Some months ago I heard from my daughter she was put in time-out, because she had been noisy during the ballet class. It had happened more than once so the teacher decided that for some minutes she had to stay sit down and watch the other mates performing the exercises. Did she understand the reason? Was it because she disturbed the class, or because she teased the teacher, or because she didn’t focus on her exercise? She didn’t know.
In our society we experience that rules are necessary to live in a community and a number of countermeasures are adopted to make rules respected, mostly based on punishment.
If you violate the highway code you get a fine, if you steal you go in jail, in some countries capital pain is deterrent for the worst crimes.
Games have rules too, and you can be disqualified if you don’t respect them when you play.
I’m convinced that it’s harder to respect rules we don’t perceive the meaning of. Maybe it’s an Italian heritage, because we Italians usually ask for the reason for every imposition and we contest it when we don’t agree.
Is punishment a way to teach a value?
For sure rules without punishments for the transgressors is utopian. But if we believe that a rule is right we’ll be less tempted to infringe it.
So children do.
I tried to explain her that if she disturbs the ballet class, she doesn’t respect her friends that want to enjoy the lesson. If she doesn’t like this sport in the next semester she can choose another, but she cannot give up now because we paid money for this course. Then I told her that I wouldn’t have read any bedtime story that night, and the next ones, until a new ballet class would have been and she had behave right, because I was so sad that that my sweet daughter hadn’t respect her friends that I wasn’t in the mood for this cuddle. This was not a punishment, I told her. In fact I really punished me in doing that as well, because reading stories to my daughter is one of the small daily habits that I like more.
The next week my daughter ran to me excited screaming that she hadn’t been punished at the ballet class.
At the end of the semester I asked her, which sport she would have liked to do instead: the ballet class, she answered without thinking twice!