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Does sparing the rod spoil the child?

The term ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ has done a lot of damage in guiding healthy parenting practices. Punishment is now widely misunderstood, misused and overused when it comes to changing child behaviour. It does have some effects, but these effects are limited and come with a

ream of unwanted side effects, calling into question whether it is even worth utilising. Many families

seek out my guidance on how best to respond to unwanted behaviours that they see in their children. However, my work centres on proactive approaches to misbehaviour and skills teaching replacement behaviours to ensure that misbehaviour is less likely to occur in the first place and thus, discipline is deemed unnecessary.

Punishment can range from shouting, verbalising harsh statements, to removal of privileges and time outs. Really, any form of reactionary consequence after a child has misbehaved. Technically, punishment (in the world of behaviourism) is anything that follows a (mis)behaviour that decreases the likelihood of that behaviour happening again in the future. Parents can penalise child behaviour for a multitude of reasons – to seek justice, to teach respect to authority, to show who is in control, (does “because I said so” sound familiar?) and more importantly, to teach children right from wrong. However, in the moment may not be the best time to teach these things!

We are hard wired to only notice the negatives, to only notice when things go wrong, and it is human nature to also automatically revert to discipline as the primary means of responding to unwanted behaviour. We are all too often overly responsive to misbehaviour, and irresponsive to good behaviour. However, when it comes to addressing misbehaviour, we need to work against our natural tendencies in order to notice, promote and encourage more positive behaviours in order to decrease unwanted behaviours.

Punishment only serves