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David Baxter

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Should You Punish Your Child?
Psychology Today, Sep/Oct 2001

There are alternatives to punishment that may work best in the long run.

Gina Green, Ph.D.
The best way to reduce misbehavior is to provide abundant positive reinforcement for good behavior. Punishment in the form of unpleasant consequences might stop misbehavior, but it often has undesirable side effects. A child whose behavior is punished may react emotionally, strike back or avoid the person delivering the punishment. Instead of punishing misbehavior, try to catch your child being good. Tell her that you appreciate what she's doing, and do so frequently and consistently. At the same time, make sure misbehavior doesn't pay off by enabling your child to avoid homework or chores, for example, or to gain attention.

Norine G. Johnson, Ph.D.
If you want a loving, respectful, self-disciplined child you won't use punishment. You will use appropriate parenting tools. For young children you will use diversion, structure, limits and withdrawal of attention. For older children, you will set expectations and spell out the rewards or consequences. In junior high, I took corn from a farmer's field. My father saw me with the corn and asked me to tell the truth, otherwise my punishment would have been twice as bad. I told the truth. I had to apologize to the farmer and eat the raw corn. Today, I value the truth and always wonder what my punishment would have been.

Terry Mizrahi, M.S.W., Ph.D.
Punishment implies aggressive behavior on the part of an adult, the very behavior we oppose in children. It breeds resentment, and often leads to increased violence and serious abuse. I'd reframe the question: How do you teach your children to do the right thing; to be caring human beings who understand both their own and others' needs? Social workers recognize that good parenting involves nonviolent, age-appropriate means of disciplining children. I believe that parents should be positive role models and teach their children the negative consequences of adverse behavior by using incentives, time-outs and establishing firm, rational limits.

James Morris, Ph.D.
The word "punish" means subjecting a penalty for an offense, and usually includes inflicting some kind of hurt. In parenting, such punishment is often practiced by spanking children. The relative benefit and, or, harm of such punishment is open to question, and certainly involves consideration of the unique culture of each family as well as the community in which they are a part. However, the continuing tragic outbursts of violence by children have served to alert us about our responsibilities as parents, and as members of our communities. As such, we would do well as parents to carefully practice less violent ways of discipline that encourage the healthy development of our children.
 

jacie

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Am currently in crisis mode with my 15-year old son. He has been diagnosed ADHD and learning disabled. Hates school, does just enough to barely scrape by and thinks D's are just fine. He was medicated and in private school through 8th grade. Currently freshman in public high school and unmedicated. Grades have been going down, down, down lately. Currently has D's in math, english and science. Does well in vocational mechanics course, and recently joined Boy Scouts, first extracurricular activity ever, and loves the camping part of it once a month.

He was suspended once last semester for throwing his tray in the cafeteria and getting in a shouting match with some girls. I have been nagging more and more about his grades, he refuses a tutor, refuses getting extra help after school or online, and claims to never have homework. He occasionally fails to turn in assignments in many classes, and never studies for tests. Last week, he planned a big get-together with a large group of friends to play air-soft (plastic BB guns).

I received a call from his English teacher saying that he plagiarized his essay and she was going to have to send him to the Dean. She also was concerned about his lack of concern for his grade and that he had failed to turn in his vocabulary worksheet that was overdue. I promptly told him that he would not be attending the planned air soft game, and he been throwing fits ever since. For 3 days now, he gone back and forth from acting like a caged wild animal, looking for any kind of escape, to eerily quiet and sullen.

He claims that he talked to the Dean yesterday, and the Dean told him plagiarizing is bad, but your teacher overreacted, and taking an F on the essay was punishment enough. Am I overreacting? Did I bite off more than I should chew when I chose this punishment? Should I stick with it? In the past, I have allowed him to negotiate himself out of some punishments, by doing extra chores or choosing another punishment. I am having real self doubts here. Am I a mush, or am I overdoing it? I have been laying down the law more this year, because his grades and attitude have been so bad. Also, being off his medicine, he is more out of control with his temper. His initial reaction to this punishment was so disrespectful, that I told him that was part of the reason I was not going to allow him to negotiate his way out of it this time. I also made it clear that I expected more conscientiousness about his schoolwork, or he would continue to lose privileges. He's already lost his video games, only recently got computer privileges back. Has been told no cell phone or driver's license until his grades come up and he displays a little more maturity.

Please give me some advice, perspective, anything. He is now trying to hit me where he knows it hurts most, by saying he is going to quit boyscouts, that he's giving up completely on school, there's no sense in trying anymore, ....

Is it possible that this punishment has just pushed him beyond his ability to cope? There is nothing more important to him than playing with his friends. He scares me that he may now be thinking revenge. He is normally a fairly sensitive, good natured kid, but I sometimes fear that if he feels so pushed up against the wall with no way out, he will lash out. Is this a common fear in most parents? Why am I afraid of my own kid? Is it just because of the increase in news stories of adolescents knocking off their parents in the middle of the night? Again, am I just being a mush?

Jacie
 

David Baxter

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I don't think you're overreacting and I don't think the consequence was too harsh. His threat to quit Scouts is probably a hollow one but my reaction to that would be, "That's your choice. It was your choice to join and you can choose to quit, because that's an extracurricular activity. School and what you do there is a different matter and it's not optional" (by law, one must stay in school until age 16 at least in most areas).

In terms of regaining his privileges, perhaps you could think about tieing that to school behavior - i.e., doing half an hour of homework gets him 15 minutes or so of video games. Generally, trying to make linking consequences that are closely related to the unacceptable behavior and then linking working off those consequences to the behavior that was the problem in the first place is the most effective strategy.
 

jacie

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Thanks for the prompt response. You have a good point about tying in the homework to earning video game time, since that gives him something more immediate to work for.

But I would still like to know what you think about difficult children like him reaching that point in discipline where they absolutely can't seem to cope anymore? Sometimes I wonder if he's just going to snap. What signs do you look for? He did mutter a few half-joking threats under his breath about "I'll just take 'em out - they'll never know what hit them". When I confronted him about it, he claimed he was just joking around. His birthmother was bi-polar, and sometimes I see some early signs of it in him, but it's too soon to diagnose it since his ADD symptoms are so similar. He has always reacted badly to not getting something he really wants. How do you know when he really has reached his limit, as opposed to him just attempting to manipulate me, which he has gotten good at, by the way.
 

David Baxter

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Even without ADHD, at 15 many teens find delay of gratification difficult, and, in truth, we all want what we want when we want it - and we all have to learn that it just isn't going to happen all the time.

Why is he no longer taking medication for ADHD, by the way? That may be a good part of the reason he's finding school work discouraging.
 

jacie

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Even on medication, school was always a struggle. We've tried most of them, and they all worked well at first. But we switched to Concerta for a few years, which caused so many gastrointestinal issues that we had to quit it. When we tried going back to some of the other medications, they no longer had any effect, except for plain old Ritalin. He ended up on Stratterra the last few years, but he became convinced that it was stunting his growth. He refused to take it any longer. Since going off it in June, he's gained 50 pounds and grown about 3 inches. I wanted him to try the ritalin again, but he claims he hates the way it makes him feel. He now wants to lose weight, and started taking the Stratterra again last week, but he claims it's "not doing anything", mostly meaning he's not losing the weight as fast as he wants to. I don't think he'll stick with it. He's very medication adverse. It could also explain the severity of this most recent rash of temper tantrums.

We tried bio-feedback therapy many years ago, and the psychologist said he performed better than any patient he ever had, but it never translated into making a difference in his behavior or his grades. We've done occupational therapy, which was a little helpful, but he started resisting the therapist and refusing to do the work, so we had to quit that.
 

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