Moving Away from
Fear and Shame
October 18, 2021
[Kyle] Hello and welcome to episode three of The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I’m your host Kyle Wester.
[Sara] I'm your co-host Sara Wester.
[Kyle] And we are looking forward to having a conversation today about a very big issue and parenting, you know? I mean, I think initially when you and I had kids, which we've got three of them. Yay! That's exciting.
[Kyle] We got three of them, I think, I was sold for sure we were gonna use some fear and shame, right? Were you sold?
[Sara] Not by the time we had kids.
[Kyle] What changed your mind?
[Sara] When I was working with kids and I had kids who were kicked out of daycare by the age of two, they were so bad that they were kicked out of daycare and when I thought “wow! They're getting all the punishment that's out there”. I mean, I had learned how to properly punish a child.
[Kyle] Yeah, it’s an art form.
[Sara] Yes, and I would give parents these skills and it still wasn't working for all these kids. Some kids, it did control their behavior, but there were other kids who for either their personality, traumas they'd been through, whatever, those approaches weren't working and I started to be curious about other approaches. I learned other approaches and it just--
[Kyle] That's when all the problems started.
[Sara] [Laughter] Yeah. So, by the time we had kids I had already thought “all right, I’m doing this with our kids”.
[Kyle] And I still was not convinced. I thought it looked crazy when she kept trying to just use empathy and trying to like, really talk to the kids about their feelings. I was like “this is crazy! This will never work!” and I remember-- I mean, I was raised in a home, my parents loved me deeply, but definitely fear and shame was used quite a bit. So, we definitely were scared to get in trouble and my brain was wired to not want to get in trouble because I didn't want to get punished.
[Sara] Yeah, yeah, avoid it.
[Kyle] Yeah. So, everything I could do typically, was just “how could I get away with it?”, you know? I mean, what you see with a lot of kids is, when fear and shame is used quite a bit, it can and we'll talk a little bit later about that, about kind of the effects of it, but one of the things I know it did for me was, I just got better at hiding it, you know? I definitely didn't want to get in trouble, but I also knew ways to make sure they never found out about it, you know? And still today around family time, there's some funny stories like, if I could share one [Laughter] You've already heard this one before Sara, but the one that I’m kind of proud of is, I obviously didn't want to get in trouble for having bad grades. So, I remember clearly, I think it was 9th or 10th grade, I got a bad grade in biology and that was gonna-- I was getting in trouble for that because my parents took biology seriously, science was a big deal, but I also got a bad grade in drama and they didn't-- I don't think they cared much about drama.
[Kyle] So, I tried to do something my brother had done previously, where he changed his grades, his F's to A's, his D's to B's, it was quite an art form that he did so he wouldn't get in trouble. So, I thought “man, I got a D in biology, I got a D in in drama, I’m not quite-- I don't want to lie so much”, that I just completely deceived them, so I tried to turn them both into B’s and part of it was, I just wasn't as good as my brother at it. So, I remember my parents saw the report card and they were proud of me, because it looked like I had all A's and B's on my report card, but I felt a little bit, you know, “this is kind of lying, maybe I’ve crossed a line here with my parents”. So, what I did was I confessed to changing the grade for the drama class and they were like, so happy I was being honest with them and I never told them about that biology grade and that to me, was kind of I reflect upon that as like, I really-- I did that because I knew they're going to get really mad at me and I knew they were going to punish me in some way and I wanted to avoid it, and that that's kind of where punishment can come kind of problematic, but early on, like you're saying, you had worked with kids. You'd work with a lot of kids who would, in your experience, they had been punished harshly, right? I mean like--
[Sara] Yeah, it wasn't for a lack of punishment.
[Kyle] Yeah, they had some kids physically abused, some of these kids have been taken away from their parents and you started like throwing these little bombs at me of like, “if I can teach these parents to help these kids without using fear and punishment, why couldn't we do it with our kids?”.
[Sara] I saw it working, I mean, I can't-- it was definitely with, I remember reading some research and reading some studies and thinking “whatever, this is not true and, I mean, look at me, look at all these people, we're all just fine”. Because punishment, that's been around forever.
[Kyle] Yes, centuries.
[Sara] And it was-- it's the-- you want to do it well.
[Sara] But there was no-- you're not supposed to avoid it, I mean, there must be a punishment and I was very stuck on that idea, if someone does something wrong, there must be a punishment. So, how do you do that right for the kid as a good parent?
[Sara] And so, when I saw it working to do these other methods and it was shaping and transforming these kids’ lives, I definitely thought "wow!”. I just would have never guessed.
[Kyle] Well and I remember, okay, you sold me on not spanking them. So, finally I was like “okay, okay, okay”, because I couldn't do that in the schools when I was elementary school counselor, I couldn't spank them either and I was like “okay, you're right, I’ve got a lot of tools in my tool box. I actually don't need to do that to someone else's kid, much less my own”, so you kind of sold me on that, but timeouts, I was still like “oh, you still got to make that kid-- even the super nanny, she does that on tv and it works for those families, I think”. You know, that's what I was thinking, but I remember the deal breaker for me was, remember, we never spanked our kids, but then, I did put Abby in timeout once or twice and, do you remember what Abby’s response was when I put her in timeout for that first or second time?
[Kyle] You heard her--? Your face looks so confused, do you remember? [Laughter] Do you remember what it was? I mean, she said something along the lines of like, she was-- the message she was receiving was she needed to be a good kid before I would want to spend time with her, you know?
[Sara] Yeah, yes. Yeah, in order to receive love, I’ve got to be this person. I’m not lovable when I’m making a mistake, doing something wrong. You're only lovable when you're perfect.
[Kyle] And at first, I was like “no, you're just trying to manipulate me!” [Laughter] But then when I took a second and thought about, I thought “that's exactly what I’m saying to her! I’m totally saying I don't like being around you when you're like this, you need to go get it together and then come back and spend time with me when I can enjoy”, you know? And that's totally what I was saying with the timeout.
[Sara] And I just have to say, that's what we tell ourselves. We're only lovable when we reach the standard.
[Kyle] Yeah, you're right, you're right and so, that was kind of the deal breaker. I thought “okay, Sara, that's fine, I’m all in, let's try to do this!” So, if we're gonna do this, if we're gonna move away from fear and punishment. Well, then what is discipline? Because that sounds like this one. So, in your mind, what is the difference between punishment and discipline?
[Sara] So, punishment is an external force that's going to be so bad, it's going to stop whatever you're doing. Discipline comes back-- I know you'll probably touch on this, but it goes to discipleship, which is a coming alongside a guiding, a teaching, just comes from a different-- it's got a different motivation in a different place. It's not like, “you're broken, I’m going to stop this broken behavior”, it's “let's teach you these skills, let's build this ability to manage emotions” or whatever it might be.
[Kyle] Well, it kind of-- I saw it as like a math equation. I saw it as, you know, what I noticed me wanting to do and what I saw the parents doing or what was done to me as a kid was, basically, you do something I don't like and “maybe it's bad or I don't prefer--" So, then I add something you don't like, that you think is bad and then, the outcome is going to be good.
[Kyle] And I just like, you're saying in your experience and in mine, I just didn't see that happening with kids, you know? Instead, I thought “what if we switched the equation to, you do something I don't like, you know, something that you did a behavior that I don't want you to do anymore, so then I add support and encouragement and even use the word discipleship”, right? So, I disciple you, which Dr. Markham talks about that's the root word of discipline, is disciple. I disciple you, that equals better behavior, right?
[Kyle] I just love that equation better, because the other equation I was kind of getting tired of-- I kept doing it to myself even, you know? Like you said, I would do something I didn't like, so I would do something to myself I don't like [Laughter] and it would equal--
[Sara] And I’m supposed to feel this bad, you know? You have this sort of idea of “okay, for this many days, I need to feel really terrible about myself, I need to do this against, you know, to myself. We live in this and then, once I achieve that, then I’ll be lovable again”, except for it just keeps happening.
[Kyle] Yes, and that definitely was not working, that equation was definitely becoming really unsustainable for me. So, but I know a lot of parents still use punishment, you know, whether that's in the form of consequences, right? I mean, that's a real common thing that a lot of friends of ours will ask, right? About what are the consequences, you know? And really what we're doing is, kind of going back to that old model that we've seen most of the world uses this, right? Is this idea of you do something bad, you punish you--
[Sara] It’s been around forever.
[Kyle] Yes. There has to be a punishment, if you don't punish them, you're letting them off the hook. You're basically enabling them to continue doing that behavior, right?
[Sara] And I would say, I really do believe it comes from a place of “I love my child”.
[Kyle] Totally, yes, of course.
[Sara] And if I don't want them ending up in the prison system, I don't want them no one liking them because they do this, this and this, and it comes from a place of “I gotta guide you”, this is how I do it and it blew my mind and it took me years. It wasn't just something I just read this little article and “oh, I was won over it”. It was a process, it took years, and it challenged a lot of core beliefs in myself.
[Kyle] Yeah, me too.
[Sara] My faith, it challenged a lot of parts that I had to dig through, I mean, this was done-- this change that we did, I couldn't tell you how many conversations have we had about it.
[Kyle] Yeah, some very heated ones.
[Sara] Yes [Laughter] years of digging into this from all aspects. This was not a quick change.
[Kyle] So, let me ask you this. I was trying to think, you know, why do parents choose to punish their children? So, let's just talk about what is kind of motivating and guiding that, I mean, I was thinking, I was looking back and, why did my parents choose to punish me, you know? So, the first one I was thinking was, they were parented with punishment, yeah? So, my parents when they did something, for instance, they tried to touch a stove, they got their hands slapped or they tried to, you know, a real common thing that my parents would do and to try to help us be honest was, if we weren't fessing up to whatever we did, they would threaten us with punishment until one of us told the truth, okay? So, the idea was, we're gonna punish you because the way we finally were honest or told the truth in their history was, you had to make them scared of something bad happening to them, right? So, I think a lot of people parent with punishment because they were punished as kids.
[Sara] I would say society by and large that, that's the way it functions. It's really set up on a “you do this or else” system and we've done it for so long, it's just what we all know.
[Kyle] And then, the second one I thought is, they hope to discourage a certain type of behavior, okay? So, it's not just because it was done to me, but we can actually reflect upon. I mean, like I told you, there was times where I was trying to work towards a grade and I was “maybe I don't want to study for my-- oh, but I do, because my parents can get mad at me if I don't get that grade”, right? Or “maybe I want to steal that thing, but if I steal it, my parents will get upset with me”, you know? “And they'll yell at me and maybe they'll ground me or they'll--” whatever the consequences might be, okay? So, the punishment was used to discourage some negative behavior or bad type of behavior, right?
[Sara] Yeah, things that we know aren't helpful. If my son is hitting some other kid, he's not going to have lots of friends if he goes around hitting kids. So, it comes from a motivation of “we've got to stop this, it's going to hurt your life if you keep doing this”.
[Kyle] What I thought of when you said that was, how when I was growing up, I don't know if it's ever happened to you, but a kid would bite another kid and so, the parent would threaten to bite the kid so the kid wouldn't bite other people [Laughter] And like you said, it was out of love, the parent was like--
[Sara] Yeah, like “I’m gonna show you how much this hurts. You did it to them and now--”.
[Kyle] Yes. I think my mom might have even said that, “I’ll bite you if you bite another kid, okay?” [Laughter] But the third one was, goes back to what you were saying before Sara is, it's the way we treat ourselves when we mess up. I know something I really had in order to embrace this, I need to stop beating myself up, because I was really good. My mom and dad would tell you, I was the hardest on myself, way harder than they were and part of that, made them punish me less [Laughter] Because I was-- They were like “oh, you don't need to punish Kyle because he'll punish himself”, because I was going to beat the snot out of myself and you even see this with some kids, they will actually hit themselves. They mess up, they'll punch themselves in the face, they'll like, they'll cause physical pain to themselves.
[Sara] Usually athletes. I see athletes do that.
[Kyle] Even one of my favorite movies “The Mission”, where Robert De Niro was a slave trader and he ends up becoming a catholic monk and part of his “punishment” was, he took all of his old stuff as like penance and was going to carry it up this big waterfall, to make himself punish himself for, you know, for all the bad things he'd done. So, I think it's real common, a lot of people do that, how they talk to themselves, how they feel like “I’ve got to suffer to make myself not do that again”, right?
[Kyle] And then, the last one I was thinking, is just the studies, I mean, the studies show punishment is really successful at one thing and that is changing behavior in the short term; it brings about instant compliance. If you do want your kids to do something instantly, threatening to punish them in that moment, studies have shown will change their behavior in that moment.
[Kyle] But long term it's an issue, right? So, you have short term success, but in the long term it's gonna cause problems, so that brings us to the next one.
[Kyle] What is problematic about using punishment? So, the reason why you and I chose not to use them long time ago, because those first four ones were pretty compelling, that's why I was not gonna do what you were asking me to do [Laughter] But what was problematic about, that started really hitting me, okay? Is the first one I put down, which I noticed this with that story about Abby in the timeout is, it hurts connection.
[Kyle] I mean, it really breaks that down, you know? I don't know about you, but when I was punished as a kid, I didn't want to spend time with my parents after I got punished. I wanted to go be by myself, I wanted to pull away, you know?
[Kyle] If they were mad at me, I wanted to go hide, you know? I didn't want to go hang out with them and play with them afterwards, you know? I very much wanted to retreat.
[Sara] Yeah, when you messed up, you didn't typically go to your parent and say “hey, you know, I just did this, this and this” and, you know, most of the time you feel all that shame, you feel the need to hide it. It doesn't bring you closer, because you know the punishment was coming.
[Kyle] Well, and that goes back to just what you just said with shame, is the punishment, you know, there's this idea that kids-- I know, I can see it in our own kids, they're looking up to us and they're saying “who am I? How do you see me?” and when we come at them with the fear and the punishment type thing, our face typically says “I don't like you, you're not good enough” and so, almost every kid I talk to in this whole kind of scenario when they're being punished is, they internalize it, that “my parents only punish me because I’m a bad kid and they wouldn't have if I’m a good kid”, you know? And so, they really start to shape their identity in that way. So, it breaks that connection, I’m a bad kid, you don't want to spend time with me. I even like that bank metaphor that I’ve told you before, Sara, I’ve just put money in the bank that, when I’m in the red, which I love to be financially, I love to be-- Oh, not red, black [Laughter] I’d like to be on the black. When I’m in the black, it means I’ve got money in the bank, you know? And that means I’m very connected with my kids and when I’m connected to my kids, you'll find they naturally behave better.
[Sara] They do, yeah.
[Kyle] I thought that was crazy. So, actually the very behavior I’m wanting to, they do better when I’m enjoying them, similar to you and I in our marriage. When we're having a great time, on a great date, we're much more cooperative, we're much kinder, we're more patient.
[Sara] You let the little things go or you're more likely-- And if you have feedback for me or something, I’m gonna receive it from you and change is a lot more likely, than if we're already at odds.
[Kyle] Yes, certainly.
[Sara] I’ve already got my walls up.
[Kyle] Yeah. So, I want to get my money, I want to get into the black and not in the red. If I’m seeing a lot of behavior issues and I’m thinking “they need to be punished”, it's typically because we're not in a good space, you know? So, number two, it becomes problematic because it doesn't teach the kids how to do it differently. You know, really what I’m asking them to do is I want them to behave differently. How is threatening to punish them teaching that? It's only teaching them not to do that, it's not showing them how to do it differently.
[Sara] Yeah, punishment because it just inflicts that “you did this, so now you're grounded for a week”, where discipline would come along and say “you need some skills, because this isn't going to help”, right?
[Kyle] Well, think about managing the phone, you know? Like lots of times you hear parents getting upset about the kid having the phone, it's a bunch of threatening taking the phone, giving the phone, taking his phone, giving the phone, when really the skill is “how to have self-control with the phone” and at no point, is taking and giving it really teaching that skill.
[Sara] Right. Well and, again, it goes back to punishment, is this external force. So, there always has to be a really big external force to prevent the behavior and that's constantly-- that's something that “okay. Well, that's not working anymore, so now I’ve got to do this one. Oh, that's not working, so now I’ve got to do this one”. Where discipline is just working and building a skill set, instead of trying to control from the outside, the other one's building from the inside.
[Kyle] And you and I have both heard stories about parents who “I took the phone, then I took the game system, then I took the bed” [Laughter] “And I took--” and it's just pretty soon the kids laying on the ground, on the floor like, “he's still not doing what I asked!”, you know? And it's like “yeah, because it doesn't work, it's not teaching the skill”.
[Sara] Well, you get you get the personalities, you'll either get a kid who just shuts down to you. You'll get the kid who's saying “okay, we're going to amp this up” and they're going to become the super defiant one. You'll get the people pleasing child who's just doing everything you want and they're the golden child, but all of those, if you look at each one, it's a problem in long term, it's not sustainable.
[Kyle] And then the third one was, it actually puts you against the child, it teaches them-- I mean, modeling is the most powerful teacher and it teaches the child how to resist you when you mess up, so it puts us against one another. So, it's hard really then to invite them into that discipleship that we talked about, in regards to discipline being discipleship. If I’m against you, why would you want to follow me? Why would you want to learn from me? If the whole time, every time you mess up, I’m against you.
[Kyle] So, we really want to be able to create an atmosphere where when the kid messes up, the kid is able to come to you and learn from you, right? And I don't want a teenager who, I have spent over a decade teaching them how to resist me by resisting them, you know? Because eventually, you know, they're going to have much more time on their hands than we're going to have on ours to think about it, you know?
[Sara] Well, and also, I mean, by the teenage years you're really hoping that the stakes are a lot bigger. If they mess up on something, you want them to come to you, but if all they're thinking is “well, yeah, if I come to you then, I’m just gonna get grounded, I’m just gonna--”. They're just less likely to come to you with those big things because of the list of punishments.
[Kyle] That's true and then, number four was you've hit up on it a little bit, but the external control versus the internal control. When you're punishing, it's problematic because you're using these external forces to “control their behavior”, when really the whole reason why you're having the problem, is because they're struggling with self-control. So, if I continue to control them, how are they ever going to learn how to control themselves? So, you are kind of shooting yourself in the foot, you're actually making it more likely you're going to need to punish them in the future, not less likely, you know? And so, really, we're trying to help the kid get intrinsic control like, internal control, where the kid can do it inside and then be able to then do the behavior that you're actually asking, you know?
[Sara] Yeah. Well, you want-- Right, we all love our kids, we want them to grow up to be successful humans, right? And we want them to be able to have great relationships, be successful in college in their careers and, you know, manage their money, all that stuff. So, all the little things we're doing now, build hopefully to that great day [Laughter] that's happening.
[Sara] And if everything's always run from the outside, then one day they just take over, but then they lose all the outside controls, wherewith discipline we're building these internal skill sets of “if I do this, what are the consequences of that? What's gonna-- How is it gonna affect other people? How's it gonna affect me? How do I-- I’ve got to build this practice of self-control.”
[Kyle] Self-awareness. That goes back to all that stuff we talked previously about the brain science. All that stuff you just said is in the prefrontal cortex and typically what I found, I mean, maybe you and I haven't been using fear and punishment, but I am known to give a good lecture [Laughter] And like, you can see it in the kids’ faces when they just glassed over and I’m like, I’m still talking and I can tell nothing is happening. That means they're in the limbic system, they've kind of disconnected. I know what I thought when my parents did that was “I’m a bad kid, I get it, got it, got it, got it, got it”. You keep saying it, “I got it, I got it. I stink right now, you don't like me, got it.”
[Sara] Let's just get the punishment over with.
[Kyle] Just get it done with, yes and so, if we're actually wanting to teach them skills, punishment doesn't help them be in the space in their brain to actually learn the skills we're trying to teach. So, we want to be able to create a safe place where they can come to us and actually learn from us, right? And actually, guide them a different direction.
[Sara] Yeah. So, what you were just saying, the very idea punishment is “I’m gonna inflict so much fear of this punishment in you, that it's gonna work to stop something”, which-- So, I’m inflicting-- So, immediately my goal is to put you in your limbic system so badly that you'll stop doing this. So, now we've left the prefrontal cortex [Laughter] Where we were hoping to build a skill, so we need everyone calm, so they can stay in the right part of their brain to learn the new skill, practice the skill, yeah.
[Kyle] Well, then I thought, just wrapping up this conversation I thought, would punishment work in my marriage?
[Kyle] How would my spouse respond if I punished like, if I somehow punished you every time you didn't did something I didn't like? I mean, it's obvious our marriage wouldn't last that long. So, if every time I’m like “you did what with the dishes again!? That's it! Give me your phone!”. You know, whatever it is or “you're grounded!” or obviously in a marriage like, I would necessarily wouldn't do that, but I might give you the cold shoulder. I might I might not be as talkative, right? And so, there's ways we even do this in marriage and nobody thinks that's going to make a healthy marriage, it's going to make it problematic. We're eventually gonna have to work through it, you know? But the difference is, that's why we call this the art of raising humans. I see you as a human, I don't treat you like something less than human, you know?
[Kyle] So, that's why I don't use it on you and when I do use it on you, I know it's not gonna work, you know? I know when I’m shutting myself down, it's not going to work, but with the kids, typically because we're wired to see them as less than us, we think it's more appropriate. We think it's okay to talk to them in certain ways or yell at them or do these kinds of things.
[Sara] Yeah. Well, you think about your bosses too, think about how, you know, the different jobs you've held and if you had a boss who just would come in, yell at you for the mistake you made and walk out the door or say “you're losing this, this and this because of that”, versus the one that came alongside you and said “hey, this didn't go well, let's see what we can do, let's build that ability”, whatever, you know?
[Sara] So, I’m just think, if you think about your bosses and the ones that came in yet, which boss did you grow the most with? Which one did you feel closer to? Which one were you going to go and say “hey, I’m struggling with this, can you help me?”.
[Sara] You're not going to talk to the one that's yelling at you and throwing out punches.
[Kyle] You're less likely- When you mess up at that job, you're less likely to go to the boss and tell them, yeah, you're going to try to cover it up.
[Sara] Your friendships, you think about your school teachers, which ones did you grow the most with, which ones did you enjoy. I think we see this in all, lots of areas, lots of areas of life, not just with our, you know, parenting--
[Kyle] Well, lastly, I was thinking fear perpetuates more fear like, you know, the more fear we use, it just grows more fear in our home. So, the kid then will be more afraid or like you said, the boss example or the marriage. The more we use fear, the more fear will grow and so, I like that kind of metaphor of just the open hands versus the closed hands and just, in short, I like this idea of when I’m coming at the kids with closed hands, I’m coming at them ready to use fear and punishment and all that's going to do is put me against them. I can't reach out and hold their hand when my hands are in fists. My kids see me with fists, they're going to want to put their fists up too because they're like, “oh oh, looks like dad's upset”. Whereas if I come with open hands, it allows the kids to also have open hands with me and then, we can co-create how we're going to handle this situation going forward.
[Kyle] All right. So, I want to thank everybody for listening today about this discussion about fear and punishment. Please go on to the podcast, we'd love for you to give us some of your feedback, we love to see your comments and love to especially, when you review it, that really helps and if there's other questions you have, even about this topic, we'd love to delve into this more. I know it's a big topic that we're trying to condense in about 20 minutes and we really-- We’ll talk about it more in other podcasts, but I hope it got you thinking about the difference between punishment and discipline and this idea of discipleship with your kids. So, we appreciate you listening and you have a wonderful day.