Recently, there have been many reports of parents going to far with their disciplinary practices. Not only are they publicly disciplining their children, they are then broadcasting the punishment online in some way. One mother recently had her daughter tape her (the mother) punishing her son in a very abrasive, abusive way. First, she had him hold hot sauce in his mouth while she berated him, and then, she threw him into a icy cold shower and continued the yelling. She then sent the tape to Dr. Phil asking for help. The good news is, she was asking for help. The troubling news? That she broadcast it for the world to see. And this is only one example. It’s happening often and all over.
This leads to the question. Why parents go public with discipline? These parents are really at the end of their ropes and doing anything they can to get a message through to their children. It’s unclear how much they have tried to get their children to change their behaviors to no avail, which ultimately may have pushed them to go to such extreme measures. The question becomes, did the public shaming create and promote long term change, or will it only be effective in the short term? Chances are, the immediately observed change will not last, unfortunately. And if it does, it will be motivated by fear rather than real meaningful change. Additionally, there may be the belief, on the part of the mothers, that in enlisting others, even if they are strangers, it may help the child realize that the behavior needs to be changed, almost in the “it takes a village” idea (although not in as positive a way).
It’s also important to consider how public shaming impacts children. Extreme disciplining and public shaming can be incredibly damaging for kids. Shame is a very powerful emotion that can really dictate future behaviors…it can make kids afraid to explore, shut down their sense of creativity and really cause them to turn into themselves. It can create a victim mentality, which can put them at risk for falling into other relationships in which they will be the victim. On the flip side, it can also cause them to be rebellious, sneaky and oppositional, which will create more conflict, and put them at risk for engaging in dangerous behaviors in order to manage their emotions. Bottom line, shame can really shut a child down and prevent him/her from expressing themselves, which will create long-term problems. Discipline is a necessary thing in life, for certain, and how we engage in it is important in building positive self-esteem and a healthy sense of self in children.
It’s is easy to get to your wit’s end and not know what to do. It’s so difficult to be a parent, especially when your children are pushing your buttons or doing the same things over and over and over again…and it’s so important to try not to react in anger. It’s such a challenge…especially when you have addressed the problem time and again. When we react from a purely emotional space, in any relationship in our life, the outcome is generally not great. Often, we end up regretting our actions, or it ends up creating greater amounts of problems in our lives. If possible, take a deep breath, do some problem solving as to what you really want to see and how to get your point across, and then address it with your child. Reach out for support from a spouse, a friend, anyone who might help you have a reality check to determine if your initial response will be effective for the long term.
At the end of the day, when you really need to get your child to do what you want, how do you make that happen?
Start early explaining to your children what you expect from them and what you want.Reinforce the behaviors you do want repeatedly. This also helps your children know what the expectations are and they will be able to work toward it as they get older. Punishment doesn’t actually teach anything new, and can teach your child to be sneakier and to lie. You may have to provide reminders. Reinforcers don’t have to be monetary…praise will get you far.
Catch your child being good, listening, following directions as often as possible. If all she hears is criticism, after a while, it will lose its meaning. Be a detective: maybe some of the problems your child is having is beyond his or her control. Maybe the bad grades are due to a learning disorder, not due to not trying hard enough. Do some exploration to be sure it’s not a bigger issue.
Here’s the link to my segment with Erica Hill on CBS’ The Early Show