Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why I Don't Discipline My Kids

Imagine you have a child who is learning how to walk. He can usually make it all the way across a room without stumbling, but he still falls down sometimes.

And he still chooses to crawl sometimes, because he can get somewhere faster, or because he is tired or hungry or sick, and he doesn't have the energy to walk.

Do you punish your child falling down or not being able to walk a certain distance? Do you worry if you don't punish him, he may never learn to walk properly?

Probably not, because you know children don't need to be punished when they fall down. They need to be supported or encouraged or carried. They need a hand to hold.

I see most things that are commonly labeled bad behaviors in children the same way I see falling down. And falling down is just part of the process of learning to walk. I don't punish my kids for falling down, literally or figuratively. Instead, I focus on keeping the environment safe and being there to help them up or hold them when they need me.

When my child hits another child, it's like he tripped and fell. After it has happened, I first make sure both kids are safe. Then, just like I would try to figure out what he tripped over, I figure out what is bothering the one who did the hitting. And just as I would try to prevent him from tripping over the same thing again, I take actions to make sure he doesn't hit again right then.

I might sit with the kids as they continue to play. Or I might encourage them to take some quiet time, find some calm space. Finally, I would try not to let the same situation come up again, by making sure I am present with the kids while they are playing together, until I think they are ready to play without me again.

When my child screams at me when she is hungry or exhausted, it's just like when she is too tired to walk. In either case, I offer food and a chance to rest. I don't expect her to be able to communicate perfectly politely all the time, just like I don't expect her to walk all the time.

I don't discipline* my kids because I see their behaviors as developmental stages, just like the ones along the way to walking. I remember that each child learns to walk at his own pace, when all the developmental pieces are in place for him. I remember that pushing a child to learn to walk is both futile and unnecessary. This is why I don't push my kids to behave in certain ways, when they are clearly not ready. We talk about our actions and how they affect other people. But I don't expect the kids to fully grasp these things, until they do.

I am not afraid that my kids will never learn not to hit people or scream at people, just like I was not afraid they would never walk. My kids know they shouldn't hit people. They know it isn't nice to scream at people. They even often apologize for doing these things, without me requiring it.

I know my kids don't want to cause harm to other people. They don't want to hurt feelings, or bodies, or damage property. They don't want to be rude or disrespectful. I trust that someday they will be able to understand enough to keep from doing these on their own, most of the time, just like I trusted they would learn to walk. But I know that even as adults who know better, people sometimes hurt each other. Even adults who are experienced walkers fall down.

Our children are born unable to hold up their own heads, and eventually, those who are capable, will learn to walk.

If we trust our kids, support them, and give them safe places to practice, they will learn all the skills they need to learn, as long as they are physically capable of doing so.

My kids will learn without formal lessons, without punishment, without force. Not because these things are bad, but because I think they are not necessary.

My kids will go through many stages along the way. There will stumble and fall. And when they do, I will be there to help them stand back up or pick them up and carry them as needed.


Some other posts to read...

Another one on discipline: Your Baby Can Walk!
An example of Parenting Without Punishment: Taking Responsibility
A response to some of the comments below: Help! Am I Raising "Selfish Sociopaths" Who Will Someday Hate Me?

*The definitions of discipline as used in this post, from here:

verb /ˈdisəplin/ 
  1. Train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience

  2. Punish or rebuke (someone) formally for an offense