Life Style

Educating without punishing, a myth?

“My little plants need a stake to grow upright”, observes Diane, 48, mother of four children aged 11 to 18. I received a traditional education and I wanted to reproduce this model with my children, in less authoritarian “, she confides. Obviously, there is no question of resorting to corporal punishment, the prohibition of which was the subject of a specific law in France in 2019, to set limits on his children. But punishments such as cornering or small deprivation are part of its educational tools.

“When they were little, I isolated them in a neutral room, preferably not their room, which must remain a positive place., she explains. This is the most effective technique, because no one likes to be alone. Now that they are older, it can happen that I deprive them of an outing or their phone … “

→ TESTIMONIALS. “I kept a deep anguish”: when the punishments of childhood leave traces

Benjamin, father of two children aged 8 and 10, has never punished his children. “I am inspired by new management methods at work, he says. There are a lot of techniques to generate adhesion without imposing… ” Its credo: explain to them the consequences of their actions and make them responsible, from an early age. “If they do something stupid, I tell them firmly not to do it again and always check that they have understood”, he describes. “If in the morning, they don’t want to put on their shoes, I ask them if they plan to go out barefoot and generally, that doesn’t happen! If they want to go out without a coat, they can, but I warn them that they will be cold. The next day, I know they won’t do it again… ”

A “balanced” authority

To punish or not to punish? Responsible for a medico-psychological center (CMP) for children and adolescents, the child psychiatrist Gilles-Marie Valet does not answer clearly. “The child fits naturally into the authority of his parents but this must be considered in a balanced way., summarizes the doctor. An effective punishment is especially not one that hurts or humiliates the child..

To understand to what extent the severity of the sanctions could have permeated the imagination, he offers a detour through history. In Roman society, the father (paterfamilias) held absolute power, including the right of life and death over his descendants.In those very distant days, corporal punishment was part of the “natural” means of obtaining the strictest obedience from children.

The advent of Christianity changed the situation by withdrawing this right from the father of a family and by promoting, in the Middle Ages, the development of a discourse favorable to childhood. A new hardening of teaching methods took place during the Renaissance, before the philosophy of the Enlightenment, in the 18th century, breathed new life into it. But punitive intra-family violence remained a reality throughout the 19th century and even beyond, despite criticism from intellectuals like George Sand and Victor Hugo ”, recalls Gilles-Marie Valet.

Welcoming emotions

Founder of Educational Non-Violence Day in 2004, Catherine Dumonteil Kremer is one of the pioneers in supporting positive parenting in France. “Punishment is like punching an injury, she says. You can very well set limits on your child without inflicting them. To do this, she advises spotting the needs hidden behind inappropriate behavior: physical discomfort (fatigue, hunger, etc.), emotional discomfort (need for attention, worries at school, etc.) or a painful context (parental arguments, moving …).

“This does not mean that you have to give in to everything, she continues. In the supermarket, you can very well say no to your child who is asking for a toy or a candy. But we will have to be ready to accept his frustration. ” However, many parents are tempted to brandish a sanction to cut short a crisis of tears. “However, tears can eliminate the stress hormone, adds Céline Gagnepain, consultant in creative parenting. We have not been used to welcoming our emotions. But feeling heard in your sadness or frustration already relieves the pressure. No need to add more with punishment. “

Reverse perspective

This movement is based on research in neuroscience, which shows that severe and repeated sanctions have a negative impact on the development of the child. “Abuse alters certain regions of the child’s brain”, confirms Franck Ramus, research director in the cognitive studies department of the École normale supérieure. If he judges “Utopian to do without punishment completely”, he insists on their proper measure. “Parents think a harsh sanction is more effective. But it is not. It suffices to isolate the child for two minutes to put an end to the inappropriate behavior. Beyond that, it generates negative emotions and turns out to be counterproductive ”, he assures.

→ READ. Children’s education: “There are no universally applicable principles”

Used as the only educational lever, punishment has no long-term effectiveness. “If your child does something stupid and you yell at him, he’ll be surprised and stop.” But that doesn’t mean that this behavior won’t happen again ”, continues Franck Ramus.

Criminalize the behavior and not the child

For Gilles-Marie Valet, the punishment can have a meaning if it has the function of “repairing” (replacing a broken object, apologizing to a jostled comrade). “Punishment frees the child from guilt, he emphasizes. We should especially not tell them that it is not serious. “

→ MAINTENANCE. “The school abolished corporal punishment long before the family”

Both the researcher and the child psychiatrist advise parents to reverse the perspective by rewarding positive behavior more regularly. “Smiling at your child, encouraging him or giving him a hug are the most powerful and effective levers”, specifies Franck Ramus. A tip on which Diane and Benjamin, with divergent educational practices, agree. What I take away from positive education is that you should never blame the child but his behavior, she says.


► To read:

• Be obeyed without (necessarily) punishing, by Gilles-Marie Valet, Éd. Larousse, 192 p., € 15.90.

The book is full of advice to set limits for your children without always arriving at the punishments: contain your own emotions, prevent conflicts, reward good behavior. The punishments will always be graduated, coherent, short and will never affect the basic needs of children. No question of depriving them of dessert!

• New authority without punishment or spanking, by Catherine Dumonteil Kremer, Éd. Nathan, 192 p., € 12.90. This book, drawn from everyday situations, makes it possible to find tools to rethink the setting of limits and defuse situations of opposition.

► To consult:

• “Psychology for teachers”. This online course or MOOC, available on the France Université Numérique (FUN) platform, is aimed at teachers but also parents. He especially mentions the power of rewards and the role of punishment.

• The site coolparentsmakehappykids.comHow to deal with an argument between brother and sister? How to react to bad behavior in your child? This blog offers very concrete answers to these everyday questions, without the need to subscribe to the site’s paid subscriptions.

► To listen:

In the podcast “The Parents Show” devoted to parenting, researcher Franck Ramus looks back at the use of punishment.


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