Google+ Authentic Parenting: Practicing Punishment Free Parenting: How we got back on track

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Practicing Punishment Free Parenting: How we got back on track

My children have been punishment free for nearly two years now. Somewhere around five hundred days, it's a long time. With three small children that are curious, active, spunky and growing, there have been plenty of opportunities to challenge myself, or rather ourselves, as my husband has been practicing punishment free parenting right along with me, to implement and practice alternatives to punishment.

No punishment, seriously?
Yes in all seriousness we have not punished, shamed, isolated or otherwise taken actions that are commonly associated with traditional discipline and raising children in the last two years.

We have not become permissive, anything goes, no limits, dump your trash anywhere you want, "sit back and let the children run the house" kind of parents either.
Prior to our resolve to go punishment free, we were already working from a quite positive angle. We have always parented, and continue to parent very in line with principles of attachment parenting and playful parenting and have mostly been working just with time-ins, calm communication and setting limits.

However, when we had our second baby, there were new challenges. I was armed with great knowledge from books like like the Positive Discipline series, from the Sears Parenting Library, Aletha Solter and a few others... but perpetual tiredness for me coupled with a very spirited furniture climbing, cupboard emptying tot and no family members living nearby and an often traveling husband, i was exhausted. I was trying to use gentle guidance and yet somehow in my haze and insecurity as a new mom of two under two followed our pediatricians advice and fell into using time-outs occasionally.

Most often, talking things out and upholding limits worked fine but if things escaleted,I started enforcing artificial consequences like time outs in the corner for a few minutes or loosing privileges like watching TV or sweets.

I remember a particularly exhausting day when it was raining and cold and we did not yet have friends in our new town. I was on semi bed rest for my pregnancy. The boys managed to somehow dump the full contents of a flour bag into the bath tub. While I tried maneuvering my bump and cleaning up the mess, the boys were hitting each other with a kiddie broom and my youngest ended up slipping and biting his lip. "Off to the corner and no sweets today" came
babbling out of my mouth. I knew this served no purpose at all to them, I quickly realized I was frustrated and tired and feeling totally out of control.

Truth is, it just wasn't working for me or them. I wasn't being true to my heart.
I felt mean, disconnected and it hurt to see my boys get that look in their eyes that they hated being sent to the corner. What's more, their behavior was NOT changing, in fact on days after one time out or two it seemed like bad behavior quickly escalated. On that bad day as my then three year old dragged his feet and found the dreaded corner he asked me *Why are you so mean to me?" My heart sank! My eyes and his flooded with tears. I scooped both boys into my arms. My oldest told me many things, among them that he didn't want another baby to come to the house, he was sad we had moved, he was afraid his friends had forgotten about him. I listened and confirmed what I already knew, he was hurting and needed me more than ever to be there for him. He did not need to feel isolated or worse. My other boy, just about 18 months at the time, kept gazing at me with his swollen lip and big green eyes, and we stayed like this a long time. The rest of the day was time-out free.

That night I thought and cried and finally resolved to follow my heart. I decided I did not care if it was socially expected or the norm or the recommendation from our pediatrician or what most of our friends were doing. For us, it was not working. I went back to my pile of parenting books, and onto the web, I wanted to change but I also needed support to do so. I found amazing resources and support for what I was already resolved to trying. I put together a plan and resolved to change how I approached these tougher moments. After a great heart to heart with my husband we decided we would in fact go punishment free and see how it worked out.

So in the last two years, even when things escalate, which they do a lot less anyways, we have traded time outs for hugs and talks. We have traded revoking priviledges with working together and finding solutions. We had always parented with kindness in mind but truthfully got a little side tracked. Now even in the toughest moments I pause, breathe and then seek connection and solutions.

It's not that we were bad before or doing it *wrong*, it just wasn't working for us as a family. I believed then and still do now on maintaining family harmony based on kindness and cooperation and my boys have always been very empathetic and happy to help. It just did not seem right to make them feel worse as a way to expect them to do something *better* or differently. As we made our shift practicing punishment free parenting, we noticed the more respect and trust we
placed in them, the more we got in return.

Things don't run perfectly around here and mostly it is up to me (and my husband) to choose how we react to our children as they grow and learn. It is not easy either, but it feels much more authentic and true to our hearts.

Perhaps this is a big leap of faith, but if as a parent I don't have faith in my children, then who will...

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 children should try to have fun everyday and love life.
Connect with Ariadne at the Positive Parenting Connection on Facebook!



  1. This is SO GREAT! I appreciate your honesty SO MUCH! I have days of less-than-stellar and then I feel SO GUILTY! We have never used time-outs, but I get really grumpy about certain behaviours and I say things that I shouldn't. Your post inspires me to examine my heart and to start from a place of peace instead of reacting with negativity.

  2. Wonderful!! Amazing! I totally agree and we couldn't have done it any other way with our daughter (now 4). I am awed by you parenting 3 children. I love your story and how your instinct and your heart led you here. It does make sense. It feels right to love our children and love them more... Children only communicate with us. We need to find ways to understand what their behaviour is saying.
    Still... I'm exhausted with one, so...big props to you!!

  3. Thank you both for your wonderful feedback, i actually got goosebumps :)
    Patti, its hard not to feel guilty when we are doing something that isn't feeling right, you sound like you are creating a positive path to start following your heart and I wish you all the best!

    Tree peters, what a beautiful thought "love our children and love them more." i couldn't agree more!!

    I'm working on a follow up with day to day examples of how we put this to work! thanks for reading.

  4. I had a similar journey...our DS, now 5-1/2, was and is such a sensitive person that even a stern talking to felt like yelling and punishment to him. I knew instinctively that traditional discipline would not work with him. He's been given 1 time out in his whole life, and I felt terrible the whole time.

    What works for he and his little sister (2-1/2) is playful parenting, positive discipline, natural consequences, and lots of listening. It's become so routine to us that, like most of my "avant-garde" parenting practices, when I see a more traditional method it seems strange to me! I remember a dear friend who used time outs with her children and it never seemed to do any good. I thought, if it's not effective AND it's making everyone feel badly, why do it??

    My children aren't perfect, but they know what's expected of them. They know they get more than one chance to get something right. They know that they will be listened to. They know that they have rights in our household, just like the adults do. And they are sweet, loving kids.

  5. I am interested in punishment-free parenting, but I have not quite given it a full "go" yet. I have stopped spanking entirely, and stopped yelling except for emergency situations. I've even almost stopped using time outs, but occasionally (and generally just when I'm stressed and frustrated) I resort to them with my 3 year old, and I almost never feel right about it. It's been very difficult for me because I'm a single mom and I'm living with my ex-husband's aunt, and she is 100% for spanking and frequent punishment. She's always asking me "And what is going to be the punishment for that?" I usually ignore the question, because I already know she's not going to like my answer. I have tried talking with her about it but to no avail. I have noticed a complete improvement in behavior for my daughter since I stopped using punishment so much and since I have left my husband who was abusive. I feel like we're on the uphill, but the aunt doesn't see that.

    I am curious though how you would handle a situation of complete defiance. This is what is hardest for me (especially with the ex's strict aunt looking on) because it feels like I'm being challenged and if I don't do anything about it I'm being "permissive." Generally I just ask her "why" or I let her spend some time alone in her room with a puzzle or book until she can calm herself down (not really a time out, just some cool-down time when interacting with other people seems to escalate her emotions).

    I'm also looking for solutions to lying. My husband was abusive and I really think he taught our daughter to lie, because he would catch her doing something wrong, ask her if she did it, and when she told him yes he would hit her. How do I relay to her that lying is wrong? I left my husband 6 months ago, and a lot of her behavior has improved, but she still lies on a very regular basis. The answer I keep getting from others is to spank her when she lies, but I know that is not an option for me.

  6. @SW987: you must be in quite a pickle. I know how it feels to live around people who don't support your parenting views. I spend quite some time at my parents and inlaws and have had lots of struggles on this topic.
    What worked for me is to tell them over and again that it is my child and I should set the rules, and I would appreciate it if they follow too. But I agree that it's really really hard. I would also tell the aunt that you prefer she doesn't mention punishment around your child.

    Defiance: I actually have an article in the pipeline about this very topic, here's what I have to say about it in short: defiance is what you make of it, if you stop seeing the behavior as defiant, but rather as creative, inquisitive or empowered. When you feel like your child is questioning your authority, or objecting your authority, it might be time to move out of that position of authority and into a position of compassion and empathy. This will help with how you feel about the situation.
    Here are a couple of links that might help you:
    there are lots more if you click the tab peaceful parenting or parenting problems, here on your right

    Lying: The issue here is to gain her trust again, which was eroded by the way her father handled when she told the truth, so spanking would only make matters worse.
    When you catch her lying, don't judge, don't make her feel bad about the lie. You can tell her neutrally that you know she isn't telling the truth, but that's ok. You'll be there for her when she does want to share. If you repeat this often enough, she will come to understand that she doesn't need to lie.

    Big hugs to you and I wish you all the best. Feel free to email any questions you might have, or put them here.

  7. Sw987: Seems like you are going through a very difficult situation. You and your daughter have a lot to get adjusted to in your new situation. Trust your heart and follow you instincts, repairing the trust and love for your daughter will go a long way. Defiance often occurs after situations of separation, abuse, moving. The more time you can give your daughter to connect with you through story time, play time, one on one activities the better.
    Mamapoeki provided some great advice above as well.
    Wishing you peace.

  8. Meggiemoo, thanks for sharing your experience, it's always nice to hear about other families striving for a positive and playful take on discipline. I like what you shared about your children knowing they have "more than one chance", very nice!

  9. This has come at such a fortuitous time. I am self-employed part time, homeschool (ha!) my 5 year-old, and also have a 2 year-old. Yesterday was one of those days that I just felt like a complete and utter failure in every area of my life: mother, wife, homemaker, business owner, human... Oh, and we close on our first house on Monday! We've always striven to treat our kids like people instead of 2nd-class citizens, and they are very articulate and compassionate. However, with all the recent stresses, a nerve injury to my arm, and A LOT of feeling overwhelmed, I've found myself resorting to spanking and yelling! NOT our preferred parenting strategies, to say the least. And totally ineffective, of course. Part of it is that both my son and I have Quality Time as our primary Love Language. He wants my time and I want "me" time -- haven't gotten "me" time or even date time in a looooong time, and my batteries are depleted. I'll be praying about implementing some of your ideas a little more purposefully, I think...

  10. (aka SW987) Thank-you for the comments. I've decided to silently go punishment free. I have not said anything to my aunt-in-law about it; I have just simply stopped punishing, and tried to be more proactive with my children so she wouldn't notice. This has been far less stressful for me, and my relationships with my two daughters (almost 2 and 4) has improved in the last few weeks. We still have a long way to go, but I can see that we are on an uphill, and removing punishment from my parenting strategy is a part of that. I still am in the predicament that other family members are gung-ho about spanking and will occasionally do it when I am not looking, which has been very difficult to deal with, but my options are limited right now as far as where to live etc.

  11. Thank you so much for this! I have a beautiful 4 year old son who is battling with sensory processing disorder. He has a hard time with impulse control as he gets too excited/overwhelmed while doing activities with other children and hits his friends and /or throws things in his excitement sometimes breaking or rouining things that are very special to those he loves. He is also extremely bright, playful and kids love his energy and creative ideas. It's hard redirecting these behaviors, and I have always gotten feedback from people negatively, urging me to spank or insisting he NEEDS punishment, and strict discipline; even referring to him as "out of control" , "wild", and even one time "vicious"! he is one of the most loving, caring little guys i have ever known and it is simply heart breaking to see. He is also very sensitive, so it kills me to do things such as time outs, and when I raise my voice in frustration with his actions i know it just hurts him- and doesn't help at all! I really really really want to change this around for him and try punishment free parenting- can you give me more details on what that looks like in your home and what you do/ how I can turn my reaction to his actions around? Thank you!


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