By: Alyson Schäfer

Margaret Philp had a big spread in The Globe and Mail on February 25th, 2005 entitled Finding Parental Peace (registration required).

The article started nicely pointing out that old-style hierarchical, punishment-based parenting is defunct and democratic parenting is the new way.

The journalist reports on research findings stating that:

New results from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, a massive survey that has tracked the development of thousands of Canadian children over the past decade, show that children raised by parents who punish by spanking, shouting and threatening are more aggressive and anxious and are less considerate of others than peers whose parents are not as harsh.

Terrific! It’s great to see statistics backing up what I teach parents. Then she goes on to make one of my favourite points about why we don’t really want to raise obedient children, but rather to raise children in such a way as to cultivate their natural motivation to be co-operative.

It could be argued that parenting has become tougher over the years as parents have become less hierarchical. While research from 80 years ago shows parents were most concerned that their children be obedient and submissive, modern-day parents are far more interested in the intricacies of their relationships with their children and allow their kids far more autonomy — like the clothes they wear or when they tidy their rooms — than their authoritarian grandparents ever would have.

“What parents are more likely to endorse now is that their child be independent,” says Leon Kuczynski, a developmental psychologist in the University of Guelph’s family relations and applied nutrition department. ” ‘I don’t want my child to be a doormat. I want my child to be tolerant.’ Tolerance was not a big issue 80 years ago. Mostly it was the importance of conformity.”

Like other child-development experts, Prof. Kuczynski frowns on punitive parenting, such as shouting, in all but the most serious circumstances when safety is on the line because it teaches a child to obey orders rather than instill a natural desire to behave.

But then the article takes a really bad turn and suggests that rewards should replace punishment, and goes on to cite a credentialed individual that I am sure readers will feel can speak competently to this issue.

“Just ask Joan Durrant. An associate professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba and the mother of a precocious eight-year-old boy named Jonah, she used to lose her patience with her dawdling son every morning when the entire family was rushing out the door of their Winnipeg home. Frustrated by the endless battles, she started a system that rewarded Jonah with a sticker for every morning that he would get ready for school on time. After three weeks of stickers, he would earn a prize. It worked like a charm.”

Oh ya – not just stickers for this professor of family social sciences, but also bowls of buttons that tally behaviour and rating scales for hunger. I feel like a lab rat just hearing all this manipulation. Yuck!

Let me try to be as clear as possible: punishment and rewards are parts of the same system, just at opposite ends of the scale. Both are based on external control and power of personal authority. They belittle the faith in the child and work to control the child and “make them” conform. So conformity and obedience are still the underlying parental motivation.

Rewards have been proven to de-motivate children. I highly recommend Alfie Kohn’s “Punished by Rewards” for a full discussion of this.

No rewards people, please.

 

About the author
Alyson Schäfer is a psychotherapist, parent coach and popular public speaker. She teaches parent education classes and works with parents one-on-one in her parent coaching practice.

Alyson is called on regularly by the media as a parenting expert. She has been featured in articles in Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, Canadian Living and Reader’s Digest. She has also been interviewed by the CBC and has appeared on TV shows like Planet Parent, Agenda, Health on the Line, W-Live with Erin Davis, and the CHCH Morning Show.

Re-published with permission, www.alyson.ca