Google+ Authentic Parenting: Model, Don't Punish (rerun)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Model, Don't Punish (rerun)

Today I would like to welcome Dionna, who has written a guest post on gentle discipline. Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of an amazing son. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler. I will have a guest post featured there soon on one of my joys in breastfeeding a toddler. Be sure to check it out!
As parents, we understand that it is our responsibility to act as our children's primary role model and teacher.

When a preschooler wants the freedom to dress himself, we teach him how to tie his shoes and button his shirt.
When a child asks for a bicycle, we help her learn how to ride safely.
When a baby shows an interest in music, we show him how to bang on a xylophone or press the keys of a piano.
When a toddler has a meltdown because she is overstimulated and overwhelmed, we . . . punish her? (1)

When our child "misbehaves," many times our first (or second or third) reaction is to punish her.

  • Talk back to mama during dinner? Go sit in time out and "think about it."
  • Smack baby brother and take his toy? Grab the toy back from him and yell at him for being selfish.
  • Run away instead of cleaning up the mess he just made? Swat him on the rear and force him to clean his mess under your threatening glare.
For the purpose of this post, let's not consider what each of these punishments actually teaches our children, short or long term. Let's look instead at the effect they have on us emotionally - both parents and children. No one walks away from punishment feeling encouraged, unconditionally loved, or emotionally prepared to face the next stressful moment.

Do parents really believe that a child's fear, resentment, anguish, and humiliation are necessary components of childhood learning? If not, doesn't every parent yearn for more peaceful, gentle ways of communicating with their children?

Maybe it would help if we could focus more on being role models instead of being instruments of correction or punishment.

Being a role model for your child is an important aspect of gentle discipline. "[G]entle discipline focuses on helping children work through difficult emotions and frustration in a supportive and empathetic environment . . . instead of simply punishing them for misbehaviour and rewarding them for good behaviour. Gentle discipline does not primarily aim to control children through external motivators such as rewards, praise or punishment, but rather aims to teach children how to control their own behaviour based on their own judgment and motivation." (2)

Parenting with gentle discipline does not mean that we let our kids walk all over us. It does not mean that we fail to set boundaries. It simply means that we approach our children with the same respect that we desire for ourselves. Parents and children are partners - not adversaries - in learning.

Reader Participation

So, dear readers, I'd like to turn the post over to you.

Using the bulleted examples above (talking back, smacking/grabbing a toy, and running away from a mess), what gentle discipline ideas can you come up with that cast the parent as role model instead of punisher?

Brainstorming and engaging in a dialogue on gentle discipline "best practices" is a healthy exercise for us as we go through our own parenting journeys.
Photo credit: melodi2



  1. A lot of these depend on the age of the child - so keep in mind that my children are nearly 5, 3, and 1 in my responses.
    1) Talking back is acceptable in my home. I ask that they speak to me in a regular voice and in words, but beyond that they are free to express their opinions/thoughts/feelings. I hope I never restrict their speech. If they whine and throw themselves on the floor I ask them to try again in a regular voice. The conversation does not continue until they do so.
    2) Hitting sibling and taking a toy. Most of the time I watch and see how this unfolds naturally. I try to model empathy here "Sister is my friend and I won't let you hurt her". I will step in the middle and protect if necessary. These are great opportunities to model empathy. I'll suggest they find another toy for them to play with or ask if it's ok. Mostly I see this as playground politics and not my place to intervene too much. They are developing their own dynamic.
    3) Running away from a mess - With little ones like mine I use the power of let's. We make a game, we make it fun. Let's clean up together. Remind them of the next thing we are going to do. Remind them of why we respect our things etc.
    I think for me it has come down to just relaxing, obedience is not my goal. If I model empathy, helpfulness and respect it pops up later in their days. They may push in that moment but when I see one of them say "Stop, I don't like that." when someone takes a toy rather than hitting I know it's soaking in

  2. "Talking back". That one's the easiest for me, probably because I'm not so easily ruffled. I ask myself what is my child trying to tell me. Studying NVC helped with that. Usually I'm quite in tune with my kids and I can identify what they are saying, really, underneath. This has led to a calmness in our family - there are no "unforgivable" feelings.

    In fact our "tolerance" for backtalk has resulted in our children (6 and 8) being more respectful, articulate, direct, and taken more responsibility for themselves and their feelings. I get less back talk than back when I took offense every time and "punished".

    We are working on being a no-punishment family and our kids are more well-behaved than ever. It's interesting because many people think if you parent this way you'll end up with "little monsters" who don't know how to respect others (so odd, because in so many other ways people admit kids "treat people as they're treated). So sad, so limiting. But I know most parents were raised that way too, and it can be hard to rise above one's upbringing AND cultural standards of domineering/manipulative parental tactics.

    Great post, Dionna - and I look forward to reading more responses!

  3. I come from a punishment/smacking background. I want to do it differently with my toddler of 18 months. We usually say no and divert her attention. At this stage it seems to work. Thanks for the great inputs, also from the comments!

  4. Talking back - my kids don't know what talking back is! Hehe! They have no models for talking back or "attitude" so they don't do it themselves.

    Smacking/grabbing a toy - this rarely happens at our house either. We've practiced gentle so much that it is just the norm. At this point, our kids are old enough that we pretty much let them work it out on their own. If they don't manage that, we might remind them that we don't take things from each other and how can we figure out a compromise? They are usually pretty good at figuring it out on their own with a prompt.

    Running away from a mess - We don't insist on a clean house at all times. However, we all have to live in the house and we all have to be happy here. When the mess gets too big for one of us to handle, we clean it up together. If someone doesn't want to help, they don't have to. But, they also don't have the privilege of doing something fun while making work for someone else. So, the one who doesn't want to help, has to sit in one spot until the cleaning is done. This is very rarely called into play, though, because the kids typically want to help with whatever I am doing. I do my best to keep them involved instead of shooing them out, because I do want them to help when I need it and I don't want to discourage a positive behavior just because it takes longer with help sometimes.

  5. When one of my children is talking to me rudely, I try to ask her if there is a better way to say what she's saying. For example, if we're sitting down to dinner and one of them says, "I hate this food!" I might say, "It's rude to say that you hate this dinner that I made. Is there a better way to tell me what you don't like about it?" I don't necessarily "punish" this kind of speech, but I want to raise children who can get along with ease in society, so I think it's important to help them develop polite communication skills. I only use "time out" for myself, as in "I need a time out! I'm going in my room, closing the door and I won't be out for ten minutes!"

    The grabbing/hitting problem: I won't allow this. My kids all deserve to be safe, even from each other. If one child is hitting or hurting another, I will physically rescue the injured child, then when she's safe, we'll try to figure out what would improve the situation. "Use words to tell me what you need" is something you'd hear around here a lot.

    Not cleaning up a mess: if it's something that is important to me, like dirty dishes, I will clean it up, then restrict dishes from being brought to that place for awhile with a reminder of why. "You left your ice cream bowls in the basement, so this time we're eating ice cream in the kitchen only." If it's something like toys, I'll offer to help. If I end up having to do it all myself, I have been known to put the items into a rubbermaid bin and set them out in the garage. The extra work it takes on the kids' part to get the items out of the garage next time is usually enough of a reminder to clean up when they've finished their play.

    These are things that work with my three and seven year old. My fifteen year old is a completely different creature and I could write you a book on what doesn't work with teens...still searching for what does!~

  6. I've been getting some flak lately from family on my parenting. My 2.5 year old is rather spirited and takes toys away from younger children, especially his cousin and baby brother. In the process of doing this he often knocks the other child down, and he will also quite often knock his cousin or brother on the head with toys. The family members believe this has gone on long enough and we should put an end to it by consistent time outs and or spanking.

    I refuse to trade hits for hits. I want to give my children the respect they deserve as human beings especially since I chose to bring them into this world. We re-direct when needed, we give reminders to be gentle, we play act taking turns and being soft with our touches, and we take the time to give more attention and love to avoid the roughness that can result from jealousy. I am willing to just be more patient and realize that every day he understands more and is improving (even if to the outside observer the change is not apparent).

    I don't know many parents that parent like this so it is posts and the resulting comments like these that give me the bolstering I need to keep parenting with a gentle hand.

  7. Practicing gentle discipline requires one to fill up their tool box with positive responses to situations. It can be very difficult when such responses were not modeled to us as children. Fortunately I've been learning about this since my first was a baby, but I still often find myself in new territory and reacting the way I was raised simply because I haven't had time to find the right. I'm inspired by all the mamas doing it this way, too. Thanks for a great discussion!

  8. Hugs, deep breaths, labeling feelings, and redirection are my biggest tools with my 18 mo and 6 yr old. It is hard to access the gentle, loving and good decision files in our brains when we feel stressed or overwhelmed. This goes for parents and kids.

    For example, my son was running around the Dr’s office. I said his name in a soft tone and asked for him to come give me a big hug. I make sure I bend down to his level. During the big hug, I whisper in his ear, “I understand how excited you are. I will take you to the park today where you can run around. Please go play with these toys.” We then go walk to the toys and I start playing with him.

    When we are at home and he keeps asking for something, I as calmly as possible respond, “I would love to (a) for you, and I will as soon as you do (x, y, or z). I will then guide him through x, y and z.

    I also utilize natural consequences, so if he does not want to wear a coat and he gets cold, I label and empathize with his feelings. I will not get him a coat and we usually have to leave what we are doing due to his discomfort. I do not throw in his face any “told ya so’s”. When he is calm, I ask what he learned from this experience. If, nothing, I suggest that maybe he will choose to wear his coat. When next time comes, I remind him of how he felt and the consequences of last time and allow him to make his own decision.

    Holding and changing the environment works best for my 18 mo old. It is amazing what stepping outside for just a couples minutes does and will reset us both.

    We also take deep breaths through out the day when tension is building. Our phrase for responding to anyone’s negative behaviors is, “I will love you through it.”

  9. I also wanted to add that I work hard to follow through on the majority of what I tell my 6yr old I will do. If I know I cannot or will not do it, I will not say I will so he can trust what I say. So the day I said I'd take him to the park, I had every intent to do so but I realized I forgot his sister's shoes. I accepted his disappointed and he understood my problem. When we got home, we played a running game outside.

    Another approach I have for my 18 month old is if she has something that is not suitable for her like permanent marker or small object, I first ask her nicely to give it to me and put out my hand. Nine out of 10 times, she hands it over. If I just grab it from her, she fights for it. I taught her brother to respond the same way and when he remembers to ask nicely, it works for him too.

  10. Great comments all, I appreciate the participation!

  11. For talking back, we do a "rephrase." We say, "Please rephrase that in a nicer way." We often give an example of how to say it or what to say because our kids are pretty young (5 and 2... and we mostly do this w/ the 5 yr old at this point). For instance, if at dinner I asked the 5 yr old to please focus on eating if she was talking and playing a lot, and she said, "No, I don't like this food!" I would say, "Please rephrase that. It sounds nicer to say, "Mommy, I don't care for this food."

    For the toy grabbing, I would tell the older child, "Your brother was playing with that, and now he is sad that you took it. Please give it back," and if the older child would not give it back, then yes, I would remove the toy from the older child, although not in a snatching way. I have seen too often when parents will sit there for 15 minutes trying to reason with a child of pre-reasoning age, and that is not fair to the child whose toy was snatched. When removing the toy and handing it back to the younger child, I'd say something like, "Let's go find X for you, Older Child," or "Little Brother will give you a turn in a few minutes," or something like that.

    For running away and not helping clean up, I would go get the child gently - maybe making a silly game of it - and then help with the cleaning, making it into a game like tossing toys into the basket or making toy animals hop into their places, etc. If I knew the child had a tendency to run away at clean-up time, I would try to be proactive and sit him on my lap as we began cleaning up or something like that.

    I think the hard part with this gentle discipline is that it doesn't always get the desired outcome behaviorally, and realizing that is okay. If the child refuses to clean up even with your help and is crying and tantruming on the floor beside you, just taking some deep breaths and humming calmly and cheerfully as you pick up the toys yourself, a reassuring word or pat on the back if the tantruming child will accept it...

  12. so great to read all this input!
    we are rapidly approaching the one-year-mark (thursday!) and i've been really craving real life examples of gentle discipline because - even though it's still a bit early and situations aren't even arising as of yet, it's really helpful to read about everyone's experiences.

    xo sara

  13. Talking back: "No sir, we speak RESPECTFULLY to each other. Tell mommy you're sorry please." (this has happened at our table and he apologized, gave me a kiss and we continued a nice dinner filled with "preeeease" and "Tantoo")

    Taking toys: My son has just started a playgroup and is starting a pre-prek class this fall. He likes to collect all the toys and hand them back out. Instead of swatting him, I get down and say "I know you want to play with them all at once, but you don't have enough hands! How about we take turns and share with all the other kids? Give that toy back and when their turn is over, it'll be your turn and your toy can go to someone else!" He now thinks it is a game, we call it musical cars, and everyone is happy.

    Cleaning up: We have a "cleanup song" and try to get it all picked up before the song is over. When he doesn't want ot do it all I have to say is "mommy is going to get all the toys away before you do! Oh no!" and he hops in to help almost immediately.

    Parenting a toddler is hard, but it opens you up to a new way of thinking. I use some of the same techniques I use on him, on adults and WOW does it work wonders. Are we really just overgrown toddlers? :)

  14. It depends on the age of the child what the response would be for these things.

    In general though...this is how we would handle these situations:

    * Talk back to mama during dinner?

    "I don't like it when you talk to me like that. When you are ready to speak to me with a better voice then I will be able to hear you" If it is a whiney tantrum then I say, "I want to help you but I can't understand you when you talk that way."

    * Smack baby brother and take his toy?

    I have three kids and a lot going on. Sometimes i intervene by asking the older child to go find a toy that the littler one might like so they can trade or I simply say, "You all are brother and sisters and you have to learn how to get a long." And that is the end of that so long as no one is continuing to get hurt. My almost 2 year old is hitting and my 3.5 year old is starting to come out of the phase. I can see when he might be ready to hit because I know all the signs. If I think he is I usually drop what I am doing and immediately say, "Oh Nathanael...use your words." or "Come here buddy and let mama help you."

    With the 2 year old I just have to keep telling her that hands are not for hitting and we don't like it.

    * Run away instead of cleaning up the mess he just made? I don't expect many kids to pick things up until a certain age. Generally if we are all doing it together kids love to join in. With a family of three of kids 5 and under...this is small beans. For my oldest I give her a number of things to pick up and then she likes to change that number to one that she chooses which is usually higher! LOL. If she wants to go outside and play then she typically has to clean up one portion of her room....say the dress up. If her friends are over I try to get them to pick up my having them pretend they are moving and need to pack everything away. Sometimes they aren't into it so I don't push it because its their playtime.


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