“Stop”!, “What was she thinking”?, “He deserves to be punished!”… Sometimes children just have to “learn the lesson”… But what “lesson” do they actually learn?
By being punished a child learns that our world divides in two: the strong and the weak, and that he’d better be part of the strong, because obviously power works well. He learns to “behave well” out of FEAR, or in order to PLEASE, and realizes one can “misbehave” as long as his parent is not watching, or knowing, what he does.
When a child is being punished, he feels sad, small, humiliated, discouraged, weak, powerless, and sometimes, awakens a feeling of anger or revenge. Punishment unquestionably damages the child’s self-esteem, and eventually, harms your relationship with him.
Instead of using punishment, the Adlerian way suggests using “natural consequences” and “logical consequences”.
How does it work?
“Natural consequences” are all the natural outcomes, that follow a choice or a behavior. Our main role as a parent is just to let it be. If a child doesn’t do his homework, he will have to deal with his teacher. If a child does not want to take a sweater to school, he might get cold, etc… It may be extremely difficult for a parent not to interfere, but it is essential to let the child experience life as it is.
When there are no natural consequences, we have to think of “logical consequences”. This can be tricky and sometimes there is a need to really be creative. We need to apply a consequence that is directly connected to the child’s behavior: "If you don’t brush your teeth, you won’t be allowed to eat any sweets”. “All your cloth is on the floor, I won’t be able to wash them”… Again, we let "life" (with our little help) teach them about their choices and actions.
When using “consequences” beware of the tone of your voice, it should be soft and caring, no scolding and no words like “well, I told you so”. It should never sound like a punishment! Always approach your child with a lot of EMPATHY and COMPASSION for his faults and errors.
Using logical and natural consequences demands a lot of courage, since it is certainly not easy to let our children “suffer” the uneasy and sometimes harsh effects of life.
By using consequences instead of punishment, we are gaining a good and healthy relationship with our kids! But most importantly, we are teaching our child responsibility and accountability.