As seen in previous studies, corporal punishment was associated with increased anxiety and depression. However, this study also revealed that corporal punishment was associated with how the participants processed making errors and receiving rewards on a neural level. Specifically,
Adolescents who received physical punishments showed a larger neural response to errors. They reacted more strongly to making mistakes.
Adolescents who received physical punishment also showed a “blunted response to rewards.” They did not respond as strongly to rewards as those who did not receive physical punishment.
These neural responses directly impact our children’s levels of anxiety and depression. Specifically, an increased response to making errors is associated with anxiety. A decreased response to rewards is related to depression.
In other words, using corporal punishment as a major tool for discipline actually changes how your children respond to making mistakes and how they respond to rewards on a neural level. It changes how your children’s brain functions in processing information about mistakes and rewards. That change increases the risk of anxiety and depression.
So how can you discipline your children without corporal punishment? Without increasing the risk of long-term depression and anxiety? That’s a great question. Here are some resources to help you discover the many alternatives:
What do you believe about your children’s behavior? When they misbehave, what assumptions do you make? When they behave well, what do you think? Many parents don’t take the time to answer these questions. However, the answers you give impact your children’s behavior, your children’s belief about themselves, and your response to your children’s behavior. Consider these examples.
If you see your children’s misbehavior as rebellion, you will respond swiftly and harshly to squelch the rebellion. You might assert your adult power to “put down the rebellion” and show your children who is in control. Your children will grow to see themselves as powerless. They will feel intruded upon and imprisoned by your assertion of power. They will want to break free and push against your authority even more. They will want to assert their power, but the only way to do so is through rebellion. Ultimately, they will grow more rebellious in their attempt to assert their own independence, autonomy, and power. And so the cycle grows.
If you assume your children’s behavior is a result of laziness, you may push them to do more. You will attempt many ways to motivate them, maybe even call them lazy in the process. They may accept that label and begin to consider themselves lazy. Unfortunately, a lazy person can’t change; it takes too much work and they are too lazy to do the work. As they struggle to feel motivated to do what is asked, they may also begin to feel bad, like something is wrong with them. With no other choice, they live up to (or should I say “down to”) the label of lazy.
If you believe your children act out of sneaky defiance, you will have to constantly be on your toes. You can stalk their Facebook and Instagram. You will look at them with accusing eyes when they arrive home late, assuming that they are lying about the reasons for their tardiness. Your suspicions will grow in their mind, making them believe they are not trustworthy. “If my parents don’t trust me, who will?” Your children will then begin to see themselves as sneaky and defiant. They will begin to act sneaky and defiant…“What else can I do? It’s who I am. Just ask my parents.”
These beliefs might be true sometimes. I doubt if any child is always rebellious, always lazy, or always sneaky and defiant. When these beliefs become the primary way in which we see our children’s misbehavior they create a vicious, downward spiral of negative interactions and negative behaviors.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You could become curious about your children’s behavior. You will still need to discipline. You will still give consequences, but those consequences will change and become more effective. Think about the process. You observe your children misbehave. You become curious about that misbehavior. Are they rebelling? Being lazy? Acting in defiance? Or something else? After all, the answer to these questions will definitely change my parental response. There is only one way to know the answers, ask. So you begin to engage your children. You start a dialogue about the behavior you just witnessed. You simply begin to explore what might have motivated their behavior. What was their intent? What was going on in their thought life as they considered the behavior? What feelings did they have? Was there anything that triggered the behavior? Was there anything bothering them or exciting them? Suddenly you find yourself having an interesting dialogue about behaviors, limits, and your children. You are learning about their fears as well as their hopes and dreams. Not only that, you are training them to develop an awareness of their rich inner life of thought, intent, emotion, and motivation. You are teaching them to think before they act. You are teaching them to consider the consequences of an action in relation to the goal they want to achieve. Isn’t that the greater goal of correcting misbehavior? Then your consequence will merely reinforce the lessons learned in relationship with you.
Give up the assumptions and get curious. Start a dialogue with your children. Discover what makes them tick. Teach them how to think before they act by thinking with them.
Accountability helps children develop into mature adults. It teaches them wisdom and gives them insight into the consequences of various behaviors. Accountability enables children to know right from wrong, to courageously stand for right, and to live out values of virtue and integrity. With that goal in mind, parents hold children accountable. But, do you wield accountability as if it were a club or a staff?
When a parent uses accountability as a club, they use it to beat the wrong behavior out of their child. A parent who uses accountability as a club will constantly pound their children with a verbal barrage of unmet expectations and disappointments. Yelling, name-calling, and lecturing will leave the emotional bruises of an accountability club. The accountability club is also seen in the wallop of public humiliation and the thrashing of excessive punishment received from a parent lashing out in anger. The parent who uses accountability as a club focuses on the wrong, the negative. They hold the club of accountability high, waiting to “catch ’em being bad” so they can immediately pounce on the negative behavior of their children. Parents who use accountability as a club believe that rules alone produce good character; and, so, the club of accountability becomes the only tool of choice.
Accountability can also be used as a staff. When parents use accountability as a staff, they use it to guide their children toward positive behavior, to encourage their movement toward the desired character of virtue and integrity. Although a staff can provide a “stronger than gentle” nudge in the right direction, it does so in an effort to instruct and train the child in the dangers of negative behavior. Parents who use accountability as a staff recognize progress and express pride in their children’s gifts and strengths. They strive to “catch ’em being good” and then continue to lead their children in that positive direction. Accountability as a staff also becomes a tool parents can use to lift their children up with encouragement or to lovingly lift them out of pits in which they may have fallen.
The only problem with using accountability as a staff is that it eventually leads to children’s independence. The loving instruction, training, support, and guidance of accountability as a staff will produce mature children who make wise decisions…children who will no longer need us for every decision…children who grow independent enough to live their own lives. When we use accountability like a staff, we work our way out of a job…and, who wants to do that?