Write me: rebecca@positive-parents.org

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In Part 1, we discussed why the traditional paradigm of parenting is faulty and why non-punitive positive parenting is healthier for children and family dynamics.

In this post, we’ll look at how to handle common situations using non-punitive parenting so you can see how it looks in action. I’ve already covered 3 areas in other posts.

Positive Parenting in Action: Exploration/Danger

Positive Parenting in Action: Tantrums

Positive Parenting in Action: Aggressive Behavior

Before we get into that,though,I have some points I meant to make in the first post but got cut short on time.

The first point I want to make is that tantrums are not bad behavior. Tantrums are an expression of emotion that became too much for the child to bear. No “discipline” is required. What your child needs is compassion and safe, loving arms to unload in. Yes, it may be inconvenient or even embarrassing in the grocery store, but your child is your first priority, not the judgments of onlookers. Show them how it’s done.

The second point I want to make is that so often, children are punished for being human. Children are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes, yet we adults have them all the time! We think if we don’t “nip it in the bud” that it will escalate and we will lose control. Let go of that unfounded fear and give your child permission to be human. We all have days like that. None of us are perfect, and we must stop holding our children to a higher standard of perfection than we can attain ourselves. Of course you should teach your child appropriate ways to speak to people and how to handle emotions, but this again is done primarily through your relationship (which is where they learn how to navigate the ups and downs and repair rifts in personal relationships) and also through your example, how you handle your frustration and moods. All of the punishments you could throw at them will not stamp out their humanity, for to err is human, and we all do it sometimes. Give them a break and a hug.

I love this post about misbehavior versus mistaken behavior.

In regard to non-punitive parenting,I want to address a couple more common questions and misconceptions and just reiterate some things from the first post.

If I don’t spank, use time-out, or take away toys, what tools do I have to discipline with? Your most valuable tools are your relationship and your example. I cannot stress this enough because it truly is the foundation for positive non-punitive parenting. The closeness of your relationship equals the amount of your influence. If your child feels connected to you, and if you have built that foundation of trust and respect, your child, by nature, will not want to disappoint you, and more importantly, because of that connection and the values instilled through that connection, he will hold himself accountable and not want to undermine his own self-concept. Your example is also a powerful tool. Children are mirrors. They imitate everything we say and do. So here is where your accountability comes in. If you swear in front of your children, leave messes everywhere, yell or smack your kids, lie to them or others, or talk disrespectfully to your child or to your spouse, you can expect your child to swear, not tidy his room, yell when he’s mad, be aggressive, lie, and talk disrespectfully, and it is not fair to punish him for being like you. The old “do as I say, not as I do” bit is a bunch of bologna, and kids know it.

What about accountability? How does positive parenting teach my child to be accountable? Genuine accountability comes from within, not an outside force. You cannot control and manipulate your child into being accountable for her actions. She will learn to be accountable through life’s natural consequences, with your empathetic limits, and with your loving guidance. If she leaves her bike out and it gets ruined, the consequence is she has no bike. If he throws his favorite toy and breaks it, his favorite toy is broken. That is the consequence. If you rush out and buy a new bike or toy, the lesson may be lost. On the other hand, if you punish your child for leaving her bike out or breaking the toy, you’re just adding insult to injury. Allow your child to learn the natural lessons, and this will teach accountability.

This sounds great, but life is not free of punishments and consequences. If he breaks the law, they won’t problem-solve with him, they’ll throw him in jail. This is true, but laws and jails were made for adults who have fully developed brains and the full frontal lobe function of sequential thought and logic. Children are not developmentally there yet. Your toddler, preschooler, and even young children do not have this ability and therefore should not be subjected to punishments for wrongdoings they either didn’t know was wrong or didn’t have the full mental ability to stop and think it through before acting. You don’t teach someone to drive by wrecking them first so they’ll know what not to do.

Okay, on to the action. Here are some concrete examples of how to handle common situations without resorting to punishment. Again, I’ve already covered exploration, tantrums, and aggressive behavior. (See above)

1. Disrespect/backtalk/rudeness. If this is an occasional occurrence, remember we all have off days. A simple “When you speak to me that way, I feel disrespected” is sufficient. Avoid “you” statements, like “you’re being very disrespectful” and use “I” statements, like “I feel hurt when you use that tone of voice with me.” If this is a common occurrence, this suggests a disconnect in the relationship that needs repair. You should also investigate where he has learned such behavior. Home? School? Friends? Generally, though, a child who is feeling connected is very unlikely to be disrespectful or rude to you.

2. Lying. Lying is actually a developmentally appropriate stage that some kids go through. The link will be very informative about this, and makes suggestions of how to handle this non-punitively. This usually begins around age 4, and is really more fantasy and pretend than manipulative lying. For an older child, communication is very important. Have a discussion with her about why lying is wrong, what consequences could come from lying (like breech of trust, damage to your relationship, hurting a friend, etc.) and just open up. Explain a time in your life when you told a lie and it turned out badly. Dr. Markham says this, “I want to let you know what the research says about lying. Many, if not most, kids lie. However, kids whose parents don’t punish do not lie. They have no reason to.” This is another perk of non-punitive parenting. Kids usually lie to avoid punishment. When that fear is not in the equation, lying is extremely unlikely.

3. Refusing to cooperate. Let’s say your son has a messy room and doesn’t want to clean it up. You have 2 options here. You could say, “Wow, your room is a mess. Would you like me help you tidy up?” You ask for their help sometimes, right? You’d offer a helping hand to a friend. It’s okay to extend that same courtesy to your child. There are days I don’t feel like tidying up either. If he refuses to help, leave it a mess. He’ll get tired of it eventually, when he can’t find things. What about teaching him to be accountable? Ultimately, it’s his room and his mess. You won’t be in his college dorm. He will learn that it is his responsibility if you just give him responsibility for it. Here’s the good news though.

When children feel their needs really matter to their parents, they can meet their parents with cooperation.” — Sura Hart

When you have that connected relationship, kids are naturally more cooperative. Read The Fool-Proof Way to Get Your Kids Cooperating. For very young children, choices will help to elicit cooperation. A responsibility chart, like the one found here, which is purely a visual reminder, might prove helpful for your child.

4. Out and About: Talk to your child about where you will be going and why, and what you will be doing while your out. Get your child involved with the shopping, helping to look for items and placing them in the cart. Bring along a “happy pack” with a doodling pad or snacks, whatever your child likes. Make sure her needs are met (she’s not hungry or tired) before you go. If you’re at the playground, give your child notice that time will be up soon. If she refuses to leave, say “I know you want to stay. You’re having so much fun! But we have to go now” and gently scoop her up and carry her to the car. Empathize with her upset.

5. Homework struggles and school problems: Let’s face it, homework is no fun. Yes, it might have to be done, but we wouldn’t want to work an 8 hour day and then have to bring more work home with us either. Talk with your child about what would make getting it done easier and more pleasant? Perhaps some music playing softly would lighten the mood or doing the homework outside in the fresh air. Discuss the importance of it, but leave the responsibility on him. The natural consequence, of course, is an upset teacher or a lower grade. Of course we don’t want that for our child, but if you rescue him all the time, he won’t learn the natural consequences of his actions.

Positive non-punitive parenting, I believe, is the best way to raise happy, confident, secure, capable kids. Will it produce perfect children? Of course not. Does anything? Do I promise you’ll never have rough patches or trials? No. That’s life, and we’re all just human beings. What I do promise is that you’ll have a much more joyful home overall and a connected, close relationship with your child that will last through all the bumps of life. Nothing is sweeter than that.

Also read:
Is Your Discipline Raising the Kid You Want

22 Alternatives to Punishment

Thoughts on Punishment

Misbehavior and punishment are not opposites that cancel each other; on the contrary, they breed and reinforce each other.” – Haim Ginott