The Punishment Trap #1 – Rules

Many modern parents don’t want to hit their kids – to be really, really clear about it, I’m OK with that. I approve. Sadly, though, most will fail. There are just too many traps. In fact, just about everything is a trap, the whole world as we know it conspires to make us hit our kids.

The first trap is called total control, total domination. This is how it was for us, those of us from either the pre-Dr. Spock generations, or from families that the doctor and his intellectual progeny have not yet reached, families that were or are unabashed practitioners of corporal punishment. Parents from these families that want to be different, that don’t want to hit are subject to this trap. We think it’s a matter of method. Most of us never stop to wonder, a method for what? We think a change of method is all that is needed, but not a change in what either method, the old and the new, is designed to accomplish.

Which is, I’m sorry to say, total control. This is how the trap works. We want to change the method, but we don’t realize, our own childhoods, spent under total control have left us with the same expectations as our parents. Children must listen. Children must do what we say, at least when it’s about something important; we know what’s right, we know what must and mustn’t be, and so there are rules.

Rules, as they say, are meant to be broken, and when they are, the rulemaker must respond: “Hey. You broke the rules.” Many modern parents don’t want to hit, maybe they don’t even want to fight, so if the kid says “I’m sorry, Mom, I didn’t mean to, I forgot, I won’t do it again,” then maybe it’s over.

There are many ways in which it won’t be over though, and the parent may feel a loss of control, and a need to reinforce the rule, and then it’s punishment, something short of hitting. And now maybe it’s over. There are many ways in which it won’t be over though, and now the child may feel a loss of control, and a need to resist, and now, often enough to matter, we are moving towards a fight, and very often a physical one.

Punishments are imposed; they are something that by definition no-one wants; if you want it, if you volunteer for it, that’s not a punishment. They are forced, and force is physical.

This is getting long and . . . technical. Long and short?

If you don’t want to hit – don’t punish.

If you don’t want to punish – don’t make rules.

Rules are a trap; have a rule, and you may end up hitting your kids.

They don’t want it, I don’t want it, and you don’t want it either.



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