very little to do with the “crime” as is so common these days.

Now, am I perfect at this? No. My tendency when I’m at the end of my rope is to punish, and to punish stupidly. My two fallback punishments – Telling Wally no just because I can, and withdrawing love (aka attention) in response to unwanted behaviors. Today, for example, Wally drew on the fridge (he’s in this jag where he cannot use writing utensils responsibly) so then when he asked me for some soy milk I said no. Just because I was mad. It was so stupid. It’s like a power trip, really.

(I did also remove all of the writing utensils from his vicinity, and we made a ceremony out of putting away all of his markers and crayons for a few days. Every time he asks for a marker, we just explain that he was not using them responsibly so we had to put them away. This consequence makes sense, refusing to give him a treat doesn’t make sense.)


7 responses to “Sunday Scribblings #37 Punishment and Rewards

  1. “Nor do I want him doing things because he’s afraid he’ll be punished if he does not.”
    That’s it for me right there. Should they be made to feel like trying because the reward of success is worth it, or should they be made to feel like not trying, because punishment of failure isn’t worth it?

  2. Thanks for a great post…I have needed to put this into words for awhile, as we will be spending lots of time with family in close proximity now. Until now, I just didn’t explain much of why I did what I did, but now I feel the need to so they truly understand and so they don’t do stuff I don’t want 🙂

    Have you written about why you should force your child to say please and thank you? If so, point me that way, if not, you should 😉 hint hint.

  3. You are right on. I work with a group of kids who fall along the extremes of both spectrums. They have developed anti-social behaviors and a lack of acccountablity for their actions. As a teacher in a disciplinary alternative school, I struggle with this stuff all of the time. Mostly, I just try to show compassion…but I have to be super-strict to keep it from becoming a monkeyhouse. It is a weird balance, and yes, I also abuse my power sometimes, although not intentionally.

    I really, really enjoyed this post.

  4. This is interesting to read.
    the praise for sliding has me giggling still.
    I was wondering- do you praise your children when they do something that makes you proud? I mean, sliding is gravity, but there are other things that truly are achievements- like learning to ride a bike- there is a pride in mastering a skill? Where does that fit in (genuine question, I’m not being antagonistic)- We’ve spent a lot of time thinking out proper punishments- the punishment has to relate to the offense- when they were small and drew on the walls- the crayons were restricted to only supervised use until they could prove they were responsible etc. It’s so difficult not to just punish with something arbitrary that will make the kid unhappy. That’s been the one thing that my husband and I have always agreed upon as parents.

  5. ren.kat – I will post a separate post on this when I have more time, but for the time being – we generally try to refrain from praise. Because, again, it changes the reason why kids do things. Studies have actually shown that children praised for their artwork enjoy it less after receiving praise, and start trying to create art that will receive praise rather than creating art that pleases themselves.

    I don’t want my kids to do things because they want me to tell them “good job” but rather to do things because they bring them joy, or because it’s the right thing to do.

    So I will post more on this later, but my response is usually to simply 1) state what that accomplishment was without judgement. “Hey, got your pants off all by yourself!” and 2) reflect what his emotions seem to be. “You look pretty excited about that!”

    It doesn’t matter what I feel – it matters what he feels. My neices will sometimes ask me things like “What did you think about my dance performance?” and I generally respond “How do you think you did?” I let them give me their judgement first, and then will usually follow up with something like “I noticed you smiled at the audience the whole time and didn’t look at your feet once!” Observation, not judgement.

    I’m not devoid of emotion, or pride. When Wally does something like ride a bike, I imagine I’ll be jumping up and down!

    Sara – I will post about please and thank you soon. Have been meaning to.

  6. Pingback: A Job Well Done « The View From Here

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