If the rules are posted, are consequences punitive?

QUESTION:

I was thinking that it would be helpful to have the “house rules” posted for the kids to see, but if I do that, are the consequences of not following the rules punitive? 

Answer:

That’s such a tricky one – because the current method of thinking would be if the child knows in advance what is expected, then breaking the rule is a choice and it’s not punitive to impose a consequence. But the simple wording of ‘impose’ shows that this really is punitive. Punishments are things added on to a situation to drive home the lesson inherent in the situation. They serve as a distraction from the real lesson; unless they fit Jane Nelson’s (author of Positive Discipline) definition of solutions in that they be relevant, related, respectful and helpful in preventing the situation in the future. Solutions are not intended to cause you to feel bad or suffer in any way, though they aren’t necessarily pleasant or fun. Positive doesn’t mean fun all the time, or happy; it means non-punitive.

This is an article where I talk more about consequences – the difference between natural and logical.

Basically, I believe that a parent’s responsibility is to determine, to the best of their ability, the natural consequence of an action and then prevent it until the child is ready to survive and learn from it. Logical consequences, or solutions, are for older children who are developing adult logic and reason (so from age eight on, when there is pre-logic being developed). Consequences need to be approached as a teaching aid, not as behavior prevention and not something to cause children to feel bad for what they did.

Guilt is a great motivator for change, but imposed guilt is shame and shame tends to paralyze and block learning. If posting the rules is for the purpose of being able to use a consequence and feel justified then I would encourage a parent to not post the rules. But, if posting the rules is seen as a tool for helping everyone remember them, and seeing them will help the child remember, then narrow down and post away!