Friday, January 20, 2012

What I Do Instead Of Punishing My Kids

In Why I Don't Discipline My Kids, I talked mostly about what I don't do. I don't use punishments and rewards of any kind to correct or change my children's behavior. It's easy to see why if you can imagine that a child learns any skill in the same way as he learns to walk. It's self-motivated, it doesn't require manipulation.
My children are now (almost) three and five years old. They both know how to walk and run and jump and climb. But before my children learned these things, I carried them or strolled them everywhere. I didn't expect them to get anywhere independently, and I didn't expect them to avoid dangers or get around obstacles without my help. I took full responsibility for keeping my children safe.

Now, I do the same kinds of things for them while they are learning social skills. I take responsibility for their actions to see to try to prevent them from hurting themselves, hurting anyone else, or damaging another person's property.

These are some of the things I do:
I am present with my children as much as possible. I am there to help them handle difficult situations, to navigate around obstacles.
I remove major obstacles from their paths. I keep lots of things around the house that can be played with freely. I put away a few special things that I most want to keep from being broken or lost.
I hold their hands when they need me to. I say please and thank you to others for my children when they forget do so.
I make suggestions for resolution of conflict. I physically stop them from hurting another person when they are unable to stop themselves.
I apologize to my children and to others when something goes wrong. I am truly sorry when I fail to prevent an injury or an insult, or some other kind of damage. I acknowledge that I am only human as well.
I anticipate what their needs will be. I watch for signs of unmet needs. I try to take care of their needs as soon as I can. I offer comfort when I can't do so right away.
I plan for doing things I think my children will enjoy. I cancel or postpone plans when my children indicate they are not up for something I had planned.
I provide plenty of opportunities to rest in between busy times. We spend many days completely and happily in the peace of our own home.
I expect that things will not always go smoothly according to plan. I expect that my children will make choices that are different than mine would be for them.
I let my children have control over their bodies. I give them the freedom to choose how and where to spend their time.
I assume my children are doing the best they can at any given time. I show compassion when the best they can do is not what the world expects of them.
In our house, there is no need for punishment, shame, or manipulation. Instead there is a safe space for mistakes, growth, and learning for all of us.
This post was originally published on a friend's blog: Heart Rockin' Family.


  1. Love it!! I raised my son this way. He is 25 years old now and SUPER successful in all the ways that mean the MOST...!

  2. Me, too! My kids are 9, 2, and 8 mo. I have realistic expectations and model the kind of behavior that I expect from them. I love the trust and peace that result from it.

  3. It sounds so beautiful in theory. I am less certain how to apply it to my five-year-old, who can be amazingly rude, amazingly whiny, and amazingly prone to throw and hit, often quite suddenly so that I am not sure how to be more preventive or proactive.

  4. @prochaskas, Can you try to re-frame the way you look at you child's behavior? It helps if you can see that whining is a way to express needs, maybe for food, or rest, or loving attention. Look out for those needs and try to help fill them before they get to the urgent status. Here's another post of mine that may help:

  5. I like this. This is how I raise (or try to raise) my daughter. :)


  6. "I say please and thank you to others for my children when they forget do so" do you have an example of how do you do this? Why do you do it? Why is it so important? Thank you for your blog :)

    1. Bert, For example, if someone gives my child a gift, rather than telling her to say thank you to the person, *I* say thank you to the person for her. Or if she needs something from someone else, I might say "Louise was wondering if you could please get her that book next to you." Rather than making Louise say please herself. Do those examples help?

      I have been doing this for a long time with both of my kids and they say please and thank you very often on their own now (even at ages 3 and 5), but when they forget or are hesitant, I simply step in and "be polite" for them.

  7. Hey, I didn't realise you were back from your break. I came to take another look at my favourite blog and am really glad to know it:-)

    Love this post Vickie. As always, it inspires me to be more patient and gentle with my kids.


  8. "In our house, there is no need for punishment, shame, or manipulation. Instead there is a safe space for mistakes, growth, and learning for all of us."

    LOVE this!

  9. Just curious with "I say please and thank you to others for my children when they forget do so", I don't believe at all that this would work for my son so we often talk about manners (please, thank you, excuse me etc) and I just explain why we say these things. Sometimes he needs a bit of a reminder but there is no shame or manipulation in these reminders.
    If you were to give my son a gift that he thought it was fantastic and he didn't thank you I would say to him quietly "what do we say when someone gives us a present or does something nice for us?" and he would remember and say thank you. Would you see this as me manipulating or shaming my son? Because I see it as teaching my son, the same as teaching him to tie his shoes or wash his hands after the toilet.

    1. I wouldn't say you are trying to shame or manipulate your son in doing this, but you are quizzing him ("What do you say..?"). I find this type of quizzing to be mostly unnecessary, because if kids hear the phrase "thank you" enough in natural conversations, they will figure out when to use it, in just the same way kids figure out how to use other words when they are learning to talk. They didn't need reminders or quizzes to figure out how to use the word "the," for example. They just listen to how others use it, and follow the pattern. :)

  10. I NEVER punished. I did show my exasperation for sure at times, but always tried to be positive with no shame. I was very successful with both my boys. I also did not put an age on reaching success. One was completely trained day and night by 21/2. The other almost 3 1/2. All kids are different. Buy a good cleaner for a accidents before you start, have lots of towels ready, a few potties, a defined area for no diaper. Try to do it during the summer while you are out a lot. Lots of treats as rewards:))