Punishment does not work!
Spanking Recollections NoSpank NeverHit
Timeout Shame Hurt1 Punishment Coercion
Tantrum Hurt2 TitforTat Rewards
Malama Discouragement Pavlov Chekhov Doggies
Alternatives: Nonviolent Communication Could it be Twenty
A story by Duen Hsi Yen
Many years ago, I arrived home one winter recess from college, and found
that my sister had during my absence, gotten both a cat and a dog. My sister
said that someone at work, had given her the dog. The dog, actually, a big
puppy, was especially friendly and affectionate. Whenever we came home,
the dog would jump on us, and slather us with wet kisses. One problem, however,
was the dog's continued effort to raid the garbage can when we were away,
and make a mess on the kitchen floor. I got the idea of trying to stop this
behavior, by spanking the pets whenever they went into the garbage. They
learned not to do it when we were around.
However, what happened next was unexpected. When we came home, the pets
no longer came to greet us, but instead ran away. And there still was a
mess all over the kitchen floor from the spilled garbage. The pets never
seemed to learn not to go into the garbage! Never! Everytime we went out,
and then came back home, the garbage can was overturned. And we would yell
and spank both the cat and dog. Each day we would spank harder, especially
the dog, but to no avail. The only effect that I noticed, was that the pets
learned to run away faster, as soon as they heard our footsteps coming up
the stairs. Clearly, my experience was that punishment does not work, at
least not with cats and dogs. Eventually we solved this particular problem
by always emptying the garbage before we left the house, or hiding it in
the cabinet under the kitchen sink. And the pets returned to their normal
As the dog grew, my sister then decided to keep it outside in a dog house.
My sister would tell me that she had great difficulties controlling the
dog. She said it was incredibly strong, and would literally drag her around
on the leash. She told me that she could not figure out how to train it.
Many times during the night, it would break loose, and then raid the garbage
can. Then, the neighbors started complaining that their garbage cans were
also being raided. Eventually, my sister had the dog put to sleep. Many
years later, while visiting a pet store, I saw a framed picture of a dog
on one of the shelves, having a strong similarity to the one my sister had.
It was labeled "Rottweiler." I then started laughing. You see,
neither my sister or myself ever knew what kind of dog we had, and I guess,
we never checked. However, after seeing the picture, everything started
to click. The dog's behavior then made perfect sense. The dog was simply
very hungry and could not restrain itself. My sister told me that the dog
seemed to require an incredible amount of food, but because she was on a
tight budget, she could only feed it a certain amount, which the dog would
eat ravenously. And Rottweiler's grow up to be pretty hefty dogs, often
vicious. I've also wondered since my discovery, whether someone at my sister's
place of work, was playing a rather mean game with her, and laughing hilariously
behind the scenes, because I'm sure my sister would tell the staff about
how much trouble her dog was giving her.
More Dog Troubles
Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) also had dog troubles of his own, as described by
one group of researchers working in his lab:
"In a famous experiment by Shenger-Krestovnika, published in 1921,
a dog was trained to salivate to a circle but not to an ellipse. The ellipse
was then made progressively more like a circle. When the ratio of the axes
of the ellipse was reduced to 9:8, the dog could discriminate it from a
circle only with great difficulty. It showed some signs of success on this
problem for about three weeks, but then its behavior was disrupted. It was
unable to respond correctly not only on this difficult task, but also when
presented with obvious ellipses and circles that had given it no trouble
in the earlier part of the experiment. What is more, instead of coming to
stand quietly in the apparatus of the past, the animal now showed extreme
excitement, struggling and howling" (Gray, 1979).
This work was brought to my attention by a University professor/psychotherapist,
who also informed me that this dog eventually had to be put to sleep! It
never was able to recover from the "experimental neurosis," induced
by Pavlov. This result is even more amazing because the conditioning did
not involve punishment! The dog was merely trained to perform a discrimination.
When it couldn't do it, it went crazy! Later, he and his coworkers discovered
lots of other ways to create neurotic dogs. These results were so remarkable,
that at the age of eighty, Pavlov launched himself into an entirely new
career in a different field, to understand psychopathology. He soon was
visiting psychiatric wards several times a week, discussing the various
cases with the psychiatrists!
What is even more insidious, is that our entire educational system, as it
exists today, is based on this type of learning! Children daily are asked
by teachers to make discriminations that they cannot make, and when they
make a mistake, they are punished! (The process is often referred to as
"operant conditioning" or instrumental learning.) The result is
that we have become a society of "low risk perfectionists." By
the 5th grade, most children will no longer risk answering a teacher's question
unless they are absolutely, positively sure that they have the correct answer!
I remember I became this way, because I literally trembled with fear when
I was called upon to answer, and I never volunteered! The worst was when
the teacher started asking questions going around the room in alphabetical
order. Because my name is Yen, I was usually called last, and as a consequence,
I spent most of the class period dreading my turn! Talk about cruel and
usual punishment! (Incidentally, this is why TV games shows are so exciting.
We get a lot of vicarious excitement when the contestant takes a 'risk'
answering a question.) But really, the children should be the ones asking
the questions, not the teacher! And they need to be free to ask as many
as they like! Needless to say, during my school days, I didn't ask very
many because I didn't want to look 'stupid' or be called "dumb."
There is more to this story. Like Pavlov's dogs, Gregory Bateson (1956)
observed that a schizophrenic adult became that way because as a child,
he could not discriminate whether his mother loves him or not! His theory
of schizophrenia meshes in well with the ideas of Alice
Miller. When kids ask their parents "Why am I being spanked,"
the parent invariably responds "For Your Own Good," which is the
title of one of her books. It is a contradiction of terms and concepts!
You don't say to a child "I love you," and then give the child
a whack! It is entirely inconsistent! Any young kid can tell you that! Read
by Astrid Lindgren
(1978) to get a feeling from the child' point of view. What Bateson observed
was that the child who grows up to be a schizophrenic is forever receiving
two conflicting messages that put him into a double
bind. The mother says to her child "I love you," but when
the child comes to hug, the mother pushes the child away, or stiffens in
response to the hug. She really doesn't love the child, but society says
she should. So she pretends to love her child. But then the child senses
the other message, and pulls away, and the mother then condemns the child
with, "How come you don't love me?" This cycle of responses is
related to the biblical law "Thou shalt honor thy father and mother,"
and if you don't, well then you have to pretend, and the internal conflict
makes you go crazy. It's damned if you do, damned if you don't.
But we also need to back up one step and ask the question: "Why do
so many mothers (parents) feel less than loving to their own children?"
We read and hear about so much abuse, neglect, and violence
in our society. What are its root causes? "Double bind messages are
one reason. Spanking is another. But one more is the lack of attachment
that many parents feel for their own children, promoted by our materialistic
society. For more on this, see my essay on the
loss of attachment and the rise of materialism.
The Russian writer Anton Chekhov wrote a short story "Who Was to Blame," about his uncle who tried
to teach a kitten to catch mice. Whenever the kitten refused to give chase,
his uncle beat it. After the animal grew up into an adult cat, it always cowered
in terror in the presence of a mouse. "That," said Chekhov, "is
the man who taught me Latin." (Welsh, 1986)
So how does a kitten learn how to hunt mice? I was told the following: In the beginning, the mother
cat brings to her hungry kitten a dead mouse for it to eat. After it becomes
accustomed to this food, the mother cat brings a mouse that is just barely
alive. Then the mother cat, brings progressively more lively mice for her
kitten to chase, play with and eat. If the mouse manages to escape, the
mother cat recaptures it and brings it back in a more disabled state making
sure her kitten achieves success. In this way, the kitten develops its skills
in hunting and killing mice, so that it can survive. The mother cat never
punishes her little kitten. We humans have much to learn from this mother
cat. Read my commentary on this story.
Children cry when in pain. Parents punish their children for crying.
I call it child abuse.
"Children attacked by any method are likely to carry the seeds of revenge
all their lives and plant them in unexpected places to produce strange fruit."
Punishment results in discouragement and children
pursuing mistaken goals.
Parents react violently when in pain. The system punishes them for being
violent. We call it justice.
It is not. It is abuse, all the same.
We often make a flawed interpretation about the meaning
of violence. What the violent person really is saying is: "Help!
I'm at the end of my rope." Violence emerges when an individual has
been treated unfairly by society, when demands are being made that are incompatible
with the resources placed at that individual's disposal (Marx, 1976).
The unfairness may begin at birth! (Or before in the case of crack cocaine
addicted babies). Children who are abused by their parents, develop insecure/
pathological attachments, which can even lead to violence later in life
(Meloy, 1997)). Just as you don't transplant a tree into a new location
without including a ball of soil covering its roots, you don't transplant
a child into a new home without including some of its mother. A more humane
approach might be to have a caring foster family adopt both mother and child
together, with therapeutic support from the State. This simple solution
to save a family seems less costly than the present uncoordinated efforts
of police, doctors, lawyers, judges, social workers, community members,
foster parents, hospitals and prisons (Minuchin, 1984).
Incidentally, rewards may not work in the ways you expect! See Jan Hunt's
Trouble with Rewards."
"According to Dreikurs, rewards are no more effective than punishment.
He has two primary complaints about rewards: they tend to harm the recipient's
personality, and in the long run they cease to be effective. Rewards demonstrate
a lack of respect for the other person. We reward our inferiors for good
deeds and favors. Rewards also signal a lack of trust-else why would we
have to bribe a person for good behavior? Rewards undermine one's sense
of responsibility and the satisfaction that comes from participation and
contribution freely given. Finally, when the emphasis has been placed on
"What's in it for me?" we soon run out of satisfying rewards.
The pathetic truth is that the other's demands continually escalate, but
there is no reward that totally satisfies. Dreikurs concludes, "The
system of rewarding children for good behavior is detrimental to their outlook
as the system of punishment....In our mistaken efforts to win cooperation
through rewards, we are actually denying our children the basic satisfactions
of living." Quote taken from Bolton (1979) who is summarizing a chapter
5 from Dreikur's book, "Children the challenge: The fallacy of punishment
So what can be done? I recommend reading Aletha Solter's excellent article
to Punishment." Another is to use Natural
and logical consequences!
According to Mary Pipher (1996), some insecure adults try to bolster their
self-esteem with compliments and affirmations such as "I am loveable."
They may even play affirmation tapes on the way to work. But these are essentially
rewards to the self. Pipher says "...they have been oversold as a panacea
for a difficult life. If a person's work is meaningless
and his/her relationships are fragmented, self-validations will only go
so far. Then the person needs to make real changes....True self-esteem comes
from the belief that one is making the world a better place. It's a byproduct
of a life lived wisely....Self-esteem, if real, is self regard and comes
from ethical behavior.......self-regard has to do with behaving in accordance
with one's value system." Real changes are changing your value system
to include care as one
of the values, and then improving your skills and knowledge so that you
can act more effectively and be more caring. If you value taking advantage
of others by lying, stealing or cheating to improve your own position, then
no matter what you say to yourself, it won't boost your self-esteem. You'd
just be deceiving yourself.
Bateson, Gregory, etal (1956), Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia , reprinted
in Bateson, G. (1972), "Steps to an Ecology of Mind," NY:Ballantine,
Bolton, Robert, (1979) "People Skills," NY:Simon Schuster, pg.
Dreikurs, Rudolf, (1964) "Children, the Challenge," pp. 68-75.
Gray, Jeffrey A. (1979) "Ivan Pavlov," NY:Viking, pp.119-120.
speech for the German Trade Book Peace Prize
Marx, Emanuel (1976) "The Social Context of Violent Behaviour,"
London: Routledge Direct Editions.
Meloy, J. Reid (1997) "Violent Attachments," :Jason Aronson, 392
(1983) "For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the
Roots of Violence, " New York:Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 282 pgs.
(1984) "A Family Kaleidoscope," Cambridge: Harvard University
Pipher, Mary Bray (1996) "The Shelter of Each Other, Rebuilding Our
Welsh, Patrick (1986) "Tales out of school: a teacher's candid account
from the front lines of the American high school today," NY: Viking,
pg. 150. Also thanks to jro
for helping me find the Chekhov quote, which I then found here.
Anyone knowing the location of the original reference, please let me know.
Last updated 23 August 2008
1998-2008 by Duen
Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.
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