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Here are some copies of Kimmel's work from the Jan Hunt's Natural Child website. Natural Child is a site I have long recommended. If you have never seen it please visit it.
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The Human Baby
Babies are no longer cared for in ways that fit them, but in ways that make them fit their society. J. Kimmel
The human infant is a helpless creature at birth. He is virtually immobile, he cannot creep, walk, or speak, and is greatly limited in his ability to act with purpose. Unlike other primates, he cannot even hold on to or cling to his mother. He must be carried if he is to go from one place to another. Seventy-five per cent of his brain develops after birth. He cannot continue to live without the efforts of another human. He requires years of development before he can care for himself. A baby's helplessness and immature development requires a source of care. Nature has provided a source to match this need the human mother.
Mothers are biologically and genetically designed to nurture their babies. A newborn's mother has everything a baby needs arms to hold him, breasts with human milk to feed and comfort him, a human body to share with him, a person to protect and be there for him. She is someone who has evolved with the power and specific resources that will allow her baby to continue to live and to develop normally after he is born. Mother and infant did not evolve separately, but together. The mother is the other half of the human nurturing process, a process which begins at conception and which continues for many years after birth. Although a mother and her baby are from the moment of conception structurally separate, they evolved to function together as a unit. Donald Winnicott, the English psychologist, has said that, "There is no such thing as a baby, there is a baby and someone." This statement captures the reality of the human baby a reality which is often overlooked in our society because babies are inaccurately perceived from the moment of birth as separate individuals.
It is not possible to fully understand the human baby or his development if we study him in separateness from the "someone" who keeps him alive. There has never been a baby who lived without the help and support of another human - with the possible exception of a few isolated and unproven reports of feral children raised by animals. And since those few individuals were abnormal in their development when they were found, it seems safe to conclude that a baby who develops without the care of another human being will be abnormal. So, when we talk about babies, or about their needs, we must also talk about mothers - or the "someone" or "someones" who take her place. Babies' needs and who babies become, have to do, not only with their genes, but with their caretakers and the society in which they develop.
Babies enter the world with only one power the power to elicit the emotion of tenderness and a caring response to them from other humans, especially and specifically from their mothers. Everything about an infant is designed to bring about such a response. She is small, soft, vulnerable, harmless and engaging. Her need for care and protection is obvious. Her cry evolved to make her mother (and other humans) anxious and concerned. It is a signal of distress to which emotionally appropriate human beings respond to with efforts to be of help. Mother and baby are at first strangers to each other, but the mother, by affirming her baby's life with herself, establishes a joined entity in which each becomes a part of the other. The mother becomes the "someone" who makes it possible for the baby to continue to live and develop after birth.
A baby will, shortly after birth, begin to smile, to make pleasant and sweet happy sounds, to recognize and to explore his mother, and then to laugh, reach out, touch and hug, all of which increases his mother's tender attachment to him. He indicates that he likes being with his mother, that he wants to be with her, that he is not a stranger, that he is a friendly, social being, that he has all the human emotions that she does. Mother and baby are structurally separate and without a placental attachment after birth, but they are not physically or emotionally separate. They evolved to be a nursing couple in close, physical contact day and night a couple who are reactive to each other's moods and feelings. A mother smiles when her baby smiles, laughs when her baby laughs, is anxious when her baby is anxious, content when he is content, peaceful when he is peaceful, and sad when he is unhappy. A baby smiles when his mother smiles, laughs at her sounds of delight, becomes upset when his mother is upset, anxious, distant, angry, or not available when he wants to be with her.
The mother-infant relationship,
because of its physical intimacy, minimal separateness,
strong mutual dependency, and the necessity for unity in
functioning, collaboration, empathy, and identification
may well be the most social of all human relationships.
No other relationship, including that of the adult
couple, tests the power of the human capacity to imagine,
wonder, and become "another", since it is at
first nonverbal, and then minimally verbal for many
years. A baby cannot tell you with language who he is,
what he feels, or what he wants or needs. The mother must
come in touch with the "forgotten language",
those non-verbal ways of communicating with another of
our kind, that once was for humans (before we developed
language) the only way to express our caring feelings to
A baby isn't at first aware that he can have an effect on his mother, that he has the power to make her feel tenderness toward him. Neither can he do anything special to make her take care of him. He is, without knowing it, relying on millions of years of mammalian evolution, on the fact that he is a baby and that she is a mother, in order to receive the tenderness and nurturing that his mother evolved to provide to her children.
We are a species whose existence is genetically rooted in our ability to feel tenderness toward the life we create and the capacity to nurture this life, both before and after birth. Prior to birth, the nurturing process follows its own natural genetic and biological course, and, in its tenacity, can only be terminated by miscarriage or abortion. The mother's body spontaneously accommodates as well as conditions permit to the growing embryo and fetus. Even unwanted conceptions that are carried to full term can deliver healthy infants. For many individuals, the process prior to birth, because it is independent of culture, may be the only time in their lives when they are nurtured in a normal human way.
As with all mammals, human gestation does not end with birth. The nurturing process after birth, although it is genetically and biologically continuous with the process before birth, is unfortunately not automatic. In humans, the mother can choose, and be influenced by others within her culture, to discontinue being a part of this process. It is likely that in our human beginnings mothers were governed much more by hormonal, instinctive, and reflexive processes in their response to their newborns than they later came to be. But as we developed our modern brain, the care of infants and young children became a conscious activity, and as consciousness became more and more determined by culture, the care of infants and children became a cultural process, greatly influenced by the socioeconomic organization of a society.
Babies are no longer cared for in ways that fit them, but in ways that make them fit their society. We are a species that is genetically designed to nurture our offspring and also one which can, because of our capacity for consciousness and awareness, understand, value, and give priority to the newborn's need for nurturing. We can as individuals and as a society - encourage mothers to nurture their babies. However, consciousness is a two-edged sword. From cultural conditioning, we can believe, for example, that biological mothering is unimportant, unnecessary, and an unfair and burdensome intrusion on women's lives, or that too much nurturing "spoils" babies and is harmful to their development, or even that some babies, depending on their gender, "imperfection" at birth, parentage, or "illegitimacy," should not live.
We can be certain that for the bulk of human existence, mothers, mothering, and a baby's need for a mother were highly valued and given great priority by the human group. If such had not been the case, we would not have survived as, or continued to be, a species that required mothering. Mother and baby could not have lived very long on their own, separate from the group. Neither could they have survived without the support of the group.
Ninety-nine percent of all humans who have ever lived were hunter-gatherers (Nanda). Studies of hunter-gatherer societies readily confirm the respect given, and the support provided, by the group to a mother nurturing a baby. Since ancient times, however, continuing until the present, there has been a concerted effort in Western civilization to eliminate the necessity for the natural mother to nurture her newborn. Mothers in many cultures and at various times have been encouraged to suppress their tender feelings toward their babies, discouraged from nurturing them in the biological human way, and to give over their baby's care to others. The wet nurse and baby bottle attest to these historical facts. Both of these cultural methods of providing infants with sustenance have to our misfortune - succeeded in achieving their goal of eliminating the necessity for the natural mother to have to care for her baby. They have dramatically changed the biological conditions for human reproduction, the way new human life develops and, perhaps, the human species itself.
The history of childhood in the civilized world reveals that babies have not always been perceived as lovable or needing tenderness. At various times and for varied reasons, they have been seen as evil, harmful, burdensome, worthless, unwanted, and expendable. They have, of course, been treated in accordance with these beliefs about them (deMause, Beekman). Lloyd de Mause, in his book on the history of child care, has stated, "The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken. The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused".
DeMause is referring to the societies of civilization, not to societies of people living outside civilization. The story of people who live as hunter-gatherers is quite different as regards children than the one described by him. Studies by anthropologists of hunter-gatherer groups do not describe infant and child care in these groups as a "nightmare." They usually describe the care of the young as "indulgent". One does find, however, that as these groups are exposed to "civilized ways", the care of babies and young children becomes less nurturing and more harsh, cruel, and punitive.
Humans evolved in the natural world and evolved to adapt to that world. Crucial to our success as a species when we lived in that world was our capacity to collaborate as a unified group. The human individual, as compared to other animals, is poorly endowed to survive in nature. We have no claws or fangs that can serve as weapons, we are slow-moving, and we have no protective armor. Even our superior brain, coupled with the manual dexterity that allows us to create what we can imagine, would have little survival value if we were not able to act collectively. Indeed, the human brain, with its capacity for language, empathy, and the ability to imagine and to play at being another, evolved as it did to enhance our capacity for collaborative and collective behavior. Those traits that allow us to survive in the modern world, such as self-sufficiency, independence, competitiveness, selfishness, and indifference to the plight or misfortune of others would have had little adaptive value when we lived in small groups as hunter-gatherers. Our adaptive strength then was in our ability for combined and unified functioning, not in our individual and separate skills, powers, possessions, or wealth.
The nurturing mother-infant interaction, rooted in the mother's capacity to care about the life she creates, was for most of our existence the model for all human relationships and the foundation for human society. It allowed the newborn to be born in an immature state and to slowly develop his brain and mind in relation to loving others. The nurturing process, predicated on the unity of mother and baby, developed individuals who would find it natural to function in unison with others. We would be a very different kind of species - a very unsocial one - if we were born fully developed and did not require mothering.
A human baby born today, to any parents anywhere in the world, would have no trouble fitting into a hunter-gatherer society. He evolved to do so. On the other hand, any baby born today in modern society does not fit our world, nor would any baby born in the past fit it either. Babies (and mothers) have not changed in their reproductive biological or genetic structure; it is society and mothers who have changed in their response to, and in their attitude toward, babies. We no longer value and support mothering or the babies' critical need to develop in relation to a tender, nurturing mother. We have deviated from the nurturing aspect of reproductive biology by changing the baby's "someone".
In a society where a baby lives and develops without his mother's presence and without human tenderness, some babies, if not most, become a different kind of human than they were meant to be. They must adapt to and fit the substitutes that have replaced natural mothering: formula, pacifiers, cribs, playpens, security objects, and substitute caregivers. In doing so, they are, as adults, different from adults who develop in relation to a nurturing mother. Inappropriately and poorly nurtured children grow up without the internalization of tenderness. We evolved to pass on to the newborn our tender feelings for them.
Babies need tenderness. They do not
grow well without it. It is the stuff that makes us
Beekman, Daniel. The Mechanical
Baby. Westport, CT: Laurence Hill, 1977.
Why Do We Hurt Our Children?
By James Kimmel, Ph.D.
Almost everyone in Western societies agrees that it is morally wrong for people to settle arguments or impose their will on each other with blows. When a big kid hits a little kid on the playground, we call him a bully; five years later he punches a woman for her wallet and is called a mugger; later still, when he slugs a fellow worker who insults him, he is called a troublemaker, but when he becomes a father and hits his tiresome, disobedient or disrespectful child, we call him a disciplinarian. Why is this rung on a ladder of interpersonal violence regarded so differently from the rest?
- Penelope Leach
As a psychologist who specialized in working with emotionally disturbed children, and as a person who has a special fondness for children, it is extremely troublesome to me that punishment, both physical and otherwise, is an intrinsic part of child rearing in the United States. None of my three children, now adults, were ever punished. Just as people who state, "I was spanked and punished and I turned out OK," my children are able to say, "I was never spanked or punished and I turned out OK." And based on the kind of people they are as adults, I would agree that, not only did they turn out OK, but they are much more caring of others, including their children, than most of their contemporaries. They do not, of course, punish their children.
However, I do not wish to prove through my children or my grandchildren that punishment is totally unnecessary in order to grow up to be a socially appropriate and caring person. We already know this from studies of cultures where children are never punished. I hope to show, instead, that punishing children is a malevolent act that is harmful to children and, ultimately, to the community and society in which it takes place. The punishment of one human being by another is behavior in which the punisher has, or believes he has, the right to hurt and violate a person he perceives as his social inferior. Punishing another individual of one's species is a human cultural invention. It is not found in all cultures nor in the animal world. Its utilization as a child-rearing method seems to go hand in hand with the development of civilization.
A person hurting another as a result of a temporary loss of emotional control is not punishment. Such behavior is a different form of violence. Punishment is a deliberate, controlled act with a conscious purpose. It is, of course, a terrible, troublesome, and dangerous fact that, in our society, parental loss of control, accompanied by physical and verbal abuse of children, is tolerated. However, such behavior is not the subject of this paper. Our society, although it may not do much to prevent it, does not openly condone child abuse. But it does openly condone and sanction punishing children, physically and otherwise. What bothers me so much about punishing children is that it is a conscious effort to hurt them physically and/or emotionally. I find it hard to understand, even when it is explained as a way of teaching them proper behavior, why someone would intentionally choose to hurt the life they contributed to creating (or chose to care for through adoption.) I also find it incredible that parents, and many authorities in the areas of mental and physical health, child development, and human morality, cannot see that by hurting children, we are teaching them that it is moral and right to hurt other human beings.
The Origins Of Punishment
It is likely that punishment initially developed in our species as a method to control and direct the behavior of animals by hurting them. It later was applied by humans to other humans to control individual behavior and thinking. The fact that punishment can modify behavior is well-founded. Research studies on rats, as well as other animals, have clearly indicated that by inflicting pain on them, we can control to a great extent what they do or don't do (Bermant), a fact known by farmers and animal trainers for thousands of years. Human thinking can also be altered by punishment and has been utilized throughout civilization by monarchs, dictators, slave owners, authoritarian states, and religious institutions to control deviant and non-conforming individuals.
We do not know when punishment first became a method used to direct children's development. I have never read about a hunter-gatherer society that punishes their children as part of child care. In ancient civilizations, and throughout the history of civilization, punishing children was a common practice (deMause), and the practice continues today in much of the civilized world. Punishment is and has been a commonly accepted part of American child-rearing (deMause, Beekman). It is perceived as a legitimate and appropriate form of discipline. Its legitimacy in human relationships has few parallels in American life, especially since the abolition of slavery. Other than children, only convicted criminals are legally allowed to be punished. But children do not even have the rights of criminals, as they are allowed to be punished without a trial. The closest parallel to punishing children would be the punitive ways in which we domesticate and train young animals so that they will serve, submit to, and entertain us. When we punish our children, we serve to perpetuate the Western civilization belief that children are, like animals, inferior beings who need to be tamed, trained, and controlled.
Punishment and Distrust
Obviously, the decision, felt necessity, or compulsion to punish another person reflects a lack of trust in that person, whether it be in the relationship of governments to citizens, tyrants to subjects, slave owners to slaves, wardens to prisoners, teachers to students, or parents to children. The advocates of punishing children (which include some past and present "experts" on child development) have a condescending and ugly view of children which is embedded in an even uglier view of the human species. Humans are not, in their eyes, a naturally caring and social species, but a species in which the individual is born anti-social and governed solely by self concern and self-interest. They further believe that children resist socialization, so it must be imposed on them by adults.
There is no recognition, in this perception of the human individual as selfish, alienated, and basically separate from all others, to the fact that sociability, socialization, and the ability to trust develop naturally through appropriate nurturing in childhood. The quality of basic trust, as originally formulated by the psychologist Eric Erikson, is the foundation for a healthy personality (Evans). Its meaning to Erikson and his followers was that during the first year of life, a baby learns that those who care for him can be trusted to satisfy his basic needs. From this secure base the infant learns to trust himself and the world. I prefer to describe basic trust as the experience of a baby or young child that there is a person there for him, who affirms his life and well-being by providing the nurturing relationship that he genetically and biologically evolved to have after birth. Without such an experience during the first stage of life, an infant does not develop the full trust in others that is essential for healthy human emotional and social development.
The need for an infant to develop basic trust in those who care for him has become widely accepted by virtually all health-care specialists. It is not always expressed in such terms, nor is it always achieved, but we all seem to know that babies and children need "love". Much less emphasis has been given to the need for parents to develop basic trust in their children. They may love them, but do they trust them? In fact, many American authorities on infant and child care have sent the message that children, including infants, cannot be trusted; Babies and young children are frequently portrayed as being manipulative and wanting to make their parents' life miserable, as if their need and desire to be with their parents, and to be nurtured by them, is not genuine (Spock, Turtle).
I do not believe that genuine trust can develop in a relationship unless both parties have trust in each other. In the parent-child relationship, the child learns to trust his parents when his need for nurturing is regularly met. But this development of trust can only occur if the parent's response to the child is based on the belief that the child's expression of his need for nurturing is genuine, that the child is not just trying to "get his own way"; and is not out to make the parent's life difficult. Misery, unhappiness, and a struggle for power often do become a part of the parent-child interaction, especially in a society such as our own which does not trust and does not validate the nurturing requirements of children. If the relationship of parent and child does become a continual struggle, it is not because the child's motivation is to punish the parent, but because his need for nurturing is not being met. It is also true that a child, as he matures, may begin to behave in ways to punish his parents, but this can only occur if his parents have regularly punished him.
The use of punishment by parents is a clear indication that there has been an insufficient development of trust between parent and child in the early formative years of the child's development. Most American parents punish their children. Most also begin punishing them, and using the threat of punishment, at a very early age (usually in infancy). Children grow up believing that the punishment they received was deserved, and that they were harmful, bad, and not trustworthy. Many, as adults, who lack a foundation of parental trust, do not trust, or even like, themselves. They perceive their needs, especially their need for nurturing, caring, kindness, love, and intimacy, as "bad", selfish, indulgent, harmful, and a burden put on others. Some spend their entire lifetime feeling guilty towards their parents. Often, they begin in adolescence to self-destruct, punishing themselves for burdening their parents, for having been born, for being alive.
The Most Common Methods Of Punishing Children
Corporal punishment in the form of spanking (even in infancy) is the most common way children are punished in America. Slapping, hitting and beating with the hand or straps and other instruments closely follow. NBC News has reported that about 90 percent of U.S. parents spank their children. In addition, a 1992 survey reported that 59 percent of pediatricians support the practice ("When Spankings Are Abuse"). It is important to recognize that in our society most parents and many of our infant and child care authorities, do not classify spanking as hitting or physical punishment. By a magnificent denial of reality, it is often described as a "love tap" or "pat' or "harmless swat" or "loving reminder". Since spanking has traditionally been administered in the United States to almost all children for generations, it is considered a natural part of growing up, the same as feeding.
Other more bizarre methods of corporal punishment, such as burning children with fire and other forms of heat, having them kneel on hard objects, or forcing them to stand for many hours, are less common than they once were, but they are still practiced today. We do not know the current extent of their use, nor do we know the current extent of other kinds of physical torture. Throughout civilization, until fairly recently, there have been various kinds of commercial items produced to punish children; including whips, the notorious cat of nine tails, cages, and various shackling devices (Beekman). Since these products are no longer openly advertised and sold, one would expect, or at least hope, that they are not used any more to punish children.
While many countries now outlaw the physical punishment of children, only Austria and the Scandinavian countries completely ban hitting them. However, in the United States, corporal punishment of children by parents is legal and widely practiced. It is also legal in the educational system, despite the fact that it is prohibited in the schools of almost all other industrialized nations. The US, Canada and one state in Australia still continue the practice. Twenty-seven of the states in the U.S. have banned corporal punishment in their schools. The twenty three others continue to allow teachers to hit and paddle their students when they deem it necessary (Corporal Punishment Fact Sheet). As a nation, we have been slow to understand the harmful effects that hitting has on our children, and we continue to defend our right to continue to hit them. We do not seem to be concerned that spanking and physically punishing our children creates a new generation who will in turn, continue to physically hurt their children. Based on our belief in the value of corporal punishment we are, in fact, likely to encourage our children to use it on our grandchildren.
It is frightening that many parents, educators, and others who are involved in child care today act out on children the cruel physical imposition that was inflicted on them by their parents and other care-givers while they were growing up. But even more frightening to me than the passage of physical cruelty to children through generations, is the passage of the belief that punishing children is a necessary part of raising them. Even parents and child-care experts who do not believe in corporal punishment advocate other kinds of punishment such as "time-out" and "logical consequences". (Salk, "When Spankings Are Abuse"). Although many of these methods, which are designed to get children to behave, are viewed as appropriate ways to discipline children, they are, in reality, punishments, the purpose of which is to get children to obey their parents rules and regulations by imposing on them parental power and authority. The following are some of the ways, other than physical punishment, that are frequently used by parents to punish their children. These were not originally or specifically created as tools to help parents to get their children to behave properly. In general, these methods have been borrowed from the traditional methods used to punish adults who had committed crimes or violated laws, rules, customs, or conventional ways of behaving.
Isolation and Confinement
Isolation and confinement usually go together. A child is sent to his room, or made to stand or sit in a corner and usually not permitted to be with, or relate to others. The currently popular "time-out" is, of course, confinement, and also isolation, if the child must be alone during the "time-out" period. Less openly discussed forms of this type of punishment are the practices of tying up or chaining children, locking them in rooms, closets, cars, sheds or other areas of confinement. In general, isolation and confinement are for a brief time. However, it is not uncommon for the time period to extend into hours, and although much less common, can extend sometimes to days, weeks, and even months. Basically, isolation and confinement give children the message that they are inferior and unfit to be with other humans. Many children, if they are frequently punished in this manner will come to believe that they are different, "crazy" and unfit when compared to other children who do not seem to require or receive this type of banishment from society. Often, as they mature, these children act in accordance with what they have been made to believe about themselves.
Another method by which we attempt to teach children to behave is to deprive them of things. Most children are no longer sent to bed without supper. They are, however, denied privileges. Frequent items that are denied include dessert, sweets, toys, allowance or spending money, TV, music, movies, the car, the telephone, friends, or whatever the child likes and is important to him. The length of time of the specific deprivation varies greatly, depending upon, among other things, the particular family, the nature of the misbehavior, and the age of the child. But all forms of deprivation - regardless of their length - teach children that their parents have the power to make their lives miserable by taking away what has meaning to them. Who would trust, or even like, someone with such power?
Grounding is similar to and overlaps the punishments of deprivation and confinement, but it is much worse. Here the focus is more on prohibiting activity away from the home, rather than on denying that which is external and material. It is being confined to the house rather than confined to a room in the house. The child is not allowed to go and to do. He is "grounded", like a plane or "docked," like a ship, made to be immobile, temporarily "out of commission". He has lost, for a time, his freedom to move about, his freedom to be fully alive and to grow. The punishment of grounding is, ironically, a major way to teach children to be defiant and disobedient towards their parents, because it usually attacks life and growth in relation to one's peers. One can tolerate, for a time, starvation and imprisonment. It is more difficult to lose one's freedom to act and to be, especially for children.
Withdrawal of Affection
Highly recommended, as a means to control childrens behavior, even by supposed liberal and progressive child care experts (Spock, Salk), is the punishment known as withdrawal of affection. Why it is necessary for a parent to consciously do this, is puzzling to me because withdrawal of affection seems to occur automatically (at least temporarily), to most people when someone (including one's child) does something we strongly dislike or which hurts us. Momentary loss of affectionate or tender feelings toward another is a natural part of human relationships and serves to communicate to a significant other what we, as an individual, personally like or dislike. Humans are able to enhance this automatic non-verbal communication with language. However, even without language, the message gets across. Babies communicate their likes and dislikes quite effectively, without a fully-developed language, all the time - that is, if they have someone who is attentively listening and watching.
The communication of both positive and negative feelings is an important way that our species learns to live with, accommodate to, and collaborate with one another. It is an essential part of the human nurturing process. Mother and child are continually accommodating to each other: finding mutually comfortable nursing and carrying positions, dealing with biting of the breast as the child grows teeth, accommodation to the child's increasing development and changing capabilities, the birth of a sibling, and, from the moment of birth, the parents cultural values and priorities.
Affectionate feelings, and the absence of such feelings, are spontaneous reactions in human relationships. When affection is consciously withdrawn as a means to control another, we are dealing with a different kind of human interaction than the integrative one described in the previous paragraph. Exploiting another person's emotional vulnerability is not an integrative act but rather an act which ultimately alienates the other person. It is a dishonest use of love. It is fake love. The conscious withdrawal of affection by a parent in order to get the child to behave in the manner the parent desires is simply a way of exploiting the child's need for affection from the parent. It is treating caring and love as commodities which can be given or taken away whenever the parent wishes. Affection becomes a power tool, a bribe, rather than an emotion. When withdrawal of affection and love is consciously and regularly used as a way to punish children, their human capacity to love, cherish, and trust another person, becomes tarnished. The childs critical need for parental love, security, and protection has been abused.
Some Other Ways Frequently Used To Punish Children
There are, of course, other ways that children have been, and continue to be, punished than the ones I have already detailed. We no longer punish adults by public whipping or by exposing them to public scorn by placing them in a pillory or stock or ducking stool. But children are still punished, if not by such extreme measures, then by intentionally embarrassing and humiliating them. It is considered proper in rearing children to make them feel ashamed about their behavior, and to humiliate and disgrace them in front of others. Dunce caps, as well as wearing and carrying signs about one's bad behavior, are still used by parents, teachers and school officials, although not as much as they were in the early part of this century. Ridicule and verbal abuse, both in the home and in public, are common methods used by parents and other authoritarians to make children feel badly about themselves and their behavior.
Another common way of punishing children is to frighten them. They are told about, and threatened with, images of bogeymen, monsters, God, the devil, animals, hell, or whatever humans can invent, to terrorize children in order to get them to behave. This form of mental torture is preferred by many parents because it allows the parent to let someone else do the "dirty work". It is not the parent who will harm the child but somebody, or something, else. This form of punishment makes children a little "crazy", and when used extensively, very "crazy".
One other commonly used punishment, which on the surface appears to be benign, is the assignment of chores or additional chores as punishment for "bad" behavior. Of course, this kind of punishment is not so benign if the chores are extremely strenuous or so prolonged that they can be physically harmful to the child. In addition, if the chores hinder the child greatly from other more desirable activities, the child is then receiving "double" punishment, which is not only unfair, but doubly painful. The assignment of chores as punishment can lead children to resent and hate the chores that need to be accepted as a natural part of learning, working, and caring for oneself and others. Chore-punishment may not hurt a child as much as other punishments, but, as do all punishments, it teaches children that it is all right to impose your will on another if you believe your cause is just.
Punishment And Parent-Child Alienation
It is strange to me that parents who punish their child do not seem to recognize that, not only are they harming the child, but they are also harming their relationship with the child. But perhaps they do recognize this fact, and that is why the statement by parents, "This hurts me more than it does you," has long been a part of the child punishment ritual. Intentionally hurting another person leads the injured person to be afraid of, and distrustful of, the person who has hurt them, especially if the hurting person indicates that they have the right to hurt the victim, and that they will continue to hurt the victim, whenever they deem it necessary.
Punishment of children alienates them from their parents and increases children's distrust of those who, biologically, are supposed to provide them with the security of feeling and knowing that they are not separate in the world. Children, because they are dependent on their parents for so many essential things, usually have little choice but to accept the reality that punishment and hurt are part of their relationship with their parents. However, as they get older, children of punitive parents are more likely, as compared with children who are not punished, to lie to, to not confide in, and to conceal their behaviors from their parents. This is not part of the normal growth pattern of becoming a person who is less dependent on their parents, but rather a reflection of the fact that these children do not trust their parents to be understanding, empathic, or to treat them kindly. The punishment these children received when they were younger has taught them that when they are involved in problematic behavior, their personal integrity and rights as a person will be ignored, violated and not respected by their parents. They have received the true message of punishment, which is to banish behavior which appears to be negative, rather than to try to understand it.
Does Punishing Children Work?
Does punishing children work? It definitely helps parents to believe that they are in control of their child. They are able to relax for a while until the next misdeed. Does punishment change children's behavior? Yes, but only for a brief time. Usually children will continue to do the same things they were punished for, if they think they can get away with it.
One of the troubles with punishment as a way to teach children proper social behavior, aside from the infliction of pain, is that it makes children feel weak, impotent and incapable. Punishment teaches children to look to external authority to decide for them how they should behave, rather than looking to themselves. They do not learn how, in collaboration with others, to make choices; they do not learn how to decide what is good for them and for those who are important to them. What they learn instead is to submit to authority and power, to obey. By being punished and treated as inferior beings, they become inferior beings - they do not develop the power of the human individual to love and trust. Children who are regularly punished learn to fear their parents. They learn the behaviors that their parents like and don't like and also, how to hide these behaviors from their parents. They develop "proper" behavior out of fear, not choice.
Some children openly defy their punitive parents. These children usually end up getting into worse trouble with their parents, and with other authorities as they mature. Most children, however, go underground. In order to protect themselves from parental power they develop a "good", submissive-to-authority, social pose to hide their secret misbehaviors and improper thoughts and feelings. Their social behavior is not genuine because it has little to do with who they really are. Once out of the realm of authoritarian control, they adopt new ways and new codes consistent with the values and priorities of their peers. They go in any direction the wind blows to avoid disapproval and to gain approval. The lack of respect their parents had for them has prevented them from developing respect for themselves.
Why We Hurt Our Children
The question that must be asked is why we are, and have been, so willing to hurt our children in order to get them to behave to treat them as criminals, slaves and animals. Of course, we are, in part, following the traditional ways of treating children for centuries of civilization. But there is more to it than just tradition. We have in the past century learned a great deal more than we knew before about children's emotional and social development and their mental health. This information is not kept secret from the public. Most of us even seem to recognize and accept that what happens to children in their early years has a great deal to do with the kind of persons they become. Yet, we continue to punish them. Do we not see the harm we do? Why do we not stop consciously hurting our children?
For some parents, whose own punishment as children was accompanied by rage, hatred, and sadism, punishing their own children is an opportunity for them to legally inflict pain on another human being a chance to get back at someone for the pain that they suffered. But for most parents, it is a matter of controlling behavior which they were made to control in their own childhood. It is a matter of ignorance, of passing on malevolent and inappropriate behavior toward children which they learned to accept as appropriate in their own childhoods. They are acting from an attitude that says it is just and right to hurt children in order to achieve certain ends. They will defend their belief that their own parents were right to punish them, that they are right to punish their children, and that their children will be right to punish their children. "After all," so many parents say, "how else can you get them to behave?" And many, even when they are told "how", still punish their children. On a deeper psychological and social level, parental punishers of their children do so because their children make them anxious by confronting them with behaviors and feelings which the parents themselves have learned to hide, suppress, repress, and disown. They must condition their children as they were conditioned.
Children threaten our identity, security, and reality. We harm them in order to stop our perceived threat that their behavior will harm us. It is a myth that we punish children for their own good. We punish children so that we will be secure. Our children have the power to elicit our tender and loving feelings. They also have the power to frighten, anger, and embarrass us. From being punished, children learn to distrust and fear their parents. Other than that, children and parents learn nothing. By condoning punishment as a disciplinary tool, we perpetuate the acceptability of the use of force and power to control others. At the same time we perpetuate our ignorance and our fear. We use punishment in order to stop behavior rather than having the courage to confront and understand it. By openly dealing with the underlying causes of the childs behavior, both parent and child have the opportunity to get a better and more realistic view of the child's actions, and any potential dange