Friday, July 1, 2011

Parenting Without Punishment: Taking Responsibility

Since I explained that I don't discipline my kids, I know some people must be wondering what it looks like when something goes wrong around here. This is one recent example:

My son Emmitt (2) once pulled off a few of the keys from our laptop keyboard. And I can't put them back on. There are plenty of ways I could have punished him to attempt to make him realize it wasn't a good thing to do. To make him feel responsible for his actions. To make him feel bad for doing this in hopes that it would prevent him from doing it again.

It makes typing interesting.
But I choose to look at it differently. Instead of making him responsible for what happened, I take responsibility for my mistake. And my mistake was leaving the computer on a low table while I took a shower. So in the future, I won't leave the computer within his reach when I can't be by his side. Or maybe I will sometimes, because I'm only human.

Now, storing the computer in a high place is not the same as removing his computer privileges as punishment. He still gets to use the computer. I sit with him while he explores the computer. I help him explore it and use it gently. I encourage him to use a different computer, an old, sturdy desktop,  when I can't sit with him. He will continue to learn about the keys and why they are important.

If I make the mistake of leaving him alone with the laptop again, then it is MY fault if he pulls off more keys. It's not that he should know better. He has clearly shown that he does not know better for now. I'm the one who should know better.

I can imagine if I said to him: I told you NEVER to do that again! He might think: I showed you not to leave me alone with it!

I am not afraid that my son will grow up to be an adult who thinks that ripping keys off computers or otherwise damaging another person's property is a fine thing to do. Someday, when he is ready and with my help, I trust that he will understand the importance of the keys to the functioning of the computer and the importance of treating another person's possessions with care.

For right now though, he obviously does not understand. So it's up to me to try to eliminate opportunities for him to cause damage. And not to blame him if I fail to do so.


Update (1/7/2012): My son, now almost 3, said to me today, "Some of the keys are broken... Mama, I'm sorry I broke the keys." I think he understands now. :)


  1. I like to share your blog posts with an Amazon parenting forum I participate in. There are over 7,000 posts and we have a subset of parents who simply will not open their minds. Nonetheless, I believe some of your message will get through. I also visit the Project Nospank group on Facebook. You will be happy to know your work is very much appreciated there.

  2. My almost three year old did the same thing. I googled it and they are re atatchable, they just snap into place if the componants arent broken. I am still missing three keys but they werent removed by him anyways. We were missing over 10 keys and the space bar!!!! After over a month I finally figured out they were fixable :) I agree with all you said. Although I think i did freak out a little when he tore off the keys, he had the week before covered the computer in sharpie so i should have known better ;)