I Was Punished, and I Turned Out Just Fine
An excerpt from "Parents Who Love Too Much" by
and Cheryl Erwin.
How fine is "fine"? Fine is relative. Yes, most of us turned out just "fine." We
can laugh at some of the punishments we received as a child--and even say we
deserved them. However, if we had been allowed to learn from our mistakes
instead of being made to pay for them, is it possible we might be even better
Punishment is designed to make children "pay" for their mistakes. Discipline
that teaches (the definition we prefer) is designed to help children learn from
their mistakes in an atmosphere of encouragement and support. In the following
story, Stan was led through a process that helped him understand the difference
between punishment and non-punitive discipline.
Stan told his parenting group about a time he cheated on a fifth-grade test. He
said, "I was stupid enough to write some answers on the palm of my hand. The
teacher saw me open my fist to find an answer." This teacher grabbed Stan's
paper and, in front of everyone in the class, tore it up. He received an F on
the test and was publicly called a cheater. The teacher told his parents. His
father gave him a whipping and grounded him for a month. Stan said, "I never
cheated again, and I certainly deserved the F."
The group leader helped him explore this experience to help everyone in the
class see if there might be a more productive way to handle this situation.
Leader: Does everyone agree with Stan that he deserved the F?
Leader: Would that have been enough to teach him the consequences of his
choices, or did he need the punishment also?
Leader: What do you think, Stan? How did you feel about getting the F for
Stan: I felt very guilty and very embarrassed.
Leader: What did you decide from that?
Stan: That I wouldn't do it again.
Leader: What did you decide after receiving the whipping ? (punishment)
Stan: That I was a disappointment to my parents. I still worry about
Leader: So how did the punishment help you?
Stan: Well, I had already decided I wouldn't cheat again. The guilt and
embarrassment of getting caught in front of others was enough to teach me that
lesson. Actually, the worry about disappointing my parents is a real burden.
Leader: If you had a magic wand and could change the script of that event, how
would you change it? How would you change what anyone said or did?
Stan: Well, I wouldn't cheat.
Leader: And after that?
Stan: I don't know.
Leader: Who has any ideas you could give Stan? It is usually easier to see
possibilities when you aren't emotionally involved. What could Stan's teacher or
parents have done or said that would have demonstrated kind and firm discipline?
Group Member: I'm a teacher, and I'm learning a lot from this. The teacher could
have taken Stan aside and asked him why he was cheating.
Leader: Stan, what would you have answered to that?
Stan: That I wanted to pass the test.
Group Member: Then I could appreciate his desire to pass and ask him how he felt
about cheating as a way to accomplish that.
Stan: I would promise never to do it again.
Group Member: I would then tell him he would have to receive an F for this test
but that I was glad he had learned to avoid cheating. I would then ask him to
prepare a plan for me about what he would do to pass the next test.
Stan: I would still feel guilty and embarrassed about cheating, but I would also
appreciate the kindness along with the firmness. Now I see what that means.
Leader: Now do you have any ideas how you could use your magic wand to change
what your parents did?
Stan: It would have been nice if they had acknowledged how guilty and
embarrassed I felt. They could have empathized about what a tough lesson that
was for me to learn. Then they could express their faith in me to learn from my
experience and to do the right thing in the future. They could reassure me that
they would love me no matter what, but that they hoped I wouldn't disappoint
myself in the future. Wow, what a concept--to worry more about disappointing
myself than my parents. I find that very encouraging.
Several points are made by this discussion about non-punitive parenting. :
1. Non-punitive parenting does not mean letting children "get away" with their
2. Non-punitive parenting does mean helping children explore the consequences of
their choices in a supportive and encouraging environment so that lasting growth
and learning can take place.
3. Most people turned out "fine" even if they were punished--and they might have
learned even more had they received both kindness and firmness to learn from
Turning out "fine" isn't the issue. Are you satisfied with "fine," or do you
want your children to have the kind of nurturing that helps them bloom into the
best people they can possibly be? You nurture the best in your children when
your methods meet the four criteria for effective discipline. (See "What is
What_is_PD article.pdf )
by Dr. Jane Nelsen
For twenty-five years, Positive Discipline has been the gold standard
reference for grown-ups working with children. Now Jane Nelsen, distinguished
psychologist, educator, and mother of seven, has written a revised and
expanded edition. The key to positive discipline is not punishment, she tells
us, but mutual respect.
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