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October 2, 2015

Punish and Perish

Hal photo outside Feb2012Misbehavior and punishment are not opposites that cancel each other – on the contrary they breed and reinforce each other.” (Haim G. Ginott)

One of the biggest mistakes parents (and all leaders) make is our stubborn belief in punishment. “You deserve to be punished” is such a common statement that few of us really recognize it as a mistake. We heard it from our parents, who heard it from theirs, and by golly, our kids have heard it from us.

I don’t want us to be too hard on ourselves for this—we don’t deserve to be punished for our habit of punishing others! But I do want us to examine the idea critically. We like punishment because it feels like justice. Crime needs to be followed by punishment. But think about that for a sec—why do we feel the need for justice when our kids misbehave? Do we feel hurt by their mistake? Do we feel mistreated? Do we feel our authority threatened? If so, then it makes sense we long for the justice of punishment.

Of course, that means we’re taking their choices personally. Which means we still feel responsible for their behavior. Which means they can’t feel responsible for it. Which is why punishment never works. In the name of making them take responsibility for their actions, we actually end up telling them to take responsibility for our uncomfortable feelings.

Our job is not to punish our kids; our job is to train them. Our job is not to enact justice upon our kids; our job is to educate them about their mistakes in a way that encourages them to learn from them.

Don’t take your kids’ (or your employees’!) mistakes personally. Take them seriously, but not personally. Lovingly introduce them to the natural and logical consequences of their actions, while never wavering in your belief in their progress.

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