Written By: Amber Hollingsworth, LPC
“Old Schoolers” beware…. This may rile your feathers a bit. You’re gonna have to practice some open-mindedness here! Just because your mamma did it and your grandmamma did it, doesn’t make it effective.
It’s in our DNA to want bad behaviors punished! It’s an instinct of mine as well. Unfortunately not everything our instincts tell us is correct. Punishment just does not work!
When someone is being punished, it activates their emotional brain (actually it sets it on fire).
When this happens, the thinking part of the brain gets overruled by the emotional part. The part of the brain that could learn a lesson is disabled essentially.
You can’t think good when you’re upset! (Yes, I know that ain’t proper grammar! Hahaha).
Not only that, but because the person gets flooded with shame, embarrassment, resentment, anger, jealousy, etc…. they start to feel like they are being victimised in some way. Basically they feel sorry for themselves. Essentially they CAN’T learn the lesson you’re trying to teach them, and what they come away with is some version of “this isn’t fair,” or “you’re not fair,” or “I hate you,” or even worse “I hate myself.”
This is dangerous territory, because when people feel this way they are very likely to justify some other sort of bad behaviour or even a “revenge behaviour.”
FAIR or NOT, we have to come up with a better solution for correcting inappropriate behaviours. And it’s gonna take some thinking and strategy. The first thing you need to do is try and figure out what the purpose of the behavior is. (Hint… all behavior is either to avoid pain or seek comfort). If you can figure out what need the person is trying to meet, you can help them meet it more effectively.
The problem is that other people’s inappropriate behaviors often hit our emotional buttons, and like I said before, “when we’re upset, we don’t think good!” What usually ends up happening is that we get emotionally reactive and our first instinct is usually to do whatever our parents would have done to us (because it’s hard wired in our brains). Ever find yourself saying the exact same phrases as your parents did when you were a kid????
The best way to circumvent this instinct is to have some pre-planned ways of responding to difficult situations. If you don’t know what to do ahead of time, you probably won’t be able to think clearly enough to come up with an effective strategy on the spot.
For many of us, not giving out a consequence (fancy word for punishment), seems almost SACRILEGIOUS! Just remember, it’s about doing what works, not what feels good.
If you haven’t completely dismissed this idea yet, and you want to learn more about effective strategies, keep a look out, I’ll be doing a follow up piece on the goals of misbehavior. This will help you create the right strategies to respond to difficult behaviors.