Positive Parenting: Better Behavior Without Punishment Is Possible

Positive Parenting: Better Behavior Without Punishment Is Possible

A few years ago, my 3 year old daughter ripped her brothers’ picture. She did it on purpose and with the intent to get back at her brother.

Many parents believe that such “acting out”  needs to be managed with swift discipline. A punishment like time out or some kind of consequence to teach a lesson. In the moments when I feel my buttons getting pushed, sometimes I fall into thinking about that too.  I’ve seen over the years with my children and working with so many families that such measures simply don’t help children behave better. But there positive strategies that do. Instead of putting my daughter into time out, we did something else. 

Control and disconnected consequences tend to make a child’s behavior worse. Because children don’t respond positively to negative experiences and rigid punishments. When children begin to feel controlled they either retreat or act out even more.

What Happens When we Choose Control over Guidance

When we respond in ways that disconnect, shame or hurt we are much more likely to see our child:

  • shut down (look away, freeze)
  • feel ashamed
  • get angry (retaliate, hit, spit)
  • startle (cry, scream)
  • withdraw (avert the eyes, hide)
  • become nervous (giggle, try to run away, tap fingers or bang things together)

Guidance Helps Children Thrive In A Way That Punishment Simply Can’t. 

When children misbehave, what you likely wish is for them to learn how to do behave in a different or better way. The end goal isn’t just to make the misbehavior stop. It’s also to help your child learn to do better.  This doing better may be a more socially acceptable behavior or a choice that is in line with your family values and boundaries.

What your child needs, no matter how she is behaving is your positive, kind and clear guidance.

Are these some of the behaviors you are expecting from your child?

All of these behaviors are linked to “self-regulation” which means being capable of responding appropriately to difficult situations ( a.k.a. behave “better”) make good choices and solve their own problems.

Here is a big truth about self-regulation:

Adults struggle with self-regulation quite a bit. Because it’s actually not so easy to do…especially under stress. If you have ever yelled out of frustration, slammed a door, hung up a phone in a haste or said something you later regretted you have been challenged with self-regulating. So Why do we hold our kids to such a high standard when they are so much younger and still growing? 

What does and does not help children learn to Self-Regulate

Punishments and disconnected consequences simply don’t encourage self-regulation. For example, when my daughter ripped her brother’s picture I knew time out would not help anything.  Sitting in the corner feeling angry and possibly ashamed was not going to make her feelings or that picture whole again. It also was not going to teach her how to manage her frustrations or how to make amends with her brother.

While positive parenting has many parenting tools that encourage cooperation and reduce conflict, the basics for helping children behave better can be summed up in these four principles:

  • Provide guidance that encourages learning.
  • Allow the child to be part of the solution.
  • Accept all feelings and emotions as valid.
  • Lead with respect and unconditional love.

If we consistently approach our children with these principles in mind, as they grow, they learn. They learn to cooperate, problem solve, accept responsibility for their feelings, emotions and decisions. The learning is a process and it’s true, it is not as quick as counting 1,2,3 or placing them in the corner, but it is a process that honors our developing child’s needs, one that models qualities we wish to see as our children grow and most of all it is a process that facilitates the development of self-regulation – a.k.a. the ability to choose to behave well.

parenting class toddler

So when that picture got ripped I sat by my children.  I sat there to signal trust in their ability to work things out. And then there was this conversation between my 3 year old and soon to be six year old son:

“You ripped my picture.” my son said to his sister.

“I so angry!” my daughter said to her brother. “You bothering me at my table.” (I believe she meant his things were piled on her art table and these were in her way)

“Ok, sorry I bothered you but…but my picture?! I just made it today.” my son said.

“Wait…I know!” my daughter offered, running to our box of tape & glue. “This will fix it!”

My son smiled as my daughter took some duct tape and said “can you help me cut it, it’s sticky tape.”

“Oh, cool, the silver will look awesome. I mean, I wish you hadn’t ripped my picture, but this is cool too.” my son said.

“There…all fixed. I really sorry I did that.” my daughter said once the duct tape was firmly holding the picture back together.

Days later, my son brought another picture home and forgot it on his sister play table again. She took it off the table and handed it to him. “Here you go. I not ripped it this time even if you bothered me with it again!!!”

Of course, this learning didn’t happen from one day to the next. It’s a process of offering guidance, using tools like time in, reflective listening, validating feelings and encouraging problem solving and accepting imperfection.

Some behaviors and choices are simpler to address. Other unwanted behaviors are puzzling, difficult, even annoying. These do take more patience, practice and then more practice and more patience. But it really is worth that effort.  It does take trusting and believing that your child is willing and capable of learning and growing.

Better behavior without punishment really is possible.



Peace & Be Well,

Ariadne

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

11 Responses to Positive Parenting: Better Behavior Without Punishment Is Possible

  1. I love your example. Kids want to do the right thing, but they’re still learning and can’t always control their emotions. (Some adults can’t either!) I don’t claim to always be able to parent in this way, but it’s a goal I work toward.

    • Emma, thank you so much for sharing that and you are so right, many adults struggle with impulse and emotional control. Ps- I don’t think anyone always gets it right, but like you said, it’s a goal and it’s def. worth it 🙂

  2. I am going to work really hard to try this… My daughter and I have been at each other lately, and I know when I tell her what she has done wrong she gets sooooo angry. Going to try putting this in motion!

  3. I love this interaction. I personally have experienced similar amazing sibling interactions. I’m curious if you have any advice how to move forward from past abuse/punishment led parenting. I had my own failures and am making up for it now. I’m just curious if you or anyone is able to heal themselves and their children from mistakes done in the past? Thank you…

  4. I absolutely couldn’t have said it better myself!

    Thank you!! I’m so happy to have found you! I’m also so grateful that we’ve found Montessori school which supports all that you’ve spoken about, in a school environment!

  5. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. Could you plz provide some tips as how to provide guidance to kids (at the moment of wrong doing), and also how to hide our frustration (and anger) from them.

    • Hi Maryam,
      Often when children are doing something wrong what they need is the information that helps them make a better choice. This can be setting a limit “I will not let you hit” and then empathize with their feelings “I think you feel mad” and a short explanation or alternative “if you are mad, you can say so, or stomp your foot but I will not let you hit”. Another example “ripping that picture was not ok (limit) I can help you fix it”. Guidance is about providing the missing information or choices. As an adult we need this too at times, imagine if at work your boss only ever said “wrong!” “no” “emm…stop that” but never gave you any training…it would be so hard to actually do a good job! As far as frustration, instead of hiding it, I would encourage you to listen to it as a means to adjust your expectations and boundaries. When parents are often frustrated with their child chances are expectations are not clear or everyone is feeling disconnected. It’s normal to feel frustration it’s also ok to say outloud “I feel frustrated” and own your feelings because this models emotional regulation for your child. Just try to avoid blaming “you make me angry” is not helpful, “I feel angry and need to cool off, be back in a minute” is very helpful to both! Hope that helps!

  6. Hi, I have a 3 year old son and 8 month old daughter. I am interested in learning more from you on how to encourage this sort of interaction in my children. My son is battling adjusting to his sister, although he loves dearly he picks on her. I find myself losing my temper which I hate doing. How can we change this situation, I know I have to learn a new way of managing the situation I am just not sure how?!

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