It’s been a year or so since I finished my university studies in Psychology, but I remember that teachers of different subjects spent a lot of time teaching us the principles and mechanisms that underlie punishment. They wanted to make sure we understood how to correctly apply a punishment. Despite the fact that a few years have passed since then, our society continues to use punishment, especially in contexts where children and adolescents are educated. I have also been a victim of the behaviorist, resultadist and adult society in which we live and whose main weapon is punishment and sanction. I do not regret it because it has been for many the only option we knew about. Fortunately, I have been trained, I have read and I have investigated in relation to punishment and I have verified that such an “educational” strategy, in addition to not being legal or ethical, does not work. Well, sorry, of course it is effective, but in the short term and only so that the minor stops doing the behavior we want to eradicate. It may stop your behavior, but it won’t teach you the skills you need to get through life. And it is that educating consists of investing in the long term but always under the premise of good deals. Punishment transmits mistrust in the minor. Feeling afraid of the person who is called to protect and take care of you does not think it is a good option. And what to say about physical punishment that, in addition to violating children’s rights, sends the message that the strongest or the one who hits the hardest is always the one who is right.
Eradicating punishments in families, schools and in society is something tremendously complicated. It is so because it has been transmitted from generation to generation and, therefore, they are normative; that is, they are transmitted from parents to children and are more than accepted in our day to day. We punish children without playing the game console, without going to football, without going to a friend’s birthday, without dessert, withdrawing our attention and affection, without going out on the streets … The list is endless. Surely many more will occur to you. The fact is that we punish our children because our parents punished us when we were little and our grandparents in turn punished our parents. We do not believe in respectful communication with our children, and of course we cannot leave negative action unpunished. If we don’t punish, it’s like they get away with it. If the relationships between parents and children are characterized by power relations, the latter are more likely to punish them. Children and adolescents need opportunities, as they are in the process of learning and developing their autonomy. We would like it to be as easy as saying things once. The truth is that this is not the case.
The objective of the person who punishes is for the minor to learn, but we do not realize that what we are actually doing is humiliating and not respecting the child. We punish with what hurts the most. We hurt, we know, but it is the only way out we can find at that moment. Punishment only makes the situation even more complicated, since sometimes, far from redirecting the conflict, it intensifies the unwanted behavior. We try to justify ourselves or to others by saying or thinking that we do it for their good, so that they learn, but the truth is that it is not an effective way to accompany or learn. How many times have our children cried and begged not to take away what they wanted so much, but ignore or forget what they did wrong? They will keep the punisher in their memory, but they will forget the action taken. This means that it is not effective, it is not valid for them to learn. For example, one of the most frequent punishments is to send the minor to the thinking corner. Faced with unwanted behavior by a three-year-old, we send him to sit in a chair to think. To what? To think. I think this little boy can think little without the help of an adult who respects him and helps him integrate what happened. It is important that the child understands that he should not do certain behavior because he can hurt himself or he is not considerate of his friend, but not because he is afraid of being punished. Children need to investigate, pry and be autonomous, but sometimes we interpret this as a lack of obedience and a personal attack, which is why we punish them.
What happens in the brain of a child who is being sanctioned? When we punish a child without dessert or is expelled from class for his bad behavior, the lower areas of the brain that are in charge of the survival instincts are activated. Faced with this punishment, the child will have three possible reactions: attack, huida The paralysis. All of them are started automatically, unconsciously and reactively. Large doses of adrenaline and cortisol are released, prompting action and preventing thinking, which is why punishment blindly invites revenge. As the part of the brain basement (instincts and emotions) is hyperactivated, it can hardly be connected with the cerebral attic (critical thinking, reasoning, executive functions, etc.). In this way we cannot be conscious or think about what happened and, therefore, we only obey our most instinctive and emotional part. There is no real learning, since love, respect, patience and good treatment of children are essential for this. The child, faced with punishment, can be enraged (attack) or with fear (huida The paralysis). This happens at first, but then guilt, shame appear and the child thinks it is little due to their actions. All this must be replaced by support, understanding and appropriate attributions to their actions. Punishment, by activating the most primitive and instinctive part of the brain, disconnects the child from his logical and thinking part, in addition to not helping him to be responsible and consistent with his actions.
Therefore, punishment is not effective in the long term, apart from not respecting the child or the rights of the child. I suggest that the reader think for a few seconds about the different ways in which he was punished throughout his childhood or how we punish children and adolescents today. If these ways of “educating” instead of being exercised by an adult towards a minor were imposed by an adult on another adult, we would be talking about abuse. No one would have any doubts. The problem is that we adults think that children are ours and that we can do whatever we want with them. Nothing is further from reality. Children don’t belong to us. Mothers, fathers, educators and society in general are here to accompany and educate children with affection, respect and tolerance. If we understand the error as a learning opportunity, it will be easier to allow the child and the adolescent to repair the damage caused with their word or action. Always, I repeat, always, we will be in time to replace punishment with more effective and respectful ways of accompanying them on this wonderful path called Education.
* Rafa Guerrero He is a psychologist and a doctor of Education. Director of Darwin Psychologists. Author of the books “Emotional education and attachment” (2018), “Stories for emotional development from attachment theory” (2019), “How to stimulate the child’s brain” (2020), “Educate in the bond” (2020 ) and “Linking and autonomy through stories” (2021).
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.