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The myth of punishment: It is not the same as "natural consequences."

Many parents and teachers wrongly assume that the use of punishment is the same thing as experiencing "consequences,"  particularly "natural consequences."  Adults justify the use of punishment [whether gentle or aggressive] by reminding the child that they are ostencibly "making choices" and that bad choices have repercussions or "consequences."  But adults cunningly call those repercussions "natural consequences," as if they are universal and happen to everyone everywhere.  So according to that justification, whatever happens to the child is the result of a choice they've made, not a situation the adult has set up.

While bad choices do have repercussions, I assure you that to a child, punishment is experienced very differently than natural  consequences.  Here's how punishment is distinctly different from natural consequences.



Punishment uses coercion, threat and pressure: 

"If you don't do what I'm asking, you will go to your room for a time-out." 

"If you don't do well on your report card, you won't be able to go to the dance." 

The "consequence" that an adult sets up for the child is designed to compel the child into one right response - the one the adult would choose.  The child must comply, or experience some kind of pain or loss.  [To be determined by the adult, of course.] Though the adult may in fact be right about what is needed in that situation, the use of punishment generates fear and anxiety rather than a healthy motivation to do the right thing. 

Moreover, the punishment is being set up and arranged for by the adult, rather than something that occurs as a natural outflow of an action, whether or not the adult arranged for it.  For example, if I go skating on a pond before it has frozen completely over, I may fall in and experience hypothermia; yet no one has arranged for that consequence for me.  It's simply a natural and understandable cause-and-effect. No one created the effect [falling in] in order to get me to be less foolish.

Ironically, the same parents who would agree that "perfect love casts out fear" would advocate the use of punishment [and its use of intimidation] to enforce proper behavior.

Punishment removes the possibility of a meaningful choice for the child. 
It is a fallacy to believe that the child is making a true, internally-motivated choice when the only two choices we have given her are either, "Do what I say" or "Experience fear and rejection." 

Punishment will also guarantee that the child's choice to comply with your wishes will not be motivated by love for you.  Nor will they obey because they genuinely respect you.  Rather, their motivation will be to avoid pain.  Using punishment actually disengages a child's genuine desire to do the right thing because fear will override any possibility that the choice will be made out of loving respect for you.

Punishment teaches the misuse of power.

Finally, punishment teaches the child that the way you get someone to do something is by using power against them.  It says to the child, "Authority is something to be feared rather than loved and honored."


Natural consequences, on the other hand, are not the fruit of threat and coercion, because no one is manipulating the child towards any particular outcome.  No one is using their authority or power to insure that their demands are met. 

In the case of a true natural consequence, the child retains a meaningful choice in the matter. No one is arranging for or demanding any particular outcome.  For example, if a teen chooses to drive recklessly down a neighborhood street, he could hit a toddler who steps out from behind a parked car.  The toddler may be tragically injured or killed as a natural consequence of the teen's actions; yet that natural consequence isn't being set up by an adult in order to constrain good choices behind the wheel.

Bottom line:  Justifying the use of punishment by calling it a "natural consequence" does not make it so.  The fruit of punishment is fear, not love. 



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Reader Comments (15)

Wow, great post! It's really wonderful to read this coming from a christian. It's really frustrating that so many believers use the ideas from behaviourism in their parenting books and what's really hilarious is that they put down any other ideas that contradict it and call it secularism.
Hooray, thank goodness more believers are speaking up and willing to challenge beliefs that have been around far too long.

I've been reading a lot from this website and really have enjoyed what they have to say.
I thought you might find it interesting. It's not christian based at all, but their is so much stuff that really rings true.

Thanks for speaking up and keep it up! :)

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

I agree Jim. This a very sensitive topic for a lot of people, because it's become so ingrained. It's one of the many myths and bones of contention we have to deal with in this world.

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Pedersen

Hey Dan. Yeah, the last thing any smart author would do is mess with parent's perceptions of their own parenting. Even to talk about parenting *ideas* that violate entrenched postures towards parenting feels VERY personal to them.

Yet, if taken seriously, there's a benefit and a blessing in this for the parents as well, not just the kids. Things get restored when we return to the easy yoke.

December 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

Yeah, I chartered into those waters not too long ago on my blog where I wrote about letting babies "cry it out," I don't have comments enabled on my blog, but someone shared the post on Facebook and it received some sensitive feedback. It's just one of those things that needs to be addressed.

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Pedersen

I hear you, Dan. As much resistance there is out there to these ideas, there's a growing number of parents who really want a more grace-ful way because they feel the heaviness of the false yoke - both upon their kids and themselves.

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

Hi, Dan

I read your post on "cry it out", wow it was wonderful! It's so great to see more and more men standing up for children and listening to the female intuition.

This is a great article.

"A parent asked me the other day, “If our goal is to create teenagers and adults that can manage their own feelings, shouldn’t we be teaching them to ‘self-soothe’ as little ones? Shouldn’t they learn to stop their own crying?” The implication here is that we grown-ups ‘manage’ our feelings all by ourselves. That just isn’t true."

I believe this is so important to speak up and say that the way children and babies have been treated isn't healthy for their development. The big thing is, I think is to give people room to be upset by what you are saying and let them vent and rant, because what that is doing is offloading their confusion and pain. The more aggressive the push back the greater the pain they are carrying inside. Anger is the emotion that hides the true feelings behind it, it's like armor.
And hey, if they are offloading on us adults, then they will have much less to offload onto their children. By treating people with kindness and gentleness while their are blasting you with harsh words, shows them a different way and I wonder if they are testing to see if they can get you to lash out, because that is what we have learned in our culture. That when you behave badly there is a price to be paid, bad behaviour gets punishment and good behaviour gets rewarded. So if you really want to mess with someone's mind then be kind and gentle when they are being rude and harsh. They won't know what to do with that! Because it feels so foreign to us, we expects the cause and effect thing and when it doesn't happen like we expect, we don't know what to do with that!
The big thing I think with listening to people vent and rant is to take it seriously but not personally. Now is this easy? Nope! It's hard, Really Hard, because even know it's not about us, it still feels like it's personal.
It helps when you see that behaviour is a another form of communication and that behind the behaviour is a heart that is crying out for love, for connection, for understanding, for compassion, for empathy. They are deeply good inside (that doesn't come from works, but from identity), struggling with something really painful. It's when we look deeper and say to ourselves, these people are deeply good inside and the pain they are carrying is becoming too much for them to bear and that is affecting the way they are relating to others.

What I'm coming to realize is that when parents get upset or frustrated with their kids, it has very little to do with what the children are doing or not doing and more to do with what is going on inside the parent. The children are never the cause of the anger or frustration, they are only triggering those feelings.
I'm starting to wonder that children bring about the second chance for people that didn't get to heal from the struggles and trauma that happened in childhood. That by triggering it, they bring it to the surface so that it can be finally worked through. That children are facilitators of healing.

I think so many parenting books are written out of trying to get the child to stop doing the things that bother the parent. So could this be the fleeing from vulnerability? That we don't want to remember or feel those things again and when a child triggers it, it brings up intense feelings of upset.

Well, just some things I've been pondering. Keep up the great work, you guys! :)

December 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Hey Hannah, Thanks for sharing this. I think you're right: Our parenting culture and our own parenting model is often very reactionary and stunted. It says more about how parents have learned to handle conflict and their own pain, than it does the children.

Rather than honoring a child's feelings [or another adult's], we shut it down- especially anger, and other unpleasant emotions:
... "Stop that arguing!"
... "Don't you backtalk me!
... "How dare you speak disrespectfully to me!"

It's too messy for us. So, because of this and other contributing factors, we end up with churches filled with adults who have little empathy, cannot "weep with those who weep," and cannot come alongside people in pain; so instead, we out-source it to professional counselors who respond in a way that often makes it worse by maintaining their "professional distance."

December 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

Great thoughts Hannah. You made me look at some of my own feelings in a different way - the frustration/anger I sometimes feel when my daughter is expressing hers.

And that's a good point by Jim about out-sourcing our problems to counselors who lack or only simulate empathy.

December 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Pedersen

Hi, Dan

Thanks for the compliment! :) Yeah, it's amazing when our perception changes, seeing everything through with different eyes, it changes how we respond in the same situations in a whole new way.

This is really important to say, because so much of the time parents feel really bad or like failures when their children are crying when all their needs are met or when they throw a huge tantrum, this isn't a sign of a parent failing, but quite the opposite. By showing their tears and having their rages, is the highest form of praise! It's saying they Trust You with their messy feelings, they know that you are Safe! Wow, isn't that exciting and amazing! :)
Here is a article on Tantrums and Crying, better describing it.

"To conclude, tears and tantrums are built-in healing mechanisms that help children overcome the effects of stress and trauma. Acceptance of strong emotions is an essential ingredient in unconditional love and healthy attachment. Children need an environment that permits them to cry without being distracted, ridiculed, or punished. This will allow them to maintain emotional health by regularly freeing themselves from the effects of frustrating, frightening, or confusing experiences. When parents strive to accept and listen to their children's strong emotions, the children will know that they can always come to their parents with their problems, and that they will be loved no matter how sad, frightened, or angry they feel. Children brought up with this approach grow up to be cooperative, compassionate, and nonviolent. Furthermore, they have no need to numb themselves with alcohol or drugs. This approach to parenting is therefore an essential factor in reducing the problems of violence and drug abuse in our society."


Best wishes for you guys on the parenting journey! :)
Your kids are so blessed to have you! :)

December 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Great insight here, Hannah: "By showing their tears and having their rages, is the highest form of praise! It's saying they Trust You with their messy feelings, they know that you are Safe!"

So true: If you shut down the strong emotions, they'll find somewhere [other than you] to bring their frustration and pain.

December 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

Wow, thanks for the compliment of quoting me!

Yeah, so true, they will go else where and it probably won't be the healthiest people that they seek. Or the feelings go underground and are left bottled up, waiting to be triggered. Which is more me! Right now really struggling with intense rage, I'm stuck and don't know how to let the feelings flow and move on. What triggers me is seeing or reading about children being treated like garbage.

One clip I watched had a talk show on it:
When the army guy was yelling at the kids, I wanted to get right up into his face and threaten to punch him so hard that he would have fallen back onto the audience. 17:57 he was yelling that he was going to put discipline into their bodies! And I'm livid right now, if he dared to touch those kids, he would be on the ground so fast, he wouldn't know what hit him. I may be short, but I have a lot of pent up energy.

The thing is, I know it's okay to be angry, it's just I get stuck there and can't shift over, that's what worries me. And I know it takes time to learn how to express emotions again. But, good grief! What rage I feel for children I have never met or seen before, seems to me to be way over the top! It's like I have over active maternal instincts and I'm just in my early 20's and don't have any kids! I know I'm empathic, but this connection to children goes so much beyond that. The instinct to protect and care are incredibly strong and even know that, I probably wouldn't let myself actually attack someone, the Thinker part of me is too strong for that, as well as being empathic. If logic wouldn't hold me back, empathy would! But, then if a person is wearing a mask(hiding their vulnerability) then that may make it hard to empathize, but then logic still might kick in.
I guess, what I'm saying is I feel deeply, but it's like I don't have an outlet to express it. And years of conditioning myself to hold my emotions in, sure doesn't help things. Why am I even sharing this, I don't know! Though, it's not to get someone to fix me, because I'm quite aware that healing isn't microwavable. Though it would be nice, if it was!

Holding onto hope is hard and it's easy for me to get depressed, because a lot of reason, really!
But, mostly I'm upset because it feels like the ability to Do things is slipping through my fingers, maybe because the things I did were out of anything but a rested heart. More anxiety then anything. It's still really hard, because I have things to learn and do, so that I can reach my goal of caring for the children that have troubled beginnings. These kids need someone that won't give up on them, just because it's hard. And I'm that kind of person, but I can't get to the point of being ready if I'm not doing things to prepare. Yes, I'm reading stuff like crazy, but that isn't enough, I need to be doing what I'm learning, not just storing info!
What is the point of my being put on this earth if I can't do anything! I'm wasting my time and I'm so frustrated, because the harder I try to do more, the more I become paralyzed!
My personality is a High Doer/High Thinker, it's like having lava and ice mixed together, sometimes I wonder why my personality is like this! Seriously, how are these two types compatible! I can spend hours in my mind obsessing on how bad a performer I am.

For those who watch Star Trek, I'm half Klingon and half Vulcan and Betazoid is somewhere in there. Swallow that one! Okay, I guess that's pretty funny! :)

Okay, I guess this ends my rant. Thanks for reading! :)

December 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Just had a Aha moment!

"Anger is the emotion that hides the true feelings behind it, it's like armor."
It's really funny the stuff I write has so much meaning and really points to what's going on inside me. I really think this stuff isn't coming from me, I'm too messed up to being coming up with great stuff like this!
Anger is my armor and then the question is why do I need armor? Because I feel in danger, not just for myself but for others as well. The anger is staying because it need it to protect me, from them(people that treat children less then human). Because deep down I feel helpless to do anything, that I don't have a voice! That I'm just barely an adult, single and don't have any children, Who am I to speak? What do I know? I am but a child in an adult's body, crying out to be heard! The shame is deafening and smothers out every sound that is good and beautiful.

And yes, I have been told that I need counselling, done some of that, but it doesn't work. Yes, it may help in some ways, but in the end of the day what I need isn't a stranger that I have to pay to listen to me, I need someone that I am deeply attached to and there isn't the risk of them leaving because they can't handle my emotional storms. Papa(God) is my ultimate attachment and I do feel safe with Him, but I'm not able right now to let go of the armor of anger, I haven't grown to the point where I know without a doubt that Papa is my armor, my protection.
And most days, I want nothing to do with other humans(the adult ones), I am so tired of the double standards, that say adults get grace and kids get law! !$##%%

I wish I had the guts to say to those people that if you are drawing a line in the sand, then I'll stand with the children and you can treat me just like you treat them. If you disrespect them, then you disrespect me, you dishonor them, you dishonor me! No more Double Standards, Enough is Enough!
Yeah, I can't let go of this anger thing! And yes, I know that aggressive will not lead to lasting change. But, I'm really ticked and really want to bang some heads together! Stupid Thinker! Stupid Logic!

I'm sorry......if you feel the need to delete my post, then go ahead. It's probably to raw and intense to be here.

I'll stop bugging you now, so sorry! :(

December 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Hey Hannah, I can really appreciate your anger when it come to how kids are treated. I've often asked myself the same question, "Why do I have this intense desire to see justice for kids who are threatened, coerced and shamed?" I didn't have a traumatic childhood, so that couldn't really explain it.

It may in fact be part of a larger instinct/calling in me that wants to defend anyone [including adults] who are bound by systems of shame and diminishment. That's part of the reason I wrote, "Recover Your Good Heart."

Someone once told me that the prophets in the Old Testament were actually getting angry at injustice on God's behalf. In other words, God was expressing his anger THROUGH the prophet.

December 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim Robbins

Hi, Jim

Thanks, for the longest time I've felt bad for being angry and now I'm learning that it's okay and that is such a relief. From one video I was watching a guy and he was saying that all good and beautiful things come from God and when we feel burdened by others pain and sadness could also be Him sharing this with us. Then following that thinking, the intense feelings of upset from seeing children or adults in bondage, is not originating from us, but from God.

Also I didn't have a traumatic childhood either, well at least by mainstream thinking.
From one of the books I'm reading, this really stuck out was that: trauma isn't from the event, but is from the perception of that event. So even the littlest things can be traumatic to one person and harmless to another. It all depends on how the nervous system perceives what is happening.

That's interesting thought about the prophets in the old testament. And maybe God's anger is the pure form of His intense passion for His beloved children. That God's anger is always other-centered, but with us humans anger is more for us, to protect us. So I'm thinking that when we are angrily, because someone else is being hurt, that is coming from God. That God's anger is coming from the desire to protect and heal, while human anger most of the time is about destroying things or hurting people. That it is sin that warps the real thing.

December 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

I've haven't read your book, but the more you've shared what you believe about children, that has really gotten my attention. So many of grace based books, are so disappointing, because they are really getting it about God, but then they start telling stories about how they treat their children and I want to throw the book at the wall, because of how picked off I am.

Like I read One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian, and I wasn't expecting this book to be any different then other grace books. But, oh boy was I livid when I read about how he treated his kids and then justified it! Saying that you need the law to crush them and then you bring grace, I felt sick to my stomach. Because I thought I heard it all, but that topped it!
And then from what he said about his book, like it was such an awesome thing, I wasn't at all impressed, it was like wading through a pool of $h!t for a couple gems here and there. And yes he did get grace, but most of the time it was just behaviourism. And then he was saying that we have adam's life and Christ's life in us, I have no idea where he was getting that one! Isn't that dualism, well I guess that's where he could be getting his justification for using the law and grace in a believers life. Pretty messed up!

But, to get back to the point I was making. It's really rare for me to find a book where the author understands that grace and love is for kids too, most people are still so stuck in behaviourism and it really ruins the book for me. Because I'm very much, if kids aren't being treated well, then I won't be treated well. We are God's children, aren't we? So wouldn't parents treat their children just like God treats them? Sadly that is rarely the case, it's like children are on this different level or something and it doesn't count for them.

Though, at least their is more and more people speaking up, like you! It's so good to know I'm not the only one that is bothered by how kids are treated!

Yeah, I talk a lot, but then I don't have really many people that will care to listen to me. So I've got lots to say, due to not getting to talk that often.

I hope you don't mind my endless talking! :) If it gets too much, just let me know and I'll try to slow down. :)

December 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

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