Write me: rebecca@positive-parents.org

This is post #3 in my “Debunking Myths about Positive Parenting” series. In post one, I debunked the myth that positive parents just want to be friends, and in post two, I set the record straight on the false assumption that we do not discipline our children. Because Positive Parenting is centered around connection, I often advocate for practices such as time-in rather than time-out when misbehavior arises and being emotionally supportive through tantrums as opposed to ignoring them.
These ideas often draw the reaction of “but isn’t that rewarding tantrums and misbehavior?!” The short answer is “no.”

The long answer is “the whole foundation of positive parenting is not based upon rewarding or punishing behavior but rather upon understanding what is driving a child’s behavior and giving the child the knowledge and skills needed to not only govern his own behavior but to grow into his own full potential as an emotionally healthy and secure adult.”

I usually give the short answer. You can see why.

However, the long answer is much more accurate, and I’d like to try to explain further so as to debunk this myth for good.

When we look at behavior in terms of something we need to reward (with the intention of getting the child to perform well again) or punish (intending to deter the behavior), then we are essentially trying to control the child. This may seem to work for a while when children are young, but control over another person is just an illusion. You can’t really control how they will act when you’re not around, and that is one of the reasons why I’ve decided to drop the act and instead teach my children how and why to control themselves. After all, that’s the end game of discipline, isn’t it? Self-discipline?

If they’re going to really absorb my words and heed my advice on how to govern themselves, then they need to be in a healthy, connected, secure relationship with me. That’s why I chose time-in over time-out, because I needed to first connect with my hurting child before I could show him a better way. I use the past tense here because my children are now too old for time-in and we’ve moved on to problem-solving. However, what I came to understand some years ago was that my connection to my children was not a reward but a lifeline. It wasn’t something I could dangle like a carrot in front of their noses, offering a sense of security, trust, and unwavering love only when they behaved well and yanking it away when their behavior was off-track. I discovered that their connection to me was, at least in part, what inspired them to do better.

Why be concerned with what is driving the child’s behavior? Does it really matter? Isn’t the goal just to make them stop the misbehavior? When we only look at behavior, we stop seeing the child and only look with an intent to judge whether we need to reward or punish. When we look behind the behavior, we see that little struggling human, our little human, who needs our help with something. Suddenly we can see that a tantrum isn’t a ploy to drive us insane but a signal that our little one is utterly emotionally overwhelmed or that hitting her friend wasn’t a calculated assault but a momentary loss of control due to an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex (which helps us stop and think before we act and houses empathy) and a really overdue nap. Then we can treat the person, not the symptom. We can see we need to teach coping skills which will serve her much better than 3 minutes in a corner. By looking beyond rewards and punishments, we can focus our attention on teaching whatever our little human needs to know in order to do better. Oh so far from permissiveness, this takes presence, time, effort, and attention.
Additionally, when we look at the reason behind the behavior, we seek to understand this small person. We all need to feel seen, heard, and understood. Not only does this boost his self-esteem, helping him to feel worthy and loved, but research shows that feeling understood actually increases physical and social well-being.
Because I mentioned in my long answer the goal of growing an emotionally healthy, secure adult, I want to briefly list the traits of healthy families that promote good emotional health. To read about this more in depth, read the article here.

  1. Free expression of thoughts and feelings. Positive parents accept feelings and limit actions.
  2. Equality and fairness.
  3. Healthy communication.
  4. Healthy boundaries.
  5. Problem-solving.

I hope this article articulated more clearly the reasoning behind looking beyond rewards and punishments and debunked the myth that our actions (leading to connection) reward misbehavior. The whole goal is to raise a child who is self-disciplined, secure, and happy, so in way, yes, it is a reward for everyone. The reward is a happier life for your child and a better relationship for you.

Article originally posted at on CreativeChild.com

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.