Why Punishment Doesn’t Teach Your Child Accountability

“Dr. Laura….How do you hold a child accountable for her behavior without punishment?” “I recently read a quote from a Finnish education minister: “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish…Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” – Teacher Tom What does it mean, to hold our child accountable for her behavior? My definition would be that our child assumes responsibility for her actions, including making amends and avoiding a repeat, whether the authority figure is present or not. So, really, it isn’t about “holding our child accountable.” What we want is for our child to step into responsibility, to hold HERSELF accountable. Once someone takes responsibility, we don’t have to “hold her accountable.”

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Research shows that seventh graders whose parents raised them using punishment, including consequences and timeouts, are less morally developed than their peers. “Having learned to do exactly what they’re told in order to avoid losing their parents’ love, they tended to just apply rules in a rigid, one-size-fits-all fashion,” says Alfie Kohn. Many of the studies referred to above are detailed in Kohn’s book, Unconditional Parenting, and more are being published every day.

Not surprisingly, these studies also show that children who are punished (including with time outs and consequences) exhibit MORE bad behavior, not less. Not because kids who behave badly are punished more often, but because kids who are punished behave badly more often. So if punishment teaches our child all the wrong lessons, what DOES raise a child who wants to do the right thing? Loving guidance. Which includes limits, set with empathy. Connection. Modeling. And a whole lot of love. We’ll get into the details tomorrow, with: How to Raise a Moral, Responsible Child — without Punishment.

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