Ep. 65: ‘Punishment’ is a Trick Tactic
Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Child and Peaceful Parent, Happy Sibling, founded Aha! Parenting as a resource for parents who are struggling to control their disobedient, disrespectful, and/or depressive kid. Dr. Markham shares her secrets for how to flip punishment on its head and get the best possible results–and relationship–with your teen.
Full Show Notes
Do you ever find that the more you try to communicate with your teens, the less they listen? You have to remind them to do their chores, to make good choices, to make it home on time and in one piece, but the lessons don’t sink in even when there are serious consequences for bad behavior. It makes it seem impossible to break through to them! But the solution may be taking a less punitive approach, and instead focusing on fostering the best relationship possible.
This week, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Laura Markham, author, parenting expert, and researcher who centers her advice around building relationships. Dr. Markham earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Columbia University. Her website, ahaparenting.com, started off small but over the years has grown into an extensive parenting resource.
We went over some of the key points from her books, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and Peaceful Parent, Happy Sibling, where she writes about the hardest job in the world: parenting. In her words, “What could be more high stakes than raising another human being?”
Her goal is to give parents a comprehensive plan, while helping them understand that parenting is not a set of strategies, it’s a relationship.
One way to support your relationship with your teen is to think of alternatives to typical punitive punishments. If you look at the research, punishments rarely seem to have the intended effect of behavior change. Teens instead just get better at hiding the behavior you disapprove of. Instead of being more honest, teens just get better at lying. In relationships based upon mutual respect, Dr. Markham argues that there is no reason to punish. Instead, parents and teens can work together to decide on any consequences and a new plan of action for mistakes.
Rather than punishing your teen for a poor grade in a class by taking away their phone, Dr. Markham suggests sitting down with your teen, and asking how they got to the poor grade. Then the next step would be to come up with a plan together about what your teen will do get their grade back up and repair the relationship. “No punishments” doesn’t mean teens get off scot-free for bad behavior – there are still consequences.
Back Away from Yelling
Another technique for improving a relationship comes down to communication skills. Yelling matches aren’t fun for anyone. The fast you can interrupt them, the better your relationship will be. Dr. Markham stresses the ‘Stop, Drop, and Breathe’ method. Stop what you’re doing, drop your agenda, and take a deep breath. When you’re frustrated and your teen yells at you, instead of escalating, it might be better to try and see your teen’s perspective.
This is where limits come in. If your teen surpasses a clearly established limit, such as swearing at you during a fight, you need to check them on that. Tell them it’s okay to be mad, but you won’t be having a conversation with them until they cool down and are ready to talk with respect. Respect is a paramount rule, and there’s certainly a limit where behavior is no longer considered respectful.
We also think it’s good to come up with alternatives to speech that might degrade the relationship, such as, “I told you so”, “you’re lying”, or “you messed up.” We want to support our teens even when they test our limits, so we suggest saying something along the lines of, “your promise didn’t come through and that hurts our relationship, so let’s come up with a plan to fix it.”
A lot of our conversation with Dr. Markham focuses on what parents can do to work on themselves and regulate their own emotions. After all, a teen is way more likely to yell and act out if they don’t feel like their parent listens to them, or if they see their parents act out and adopt a similar behavior.
One of our biggest takeaway tips from this interview is that parents need to check in and make sure that their child is feeling heard. Part of that involves humility on the parents’ end. In our chat, we go over the means of benefits of saying sorry, admitting mistakes, explaining you aren’t always the expert on everything, and becoming a better listener. In fact, the more you listen, the less likely you teen will be to raise their voice at you.
Get your relationship back on track with these punishment alternatives and communication-building strategies from Dr. Markham!
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Word-for-word examples of WHAT to say to your teen
1. Open a dialogue on shifting away from punitive punishments with your teen:
“Do you think you learn something when I punish you? Like when I ground you or take away your phone or your privileges? Because even though I’ve been doing that, you still aren’t doing [x-y-z]. So it doesn’t seem to be working. So I don’t want to just punish you. I want you to think for yourself. I want you to have the self discipline to manage yourself.”
-Dr. Laura Markham
2. When your teen insults you or makes a nasty comment about you to your face:
3. Before exploding on your teen for getting behind on their school work try:
4. When talking to your teen about how they got behind on their school work:
5. If you teen avoids writing down a plan with verbal promises to “do some this weekend,” fire back and stick to your guns:
6. To hammer home why you and your teen need a written agreement on something to repair your relationship:
7. Let your teen know it’s okay to mess up and tell you about it:
8. If two teens/siblings are squabbling and things are getting heated:
9. Show your teens you have faith in their ability to resolve differences with their sibling(s):
10. Get your teen to open up about how you can make them feel heard:
11. When your teen gripes about being out of their favorite cereal (or other food item!):
12. If your teen is complaining about a sibling’s impeccable timing:
13. Get your teen thinking of solutions before offering your own advice:
14. When you need to cool down a yelling match:
15. Put a stop to flaring tempers in the midst of an argument with:
About Dr. Laura Markham
Dr. Laura Markham first thought she was going to change the world by writing a newspaper. And she wasn’t too far off! After graduating with her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University, she started Aha! Parenting as a blog. Since Aha! Parenting’s infancy, the site has grown into an extensive resource for parents with kids of all ages.
In addition to her three books, Dr. Markham’s writing and expertise has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Real Simple, and Men’s Health. She has made TV appearances and regularly engages in speaking events.
Dr. Markham resides in Brooklyn, NY with her family, including her own two teens!