If we can instill good judgment in children, they will be more likely to make healthy choices when we are not around. Simply getting them to be obedient lasts only as long as we are in the room because it doesn’t help them understand what to do in new, novel situations. We can’t realistically expect children to know what to do in a new situation if we have taught them only to obey through our enforcing of rules. Our world is complex, so children need to learn to rely on good judgment rather than rules.
Obedience is the goal of punishment. Good judgment is the result of talking with children, helping them figure out how they might have handled a situation differently, and discussing moral dilemmas. Connecting with children after they have made a misstep is the key to these conversations. Listening to how they feel after they have made a mistake and telling them calmly about your feelings and perspective will do more to promote good judgment than simply enforcing a punishment.
A close relationship with someone who offers love and affection while modeling moral values goes a long way toward teaching a child how to develop into a thoughtful, considerate, trustworthy, kind adult with high moral standards. Since close connections are so important to humans, and humans can think and reason, it makes a lot more sense to use this love connection and talking as the foundation of discipline. Discipline is, after all, a form of teaching.
It is notable that recent brain research suggests punishment has the least impact on the children most likely to be punished. Certain children are more impulsive, have a tougher time developing a sense of moral goodness, and experience trouble connecting with people or feeling part of a group. These very traits make them more likely to get into trouble. The children who are more inclined to misbehave need help organizing themselves rather than punishment because punishment further disorganizes these children. To help them organize themselves, young children need the help of another’s calm, physical body—experiencing such contact as a hug or sitting in a lap—along with quiet space and comforting objects like a blanket, pillow, or fluffy toy. For older children, cognitive organization can be encouraged by art projects, safe roughhousing, and a somewhat structured schedule.
Rethink . . . Instill good judgment through connection and teaching rather than punishment.