Discipline & Being Non-Punitive

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The term discipline, and how our society as a rule uses it, is about to drive me batty. Discipline, the way it’s used, means punishment. To me, discipline is a quality of inner self, of integrity.

Punishment is something that happens to someone.
It’s a quality. Something that has been fostered and developed. When a person has discipline they have the inner fortitude to make right choices, to do what needs to be done.   – Source –

The other night my daughter (just 4) was playing with pine cones in our family room. She had them flying through the air, one in each hand.
We were working on various projects in the room, and as usual, I was barefoot. So was she.

After playing for a few moments, one of the pine cones came crashing to the floor, spraying splintering pieces of wood in its wake. So, I spoke to my daughter in a command to not throw the pine cones onto the floor. I did not ask, did not explain, did not expound. I was busy and annoyed. She knew it.

…Not one of my better moments.

Three or so minutes later, another pine cone hit the floor and I initially snapped at her. This, however, not only demonstrates a complete lack of respect on my part, but it elicits a similarly disrespectful and rather dismissive response from my daughter. Thankfully, I caught myself mid sentence, stopped my mouth, took a deep breath and walked over to her and took her into my arms. We then had a conversation.

This time, I decided to remember how to be decent to her, remember to see the world through her eyes and mine, and remember that she is equally valued and equally considered in our home. In other words, instead of being controlling and speaking down to her (or what some might consider a proper authoritative tone), I spoke evenly and with respect.

I explained that I was upset that after I’d just asked her to not throw another pine cone on the floor, one hit dead center and left pieces everywhere. Then I corrected myself, and recalled that actually I had not asked anything but “told” her not to “throw pine cones”, when I should have said, “Please do not allow any more pine cones to hit the floor BECAUSE when they do, they split apart and send sharp pieces of wood flying all over the floor that one of us is then going to either step or sit on and end up with a pokey sticking out of our skin.” This she would have comprehended… This she would have heard. This, she would likely have granted. My demand and annoyance instead immediately caused her to shut off her willingness.

When I restated what would have been a better comment to have made to her initially, her defensiveness dropped and she made eye contact. I could see her shoulders raise, her chin relax (from being rather set just a moment before), and the stress reaction to fear of the big person (who was not behaving very well) disappear from her face.

A moment later, I set her down, knelt next to her, and asked (yes, asked) her to clean up the pieces. My words were, “Bugz, so that no one gets hurt with all these pieces on the floor, will you please pick up every single piece you can find and put them in the trash?”

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She began, and, handing them to me (instead of the trash), we both cleaned up the floor together.

I could have thrown her into time out. I could have spanked her for what so many would consider deliberate defiance. I could have ridiculed her, demeaned her, squashed her for not doing what I wanted. I could have lorded over her, assumed my role as parent and thereby big person who is so much bigger that I can MAKE her do what I want, one way or another… Instead I chose to remember the value of not resorting to threat or condescension.

I chose to take a breath and pause. I chose to change my attitude and treat her with the same amount and sort of respect I would an adult who had my admiration. I communicated by explanation, honored my need by my own example (I got down on the floor and picked up the pieces with her), and reconnected by helping to renew and strengthen her sense of self, value, and ability.

Three days later, I have seen a pine cone on the floor (where it doesn’t belong), exactly once. I asked her to relocate it to where she’d like, but where it wouldn’t get stepped on and where we wouldn’t have to worry about the sharp pokey ends breaking off and getting left for our feet to find. She decided to grant my request. She picked it up, took it to the tree, placed it where she wished, with no fuss, no hesitation, and instead of dread or annoyance (having to do a chore), she exhibited interest and delight because she was in control of where it should go.

End result desired – achieved by the mama.
Education and empowerment – gained by the kiddo
.

In our house, my daughter does not comply out of fear of punishment. In fact, she doesn’t know what punishment is and compliance is reserved for safety and inescapable social situations. She chooses to grant requests, when she does, out of her own sense of purpose and reason. She knows she can choose to refuse our requests, and she knows we can choose to refuse hers. This works because, in our home (unlike so many I have seen), we do not choose to control her and do not fear being unable to retain control because control is not what makes our home function. In our home, we live together, support each other, and collaborate on life. All of us. We work together, we work independently, we share and cooperate, we value each other equally and we each know that it takes all of us, together. If today one of us is too tired, then we make up for it tomorrow. Is everything always even and fair? No. Does the Mama (or Papa) screw it all up sometimes? Yes. But humility, grace, and compassion fill in the gaps and keep things going.

Grace and compassion – not permissiveness. Our daughter knows when compliance is mandatory. In her 4 years here, she has demonstrated only a few times her reluctance when it’s clear to her that she “must”. At her young age, we have had to step in a few times and physically cause compliance to preserve her health, but as she’s grown, these instances have become fewer and fewer. In fact, at this point, about the only time I try to actually force compliance is when I am being impatient, demanding (as in no longer requesting her cooperation) or unwilling to see through her worldview. To date she has not once refused instant compliance when she hears threat of danger (or fear) in my voice (i.e., stop! – car coming!). It is rare that I must speak this way anyway, as she has been educated well enough and makes wise decisions appropriate for her age most of the time. But every once in while, a situation arises, and it is during these that the most compelling positive evidence for grace and compassion based parenting, instead of punitive and trained/controlled governing of little ones becomes so easily observed.

_________________________________________________________________What about you? What experiences have you had where you either caught yourself mid stream and changed your approach to a more respectful and considerate one, or where from the very beginning your way of existing with your little ones caused a successful outcome of an event that would result in punishment in a typical home? Share your experiences please, we can learn so much from each other.

46 thoughts on “Discipline & Being Non-Punitive

  1. Oh I have found myself in similar situations SO many times. I can’t remember the specifics, right now, but it always goes better once we sit and talk rationally. I’ve never done time outs or other punishments, but I confess to being much too short, authoritative, and even manipulative when I’m feeling weak. We’re all in this growing, together!
    I’m sharing your post. Thank you for this.

    • My kiddo makes me laugh, and stop and review my attitude and manner of being when I am being particularly impatient or just intolerant. Her method? “Mama, you are seriously just.. well… I don’t know… but I don’t like it and I don’t feel good inside. Seriously. GRUUUMPY! Blah!”

      Needless to say, she has yet to fail in her intended message and gets through with incredible accuracy. I love that she is able to communicate so clearly and directly, and that she doesn’t have any trouble asking me to remember my commitment to her.

        • Thank you, but really, the acknowledgement is due her, not me or her Papa. We aren’t raising her, exactly.. she is rather raising and developing herself and is quite adept at doing so. We have chosen to guide where needed and encourage her explorations. Social graces come as they come, with us trying to demystify them along the way.

  2. Great post that I can really relate to. I think though, that parents who use more punitive, controlling methods find it harder to relate to – they don’t have the confidence that their child will comply with their requests in the way you describe – and I think this is because once you’re into that reward/punishment type of parenting then children will be more defiant and difficult, precisely because of the punitive methods they’ve become used to.
    Also, I find with my child that giving information, choices etc usually works, but sometimes it doesn’t, and he really is trying to provoke me, so I need to be able to recognise this and resort to plan B – reconnect, find out what’s bothering him that’s making him act up.

    • I agree. Those with whom I have spoken who are accustomed to punishments and fear (belonging to parent and child) based control systems (regardless of the child’s age) very easily dismiss me, especially if my Bug happens to be in a funk that day, which they interpret as negative. And while it can be rather frustrating when she’s in a funk, I can only imagine how she must feel when I’m in one.

      Trust.. Change.. Seeing the final results before even taking step one.. All of this requires wisdom and foresight, and many times parents are just too close and too deep in their daily lives to see an alternative to their current plan and methods.

      I personally have never experienced my daughter trying to provoke me because I don’t see it that way. IF she’s in a funk, there’s a good reason and to me, that is an opportunity for me to (as you stated) pause, observe, discover & reconnect. I wrote a bit about this in . But, I think you nailed it when you said that you feel it’s your position to reconnect and find out what’s bothering him. There is always a reason for behavior in children, good and bad… just like there is always a reason for behavior in adults, good and bad.

      • Regarding “provoking” – I think what the poster above meant was that the point of the behavior was to get the parent’s attention – not in a mean or hurtful way, but subconsciously the child is expressing a need, just not in the most clear way. I just don’t tend to think of it as “provoking” but it seems to me the poster doesn’t attach a negative intent to it, but recognizes the behavior as a signal. I think words are important and so for me, even thinking “hey, she’s trying to provoke me” would have sort of a negative connotation, so I would avoid that phrase for myself! I tended to think of it as “trying to get my attention for some reason that I don’t understand, yet.”

        Similarly, I didn’t use “temper tantrum” because it has so many negative connotations. Somewhere along the way, I heard the phrase “meltdown” and that helped my perception of that behavior, too.

  3. I think it would’ve been okay if your daughter had taken a few, or several, more times to remember to think about your tootsies while she was enjoying pine cones. I don’t understand the parents who need instant obedience, and I think it’s a frustrating expectation to have, in terms of brain development. I agree w/you that kids can be taught to value their relationships with their people, vs. being controlled/scared into compliance. I think it takes longer, since the connections between us–of cooperation, reciprocity, and varying levels of availability in a given moment–are invisible. If they’re not taught, deliberately and gradually, I think it’s easy to perceive that they’re not there.

    It’s always striking to me how *afraid* so many grownups and parents seem. So much of what stands for “discipline” seems like it’s really about reinforcing a fragile sense of self (the adult’s) in the face of a child’s strong will. My kids do want and need to maintain their “selves,” but they don’t want danger, and, unless they’re angry, they don’t want to hurt anyone. I always approach my kids like I’m teaching them to drive–the vehicle is their own mind, emotions, urges, needs and desires. When they’re being really willful, my calmness is *always* the right tool for the job (as is steady pressure to get to the pillow a little earlier!). When I’m harried, I’m definitely more bossy, but i believe they’ve come to trust that those pockets of time come and go.

    • I want to write more on this comment, as it’s full of poignant thoughts deserving some special attention. To acknowledge the first sentence, and explain a bit of our situation, I totally agree that in many cases, allowing a few times for a child to formulate their own concept of a given situation, including the results of that choices made concerning their ponderings is way more effective and much more respectful and considerate of the child. In our situation with our daughter, there have been and will be many scenarios where “multiple repeat sequences” are called for. Yet, other situations and experiences where our requests or hers are honored (or desired to be honored) upon the initial request or discussion. In all interactions, however, we do our best to remember to use tolerance (which is the beginning of what we define as grace), compassion, empathy, and just plain ol’ treat her just as we’d like to be treated by her and others.

  4. Your post was a perfect reminder of why respect is so important in our role as parents and advocates for our children. Thank you so much!!

    • Advocates for our children….

      Can we grasp the magnitude of such a small sentence?

      Beautifully written.
      Thank you.

  5. We parent the way you guys do and have the same results. I find this to be true for just about everyone that uses positive parenting. It simply can not be a coincidence. I love your blog, thankyou!
    Jessi

  6. I love this and totally agree! The moments when I become impatient and demanding with my daughter are the times when neither of us is happy with the outcome. Sometimes I can calmly explain to her “Honey, I am started to get frustrated now because…yada yada” and she will look right at me and USUALLY then, we “meet in the middle.” It seems almost too simple, but truthfully.. sometimes it’s just as hard for mommies and daddies to “use their words” as it is for the little ones. I could not agree more about talking to her/him face to face at their level..makes a huge difference!

    With that being said..I have and will probably continue to put my daughter in “time-out” at times. Let me explain.. She gets incredibly worked up at times usually when there is a lot of people around and noise. She will lash out a bit and even hit or kick sometimes. So I never treat it as a punishment, but I pick her up and gently explain that maybe she needs some relax-time (she usually nods her head.) As soon as we get to the quite spot her whole body relaxes and she lays down. The crying/pouting stops and I come back 3-5 minutes later to a totally different little girl. She is a happy camper after this. But if anyone has any other suggestions I am totally open to anything.

    • I am encouraged that you are easily able to define and differentiate your use of a period of time for reclaiming calm and finding the self again. I believe this (your perception) is what was originally behind the idea of a “time out”. Somewhere in the last generation or two it became distorted and morphed into punishment for use by big people to control (and when used this way, which is simply put, ostracism, the body and mind is mightily and negatively affected).

      As for advice, you know your kiddo better than anyone, but I wonder if you’ve ever considered the value in not leaving/departing during the few minutes your daughter uses to regain her composure.

      There is powerful evidence that isolation and/or even perceived ostracism (especially from a parent/primary care giver) is very detrimental to the developing mind. This doesn’t mean that all children are going to view being left alone during this time to be a negative, but many might (especially the young ones). If we as parents are “doing” something to our kids by “using” a method to retain control, then I submit we pause and review, and consider modifying ourselves. If, however, we are consciously aware of our children to the extent that we know they can become so overly stimulated that the best course of action is in fact a period to sit out – sit down – calm oneself (just as this is valuable to adults), we can use this awareness to help our kids (as this mother describes). We can utilize our awareness to assist them in processing their emotions, and we can demonstrate our own emotional processing outwardly in a similar manner.

      Thanks, Katie, for your input. 😉

  7. I agree with what you’re saying here.

    I do find myself with more instances to need to physically cause compliance, unfortunately. I have an almost 4-year-old, but also two smaller children. And there are times my oldest gets really angry or hyper and is about to do something that will cause immediate harm to one of the smaller children (jumping on the baby, hitting/pushing the 2-year-old) and I have to physically restrain her from doing so. We talk about it after and begin a new activity, but I *have* to stop her in order to prevent harm, especially with the baby. I feel bad, but I just cannot let a big child body-slam or drop a baby. I feel like such a negative parent, but…that’s life, you know? I’m saying this so that if other parents find themselves in my shoes that they know they are not being a bad parent. You can be positive, but you have to protect ALL your children.

    • Something I have noticed when balancing more than one child, especially in the prevention of harm to the smaller one arena, is that typically the behavior (if negative) has a source that I’ve missed.

      I applaud you for choosing to keep tabs on all your kids well enough that the bigger one(s) are not permitted to be in a position to harm the littler ones. I have seen many parents not care. (“Ah, she has older brothers, she’s used to being roughed up a bit.”) This mentality disturbs me.

      Having multiple kids to keep up with can be a daunting task, and giving each the amount of time, attention, and focused energy they need to be at their optimum is worth holding as valuable, but not so much that attainment of such overshadows the value of simply being present along the way. (Present means really there, engages and interacting, not just in the same room.) Still, when one child acts out against another, there is a reason. Track it down and start there and you’ll find yourself having to do less policing and managing.

      No parent or child is the same all the time.. What works today may or may not work tomorrow. What if we stop looking for a solution that “works”? What if we choose to, instead, accept each other in the moment we’re in, look for ways to enhance the experience of that moment, and through compassion, seek to experience genuine relationship? What would our kids think of us if these were the motivating factors behind our interactions with them? What if they know we might fail, and that when we do, things will be ok? (A bit of a off trail here, but..)

      What if, instead of having to physically restrain an older child from harming a younger one, we grabbed them up in a huge hug, danced around and giggled a ton in that split second before they harmed their younger sibling/friend? What if we snagged that precious moment to (while whisking into the air and spinning a bit) say, “Wait!!! I haven’t seen your heart enough today, haven’t felt your skin enough, or haven’t heard your wonderful and contagious laugh yet this afternoon. It’s time we do something about it!!”

      Just an idea.

  8. Love your post! We don’t do time-outs or punishments. I am struggling with my almost 3 year old in regards to him being aggressive with our dog. I’m 7 months pregnant and feeling more tired and short of patience, which I know doesn’t help. When he goes after the dog the only thing that stops him is physical closeness, which I understand BUT I am not as fast as I use to be. So more often than not he hits, pinches, or kicks our dog before I can get there and I react with extreme emotion (which again I understand doesn’t help, but I am human and doing my best). Our dog is a valued family member too and I don’t tolerate that kind of behavior. It breaks my heart because I know a big part of this is needing more focused time with me… however, even when I do provide quality time he still goes after the dog. Any awesome new insights on how to gently parent him in this regards? I want my son to know he is a valued family member too, and I love when he shows me how gentle he can be with the dog. How do I get him to stop the aggression toward our dog?

    • We experienced something similar.. In our case, our dog is as big as our daughter and she would take out her annoyance on her. When we don’t “hear” our daughter, she’ll yell at the dog that the dog isn’t paying attention to her expectations. This is almost always in quick succession to her asking for something and one or the other of us sort of halfway responding (or offering a canned and non-genuine response, which she can smell a mile away). Why would we behave this way toward her? Busy.. Distracted… Tired… Adult stress… The list goes on and on, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in those moments she has become less and she knows it, so she responds by either telling us about it directly, or taking her frustration and hurt elsewhere, often aimed at the dog and exhibited trough impatience.

      Another concern that we became aware of is our own demonstration of annoyance and impatience toward our ever loyal and loving family member. Really. Dogs don’t deserve their humans – and their humans do not deserve their loyalty. Yet, the dog keeps giving.. and we hold ours as a valued member of the family too, but how often do I just bark at her to squooch, go lay down, stop barking, stop being so silly, etc.. I can’t exactly think for a moment that my daughter won’t copy me.

      So, I change.

      My dog thanks me.

      And.. just to make sure my daughter noticed, my dog spoke to her (has multiple times, in fact). You know how Martha can speak (she eats Alphabet Soup), well, my dog can too. She can eat Alphabet soup pretty well too.

      We decided to explain to our daughter that our dog does in fact have a voice that extends beyond her barking (ours happens to vocalize words like “hellooo” and the like, so it wasn’t too far a stretch). See, in our case, our dog’s voice (the one humans can discern) is there but it’s really, REALLY quiet. So, if you want to know what our dog has to say, you have to get really close (face to face) and ask her to tell you.

      Our daughter did just that. And I had a recording of a very faint voice ready and waiting on my phone. I knelt down next to my dog’s head, (knowing ahead of time what my kid was going to ask because we’d discussed it some and I’d guided some just prior to her imposing upon my pooch to speak her mind) and placed my hand such that the recording sounded as though it was coming from my dog.

      Man, did my kiddo learn some stuff about dogdom that day!

      Now, if I see her treating our dog less than graciously and without consideration, I simply offer that London (dog’s name) is valued in our home just as you (daughter) and I (& Papa) are. That she has feelings just like we do, that she needs our love and patience, and that she will happily tell us that, if we will only take the time to get close enough, be kind enough, care long enough, and ask.

      And then, I go and sit and think until I figure out what I missed in my daughter’s mannerisms or requests/needs that caused her to mistreat something she felt she could dominate in the first place. This is where I start.

  9. i`m finding it really hard at mo with my 4 yr old son who deliberately will refuse to do anything asked..note word ASKED and is always up to mischief BIG TIME..am at the end of my tether as never resorted to harsh words or anything similar with nay other kids

    • Can you look for a “why”?

      If we cut the skin on a finger and stick a bandage on it, we expect it to take care of healing itself. But if we remove the bandage a few days later and the wound is infected instead, do we get annoyed? (Ok, well, maybe.. but that’s not the end). Some might get a little scared.. But most likely assess the situation and make a determination as to why the wound isn’t healing.

      Deliberate refusal and mischief are pretty significant. They’re obvious too. Just as obvious as a wound that won’t (or didn’t) heal as we expected it to. So, why not go on an investigative journey, searching for the reason the expected natural (healing, in this case) response seemed to elude those awaiting it.

      Dig deeper. See the world through his eyes. I promise, you’ll see things you never imagined. Your wisdom and compassion can then take over, and your kiddo, your family, and your home will be better for it.

  10. On most levels I agree with this. But there are times when we are the parents, and we know what’s best for them. Our kids are 9 and 12yo and we explain and treat them as people. But there are also rules and consequences (which they’ll encounter in their adult life). So sometimes, when they are being unreasonable which certainly happens as they grow older and test out us and themselves. Sometimes it’s a case of “because I’m the mum and your the child and I know what’s best for you’.
    And sometimes I’m a terrible mother and bark and yell at them. Which usually ends in either defiance, begrudged compliance or tears.

  11. this is really a really tough one for me as i am a kids sports coach. im with sportball (sportball.ca) and we usually deal with kids <5 years old. we just try and keep everything the same for every class. I fined if you go to there level and talk to them about how happened and why they did something it usually works out. aka lowering your self physically and finding out why they did something and what they were thinking when they were not listening or goofing off.

  12. I really learned from this Iam 51 and have 7 children my youngest being 6yrs I also have many grandchildren 11 to be exaact anyways iam always looking for better ways to handle the disapline. Especially at this time of the year its so stressful and i see these young parents draggin there kids through all the shopping highs and they are so crabby the parents are crabby and personnally I feel the kids have a over load of stress.Why cant stores have a drop off daycare area where the child can stay while the the parent shops and I can gureentee you would see more smiles and hear less cring. At least on holidays or on a week end once a month etc…I think it would boost sales in the stores too.

  13. My little girl is only six months old, but being the sort of mum I am, I try to be aware of her needs and fulfill them ASAP. People always comment on what a happy, smiling baby she is, and I think this is partially her personality, but also having her needs met means she can be relaxed and content the rest of the time, without stress and worry.

    • I need a WAY TO GO MOM (or DAD) button!

      Immediate response to infants and babies is a hot topic and lots of parents go with the “we have to teach them early not to expect it or we’ll spoil them and then we’re stuck having to ‘unteach'” mentality. But these parents are simply uninformed and it saddens me. They don’t understand how the mind develops. If they did, even on a very basic level, they’d know that to deny or make a baby wait is the worst choice, and leads to all sorts of developmental difficulties and hurt within the child.

      So, BRAVO Hannah! Stick with it and you’ll see your daughter become a confident, self assured, independent little one who thinks for herself and shows her genuine love and admiration to you, as you are now and, I expect, will continue to show her throughout her growing years and into adulthood.

      Well done.

  14. Love this! My daughter is two, but I have been finding the same things to be true. The more I respect her and use “compassion and grace” to talk through things, the more she chooses to help me out by doing what I ask. Even when I make mistakes and don’t catch myself mid-sentence, she still has a forgiving attitude when I apologize and reword what I was trying to communicate. It just doesn’t feel natural (or make sense to me) to use time outs or to punish her. I just don’t feel like she’s learning what I would like her to learn (discipline), and it seems like it would just strain our relationship and create more problems down the road.

    This is a wonderful post — clear and powerful! Thanks!
    ~sheila

    • It’s really amazing to see how they so openly and genuinely return our treatment and attitude toward them, isn’t it. You’ve gone a step further and touched on her gentle and unforced forgiveness. She’s learned this already, because of your choices and the environment you’ve given her. Well done. :)

  15. I spoke with my friend about this subject yesterday, and this morning I find this article!!! Amazing! I tried to explain to my friend how I treat my daughter (4) as I would treat any adault who lives with me…with love and respect…and she is behaving more mature and responsible at the age of 4 than a children which are constantly discipline and punish. Thank you for sharing your story , it realy means a lot to me, just to know that I am not alone:))) Love from Serbia!

    • Thank you for leaving your thoughts of joy and encouragement.

      This is what I mean when I say it would take one single generation, world wide.. Imagine….

      Reminds me of the sentiments of another –
      Imagine all the people
      Nothing to kill or die for…
      Sharing all the world…
      Living life in peace…

      You may say I’m a dreamer
      But I’m not the only one

  16. Lovely story! Thank you for sharing a beautiful real life example of non-punitive discipline in action! I love the respect you show for your little one. :)

    • The link above, by drspmatthew, does NOT belong on this page. This is a page for sharing stories and promoting POSITIVE, NON-PUNITIVE child-raising. The link above, connecting to Christian Pastor Jonathan Lindvall’s site, that drspmatthew has been ‘blessed’ by, is a very detailed writing on the importance of corporal punishment, and gives specific instructions on how to spank a child, including advice on how to rationalize the ‘benefits’ of deliberately giving your child physical pain to feel. The link advocates the exact OPPOSITE of the whole purpose of this page, and I am absolutely disgusted to see it here, among all these inspiring, brilliant accounts by these admirable moms.

      • Obviously it does not ‘belong to this page! I did not realize that you subscribe to a liberal pseudo-secular new age type of philosophy, sorry!
        But just consider this: If you [Nicole] think that inflicting any pain on your child is bad, and have totally blocked your mind to the “‘benefits’ of deliberately giving your child physical pain to feel”, you will not even want your child to take his or her vaccines or injections as it will cause ‘pain’ to your child!

  17. Wow! After reading your post I felt validated. I guess I really am parenting on this journey in a positive, respectful way! Just this morning my 4-year old son was listening to music really loudly. I let him listen to it loudly for about 5 minutes, but after a while I just couldn’t stand the noise anymore. In the past, I would have walked over to the speakers and turned the volume down. After doing a lot of work on my parenting skills I approached the situation in a different way. I calmly asked him if he could turn the music down. He asked, “why?” and I told him because it was a little too loud for the family. In a matter of a few seconds he said “ok, Mom”, walked over to the speaker and lowered it to an appropriate volume. Not only was I proud of him for taking into account the needs of the family but I felt great about the whole interaction!

    • What a great example. When we decide to value and respect our kids, and consider them (in the way we behave and think toward/about them) equally as we do other adults, we teach them how to consider us and others. In this case, explaining to the child (who is only 4) why there was a request made, and one with an explanation (even better) allowed the child’s inner compassion and value of others’ feelings to shine through. It not only respected his preferences and enjoyment, but also gave him a chance to really demonstrate his awareness and love for others – which is something he can then take pride in himself on the inside for (and mom/dad never has to say a word, but maybe, ‘thanks for being willing to consider my feelings as well as yours’).

      Way to go mom!

  18. Great post.

    We do a lot of natural consequences-based discipline. Sometimes I remind of the natural consequence that might happen and other times I just let it happen. If the pinecone pieces weren’t bothering me (though I totally understand why they were bothering you), I might let my daughter step or trip over them to internalize the issue with leaving pinecones on the floor.

  19. I have to agree with many of the other posters here. I see a lot of success with this kind of parenting when it does not involve siblings. Sometimes I can focus the discussion so that it can fit the maturity levels of all my children, but sometimes I have to assert my role as guide and make decisions that cause the kids to not comply out of their own free will. It is so much easier when all you have is one child you have had your whole life. I coparent my eldest son with someone I disagree with regarding many choices (including focusing on consumption at Christmas time) and more than 50% of children live in split parent households. At times, you have no idea where a reaction is coming from. You also may not have a “spirited” child, as I do. They feel things bigger, need more feedback, and in general are dynamically powerful. Parenting causes you to find your best self, but it does not mean those parts of you that are exposed where you don’t react ideally are to be shamed of. A parent’s will, as long as it is fair, is as valued as the child’s. We do time out’s, and they involve having a discussion afterwards regarding the issue, and it was usually due to out of control emotions. In myself, if I am feeling emotionally overwhelmed, I go somewhere by myself, preferably walking outside. This is what I am teaching my children when I provide a quiet place to go when they are not treating the family with respect or they are too overwhelmed. It works for us.

    • I completely understand the split households and differing ages of children. We have our four year old, but we also have a thirteen year old. I appreciate your comment immensely because it has inspired me to write a bit about the subject of both multiples, large and small age ranges, and multiple parenting styles of a single child. I have not spoken of our thirteen year old because well, first she is not “ours” but she is part of our family. More importantly, however, I have not discussed whether she’d be open to having me discuss her life with the world. So… I’ll ask. :)

  20. In response to your end query however, I encountered a situation where my daughter(4) and friend’s son had sneaked some cookies, while my son(also 4) had been asking me if he could have another of one we cooked earlier. I said we couldn’t because we were saving the last two for his friend’s dad. He was respecting that. But my friend’s son(4) was eating it behind the tree trying to hide. It was pretty silly. They admitted to what they had done when I asked them where they got the cookies, and Henry gave the last cookie, slightly nibbled, which we gave to my son. The one who wasn’t sneaking and had been honest. We didn’t address the situation other than telling the two swipers that it was good they told the truth.

  21. This got kind of long!

    I am thankfully not a person who tends to yell, and I also tend to be able to see things from other people’s perspective. As a manager of people, even in the military, I just never saw any value in shouting at someone or giving commands without an explanation. So, when my daughter was born and I started reading about child rearing, this kind of respect-based positive parenting struck a chord! I’d say 95% of our interactions have been similar to the one you describe.

    The 5% that did not go smoothly were nearly all caused by a Timing issue, where I needed to be somewhere (work, usually!) or needed to be doing something and so I was pushing her to do something on a schedule of my own making. I would get impatient, she would get hurt/stressed/stubborn, and it could spiral down from there.

    Over time I was able to find ways to either proactively get ahead of the problem, like waking myself up a little earlier so I could be done with what I needed to do, waking her up by engaging her brain with a question, a joke, or a silly comment – even when she was just a year old, waking her by being silly was the best way! – and immediately nursing her, or when she was older, giving her a tiny glass of juice so she wasn’t starting out thirsty/hungry. And I became better able to recognize when her behavior was a reaction to my rushing, and to stop myself, sit and hug and connect for a minute, before trying to move ahead. I was not always successful, and sometimes I was late to work, or I dropped her off at daycare in tears or in her pajamas…but I always tried, and kept trying.

    When she was about 7 I started something where, on the 20-minute drive to take her to school, I’d ask her to rate her own behavior with getting out of the house, on a 1 to 5 scale. (In retrospect, I wish I would have started it as “rating OUR behavior” but for whatever reason, I didn’t think of that at the time.) I think once or twice she rated herself a 3 and there were a handful of 4 mornings at first, but it got smoother over time. When it wasn’t a 5 we’d talk about why, and what we could do differently in the future. It made us both stop for a moment to take ownership of our behavior, and gave us a chance to apologize (both ways!) if needed, and reconnect. It was often eye-opening to me that what I had perceived as something she’d done “wrong” turned out to be something I had directly or indirectly influenced, and so having those conversations gave her the opportunity to explain and voice her reasoning, which helped me work on my actions. And, when it was a 5, we got to pat ourselves on the back about how well we were doing!

    Of course things weren’t always perfect, and sometimes family or strangers may have wondered why I didn’t just “make her” do whatever, but I decided early on that my relationship with her mattered more than anyone else’s opinion, and that my self-image does not include wielding power as a tool to coerce or punish anyone, especially a child.

    She’s almost 14 now, and one of the kindest, most easy-going, confident, and positive people I know. Chances are she’d be an amazing person no matter what I did, but our relationship is still strong and respectful, and I believe that must have something to do with parenting choices!

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