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Parenting: an alternative to punishment and reward

A constant power struggle

What do you want for yourself and your children? When we ask this question in our parenting workshops, we always hear the same answers: respect, care, cooperation and responsibility. Sadly, the picture we get from people talking about their daily parenting lives is different. We hear of parents in conflict with their children around everyday activities. Whether that’s going to sleep, waking up, doing housework or homework. Are you engaged in a constant power struggle with your children?

A child’s autonomy

How does this come about? If you make demands and back them up with punishments and rewards, children respond in kind, fiercely protecting their autonomy. Two crucial areas that children learn they can take charge of early on are 1) bedtime and 2) meal times. Try as you might, you can’t make a child sleep or eat. Sometimes, a child’s need for autonomy is so strong, they will go without these basic needs to assert control over their lives.

parent holding their child

Why punishment in parenting doesn’t work

When we’re sharing Nonviolent Communication with parents, we ask two questions. If we just ask the first question ‘What do you want your children to do?’ it seems practical and realistic to use threats of punishment and promises of reward to motivate your children. And sometimes parents find that they do get what they want in this way.

However, when we ask the second question, ‘What do you want your child’s reason to be for doing it?’ parents realize why they are so unhappy with their family’s interactions. Their children are doing what they are told because they are afraid of being punished if they don’t, not because they understand why – either for their parents or for themselves.

Parents say that they want to support their children to develop strong characters and the skills to make decisions for themselves. Yet none of this can happen when children are acting out of fear of blame or punishment.

So what’s an alternative to parenting with punishment and reward? By modelling how we take our own and others’ needs into consideration, in our daily interactions with our children.

Learn these skills online

To turn conflict into cooperation for your family, join our online Compassionate Parenting 6-week course , starting Friday 8 September, 2023, 10.30am – 12.45pm UK time.