Reward and Punish your Child – Really?

The next few editions of the Family Connection will examine step-by-step and then scrutinize something that has been the “status quo” of parenting and teaching for ages, the idea that children will benefit from being rewarded and the idea that children will learn to change by being punished. We’ll start by clarifying something about control.

Remember the long list of synonyms we looked at a few editions back (for past editions of the Family Connection go here) for the verb “to discipline”: govern, hold in line, constrain, restrict, prohibit, direct, restrain, etc. Each identifies some form of control. Each implies the use of power. In the minds of many adults, “disciplining” children is but a euphemism for employing power to control them. Let’s see exactly how this power-based control is supposed to work.

The aim of controllers is to place themselves in charge of their controllees, in a position to dominate or coerce them. The controller’s wish, of course, is that the controllee will respond by being compliant, submissive, tractable, willing, nonresistant, yielding–euphemisms for obedient. Controllers hope that their controllees will always be obedient.

Let’s also keep in mind that this sort of discipline is employed to bring about specific behaviors judged desirable by the controller. The goals or ends are always decided for the controllee by the controller. It is important to be aware of the fact that controllers may very well choose ends that are seen as beneficial to the child. Their intentions may be good indeed. How many of us have heard when we grew up: “You’ll thank me when you’re older,” or “I’m only doing it for your own good”? It’s not hard to spot how many controllers – whether they be parents, teachers, bosses, religious figures, politicians or dictators – try to justify their use of control by this logic. Certainly many controllers feel that they know what’s best because they are older, wiser, more experienced, better trained – whatever.

There is also the possibility that controllers sometimes choose ends beneficial primarily to themselves rather than to the controllee, as when a teacher decides to expel a student who is making her miserable by interfering with her need to teach her students.

It’s a tricky thing to feel “in control” and controllers often deceive themselves into thinking they exercise control to help the controllee when actually they do it to meet their own needs. Can you think of a situation when you used your Authority P (power) to control others? And can you think of a situation when someone used power to control you? Do you remember how the controllee reacted? And do you remember, when you were the controllee how you felt?

Parent Effectiveness Training and Teacher Effectiveness Training are based on the observation that only extremely rarely any youngster would view coercive power as being for his or her “own good”, even if they “obey” the controller’s directions.

Next month we’ll go one step further and look at where controllers get their power and how exactly it is applied to the controllee.