Parenting Without Punishing
Copyright 2002 by Norm Lee

Chapter 1

What These Chapters Are All About

Here we'll be talking about discipline, responsibility, self-esteem, learning right from wrong, the causes of violence, family dysfunction, and alienation; why children resort to drugs, crime and gangs; and finding specific steps to take toward peace and happiness in the home and community. This is not opinion, not theory. What you will read here is solidly founded on more than 40 years of scientific research and proven practice in childrearing.

It's a tall challenge, one that cannot be accomplished in one issue, or several. But here's where we must begin: First steps in the right direction.

We have in mind parents-to-be, and parents with children ages birth to 12 or so years, although the principles set forth here apply to any age. "Do unto children as you would have them do unto you" is sound advice for anyone in dealing with others, and especially so in dealing with children.

With the wrong start, things get harder as children grow older. It is doubly difficult if parent and adolescent have already developed an adversary relationship. Fifteen years of power struggle can do much damage. Yet it is never too late to begin developing respect and kindness, and for courtesy and caring. Trust can grow, but not without right effort and conditions.

The Happiness Factor

Any serious talk about parenting must include ways to achieve peace and happiness, ways to avoid conflict and suffering. The efforts we put into being good parents are aimed at happiness for the children, to be sure. But parents need - and deserve - to be happy too. Indeed, it is hardly possible for children to be happy if their parents are not. So the first thing to think about involves happiness for parents.

We realize that there is little happiness for either us or them if we feel we are constantly sacrificing for the children, because that can lead to later demands for emotional payments for what we have given up for them (And haven't we all seen that happen?)

What we must aim for is sufficient satisfaction in life apart from the parent role, though we know that our chief satisfaction is in seeing the children living happy, successful lives. We have all seen that there are few keener disappointments than seeing the children in a constant struggle with hatred, confusion and despair.

So it comes down to this: What understandings, what qualities, what methods, what skills are needed to achieve happiness and to avoid suffering for myself and my family, and how can these be acquired?

Addressing these questions - and more - is the purpose of this publication. And you will find a first step suggested in the pages of this first issue.

From Victims, Victimizers Are Made

Some time ago a Harris survey revealed that some 85% of Americans had the vague feeling of being victims. To be a normal human, at least an American human, is to have been a victim of violence as a child, at the hands of one's own parents. Hardly a wonder, then that we are the most violent "civilized" nation on earth.

Research in family violence has shown that in excess of 95% of us were spanked, slapped, and otherwise humiliated as children, experiencing the horror and trauma of being physically attacked by the very grownups upon whom we had no choice but to depend upon for love, protection and survival.

"Spanking does not teach inner conviction. It teaches fear, deviousness, lying and aggression."
Dorothy Corkhill Briggs

That trauma, therapists tell us, is buried deep in our 'under-brain" (my term, not theirs), for most of us, where we don't have to face it consciously. But it smolders, or festers, negatively influencing our attitudes and behavior nonetheless, often in hateful and violent ways. For some, given the circumstances, it explodes, generating the shocking stories we read in the papers.
A first step to feeling happier: Stop all punishing, and hold a family meeting to discuss alternative ways of relating, and governing family behavior.

Waking Up

In 1956 I sat in the back row in a classroom at Syracuse University, near the door, with my German Shepherd, Rex, at my side. As a veteran, returned from combat in Korea and occupation of Japan, I had cultivated a "no-nonsense" attitude.

The graduate student instructor was explaining how, when a child misbehaves, we should, instead of punishing, seek to understand the reasons and feelings causing the offending behavior.

"Mr. Jalbert," I smirked, "when Rex misbehaves I just hit him with a folded newspaper. That straightens him out, and he loves me for it."

He quietly walked to face me, with a concerned expression on his face. I remember the moment vividly: Then he bent down and said softly, "Mr. Lee, is it asking too much to distinguish between a dog and a child?"

My own stupidity, my gross insensitivity, loomed before me, and I knew my attitude had to change. I silently resolved I would prove to him that I could, indeed, make that distinction, and that I was worthy of becoming a teacher of children. Surprising myself, I even made a career of teaching teachers of children.

It's been a comfort to me that my friend, Don Jalbert, who died of cancer three years later, lived to see a change in my attitude.

Carrot and Stick

Most of us were brought up, trained according to behaviorism, Skinnerian, carrot-and-stick, crime-and-punishment methods, and believing that since that is how our parents did it, it is therefore right and good, and that we should do likewise. It has occurred to few of us that there might be better, more effective, more enlightened ways to deal with children.

The first objection to punishment is that it doesn't work. It fails to serve our purpose: that of reforming the child. Outward behavior may temporarily change so to avoid further punishment, but the humiliation is internalized, only to break out later. Punishment almost without exception makes things worse, whether or not it is immediately apparent.


  1. It reforms the culprit
  2. Punishment never hurt you
  3. . It is the duty of parents to tame & train children with rewards & punishment
  4. Punishment teaches discipline, prepares children for life
  5. It is necessary for their safety
  6. It helps them remember the offense
  7. It hurts you more than it does them
  8. It is sanctioned by the Bible, by God
  9. It builds good character
  10. It makes the child strong, courageous, and responsible.

Most people believe in the effectiveness of punishment because it gives the appearance of control. But in suppressing hostility it encourages lying, deceit, and hypocrisy and worse. Many parents believe in punishment as fervently as they do their religious tenets, and even protest that God himself ordered them to not "spare the rod", to use the carrot-and-stick method of teaching children.

In a recent lecture to a group of parents, I opened a book and read aloud: "Start discipline early; make clear rules, enforce them promptly and consistently. Reinforce obedience with, 'Good boy, that's a nice girl,' together with pats and hugs. After disciplining, tell them you love them, but it was for their own good."

There were unanimous nods of agreement, some voicing approval quite heartily. But when I showed the book's cover, they gasped in shock:


In their beliefs about methods of treating children and training dogs, there was not a smidgen of difference! It is as if America had learned its parenting skills at the American Kennel Club's obedience school. Is it any wonder that the nation's children are screwed up? A dog's nature is to be servile. But a child's nature is to be free.

What This Is Not About
This a good place to say that we are not recommending permissiveness. That is neglect, and as such, is yet another form of child abuse, just as harmful to the child as slapping and shaking. Nor are we into parent-bashing, either this generation or those past. In our view, parents are modern-day heroes, struggling against huge odds to raise decent children in an indecent society.

Nor are we intent on supplying ammunition to either side of America's War On children. We won't be suggesting new, Draconian strategies to keep children "controlled', "managed", or otherwise suppressed, seen and not heard.

The purpose of these chapters is to explore methods of effective parenting that result in happier children, happier parents, happier child-parent relationships, happier family life. And to show how easily that can be accomplished, given insight and persistent application. The result will be seen - and here's the money-back guarantee - in the rising level of happiness for the parents and the children, now and as your and their lives unfold.

"Punishment is ineffectual in the long term as a technique for eliminating the kind of behavior for which it is directed."
Research results in Sears, Maccoby & Levin: Patterns of Child Rearing

Four Truths

Truth #1: We live in a violent world, a society that is dangerous and deadly; there are serious unresolved problems and conflicts in our communities, in our families and in ourselves; we see evidence of serious deterioration of ethical and moral standards at all levels; dysfunction of families is now common; and alienation, affecting youth and grown-ups alike, has become the sickness of the age;

Truth #2: Each and all of these problems have causes; they didn't just happen. There are roots and conditions that have given rise to the difficulties we face;

Truth #3: Because those causes can be identified, defined, we can gather information, learn more about them, and thus understand how they came about;

Truth #4: With sufficient information, insight, determination and with the right approach, we, together, can reduce or eliminate the causes, the conditions, that bring us these difficulties, this suffering. And we can begin with this PWP chapter.


  1. . If the "rod" is spared, the child will be "spoiled".
  2. Children need to be taught lessons to prepare them for life.
  3. Punishment is administered for the child's own good.
  4. Children learn discipline by being punished.
  5. The only way children learn is by being taught.
  6. They'll never learn unless reinforced by rewards, and threatened with penalties.
  7. Too much attention and affection spoils them.
  8. Children naturally resist learning what they need to know to get along well in life.
  9. They'll be grateful later on for being "disciplined" now.
  10. Children are naturally uncivilized and undisciplined, with an innate need to revolt and destroy.
The arrival of a new millennium offers us an opportunity for a new start, a new mental paradigm. Unusual times call for unusual, different measures. As we are hurling down a mountain on a runaway train, it is crucial that we jump off on the side that resolves the problems, not make them worse. It is clearly imperative that we employ gentler, saner approaches to child rearing. The times require it, and the ways are already known for putting them into effect. We need only discover them for ourselves, and put them to use.

We Agree On Goals and Values
We believe in traditional family values: honesty, responsibility, kindness, respect, courage, freedom, patience, self-reliance.

We believe in self-discipline - for parents and children alike. We believe that the Ten Commandments should be our premier guide, and that the Golden Rule of Childrearing belongs on the refrigerator doors of all parents - and teachers, too: "Do unto children as you would have children do unto you."

We believe that brute force is uncivilized, that might does not make right, that peaceful restraint, not superior power, is the way to happy relationships. We value children, see them as blessings, gifts beyond price.

Whatever our religion, we believe that Jesus taught us to be loving, patient and compassionate, and to leave punishment up to God. We believe in freedom, and the right of all, including children, to pursue happiness.

Childrearing can be an emotional subject. In the military there was an unwritten rule: to avoid trouble, don't talk about religion, politics, or mother. But here, as in any serious discussion of children's upbringing, we cannot avoid reference to any of the three. So we have to be grown-ups and work together, remembering that our basic values and goals are identical.

I will provide here the results of research that convinced me that punishment - all forms of punishment - does such deep and lasting harm that no child should ever have to suffer it. And no taxpayer population should ever have to bear the burden of the billions of dollars in costs to repair the resulting damage to humans and to society.

When Violence Is a Traditional Value
Methods of childrearing have changed little in the past 500 years. The fundamentalists among the Judeo-Christians and Muslims insist that the views and treatment of children practiced centuries ago are still right and good today, denying the massive information and understanding acquired about children, even in our lifetime.

"Conservative" Christians are notorious for their attempts to justify child-bashing as the will of God, and claim it is even approved of by the gentle and loving Jesus. Yet no one, "Christian" or not, can imagine Jesus spanking a child, or shaming, or humiliating in any way, or even assigning a "time-out". We cannot reduce crime, violence and suffering by continuing to smack and smite children. Expecting to reduce violence and incivility by treating children in violent and uncivil ways is insane as well as brutal. It comes down to - (or up to) - this: "Treat children exactly as you want the children to treat you." I don't claim this as an original thought, this rule for achieving peace and happiness. I just know that this, alone, works.


  1. It teaches that violence & intimidation is the way to power, control, respect & maturity
  2. It produces feelings of resentment & rage; it turns children into bullies
  3. It makes the child feel guilty & unworthy; undermines self-esteem
  4. It prevents the child from maturing, & accepting responsibility
  5. It kills spontaneity, humor, good will, & the joy of childhood
  6. It diminishes the ability & capacity to love
  7. It psychologically binds the child to the punisher in a guilt bond, destroying independence & breaking spirit
  8. It undermines courage & confidence, causes timidity & cowardice
  9. It induces fear & anxiety, usually life-long
  10. It deprives the child of the experience of freedom, & the right to a happy childhood.

The Day We Fenced the Yard

Henry and Russell were ages 3 and 2 respectively when we moved into the farm-house. We had come to my new teaching job at a college in rural Upstate New York, and the boys were excited about getting out into the countryside to live.

The old farmhouse, big and rambling with ceilings ten feet high and oak trim around every inside door, was set back - for ease of snow removal -only a few feet from the macadam county road. Milk trucks and farmers in their pickup trucks sped by; it was clear the first day that the boys couldn't play alone in the grassy front yard. But that was precisely what they wanted to do, every waking moment. We called a family meeting.

What are we going to do about this problem? To little Russell the solution was simple: "Mommy can watch us." But Mommy had lots of work to do inside, every day, even after unpacking and settling in the new home. Would they settle for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon?

No way. Henry was firm: They wanted to go outside whenever they wanted to, for as long as they wanted to. As parents, we could have invoked the Health and Safety Rule, but - we had previously agreed - that it could be enacted only when no safe alternative could be found.

Suggestions were made: Can we play out back? Too much tractor traffic between house and barns, besides they could be neither seen nor heard from the kitchen. "Let's build a fence!" said Henry.

"We're short of money now," Daddy objected.

"We can build a cheap fence!" Henry was persistent, a gifted negotiator. "And old Rex can play there too!" That would be a good solution, all agreed. But where can we find a cheap fence? The meeting ended with an ad hoc committee: Henry, Russell and Daddy would research the market for inexpensive fencing.

None appeared in newspaper ads or yard sale postings. Then a Sears flyer showed a special on wire fencing. How much do we need? We measured the perimeter of the front yard. After agreeing that no more than 4 foot height was needed, we calculated the cost. "We'll need fence posts, and they're high priced," Daddy objected.

But a search of the back yard uncovered a pile of steel posts by the barn. "Sure, take what you want," said the farmer, and we dragged them out, finding spiders and snakes and rodents, all exciting.

What about a gate? "Who needs a gate?" said Mommy. "Our front door is the gate. We use the side door to come and go anyway." Good point. No gate, free posts, free labor, no problem. Off we went to town. The next morning we went to work putting up the fence that would make constant super-vision unnecessary.

We had a wonderful time, the three of us, measuring the placement of posts, driving them in, unrolling the wire, fastening it to the posts. At lunchtime we could talk of nothing but the work we had done together.

A couple years later the boys announced that they didn't need the fence anymore. Family council considered, and agreed. But even now, over 30 years later, we remember The Day We Fenced theYard.

Select Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Return to Table of Contents