Punishment v/s Programming

Imagine you see a kid at a store have a meltdown and scream, “I hate you! You’re the worst Mom ever!” to his mother. Imagine the mother responds by whispering messages to the child about anger and stress and maybe you even hear her say something like, “I understand why you’re upset,” to the boy as he continues to berate her. How would you walk away from that situation? Well let me tell you how I would have 15-20 years ago when the only child I had at home was a laid-back, mild-mannered, well-behaved child. I would have shaken my head and thought to myself: I would be putting that kid in timeout for the rest of his life if he talked to me like that. Those kind of Moms that don’t punish their children are why we have so many discipline problems in our schools.

I know some people (especially in the South) who would have set something like, “I would tan that boys hide for talking to me like that!”

We’ve entered a phase in our parenting methods where we sometimes find ourselves discussing Punishment v/s Programming when dealing with behavior that is not ideal. And I find myself looking at the way I parent after breakdowns and imagining how it looks from the outside. It looks simply like a kid being terrible is not being punished. But in our home? We are leaning away from punishment and more towards what I call “programming” or sometimes “re-wiring” of my child’s brain.

My kid get’s stressed or anxious or upset and he lashes out. And with kids where that behavior is rare and parents can be confident that programming for “How to manage stress” in their kid’s brain is proper, maybe punishment is the solution. But in our house? We are working on training our children to handle anxiety or stress or shame or hurt in healthy ways, because – for whatever reason – their brains aren’t wired well in those areas. Wes takes any negative flash (shame, embarrassment, hurt, stress) and lashes out. We’ve been working on this for years and we’ve made progress in many areas, but right now we’re really working rebuilding those instincts. The instinct that says, “RAGE!” when you’re embarrassed or hurt, he goes with that. Whereas most of us have the same instinct, but we talk ourselves into other behavior instead. So Wes rages and we take it as a moment to teach, and to discuss other options for the next time we’re overwhelmed by those same negative reasons.

But on the outside? It just looks like I’m letting my kid get away with murder.

See, here’s the thing: If we simply punished him every time he lashed out, he might simply learn to accept the punishment. We’re focusing more on teaching him ways to handle this surge of emotions that is not dangerous to himself or to the people around him. And that requires more complex, reactions and it requires us to look at a much bigger picture of cause and effect and instinct.

I’ve also been thinking about this a lot in terms of criminal justice reform.

I know, that seems weird, but right now we’re spending a lot of time discussing mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses and President Obama pushed AGAINST those whereas Jeff Sessions is pushing FOR them. And it has me thinking a lot about how mandatory minimums are a lot like punishment for Wesley without programming. Our society needs to take a long hard look at our criminal justice system and the economics that create life-long criminals out of small misdemeanors because of our courts and the fines associated with this justice system. We need to look the ways we might have failed parts of our society that seem to have higher incidents of non-violent drug offenses. We need to look deeper and bigger and simply reacting with PUNISHMENT! is not going to change the programming of a faulty system. Especially when these punishments are not distributed fairly or evenly across barriers of race or economics.

Anyway…those are just my thoughts this morning. Don’t judge parents who look like they’re letting their kid get away with murder. Don’t enforce mandatory minimums. Typical correlations on this Tuesday morning.