You Don’t Punish Your Kids? What?!?!

Up until Science Kid (our oldest child, now nine) was two, we used to occasionally swat him on the butt. It was always done out of anger. Never something where we hit him after we’d calmed down. An immediate, emotional response to what we perceived as misbehavior. We always felt ashamed of ourselves after striking him. We also realized, though it took awhile, that hitting him wasn’t helping to modify his behavior. He might act “better” for a little while, but he’d go right back to the aggressive behavior we’d supposedly corrected within a couple of hours. We did notice that he’d become much more aggressive himself after we had hit him. We vowed to change this but the urge to lash out was very strong – for me (Big Daddy) – for years afterward. It took all I could do some days not to hit him. We decided to try our version of Time-Out which we called the Naughty Step.

The Naughty Step entailed sending a “bad” child to sit at the bottom of the stairs by him/herself for a while so they could supposedly realize what they had done wrong. Did it work? It seemed to work better than spanking, but problems arose. Some of them wouldn’t stay on the Naughty Step. Sometimes, they’d just entertain themselves there for a while then go back to doing the thing which got them sent there in the first place. Other times, they’d just refuse to go. At no point had we really made an effort to correct the behavior; we just punished.

Of course, we’d also yell a lot. Unfortunately, I’m still guilty of this.  So, technically, we haven’t reached the no-punishment stage we claim because I violate it a couple of times a week, though I do get better at biting my tongue as time passes. I don’t like yelling but I do it out of frustration. And the frustration stems from failed attempts at creative solutions.

When our fourth child, Rebel Toddler, turned two, the Naughty Step went by the wayside as well. He would not accept any aggression against his person. We couldn’t put him in the bathtub without him freaking out. We couldn’t give him ultimatums. He wouldn’t stay on the Naughty Step. He’d just laugh at us. And if we persisted with the use of physical force, he would go apeshit. He became completely uncontrollable. So, we took the drastic step (for us) of completely abolishing punishment. My wife, Mama Bear, had spent considerable time researching this, mainly at The Natural Child Project website.  It took her a long while to convince me to even try it.  I was so stuck in my ways and quite pig-headed.  It made no sense to me.  “What, we just let him get away with it?”  I remember saying that all the time.  Eventually, I gave in and we decided to attempt it on a trial basis and see what happened.

At first, we didn’t know what to replace punishing with, so we just sort of let him (and the other children) do their thing. Just eliminating punishment seemed to make him much happier and he stopped being as belligerent. His belligerence was a direct response to our belligerence. When we stopped, so did he.  I still didn’t understand what the hell we were doing, but it seemed to be working.  We kept at it.

The next step in the experiment was devising a way to live together without coercion. The most important realization was that even very young children can be reasoned with. They also understand private property. So, if Rebel Toddler hit his sister, for example, we would immediately go to the injured sister and see if she was okay while temporarily disregarding RT. After a bit, we would discuss with him that he wasn’t allowed to hit because he hurt his sister. At this point, with no prompting from us, he would usually offer hugs and forgiveness. Sometimes he didn’t, but the message was still received. We don’t hurt others. Same thing applies to the taking of someone else’s property.

On the rare (and I do mean rare) occasion that a kid continues harming another, we will physically stop them. We will restrain them so that they cannot injure someone else or steal/damage their property while explaining to them that this is unacceptable. This does often make them more aggressive in the short term but is necessary to protect the rights of others. This almost never happens anymore, however.

The only time we’ll use physical force against a child is to prevent them from truly harming themselves or someone else’s property. We won’t allow them to run in front of a moving car but we will let them fall off the back of the couch. We won’t let them run through a busy parking lot but we will let them go outdoors in the snow without shoes. In this way, they learn that when mom and dad say something may hurt them, they believe us.Non-punishment

Some other things we do in place of punishment:

  • We give choices instead of commands (do you want to take a bath first or brush your teeth first?)
  • We give options (you can’t jump on the bed, but you can jump on the trampoline)
  • We remove the child from the situation but stay with them (instead of isolating them):
  • We negotiate (instead of saying “It’s time to go inside”, we say, “Do you want five more minutes or ten?”)

There are many other examples. Basically, we treat them as we would another adult. No force, no aggression, no punishing.  I try to not do anything to the children that I wouldn’t do to my wife.

In short, not punishing means finding creative solutions. We try not to intimidate, coerce, or force them to do anything. Everyone in the house has agreed to abide by certain rules, of which there are very few (mainly, do not encroach on another or their property). “Rules” is not even a good term.  Mainly, we live by a set of principles:

  • The Non-Aggression Principle:  No one shall initiate (or threaten to initiate) force against another.
  • Self-ownership:  You own yourself.  You are no one’s property.  As well, everyone else owns themselves.  No one else is your property.
  • The Silver Rule:  Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.
  • Keep your agreements.  If you promise to do something, do it.  This, and all the other principles listed above, apply to mom and dad, as well.

This has not led to the children running wild. They do not run the house. We do not live in chaos.  Mama and I are not pushovers. The children are (normally) quite peaceful and respectful of others. We all follow the rules and aggression in our house is pretty minimal.

Now, look – we’re not giving parenting advice unless it’s solicited. We’re not claiming to be experts on anything. We’re just mom and dad trying our best. This is what works for us. If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading. This shift in philosophy has been revolutionary for us and our kids.  We much prefer interacting with them in such a peaceful manner.

46 comments to You Don’t Punish Your Kids? What?!?!

  • Karen Thomas

    What do you do when they dont listen? My daughter is very good at ignoring me and keeping on doing whatever she is doing, after asking 5 times patiently with nothing back I usually resort to getting her attention by shouting. I dont like it, but it drives me nuts. And she is a repeat offender, as in does not learn or change her ways. Any suggestions?

    • Sarah

      Karen, try getting down to her level and having her look you in the eyes when you are speaking to her. Kids can really get wrapped up and super focused on what they are doing. Whatever she is focusing on may be more important than what you have to say at the moment and that’s ok, but if you need her to listen to you she needs to understand that is important as well.

    • Carlie

      I use very similar parenting principles to these guys. In this instance I would say it comes back to respect and choice. We have an agreement in our house where we (all, parents and kids) ask, “Do you have time to listen to me now?” The agreement we have means that if you are busy you stop what you are doing if possible and look at the person making the request and negotiate a time to talk, whether it is now, in 5minutes or at the end of the chapter.

      Also you are ignoring her unspoken request to be left alone by repeatedly talking/shouting at her AND she has learned that she does not have to listen until you shout. Sit down and talk about why it is important and ask her what she needs. For my younger son he needs someone to physically touch his arm to get his attention and time to process the topic of conversation in the first place. For my elder boy he needs time to finish what he is doing.

      As the ‘golden rule’ that has been put forth here is applied, what would you do if it was your mother or spouse? Would you not respect their right to find a time to talk with you? Just because you don’t necessarily see the value in what they are doing and have elevated your request to be more important does not mean they see it the same way.

  • serina

    Hello! Thanks for writing about this. The concept is attractive to me, but there are so many situations that I come across that I just don’t know how it would/should work without imposing consequences. I have an extremely unruly 29 month old son. Time-outs are a daily occurrence, but they don’t work at all. What do you do when the 2 year old purposefully pours out his water onto the kitchen floor everyday or is just plain defiant and tells you no when you ask him to do or not do something? I had an hour long fight with him this morning to get him to put away his damn tinkertoys that included him going to time-out three times, me yelling, him crying…literally an hour before we actually accomplished the toys being picked up. And its not like he doesn’t know how to pick up his toys, its a task he has done regularly in the past and just wanted to be defiant about today…

    • Sarah

      I have a 2 year old and I don’t think of his behavior as defiant. He may not want to do what I want him to at that exact moment, but I feel he is still learning about choices and what he wants to do in the moment. My son likes to play with water too. I don’t think they understand at that age that water doesn’t go on the floor because then mom has to clean it up. I believe they are learning something by pouring it out. Maybe you could try giving him space to experiment with water so that it’s not a frustrating mess. If you have a small kiddie pool you could put in the kitchen that would work or I have put a large towel down on the floor with a tupperware dish of water and some cups for pouring. That way you can towel up the mess when he is done. As for picking up his toys, he may not want to help all the time. I feel it’s up to you to make it fun and demonstrate good behavior. I usually give my son a ten minute warning when things are about to change. If I want him to pick up his toys I’ll say 10 more minutes and then it’s time to clean up. Then I sing the clean up song as I pick up the toys. If he chooses to help then awesome, but if not he’s still learning and eventually he will help. I feel there will be days that he just won’t want to though and that’s ok too. Try to work together instead of against each other and you’ll find you enjoy time together much more. Also, if you want him to clean up after himself, have him help you with a task. That way he understands that you are willing to help him with the cleaning and he’ll want to help you in return. As for the time-outs, if you notice they aren’t working, why try to impose them at all? Misdirection is a much better solution to behavior you aren’t happy with. Being told to sit and be quiet probably just makes him more angry and more willing to do things you don’t like. Good luck Serina, I hope my words will be able to help you get along with you son a bit better. Parenting is hard, but just listen to your mommy wisdom. My mother often tells me I need to discipline my child more, but I know him better than she does and he may have been unruly not so long ago, but he’s growing into a good little guy that I am very proud of. Grocery store trips used to be horrendous, but after letting him run around crazy a few times he gets it now and stays right by me through the whole store. You can do it Mom, it just takes time and effort.

    • Sam

      Serina, I think it is going to take a lot of patience and diligence, but you can work through this stage. If it is time to put away the tinker toys, you can tell him “It’s time to put away your toys so we can go to the park (or have lunch or whatever).” Be sure you are making eye contact, not yelling from another room or whatever. Then watch to be sure he begins. If he doesn’t, then you can say, “Here, let me help you get started,” and put a few in the container. If he doesn’t want to help, then you can say, “OK I’ll put them away, but remember, if I put them away, I might put them somewhere else and we won’t be able to use them any more for a while.” And I can say this because we have an agreement that if they don’t want to be responsible for their toys, then I will put them away and we won’t use them any more for a while. It is part of being respectful of the family so that we can all use our home.

    • Chelsea

      I have a 2 year old also. My best advice for the water is to only give him cups that he cannot get the lids off of. If that’s not possible, don’t make a big deal about it, calmly put it out of reach and don’t offer more for a short while (letting him suffer the natural consequence of not having a drink when he dumps it). I think it is a phase and will pass quickly if he doesn’t get a dramatic reaction from you.
      For the toy problem… Kids cannot really be expected to do independent chores until age 3. Chores should be done together until around that time. They also have no impulse control until 3. So they understand you, they know you don’t want them to do something and why, but they may be physiologically unable to control the impulse.
      Clean up 90% of the toys. Sing a clean up song and/or make a game of it (drop through a hoop into the bin, make crashing noises as they hit their destination, etc). Empathize. Say, “I know you don’t want to clean up, and it’s something we have to do.” My son likes to feel helpful, so it really works for us to say something like “Hmm, I think we had more blocks. Can you help me find the rest and put them away?”.
      Think out loud when you are doing your adult cleaning – “I don’t like doing dishes, but I feel so much better when it’s done,” “This is hard work,” “All done. I did it! That’s better!”
      A big thing for us is just to understand where he’s coming from and empathizing.
      Last week, my husband turned on the TV and my son immediately started demanding Elmo (he says, “LaLa”). He kept yelling “LaLa! LaLa!” louder and louder – It was really obnoxious. It was nearly bedtime, I was busy and tired, and I was fully prepared to set him up with Elmo in the other room. First, I said, “You want to watch Elmo, and Daddy is watching something else.” Within 45 seconds, he calmed down and happily began playing with his puzzles. I was amazed.

  • Mandy

    Good and insteresting read! Thanks for sharing. Needed a little boost in that direction.

  • Heather

    Thanks for this post, I really appreciate your messages and stories as I too am trying to take this leap from old-school parenting to a respectful approach without becoming uber permissive. I have lovable yet antagonistic 3.5 yo daughter who historically yelling or spanking was the only way to get her attention or stop an unacceptable behavior. I have recently come to the realization that while my angry response stops her in the near term, I’m doing more harm than good in the longer term. I also have studious and emotional 5 yo daughter and I fear my yelling may have taken a toll on her self esteem and this is more than enough incentive for me to change my ways. Anyhow, I appreciate your succinct, honest and straightforward messages. I have two questions. First, what do you do when one of the rules is broken? My girls would figuratively pulverize rules 1 & 3 with their constant fighting. How to deal? Second, how do you deal with whining?

  • Jess

    This is exactly how I “disciplined” my children when they were small, and it worked well when they are younger. Now that they are older, I feel like I struggle daily with their behavior. Everything is a negotiation!!! On the one hand I am proud that my kids can think for themselves, but I admit it can be tiring having to explain “why” they have to do EVERYTHING and then negotiate HOW and WHEN they do it. I never ask my children to do anything demeaning or unreasonable. These requests are merely chores that need to be done for our house to function, but nearly everyday I have had to resort to taking privileges (video games) away as punishment, because sometimes they just decide to disobey. They whine and complain that the consequences are unfair, which is stressful to everyone. Do you have any advice for older children? My kids are aged 7, 9, 12, and 14. Thank you.

    • Carrie

      Same here. I was so good at this until my son turned 7, now I am much more likely to set an ultimatum. Sometimes I am just too tired to negotiate! Although we still try to live by the rules you listed above.

  • Jake

    Hi Jess,

    Have you considered that dealing with other people is always a negotiation. You are dealing with other people with their own will and ideas. Not children that must obey. Consider how you get people to do things for you in other areas of your life. How would you talk to an adult at work or your spouse or partner if you have one, would you speak to them the same way you do to your children. I don’t know the answer to these questions, just asking you to consider how you relate to them. If they can sense exasperation they’ll try to avoid the conversation. Just as anyone else would when approached by someone is worked up over something that seems minor to them. Are you giving them the respect that you would give an adult? It goes back to you have to give respect to get respect. Again I am not judging you situation as I do not know your situation completely. Just asking you to consider the questions.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  • Can you recommend a book on this topic?

  • […] having read and agreed with a recent blog post from what is probably one of my favorite pages on facebook I pretty much did none of it.  Did I […]

  • Lisa

    Great post! We have a 6 and 1 year old and they have never once been punished and I never plan to punish either of them! We love the Natural Child website and I’m so happy to read about another real family who lives this way!

  • Cassie

    We are at this crossroads now with our 16 month old. I’m realizing that hitting for hitting just doesn’t make sense and my husband sees the hypocrisy as well. However I don’t agree with negations. There are rules and I feel giving them too much say will lead to them taking control and manipulating. If I say it’s time to go inside then its time to go inside. Giving them the choice to play as long as they want isn’t setting them up for how the works works. When they have a jobs and their break is over nobody will ask them if they would like an extra 5-10 min. They need to understand there are rules. I agree with most everything else as far as being gentle and timeouts are not effective.

    • miss kend

      But they are children and they are not working in a job, their little brains and sense of reason is just developing, the orange light tells us the lights going to change to red, give them a chance to get used to the idea of finishing something they enjoy eventually as their powers of reason increase they join the real world without being bullied of their own free will. Choice is important and creates strong individuals, not scared puppets who obey the rules out of fear.

  • Holly

    How do you approach lying and being sneaky? When I get on my six y/o level she laughs at me. She will not make eye contact. What should I do when that happens?

  • Trisa D

    Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen covers all of this. It’s an amazing book and is taught in hold guidance classes in college. I recommend it to all parents wishing I explore gentle parenting. It also addresses how to solve the problem of your children not wanting to fulfill their responsibilities. I’ll just give it away though: family meetings where agreements are made about the terms

  • Trisa D

    That posted too early. I was going to say: about the terms of chores. It’s ok to establish that if they want xyz, they can earn it by fulfilling some responsibilities. Ex: your teenager can drive IF they keep a 2.0 and mow the lawn every weekend.

  • Sarah

    Awesome advice! It’s really nice to read how this works for your family of four kids. I sometimes wonder if our approach, which is pretty much the same as yours, only works because of the personality of our son. But you give me hope that this will work no matter the personality of his brother or sister who is going to be born in August. I read a great book about a year ago called Positive Discipline, The First Three Years by Jane Nelson. It has totally revolutionized the way I think about raising kids. And what you write about here are basically her principles, too!

  • Audrey

    Maybe my stepdaughter is naturally awesome, and I’m just lucky, but I hope it’s also good parenting: when she came down to stay with us, I told her that she doesn’t have “chores”, but she is an equal member of this team that keeps everything functioning. She took that really well, and does sweeping and cleaning when she can see things need to be done, and cooks supper when I’m tired, she doesn’t have much homework, or she feels inspired. It really feels awesome to be part of a family where things are done on a principle of love and teamwork, instead of rules, and where I can thank her and give her a hug for her contribution to making things awesome, instead of nagging her.

  • Darleen saunders

    We also took a similar route. One day I found myself yelling at my three year old daughter and something snapped in me, I had become my mother. It was the look in her eyes that told me I was really hurting her with my words. From that day forward I changed my whole outlook on parenting and looked at the situation from her perspective. I used respect and dignity when dealing with her. I took the time to cool off, not to respond in anger and to basically treat her how I would like to have been treated as a child.

    Today she is eighteen and a delightful young lady. We never went through the usual teen angst or rebellion and have a wonderful relationship with her. Not only did it work when she was little, but it is the foundation of a respectful lifelong relationship I will have with her. Yes, it does work!

  • […] They say the first step towards healing is to admit that you’re sick. Well, I’m admitting it — I’m a wannabe positive parenting mama, who can’t keep it together when it comes to my son. Wahhhhhh! I’m not proud of my past, but I am excited for the future, all because of what I read in this article. […]

  • art myers

    Thank you definitely worth giving a try.Seems like blind faith will be what it is in the beginning.Any thing is better than hitting,yelling and time out.If this works which I’m sure it will I’m gonna want your pro box # so I can buy you two a gift card to a really nice Restaurant in your area.Thanks for enlightening us all with your wisdom!!!:-)

  • Alicia

    I’d like to live with my children in the way you describe, and I try to parent in all these ways you suggest, buty children aged 3 and 6, treat me like a servant all day they do nothing but scream and whine at me from the moment they rise, till the last thing out of their moths. I try to give them options, but ill no sooner do what they ask, when they’ll choose something else’s, or worse, pretend like they never said that and abuse me for getting it wrong. I often have to make each meal 2 or 3 times and even then they refuse to eat it. They abjectly refuse to we’re appropriate clothing when it is cold. And will hit and kick and scream like they’re being beaten if I try to put a jumper on them. I am not allowed to show any joy like singing or dancing or I will be screamed at and hit. My sons favourite thing to do when he is mad at me, is to go and pee over every inch of the toilet room so I will have to clean it up. Sometimes he’ll even smear feces on the wall in there to REALLY stick it to me. He’s 6 and he want me to dress him and undress him like a baby and refuses to do any of it himself. Recently I tried to get him to put his shoes on and he threw everything he could lay his hand on at me, shoved me out of the room and nearly broke my arm in the door. I have two cats which are terrified of the kids because of the abuse they receive from them, they destroy our furniture my daughter wasn’t getting what she wanted the other day so she poured milk all over our DVD player. They are out of control and nothing is working, not even the techniques you are discribing I am at wits end help me!

    • GB

      Alicia, as someone who has 13 years as a nanny, teacher and in child-care, I wanted to reply to you as it sounds like you are in a really tough situation there. I have never hit or yelled a a child and had children that behave like monsters when I start looking after them who were happy and well-adjusted within two weeks of me impementing thse techniques. With children who behave like this, it is all about confidence in yourself. Calmy but confidently (it’s all about the voice…practice in front of the mirror even) tell them, “in this family we love each other and treat each other with respect. I don’t speak to you like that. Hear the voice I am using? That is how we speak nicely to each other. If you speak to me like that you probably won’t get what you want”. If they continue to yell at you, say, “I am going to wait until you speak nicely to me”, and leave the room. At any time, you can say, “I am going to leave now as you are talking to me very unkindly and we don’t speak like that to others in this family” and walk out. With the meals, offer them a choice, and ask them, “what would you like for dinner today? Spaghetti or lasagne? Those are the two choices so pick which one you’d like and I’ll make that for you but I’m afraid that those are the only two choices. I’m not going to make another one if you change your mind.” And stick with it. It’s ALL about consistency. You have told them their choices, and you MUST stick to it. They will not starve to death if on the first day they refuse to eat what they said they wanted. They’ll learn that you mean what you say and that you’re giving them a choice. If they say they won’t eat it, say in a calm and happy voice that that was what they chose, so that was what you cooked and you’ll leave it there for them if they change their mind, but if they don’t want it, then they can leave the table. Stay relaxed, calm and cheerful and tell them again that those were the choices. With the toilet issue, (which I have had aswell), I went in to the child, got down on their level, and said in a calm, confident, disappointed voice that doing that to the bathroom was not okay and that we don’t treat other people in our family that way. I explain it all very clearly and calmly. Then I say that they should come in with me and help me clean it up. I never raise my voice or touch them but I tell them confidently that I am very disappointed in their behaviour. At first they probably won’t help you, but they may start to, or they may stop the behaviour. I had a little boy once who did this and he stopped within two weeks. I found with destruction of property that I walked in calmly while they were doing it (I’ve had kids smashing fishtanks, pulling down christmas treets etc etc), calmy and with a firm voice that it was very dangerous what they were doing and I moved them away by gently but firmly holding their arm or hand and told them to sit on the couch or out of the way, and did not look at them or talk to them while I cleaned it all up. They seem to be a bit shocked by not being noticed and it really works to stop the behaviour. Afterwards I would talk to them calmly about why it was dangerous and how that kind of behaviour is unacceptable in this family. If they start throwing things at you, hitting you, hurting the cat etc, I would stand up, pick up the cat and walk calmly out of the room without saying anything at all. They seem to be very shocked when you don’t react. If they are late to school while you try this, then, they are late to school. Try not to be stressed about that while you work on changing the patterns of behaviour. Once they have calmed down go and calmly in a disappointed voice tell them why those things are unacceptable and talk about how it would feel if someone hit/kicked/yelled at the, etc. At that point, if they are calm, talk about nice touching like hugs, softly pat their hand or forearm and talk about how it feels nice and how kitty would like that too etc… Best of luck and stay strong. It really can feel so overwhelming, but you have communities of people here to support you.

    • Sarah

      Alicia, I totally understand where you are coming from as I have some pretty demanding kids myself. I have learned the hard way that I matter too. I am a human being with choices as well. Some days I feel worn down by their neediness and demands, but for the most part I have learned to say what I want to do. For instance, my 2 yr old DD can be a little bossy at times. I will explain to her that I don’t appreciate the way she is treating me and I will not move or so what she wants me to do until she can speak to me more respectfully. I understand she is still learning the world around her and there are plenty of reasons why she does what she does at any given moment, but she needs to understand that she cannot boss anyone around like that and get away with it. She is not in control of anyone but herself. I explain to her that I try not to boss her around. I give her plenty of choices so she doesn’t need to boss me around. Although the explaining and negotiating can get very exhausting at times, it does help in a lot of situations. She is beginning to understand that she will not be able to order me around because I won’t just sit back and play the victim. It has to be an equal partnership. Nobody should be ruling over anybody else in the house. Mutual respect is a must! Hope this helps. Sending hugs to you. {{hugs}}}

    • Missy

      If you, or anyone, happens to read these comments still – Behavior that extreme is related to cognitive functioning and brought on by a toxic overload in the body. Cut out all processed foods, especially food dyes, sugars, excess grains, everything, and you will see a dramatic improvement purely by what they consume. You’ll need some strong parenting to back it up, but you have to lay a good foundation in their health first. Children with poor nutrition tend to have terrible behavior. There are tons of blogs you can read about it or you can pick up a book like Nourishing Traditions – even if you don’t agree with every nutritional principal, just read the stuff about how much toxic garbage is in your average grocery store product.

  • When our son was diagnosed with oppisitional defiant disorder, we asked the doctor what we should do. She said “Be better parents.” That hurt, but we were treating our kids with the same mix of swats, time outs, and yelling you describe at the start of the article. After that, we decided to do some research and came across this fabulous book called “Raising our Children Raising Ourselves” and its principles are what you convey in this article.

    This turned around our son from constantly throwing tantrums and running purposefully in the street to disobey us into a kid who really cares for others and does his very best to listen. We also played a game called “opposite time” in which we indulged his independent streak to do everything opposite of what we said. Then, when we really need him to listen, we say “it’s not time to be opposite” and he instantly changes his behavior. Short of pathology, I agree that the parenting method you describe here of no violence, no coercion, no punishments does work. I’m glad to know there are others out there!

  • pishyah

    “Of course, we’d also yell a lot. Unfortunately, I’m still guilty of this. So, technically, we haven’t reached the no-punishment stage we claim because I violate it a couple of times a week, though I do get better at biting my tongue as time passes. I don’t like yelling but I do it out of frustration. And the frustration stems from failed attempts at creative solutions.”

    The fact that you admit to being a human parent and not some super robot parent that lowly people like myself can never live up to means the world to me. 😀 Seriously, thank you for admitting this! Knowing that people with great ideas, great tips, and great stories still mess up after so much time really makes me realize that it is okay to be human.

  • Tiffany

    Lol at letting your kids walk bare foot in the snow. I recently let my 19 month old out into the pouring rain because she insisted on going outside after I told her we couldn’t. She came back in pretty quick.

  • Anne

    I too feel guilty after yelling or hitting my kids. Thinking back, I realized each and every time I do so, is when I’ve run out of solutions and also seems to happen when I’m frustrated and exhausted. The biggest struggle is trying to get my toddlers to take a nap or go to sleep. We have blackout curtains, we have a white noise machine, we’ve tried giving baths beforehand, we let them read books, we’ve tried about everything out there. Rarely do they fall asleep in 30 minutes or less (heck I’d just settle for them being quiet!!!). It is not due to them not being tired and we stick to a schedule. After we leave the room-one or the other starts singing, jumping on the bed, they’ll even bang their heads or kick the bed (to make noise). Sometimes we’ll ignore them, but usually every 10 minutes or so we go in to tell them to quiet down-reminding them it is late and time to go to sleep. On bad nights, this can continue for over an hour. If we keep them up later-they will have meltdowns (probably b.c they’re tired). They seem to enjoy time outs and will sometimes ask to be put in time out (which to me means it is not effective). I’m starting to think we may just need to put them in their own rooms. Anyone have any ideas??? (this issue is not new-it has been a struggle to get them to bed since about a year old)

  • Anna

    I have been trying really hard to follow the same guidelines. Dr. Laura Markham calls this parenting technique “Aha! Parenting”. Problems I am struggling with, especially with my 3 year old son, is that he sometimes just flatly refuses to do things, regardless of choices. For example, we offer him a choice: you can take a shower, or take a bath. And his response is: neither! For some things, his refusal is fine, but when it comes to getting clean, brushing teeth, getting dressed: things that just have to happen, we are at a loss of what to do and resort to yelling or taking away privileges (usually TV time). Sometimes it comes down to us making him do whatever needs to happen (i.e. me quickly washing him in the shower). I am a yeller, although have been able to control my yelling and anger to a certain degree. Even my always-calm husband has lost his composure with our son on several occasions. He is just such a relentless limit tester. Any advice?

    • Missy

      I’ve gone through the same with my daughter. First thing is trying to figure out the reason behind the behavior. Do some creative problem solving. If nothing works, then it’s just patience and leniency. Don’t just pick your battles, but also pick the stipulations of your battle.

      There will be times you just have to force him, period. Like he HAS to put on clothes right now or you’re going to miss a really important appointment. That’s fine. It’s an ongoing process of figuring out what will work, and the biggest thing with young kids is that they will pass through the phase before you know it.

      Half of peaceful parenting is being patient.Kids are not inherently bad, they don’t need to constantly be minded or they’ll turn into monsters. He’s testing his limits because he’s 3, not because he’s a bad kid.

  • Fen

    We have been trying to do this in our home too, we gave up on time outs years ago as they did not work! We do offer choices and that does work, but the problems we still have are whining and also fighting. I have 5 year lot twins and a 3 year old boy, any advice would be appreciated!

  • Hilary

    I love this post because I do believe there should be a new balanced out look in parenting. But, I have a question. I am all for letting your kid fall off the back of the couch to learn why they shouldn’t be climbing on it. However, say they do not fall off of your couch. So you send them to Daycare and they display the same behavior, because, they have not learned anything. Now the Daycare employees will not have the same tolerance policy because they do not want a lawsuit. If you ignore certain behaviors at home, how do you keep them from becoming public problems?

    • Missy

      Just because they’re allowed to do things at home doesn’t mean they don’t understand the difference between home and doing something in public. Just like the child being raised with average discipline is taught the difference between home and public, so are the children raised with the no discipline approach. Don’t forget that this blog mentions several times that the kids abide by the guidelines of not harming anyone else or their property. This would apply to being in public spaces, and in your example, having respect for the daycare’s property and rules.

  • Megan Keller

    Hi everyone. I am encouraged by everything I’ve read here. I worked at a residential treatment facility for a couple years, working with youth who had ‘ODD’ (oppositional defiant disorder) etc. and many of these principles worked in their healing process. e.g. treating them with respect, giving them choice, warnings before ending something and transitioning to another. After that I worked at a Waldorf School where I saw a lot of positive parenting and was introduced to SIMPLIICITY PARENTING, which I will recommend here to you all as another resource. It it beautiful, insightful and may help to support the work we are all trying to do to enable peaceful households. That book, and my two jobs I mentioned here, really helped me to focus on things like power struggles and control, and how even the smallest children like to know what to expect and to have control over their bodies and environments, just like the rest of us. And why do I expect children to blindly obey? is that even healthy? (I think no, esp. for girls…teaching them to be ‘nice’ and ‘listen’ and ‘obey’ and not to upset anyone, and to let others steamroll over them is actually dangerous imo). I am encouraged though, as some of those Waldorf parents seems so endlessly, naturally patient and gentle, and I am quite a firecracker. So I am definitely going against all my instincts and urges and times. It is good to hear from others who can forgive themselves enough to keep trying!!!

  • Paula

    I love the principles your family lives by & we are slowly incorporating them into our family life. My kids are 13,11 & 9. I’m struggling to understand how to apply the principles with older children & there doesn’t seem to be much advice out there either. We have been having a difficult time with our 13 year old daughter for many years. Punishment doesn’t change her bad behavior & actually seems to make the situation worse & things quickly spiral out of control. We don’t hit or spank our kids. She recently had a fight with her 9 year old brother over the TV remote. He got mad & tossed it at her. She retaliated by throwing it at his face so hard it broke the remote & caused his nose to bruise & swell with 2 black eyes. Her defense was “he started it”. I don’t believe she intended to hurt him. She got mad at her Dad & I for getting angry with her over it. Her attitude is usually disrespectful & dismissive, no matter what we say. I want her to suffer the natural consequences of her actions, but her actions are so extreme sometimes & I don’t even know what to do to help her or change the behavior.

    • Missy

      Do you remember what it was like going through puberty? Did you experience those intense mood swings? The loss of impulse control when you got angry and just snapped? I still remember it. I was extremely bitchy as a young teenager, and it had nothing to do with knowing better or having respect for my parents. It was just puberty. The rest of the family needs to have as much understanding for what she’s feeling and going through as she needs to be reminded of the respect she must maintain for others. The problem is not her behavior. It’s respect and understanding, always.

  • Larissa

    Thank you for the encouraging article. I especially love your phrase “even young children can be reasoned with” I truly believe that. I keep hearing how parents think kids are so “devious and know exactly what they’re doing”…meaning they are intentionally ‘disobeying or being bad’, but they don’t believe in talking with the child about it… so then its they’re too young to reason with. I hate that! Perfect example was when my 4 yr old went in the backyard to play. We ask that if they go somewhere different to let us know…well a few min. passed and she was in the front yard. I went and reminded her about letting us know, (especially since we have the road really close to our front yard) so she understood. My mom was there and I could actually hear her in the kitchen complaining how you cant reason with a 4 year old and she should have gotten a spanking for her blatant disobedience. Ugh.

  • Karen

    Thank you for this post! I know it’s a hard journey, particularly when you seem to be the only parents who are parenting this way. While my kids are far from grown up (they are ages 9.5 and almost 12) I can say with confidence that their behavior is very good. Exceptional, even, at least some of the time. They are very respectful of their parents, and others. But, they are still *learning.* They are learning how to be people in this very busy and complicated world. How to be members of our family. How to be kind to each other and us. They are awesome people, but flawed working-on-it people.

    Holding that idea in my head has helped me extend to them the grace they need to have time to work things out. To not hold on to anger at something insensitive they say or when they forget to complete a chore. I am teaching them how to do these things, so I have to remind them for now. And I ask them to help me by realizing a task needs to be done and then doing it instead of me always asking. I hope that by the time they’re 14 or 15 they’ll do things spontaneously. 😉 But in the meantime I ask.

    I have noticed that the more I expect of my children, the more they seem to be able to deliver. So when I’m frustrated at their lack of completing chores, instead of throwing up my hands and doing it all myself, I ask them to pitch in even more. When they moan (they are children! there is complaining galore!) I remind them that they are part of a family. THIS is what families do, we help each other. I also reserve certain chores as *their* chores and I won’t do them unless. The kids are responsible for emptying the dishwasher. Period. I do not empty it. It helps them that they feel they “own” certain parts of the job (one does the top shelf, one does the bottom.)

    Now that the kids are older, we have consequences, not punishments. We talk about privileges, and I reinforce their GOOD decisions. For example, technology use in our house is a permission-based activity. You must ask permission to use a computer, tablet, tv. I tell the kids that because they always ask permission, they almost always get permission (although sometimes it’s “Yes, but we have to be ready to leave the house in 30 minutes.) If they were sneaking tech use or using without permission, they wouldn’t have so much freedom, so they see the connection between their good behavior and the things they like to do (like a lot of teen/tweens my kids love to play on minecraft with their cousins and a few friends from school.)

    I guess I just want to say that it’s okay to feel like it’s a struggle, but it’s also worth it to invest in strategies that work for YOUR family (not everything works for everyone) that are kind and respectful to you and your child/children. Something I read in a great book by Barbara Coloroso once said something about only using discipline that leaves both the parent’s and the child’s dignity intact. I thought that was a great way of looking at it – if I felt like a punishment or consequence was disrespectful to the kids, I wouldn’t use it. If it made me feel foolish or unkind, same (no hitting, for example. I couldn’t hold myself in respect when hitting someone so much smaller.) It takes quite a lot of creativity when they are small to find ways to redirect, to change my patterns, to think of ways to engage a child who didn’t want to help clean up or was angry about something. But it *is* worth it. I have these lovely little people I share my life with, and i know it’s partly because we worked so very very hard in their early days to find respectful ways of working with them.

  • […] excellent article on freeyourkids blog states say “no” to punishment. Saying “no “ to no disciplining or punishment works. […]

  • Alexandra

    Wow, that’s what we did/do, and I had no idea it had a name. A lot of it is understanding little’s developmental stages, and reinforcing and catching good behavior. Modeling and reading stories about appropriate behavior helps…we get funny stories to teach good behavior…it doesn’t have to be preachy.

  • pdxmom

    I just read “The explosive child” by ross greene. Sort of a similar thing, ‘not punishing’ is his ‘plan c.’
    It is a very interesting theory (collaborate on things with the kiddos). Highly recommended.

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