Google+ Authentic Parenting: Four Alternatives to Punishment: Positive Solutions in Practice (Rerun)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Four Alternatives to Punishment: Positive Solutions in Practice (Rerun)

Last week I wrote about our path to becoming a punishment free family. I received quite a few emails and some Facebook comments with questions wondering how being punishment free really worked in our day to day lives. Among other things, we use replacement, choices, playfulness and empathy.
Here are four examples from the past week which illustrate how we are practicing finding positive solutions.

1. Replacing Annoying with Acceptable
Scenario: My five year old has recently started tapping and poking at my husbands stomach the minute he walks into the door in the evening. Tired and ready for dinner my husband is not so receptive to this behavior (read totally annoyed). Just saying "stop, please don't do that" was getting both of them just frustrated.
Observation: My five year old does not want to annoy his dad, he is really excited and wanting to connect with his dad who was gone all day.
Solution: I suggested to my husband that the next time the poking starts he offer his son a quick game of "high fives" and a hug as an alternative. This doesn't just replace the unwanted behavior but also offers a chance for both father and son to create a routine in the evening to reconnect.

2. Offer Choices and Avoid Commands
Scenario: My three year old decided to dump all the contents of his bookshelf onto the floor producing a hefty pile of books. When he seemed about done entertaining himself with this pile I thought it would be best for it to be cleaned up. I want my kids to respect their books and also create a habit of cleaning up whatever messes they create.

Observation: I could tell the mess was too much for him to handle alone but wanted to involve him in the clean up process.
Solution: Instead of telling or commanding him to clean up I said "do you want to use the kitchen tongs to get the books on the shelf or count them as they go on like we do when we play the sheep game?" His reply was filled with enthusiasm: "I can count them, watch me!" Around number seventeen, with a few skipped and reversed numbers along the way he said "I can't anymore" so I offered another choice "Do you want to hand me just the small books and I will clean up the bigger books?" It took us maybe five minutes to finish the rest together as a team and avoided a struggle or "battle of wills".

3. Listen and Strike a Deal
Scenario: One afternoon this past week when I explained we needed to interrupt reading my five year old was very upset and threw the book across the floor.

Observation: My five year old loves reading stories together but as much as I would like to, with two other children I cannot read to him for hours and hours uninterrupted, this is often frustrating to him.
Solution: I empathized with his frustration that I was busy with other things in the house and siblings. He verbalized he just loves to read so much and hates being interrupted. I suggested he make a pile of books he is interested in reading with me at some time the rest of the week and we would get through the pile by adding ten extra minutes at his story time at the end of the day when siblings are already asleep. Without prompting he apologized for throwing the book, picked it up and got busy choosing his books.

4. Demonstration and Imitation
Scenario: My youngest (nearly 18 months) was at the table banging her silverware on her plate, the table and anything she could reach. We are pretty relaxed with table manners but I did not want her plate to crack and the noise was bugging me so I wanted her to stop.

Observation: I know she is very interested in sounds, noises and was looking for some attention while we ate lunch. She is also into imitating behaviors a lot.
Solution: I started showing her my silverware, using it properly and commenting "this is a spoon, for eating my peas. I like this spoon for eating" "This is rice, I like eating rice with my spoon. This spoon is for eating not for hitting" Soon she started picking up peas with her spoon and eating them and when she was bored again I showed her once more. This does take time, and I will probably be demonstrating and reminding her again but the banging did stop and eating with silverware is a skill she is still learning.

For our family, going this route is working so far, I realize that often taking the time to talk things out and offer alternatives can seem more time consuming but I find in the end it saves a lot of time. We are building relationships based communication, mutual respect, tantrums are avoided and the general atmosphere of our house is very playful and positive. Of course, we still have challenging moments and then we try to learn and grow from them.

Have you had a challenging moment recently and found a positive solution?

Peace & Be Well,

Ariadne (aka Mudpiemama) has three children, she practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. She believes parents and childrenshould try to have fun everyday and love life. Find her on facebook at the Positive Parenting Connection page.



  1. Very inspiring - but how do you handle direct aggression, like hitting, kicking, or biting? That's the only thing that we "punish" for, putting our child on a special seat for a few minutes and stepping away, because all the correcting, giving alternatives, and empathizing haven't stopped it. It's only when she is really flooded and mad and it seems that in her mind, only striking out will satisfy.

  2. Totally, totally awesome.

    We are a radical unschooling family. I have been looking for ways to explain how even without punishments, threats or coercion our family is not total chaos. I do the things you suggest, but I never thought of them as succinctly as you've written them here.

  3. Thanks, Ari! Take that, Amy Chua:) ....for those who forgot, this is what we are trying to overcome...

  4. These are great ideas and a great place to start!
    Or... to continue.
    I started reading and quickly thought... oh boy, you haven't met my kid!
    We're punishment free her whole 4+ years and she had ways around lots of things.
    I stopped myself though and am looking at your solutions again because I need to see where I've veered off course in subtle ways too. It takes constant re-commitment and creative thought and I've been getting frustrated instead of creative.
    Thank you for the wonderful ideas and examples.

  5. I just love this! I am a mom of three under three, my youngest being 4 months and oldest just turned three a couple weeks ago. I hate yelling and hate the chaos that comes from it. I try to understand my kids before punishing them (though many people don't understand that!) and everything is much more calm and peaceful because of it. Since my youngest was born, I have struggled with it. The moment my two boys see that I am feeding their sister, answering the phone or otherwise unavailable for the moment, they act out. In trying to take care of a hungry baby and at the same time say keep my house from being flooded by the bathroom sink, I find myself yelling more than I ever want to. I am struggling to find my peaceful calm with raising three kids. I love that you wrote this and it makes me really happy to know more people feel like I do!

  6. Thanks for all the amazing feedback everyone!
    Annonymous - check out this post for ways to handle direct aggression. I think i will be doing a follow up on biting and hitting as well soon a Mamapoekie is doing a follow up on defiance too. But in short, I state very clearly to my boys: You can FEEL mad, you can FEEL angry but you MAY NOT hit. Here is a pillow you can toss on the floor. You can STOMP your feet to SHOW you are angry, you can roll around in your bed and yell if you want until you are ready to not HIT or kick etc...

    Patti, sounds like you have found what works for your family. for us, threats and punishment make for MORE chaos for sure.

    Teresa; follow your heart, i try to remember that punishment free can still mean being firm and following through with empathy.


    Shannan - that time in finding balance with a newborn and two littles is tough, hang in there. I used a toddler busy bag full of fun stuff to do like stickers, coloring, cars, pipe cleaners and books that I only took out when nursing. the boys looked forward to me nursing so they could choose something from the bag to play with. I tried to follow nursing up with some kind of game, snack anything focused on the other kids first before moving onto the the next thing in the house. its not an easy time thats for sure.

  7. thanks for the reminder. it does take less time working it out then fighting it out.

  8. This week has felt like 1 step forward, 5 steps backward..

    But, isn't that almost always the way it is when what we try/desire to do meets reality? It just doesn't switch that least for me, personally, and for the other members of my household too!

    My favorite moment so far has been working through a few challenging moments with my 6 yr old daughter and BOTH of us coming through it happy, connected and feeling good about the issue/its resolution. I've figured out that she responds strongly in a GOOD way when touch is involved. She bounces off happily and I'm left with a surreal feeling. Then I bounce off happily too. :-)

  9. I love the examples of different positive strategies that parents use.

  10. Why can't I use my FB profile?

  11. Just a question, and I see it was asked above but not answered. So how do you deal with hitting, biting etc?

  12. Until next time, Mama C: I am working on a follow up specifically on bitting and hitting but in short I try to empathize with my children's feelings in that moment for example, if one boy hits the other during play "You seem to be very angry - you may feel angry but you may not hit your brother. You may hit this pillow." basically I offer a different outlet for their anger, frustration or whatever feeling it may be.
    hope that helps some. thanks for reading!

  13. This is an excellent post. Thank you for sharing. I do my best to be punishment free and I think I am almost there. There has been a lot more peace in my family because of it. We get along so much better and my children are way more cooperative. Punishments just frustrated my children and created more chaos, and there wasn't as much empathy or understanding.

    Regarding hitting/biting, if I am the "victim", I tell my child, "You love me too much for that" and give a hug. Usually she realizes I'm right, hugs back and says she's sorry. I do similarly when it's the sibling. "You love her too much to treat her that way," and I give my child a hug. Often, she calms down and hugs her sister. Hitting and biting is not a big problem with my children, but it does come up occasionally, and my response works for both of them.

  14. I'm really interested in your approach outlined here. What strikes me most, is the calm manner in which you explain the approaches and the thought processes. This is in stark contrast to the way I often feel when my children are not respecting their toys, or listening to me in similar scenarios. Do you find that you are naturally a calm person, or do you sometimes find it challenging to pause, take a breath, and choose to offer these kind of choices and distractions instead of jumping into 'shouting mode'. I often feel I spend a lot of time raising my voice when I'm sure I could find another way?

  15. Louise - people often tell me that I am very patient and calm but I do have moments when I want to scream and pull my hair out and usually i run to the laudry room and let some energy out before dealing with the problem at hand. So I can be mostly calm but sure, I have my moments. it seems like you have so much going for you already having acknowledged your immediate reaction to want to raise your voice - just knowing that can help so much in the process. Pausing, knowing what you feel and choosing a different path, with time it becomes easier to do. Like most habits or ways we choose to do things it takes practice and time but I would highly encourage it because everyone benefits in the family! Does that help? thank you for reading!

  16. Sonya - what a lovely thing to do to focus on the love in that moment of potential conflict! thank you for sharing.


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