Let’s Get Rid of Trick or Treat!

trickortreatPAIDThe last twenty years or so have given us many new insights into child development and what is required for optimal brain wiring.  Neuroscience and social research are showing us that a secure attachment and the quality of the parent-child relationship are what influence our child’s behavior the most.

Armed with research findings that favor relationship-building over behavior modification, many parents are veering away from using “tricks” (punishments) and “treats” (rewards) to discipline children.  After all, discipline means to teach—not to coerce with punishment or to convince with rewards.

In fact, “tricks” or “treats” override children’s natural willingness to do what’s right based on intrinsic learning and instead, motivate them to “behave” based on extrinsic motivations–to avoid punishment or to receive a reward.  While it may “work” in the short term to get you the desired behavior, it will not teach your child to go inside and decide for himself what is right or wrong.  Disciplining our children in a way that nurtures their self-discipline will pay off in the long run when they are teenagers and we’re not around to put them in time-out or present them with a sticker for their sticker chart!

But how is it possible to discipline without punishment or reward?  Won’t kids run wild and play with matches and kill each other?  I’m not saying children don’t need limits.  They do.  But setting loving limits and letting your child feel the feelings that come when they bump up against them is not the same thing as punishment.

Punishment is time-out (sending into isolation), or taking away privileges, or spanking.  Discipline is setting limits, holding those limits, and letting natural consequences teach the child. It’s viewing behavior as communication and using dialogue to dig for what’s under the behavior.  What is your child communicating?  What does she need?  It’s talking it through, putting the issue on the agenda for the weekly family meeting, and collaboratively problem-solving together.  It is teaching, which is mostly with words and always through modeling.

With our gentle guidance, we can help our children develop their own moral compass and regulate their impulses and behavior.  It takes time.  After all, they’re just kids.  They’re learning. When we give up the tricks and treats and use discipline to teach our kids, we invest in building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.  As they grow older and our influence pales in comparison to the influence of their peers, this relationship becomes uber important. When we honor the natural growth in our children as their conscience develops from the inside out, they are able to make better choices, even when no one is looking.

(For a deeper understanding of how to discipline without punishment or reward with lots of concrete examples, I recommend No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind and/or The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind…both by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.)

Speak Your Mind

*