Write me: rebecca@positive-parents.org

Guest post by Tribal Mama of Sausage Mama and the Sausagettes, reprinted with permission.

-Please note…this blog is written with older children in mind and with parents who have not always been practicing attachment parenting but can still apply to every parent.

So you’ve done it. Chucked out the spanking spoon, kicked the naughty chair out the door and stopped using words like “naughty girl” and “bad boy”. When your child is having a tantrum you hug him, seemingly placating him and he becomes much calmer. When they do something unacceptable you use your kind and loving words. But what happens when your child starts to pick up that there is no longer any punishments for their behavior? And they will, very, very quickly.

So many experts say “But your child will do as he is told because you respect him and love him.” Hogwash! This statement leaves so many parents wondering why their child is not doing like they are told, and if the parents themselves got it wrong in the first place.

Children are not dumb. In fact they are very smart creatures with more intellect than we give them credit for. For the first few weeks of adopting the AP style you will notice better behaved children, more cuddles, more smiles, and generally a more peaceful family dynamic. And then it all comes crashing down.

At a certain point your child will realize that they can do whatever they like and not get punished for it. In fact they will get a hug. So in a way they are getting a reward for inappropriate behavior.

Some parents will use their words to try and make the child understand what they did was not acceptable. But use them too much and they will begin to ignore you. Children (and husbands) will switch off when the same words are thrown at them time after time.

After the words don’t work the parents resort to yelling. Once again children can and will ‘switch’ you off, and pretend they can’t even hear you. In one ear and out the other as the saying goes.

And now you’re at the end of your rope. Hugging and telling them you love them doesn’t work, explaining their behavior doesn’t work, and yelling doesn’t work. So you are led back into the fold of the naughty chair and the bribe. You, of course, feel guilty. How could you not? You have changed your whole way of thinking. That your children deserve love and respect, that punishment has potential dangers that can cause your child significant damage. It’s terrible to be given these facts about punishments (even the more lenient ones), and then not be given any answers to how to discipline without discipline.

Here are my rules:

There are three people you have to be to successfully AP. The Leader, The Clown and The Mother (or Father).

You are the leader:

A friend of mine had just recently changed to the non-punitive parenting style. Giving out hugs instead of time outs really benefited, and she was amazed that the tantrums pretty much became a thing of the past. Of course this made her believe even more so that she was on the right track. So she was at a loss at why suddenly weeks after changing her whole outlook on punishment, her child suddenly went crazy. Hitting, yelling and blatantly ignoring mama. She thought she was a terrible mother because everything she had read on non-punitive parenting told her she shouldn’t be experiencing this.

When asking a child to do something, you should not be asking from the body of the mother but of the leader. Look at your body language, you facial expressions, the choice of words and the tone behind them.
80%-95% is all body language. And children subscribe to this in way adults don’t. As children do not have the access to vocabulary in their early years, a lot of learning and communication is done non- verbally.

So make sure your shoulders are back, your posture is straight, your face is serious, your tone even, and your words polite yet firm. Make sure you have your child’s attention. Without their attention they will not ‘see’ your instructions. Also makes sure they have your full attention…if you are giving instructions while making dinner they will not be followed through.

You may need to get down on their level (something most AP’s are used to doing), but that doesn’t mean your body language has to change. Remember when talking to them to keep eye contact. Children who don’t want to listen will look away and most parents will continue to talk away not realizing the child has switched off. If your child looks away a simple “Look at me please,” should get their attention. Do not begin again as this will bore the child. Continue to tell the child your instructions.

Your words should be simple and arranged properly. “Ethan, go clean up the milk you just spilt please,”. Understand that where the words are placed is very important. The child’s name first- to get attention, the instruction- so the child cannot weasel their way out, the politeness- it’s a given.

You may need to hand the child a cloth and point to the mess. Most children will whine and stomp (which is fine) but they will clean it up. Make sure you are watching them do it so they do not slack off. Once again use your posture (you could have your arms folded) to ensure the child will not run off. When they have finished praise them for cleaning it up but keep your tone even. Making a big fuss out of it will make it seem like they have done something super when in reality they should do this out of respect for your house.

If your child refuses to do it (and some children will, do not think that you are a bad parent) be adamant, keep giving them the cloth and pointing at the mess. Some children will resort to “It’s your job, you do it,” to which you explain that it’s their mess and therefore their responsibility. No other words are needed. Children hate being harped at, especially when it is in the nonverbal way. If they turn away, gently turn them back, point them to the mess, and tell them to clean it up. They’ll do it just to get you off their proverbial back.
In time you will notice that your children will start to clean up after themselves without any asking. Some children need a nod of the head, or a look to get them doing what they need to do.

My children are young (a four year old and a two year old) so they still need guidance. But my words are rarely needed anymore. Simply a point at the mess or giving them the dust pan and brush is enough to get them cleaning it up. And they do not complain. My four year old packed up her and her sisters play doh yesterday putting it in a zip lock bag and placing it in the fridge. I did not tell her to, she did it on her own.
Mind you there are times (and there will be) when I need to remind them but it’s expected. They’re kids after all.

Remember as well that there are places that this will not work. Asking them to clean their bedroom is a huge mistake most parents make. Their bedroom (and their play room) is their domain. The lounge, family, dining, kitchen, den are all communal areas and therefore maintained by everyone in the family. Should you wish them to clean their rooms, you need to help and you need to leave the leader at the door. You need to now be a clown.

Be the clown:

Being the clown is actually harder for most parents than being a leader. So many parents come from an authoritarian background and have forgotten what it is like to be a child. And being childlike is important to understand the child and the reasons behind their behavior.

Putting yourself into the mindset of the clown isn’t hard. Think of the funniest thing your child has ever done and you should be there. Don’t try to be the clown when children are tired or hungry. In fact you should never be anyone but the mother when children have needs to be met.

Being the clown can help out in situations that don’t need direct instructions. Like cleaning a room: make a game out of picking up toys. And remember your children will never do the job as well as you can so don’t make them live up to your standards.

It also helps when out shopping. Pretend to be aliens and space men picking out moon food and placing it in the rocket ship. Ignore the strange looks other people give you…they are better than the looks of disgust they’d give you if your child was running wild. And besides you’re both having fun!

Be the mother (or the father):

Being the mother is the easiest. This is what you first learnt when you decided to be an AP. Hug when your child gets frustrated or has a tantrum, tell them you love them when they are upset about not getting their way, and verifying their feelings when they feel sad or angry.

Over time switching to and from these three people will become easier. You will begin to understand which person to use in which situation and eventually you will use them less and less as your child gets older.

Some notes for you to consider:

Make sure your child is calm before asking them to help you clean something. If they are playing wait for them to finish, ensure they have had adequate sleep and food.

– Remember whining is a part of a child’s repertoire, as long as they are doing what you want/need them to do ignore the whining as it will go away on its own.

-Don’t spring things on children. Tell them in advance what you would like to do. For example after lunch you would like to help them clean their room and only remind them again ten minutes before the room clean. And follow through.

-Age appropriate behavior should have more lenience than inappropriate behavior. If you are waiting in the Dr.’s office, explain to your children that it is a quiet place (before entering) and they need to respect that. Let them walk around as a child sitting for long periods of time is unnatural. If you know you will be waiting for a while bring snacks, a coloring book and pencils and be ready to play I spy a million times. Do not give these out as soon as you get to your seats…wait til they get antsy so they are less likely to get bored as quickly.

-It’s okay to have rules, routines and schedules.

1 Comment

  • Nicole Posted 20 July 2011 10:45

    THANK YOU so much for posting this!! I'm still new to AP so the discipline thing is something I'm skeptical about. This helps a ton!

Comments are closed.