• Wali Muhammad

Empower, Don't Punish Kids

Behavioural Skills

Besides a worldwide non-acceptance of physical punishment of children, there are a great number of parents who still believe it to be an integral part of raising their kids. As a parenting skill facilitator, I often come across parents who believe some form of punishment to be quite normal and even necessary for successfully performing their role as parents. Such parents have little idea, how much harm than help they are being for their children.

As recently as 20 years ago, the physical punishment of children was generally accepted worldwide and was considered an appropriate method of eliciting behavioural compliance. However, this perspective began to change as various studies linked physical punishment with child aggression, delinquency, and spousal assault in later life.

An obvious question resulting from such researches was: what alternatives do parents have to discipline their children other than by punishing them?

We all want to raise responsible, cooperative, and considerate children; it can be done by empowering not punishing them. These are two very different things. Punishing is purposefully causing pain (physical or emotional) to force the children to do things the parents’ way. Empowering is to have the children assimilate a personal sense of responsibility. This can be achieved by presenting them with choices, guiding them on the difference between right and wrong, and educating them on the implications of both. Parents will be surprised to see that if they present them with choices along with appropriate guidance, children are more likely to choose the right path.

To effectuate the change in their parenting strategy from punishing to empowering children, the first step parents need to take is to cultivate a bond with their children that is formed on the basis of love, trust, openness and dependability. If such a bond exists, children are more likely to follow in the parents’ lead when they guide them in a certain direction.

Once this bond of mutual love, trust and understanding is intact, parents can begin to discipline their children by setting the limits for daily behaviour. For example, things like children are not supposed to hit their siblings, mess up the house, and run in the street. If parents force these limits, children will eventually learn, though with a great deal of resistance, to execute the commands without knowing why they must. But, if parents set these limits in partnership with children where both recognize each other’s perspective ( I know you are mad at your brother but I cannot let you hit him. Let us talk to him to know what he has to say about it.), they will feel understood, and be willing to accept those limits more easily; the best part is they would know why these limits were necessary.

Temper tantrums in children is one of the most obvious sign of the absence of this bond with their parents. Children flip their lids almost instantly and would not let parents reason out with them. When parents work out a bond with their children, they will notice an instant decrease in temper tantrums and find out how easy it was to influence them and elicit the required behaviour. Since parents are the most important people in their lives, children will always try to please them through good behaviour such as listening to them and cooperating, as long as they are convinced that parents are on their side. Punishment crumbles this connection because parents are intentionally hurting their child, either physically or emotionally.

Fortunately, to cultivate and strengthen a parent-child bond is easy. This can be done through everyday simple gestures of love, attention and care, for example greeting the children with a smile when they come back from school or when parents get back from work, giving the children undivided attention when they are talking to parents (no phones and laptops for a while), or parents talking to children to explore their interests and what excites them. Prevention is always better than cure! When parents listen to their children with empathy and consider how do they feel rather than how do they behave, children are going to learn this behaviour too.

Children learn their values and emotional regulation directly from what their parents ‘do’ NOT what they ‘say’. Even at a very young age, children are smart enough to sense any contradiction between the two and get confused while making their own choices. Parents can teach their children to be honest and truthful only by setting personal examples.

Like adults, children learn from their experiences through reflections, and parents must provide them with opportunities for it. Daily discussions, where parents listen to what their children have to say is great way to do that. Parents must not wait for a problem to arise when they would be compelled to have such a discussion anyways.

One of the easiest ways for parents to have the trust of their children in their personal matters is by being non judgemental. If parents start reacting right away, it is more likely that children will stop sharing with them in the future. The most appropriate time to discuss these matters is during the reflections-based discussions with children.

In the nutshell, parents must always remember that they are helping their children to take responsibility of their behaviour and actions only when they connect, empathize, discuss, provide them with opportunities to reflect, and be a role model for them. Parents will notice that prevention plays a greater role in shaping children’s behaviour. Once parents can successfully get rid of the urge to yell or punish, they will start to notice that their children want as much as they do to cooperate and have a healthier, positive relationship with them.


Nadia Muhammad

Director, The Behavioural Skills Company

During the course of her over seven years career, Nadia has consistently worked to push innovations in behavioural skills training. When she is not working on assignments, she is incorporating scientific information and developing new training techniques to update her workshops in the areas of stress management, mastering anger, controlling demoralizing anxiety, parenting skills, and spousal relationship.

Nadia's workshops combine an optimal blend of learning and fun which are consistently the two attributes people remember them for. Her equal proficiency in four languages and experience of living and working in different cultural settings enables her to relate positively to her workshops participants with diverse cultural backgrounds.

Keen to contribute to community, Nadia is an avid social worker. She serves as vice president on the board of Victoria Hills Neighbourhood Association, Kitchener ON. She spends her spare time helping people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds connect together by organizing interactive discussion sessions and multicultural community events.

Nadia has a master of science in Psychology and has attended training workshop on Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). She graduated top of the class in a hundred hour-training program Management for Organizational Effectiveness (MOE).

#Parenting #EmpoweredKids #ChildPsychology

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