You can watch the video version of this post on my Facebook page.
Today, I want to talk about PUNISHMENT vs. SUPPORT and the difference between the two.
I’ve noticed that as the Parenting Posse gets bigger- I find myself explaining over and over again not only WHY we don’t advocate time-outs, we don’t use sticker charts (except for the early stages of toilet training), we don’t use token economies etc., but that kids do well if they can. And a lot of parents have a hard time with this mindset shift from punishments and rewards to skill building.
Punishments are like playing whack-a-mole.
You know that arcade game? If you aren’t familiar with it- it’s this electronic game where there’s a machine with a bunch of holes in the top of it, and you get a mallet. And these plush moles come popping out of the holes randomly- and the objective is to- as the name suggests- whack the moles. The game counts how many moles popped out vs. how many you hit and the more you hit the higher your score.
So punishments are like playing the world’s most awful game of whack-a-mole. A behavior pops up- and you smack it down. Then another behavior- usually a very similar one, or even the same one in just a slightly different context pops up- and you smack that one down. You turn around and there’s an even BIGGER behavior behind you and you hit that one with all you’ve got. Just like the arcade game- it’s very physically demanding, it’s very mentally demanding, and after doing it for a while you’re just fucking over it. You’re done. Nothing is improving- there are just many behaviors as there were before- but they’re popping up in seemingly random fashion- and generally at the most inconvenient moment.
When you punish- you are dooming yourself to reacting. Because you can only tell a child what NOT TO DO after they’ve already done it. Which means you are always at LEAST one step behind your child- which means you’re chasing your child. You’re never going to “get out in front of it.” When we tell our kids what NOT to do, they are automatically more inclined to do it. It’s like if I tell you not to think about Donald Trump in a speedo. Now you’re all picturing Donald Trump in a speedo and you can’t NOT. In general- we always hear the last half of a sentence and kind of disregard the first half. So it doesn’t matter that you put “DON’T” in front of it- all they hear is the last 2-3 words.
Some people say “Well, I don’t punish bad behavior, I reward good behavior.” Okay! So once again, you’re reacting. You’re only reinforcing good behavior AFTER it happens. What happens if it never happens? What happens if your child just continues to misbehave? What if there’s NEVER any positive reinforcement? Or much positive reinforcement? “Bad behavior“ is self-reinforcing. Kids don’t just do things for shits and giggles- they do it because it’s getting them something they want- it’s achieving an outcome. Whether that’s attention, sensory release, self-regulation, a tangible… whatever. It’s getting them something they want. Rewards are banking on the lure of something else- generally a tangible like a toy- is more reinforcing than whatever the behavior was giving them. But we know that intrinsic motivation is MUCH more powerful than external motivation. That means whatever it is they innately wanted, is almost always going to win out. So what’s your plan then?
Support asks something totally different from us when it comes to teaching our kids how to behave.
When we support our kids- we are curious. We assume that if they knew how to do well, they would. We’re looking for gaps in their knowledge, and when we find them, we fill them- WHETHER OR NOT they’re currently resulting in behavioral issues. And when your child DOES misbehave, if we’re coming from a place of support- we see that not as a failing of their character, their morals, their smarts- OR OF OURS. We just see it as a very clear indication that we need to help them develop the skills that are lacking in that area. And sometimes that means we don’t actually directly address the behavior much at all.
For instance, there was a Mom who was posting in the Posse last week about her older son stepping on his little brother while going through the kitchen- and there were several members who were explaining about planned ignoring and taking away the reinforcement of the behavior- basically making it so that the misbehavior is as LEAST self-reinforcing as possible- making it so that he isn’t getting what he wanted out of that behavior. She was having a really hard time with the “BUT WHAT DO I DO ABOUT THE BEHAVIOUR ITSELF. I can’t just ignore it!” And that’s really common when people enter the Posse and really start digging in and making changes. They have a REALLY hard time letting go of the punishments. Removing the reinforcement by making the intrinsic motivation disappear, we ARE “disciplining” our child- but we’re SUPPORTING them instead of punishing. We’re creating an environment where THEY DON’T WANT TO misbehave anymore- because it doesn’t benefit them. AND THEN we teach them the skills to get what they want in a positive way- we focus on the SKILLS they’re lacking and we teach them WHAT TO DO to get their needs and wants to be met.
The result is that we get out in front of it. We FRONT LOAD them with the skills they need to behave well. We PROACTIVELY create an environment where misbehaving is less efficient than behaving, and where they have the SKILLS to get their needs and wants to be met the proper way.
Which sounds WAY BETTER for everyone, doesn’t it?
But the reason most parents DON’T DEFAULT TO THIS is simply because WE’RE LACKING skills and knowledge. Generally, when I say to a parent “Okay so what doesn’t he know how to do?” They freeze. Because they don’t know. Because there are all these possibilities running around in their head- so generally, they default to the most obvious- the surface problem. But the surface problem- the behavioral symptom- whatever it is that they’re doing that you don’t want them to do isn’t what they don’t know how to do. That’s just the manifestation of that lagging skill.
What are these skills and how can we work on them? That’s what I teach in my membership program: the Brain Skills Play Blueprint.