Results of Punishment (page 4)
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.
Punishment also creates feelings of hostility and resentment toward the person administering it (e.g., Faber & Mazlish, 1996; Gordon, 1989; Thompson, 1998). This result is particularly serious when it damages relationships between children and their parents. Whether the negative feelings are aimed at parents, teachers, or other authority figures, those emotions get in the way of positive discipline teaching. People don’t want to be around someone who hurts them or makes them feel bad. Certainly, no one is eager to listen to, or learn from, that person. Some children merely withdraw from contact, and others try to get even. Getting even takes many forms, depending on the experiences and the personality of the child. One child may be openly defiant and rude, and another may retaliate through helplessness and refusal to try anything. Still another may become a bully, using smaller children as substitute targets.
All of the above responses to punishment are self-defeating, and all are only made worse by further punishment. It isn’t only relationships with punishers that are damaged; children who are punished tend to have trouble with peer relationships also (e.g., Hart, Olsen, Robinson, & Mandleco, 1997; Putallaz & Heflin, 1990). Because these youngsters use aggression to get their way, other children don’t want to play with them. Being rejected for hitting or shoving truly confuses the child who has been punished; the experience of being punished teaches children that hurting others is an appropriate response when they don’t get their way. They erroneously believe that their aggressive behaviors will have positive social outcomes. All too often these youngsters end up as social outcasts, exhibiting escalating antisocial behaviors in retaliation.
Damage to Self-Esteem
Punishment also damages self-esteem because children get their opinion of their worth from how others treat them (Miller, 2004). Being punished can convince youngsters that they are inferior (DeVries, 1999) and that they are bad (Vissing et al., 1991). Feeling like a worthless or bad person is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, resulting in further undesirable behavior. Many children routinely experience verbal abuse at home, internalizing the labels such as “stupid” or “damn brat” and acting accordingly. A child who is verbally or physically punished does not feel respected or valued. Any kind of punishment attacks personal dignity by putting the child at the mercy of a more powerful person. Additionally, many punishments are humiliating, as shown in the following example:
“Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!” sounded the intercom, as the library light kept flashing. The secretary had two people on hold on the telephone and new parents at the counter needing forms. She switched on the speaker, “Yes, this is the office.” The librarian sounded distraught. “Ian bit Serge and then ran out of the room. He’s somewhere in the halls, and I can’t leave the group to go find him.” The secretary responded, “Sorry, but I’m the only person in the office, so I can’t go look for him right now.” Leaning by the message board, the custodian overheard the exchange. He volunteered, “I’ll go get him.” Relieved, she called the library back and said, “George is going to go look for Ian. I’ll let you know when we find him.”
The custodian strode down the hall on his mission to bring in the wayward child. Not finding him on the first floor, he went upstairs. Still failing to see the boy, he checked the playground. Darn it, he needed to go set up the lunchroom soon. Where was that kid? Then he thought of the bathroom. Sure enough, there were two feet standing in the back corner of a stall. “Come on out!” ordered George. The boy froze, wondering if the custodian could see him. “Come out now!” he repeated. The other boys in the bathroom giggled as George crouched to look under the door and demanded, “Move it!” Ian slowly opened the stall door, his eyes darting around like those of a trapped animal. His mind raced as his playmates, Alex and Tory, teased him about being caught.
Once outside the bathroom, George scooped Ian up like a bag of potatoes. He hauled the boy past the library while the child flailed and demanded to be put down. His classmates crowded to the door to glimpse the spectacle. Humiliated, Ian’s temper flared. He pounded on the back of George’s leg, but the custodian just held him more tightly and headed for the office, proud to have successfully completed his mission. Dumping Ian in the detention room, George announced, “Here’s your biter!” Ian felt about one foot tall as the custodian described the bathroom scene to the secretary. And Ian noted that the woman listening at the counter was his friend Kenji’s mom. Ian wished he were invisible!
Unfortunately, this disrespectful treatment of children is not uncommon. The damage to a child’s self-respect is immeasurable. The idea of mutual respect between adult and child is the absolute opposite of this scenario.
Punishment controls through fear (Brady, et al. 2003). This fear keeps some children from positive activities as well as negative ones. When they are punished without warning for something they didn’t know was unacceptable, many children will tend to avoid any new activity. Their strategy is to use caution about anything that might possibly get them into trouble. Exploration and initiative are sacrificed to the need for safety and security. Therefore, fear of punishment can hamper academic learning. Remember Kayla in the assertive discipline example in Chapter 9? Scared of checkmarks on the board by her name and of classmates who blamed her for not getting marbles in the jar, Kayla rarely initiated conversation or joined activities. The following example of Beau and the broken bracelet shows the results of a different approach:
Beau’s face showed surprise as he held the two pieces of what had been Shayla’s bracelet, and Mrs. Jensen could see that he had not purposely broken it. Mrs. Jensen acknowledged Shayla’s concern and accepted Beau’s protests of an “accident.” She encouraged each child to hear the other’s side of the story.
That evening, Mrs. Jensen called Beau’s parents and explained what had happened. She made it very clear that Beau had not been “naughty,” just clumsy in examining the bracelet. She discussed the concept of making restitution and asked if they thought they could help Beau figure out a way to make it up to Shayla for her loss.
A few weeks later, Beau arrived at school and handed a delighted Shayla a package with a small assortment of child-size bracelets. It had taken Beau those weeks to earn the money, buy the bracelets, and wrap them up to give to Shayla. Mrs. Jensen knew that Beau’s heartfelt “You’re welcome!” to Shayla’s “Thank you!” could never have been the result of punishment. Beau understood the significance of his carelessness, but he felt good about himself for making things right. He saw himself as a good boy, not a bad one.
Sadly, many adults who were themselves punished, and suffered from the results, nevertheless use punishment to control children in their care. They may realize that it harmed them, but that model has been strongly imprinted on them (McEwan, 1998).
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