Mar 2, 2010

Should Punishment Be Built into the Decision?

Parents have reported that they (or the kids) found themselves, after a no-lose decision had been reached, building into the agreement the penalties or punishments to be administered if the kids did not keep to their agreement.

My earlier reaction to these reports was to suggest that mutually set penalties and punishments might be all right, if they also applied to the parents, should they not uphold their end of the bargain. I now think differently about this issue.

It is far better for parents to avoid bringing up penalties or punishments for failure to stick to an agreement or carry out a Method III decision. In the first place, parents will want to communicate to the youngsters that punishment is not to be used at all any more, even if it is suggested by the kids, as if often will be. Secondly, more is gained by an attitude of trust--trust in the kids' good intentions and integrity. Youngsters tell us, "When I feel trusted, I'm less likely to betray that trust. But when I feel my parent or a teacher is not trusting me, I might as well go ahead and do what they already think I've done. I'm already bad in their opinion. I've already lost, so why not go and do it anyway."

In the no-lose method, parents should simply assume that the kids will carry out the decision. That is part of the new method--trust in each other, trust in keeping to commitments, sticking to promises, holding up one's end of the bargain. Any talk about penalties and punishments is bound to communicate distrust, doubt, suspicion, pessimism. This is not to say that kids will always stick to their agreement. They won't. It says merely that parents should assume that they will. "Innocent until proven guilty" or "responsible until proven irresponsible" is the philosophy we recommend.*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. book

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