Results of Punishment
Most people who use punishment believe it will improve behavior. In fact, it can appear to stop the undesirable behavior because punishment may force negative behaviors “underground” (e.g., Butchart & McEwan, 1998; Straus, 1991). This quick result convinces many people that punishment is effective. However, extensive research proves that punishment is not an effective way of correcting behavior (e.g., Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 1990; Sabatino, 1991). It is clear that punishment does not improve behavior. Even if the action being punished does stop for the moment, worse behavior is almost sure to follow. Punishment creates seriously counterproductive feelings that are demonstrated in numerous ways.
Anger and Aggression
Anger is a common reaction to punishment. Children who are punished have a need to get even, to assert their own power after having been the victim of someone else’s power. Because anger tends to be expressed as aggression, children often vent their anger by hitting and hurting others. The negative feelings inside these angry children inevitably surface. Having experienced punishment, they have learned from a powerful role model how to give punishment (Deater-Deckard, Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 1996; Spieker, Larson, Lewis, Keller, & Gilchrist, 1999). Children who have been hit when they have displeased a big person are very likely to hit a smaller person who displeases them. This is very clear in the following example where Kyle seems to be echoing an adult as he tries to justify hitting Joshua:
Five-year-old Kyle and 3-year-old Joshua are working side-by-side with some magnets. Kyle decides he wants the magnet that Joshua has and tries to take it. Joshua resists by running away from the bigger boy, clutching the precious magnet. Kyle chases after Joshua, catches him, and hits him to get him to relinquish the magnet. As Sheri comforts the sobbing Joshua, Kyle keeps saying over and over, “He didn’t pay attention. He didn’t pay attention.”
Children who experience other forms of punishment tend to be physically aggressive, too (Vissing, Straus, Gelles, & Harrop, 1991), and they will have also learned other methods of getting even. These kids might call other children names, ruin their work, or take their possessions. Such unacceptable behavior is then likely to be punished, creating further misbehavior. This negative cycle is behind the behavior of many “bad kids.” Unfortunately, many parents use punishment as discipline at home (Springen, 2000). The teacher then has to deal with the results at school.
Mrs. Jensen chose her words carefully as she shared her concerns about Tony with his parents at their conference. “When Tony doesn’t like what someone else is doing, he often hurts them.” Looking concerned, his mother said, “Oh, dear. What does he do?” Referring to her observation notes, Mrs. Jensen described an incident. “When he didn’t like a classmate’s singing, he told her to quit it. She did for a while but started up again. Tony hit her and said, ‘I told you not to do that!’ He usually says that right after he hurts someone.” A flash of recognition came across the mother’s face. She knew where he got that line! And the hitting, too! She glanced accusingly at her husband. He retorted, “That sounds like a normal kid thing.”
The father questioned Mrs. Jensen, “What do you do to him when he hits?” The teacher explained how she generally handled the situations, with attention to the hurt child and modeling alternative ways for Tony to get what he needs. Tony’s dad leaned back in his chair and said knowingly, “Yeah, well, that soft-touch stuff just doesn’t work with this kid. You have to tell him not to do something and then just don’t let him do it! Giving him a quick wallop works at home.” The mother stared intently at the pattern on the carpet, trying to avoid both the teacher’s and her husband’s eyes.
Mrs. Jensen could tell she had touched on a sensitive area with this couple. Still, she was glad she had brought it up. She promised to keep them updated on Tony’s progress. In the meantime, she had some new insight about why Tony was exhibiting such physically aggressive responses; it seemed he was following his father’s model.
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