Four Alternatives to Punishment: Positive Solutions in Practice

Positive parenting connectionHow to punish toddler. Punishment alternatives. Discipline for children.

Last week I wrote about our path to becoming a punishment free family. I received quite a few emails and some Facebook comments with questions wondering how being punishment free really worked in our day to day lives. Among other things, we use replacement, choices, playfulness and empathy.
Here are four examples from the past week which illustrate how we are practicing finding positive solutions.

1. Replacing Annoying with Acceptable
Scenario: My five year old has recently started tapping and poking at my husbands stomach the minute he walks into the door in the evening. Tired and ready for dinner my husband is not so receptive to this behavior (read totally annoyed). Just saying “stop, please don’t do that” was getting both of them just frustrated.
Observation: My five year old does not want to annoy his dad, he is really excited and wanting to connect with his dad who was gone all day.
Solution: I suggested to my husband that the next time the poking starts he offer his son a quick game of “high fives” and a hug as an alternative. This doesn’t just replace the unwanted behavior but also offers a chance for both father and son to create a routine in the evening to reconnect.

2. Offer Choices and Avoid Commands
Scenario: My three year old decided to dump all the contents of his bookshelf onto the floor producing a hefty pile of books. When he seemed about done entertaining himself with this pile I thought it would be best for it to be cleaned up. I want my kids to respect their books and also create a habit of cleaning up whatever messes they create.

Observation: I could tell the mess was too much for him to handle alone but wanted to involve him in the clean up process.
Solution: Instead of telling or commanding him to clean up I said “do you want to use the kitchen tongs to get the books on the shelf or count them as they go on like we do when we play the sheep game?” His reply was filled with enthusiasm: “I can count them, watch me!” Around number seventeen, with a few skipped and reversed numbers along the way he said “I can’t anymore” so I offered another choice “Do you want to hand me just the small books and I will clean up the bigger books?” It took us maybe five minutes to finish the rest together as a team and avoided a struggle or “battle of wills”.

3. Listen and Strike a Deal
Scenario: One afternoon this past week when I explained we needed to interrupt reading my five year old was very upset and threw the book across the floor.

Observation: My five year old loves reading stories together but as much as I would like to, with two other children I cannot read to him for hours and hours uninterrupted, this is often frustrating to him.
Solution: I empathized with his frustration that I was busy with other things in the house and siblings. He verbalized he just loves to read so much and hates being interrupted. I suggested he make a pile of books he is interested in reading with me at some time the rest of the week and we would get through the pile by adding ten extra minutes at his story time at the end of the day when siblings are already asleep. Without prompting he apologized for throwing the book, picked it up and got busy choosing his books.

4. Demonstration and Imitation
Scenario: My youngest (nearly 18 months) was at the table banging her silverware on her plate, the table and anything she could reach. We are pretty relaxed with table manners but I did not want her plate to crack and the noise was bugging me so I wanted her to stop.

Observation: I know she is very interested in sounds, noises and was looking for some attention while we ate lunch. She is also into imitating behaviors a lot.
Solution: I started showing her my silverware, using it properly and commenting “this is a spoon, for eating my peas. I like this spoon for eating” “This is rice, I like eating rice with my spoon. This spoon is for eating not for hitting” Soon she started picking up peas with her spoon and eating them and when she was bored again I showed her once more. This does take time, and I will probably be demonstrating and reminding her again but the banging did stop and eating with silverware is a skill she is still learning.

For our family, going this route is working so far, I realize that often taking the time to talk things out and offer alternatives can seem more time consuming but I find in the end it saves a lot of time. We are building relationships based communication, mutual respect, tantrums are avoided and the general atmosphere of our house is very playful and positive. Of course, we still have challenging moments and then we try to learn and grow from them.

Have you had a challenging moment recently and found a positive solution?
**This post was first published at Authentic Parenting***

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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, and one cuddly dog.

20 Responses to Four Alternatives to Punishment: Positive Solutions in Practice

  1. It’s really nice to read about someone else’s punishment free approach. I agree it is not always the easiest route at the time, and requires a lot of patience, but saves time in the long run.
    When I went down the punishment free route it took me a while to get used to the concept, and I sometimes still felt like I wanted or needed to punish, but now I never feel like this.

  2. Yes I can relate as we still have days where I wonder if I should do something else and then I realize me or we are all just tired and need to recharge and things get better! Thanks for stopping by!!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. Thank for your writings! I’m the mother of a 8,5m girl, we decided to go down the AP road and we would like for ours to be a punishment free home, but how do you learn how to come up with the appropriate solution fast? Also, often I wonder if I have the inner strength to be the parent I would like to be. In many occasions, when she starts whining and crying, I can’t figure out her reasons and so I find it difficult to help her. I end up with a frustrating, for both of us, trial and error which includes all possible distractions. One of the things that challenge us on a daily basis is getting her dressed. I try to let her play during the process and not be in a rush, but it doesn’t seem to work much. I just wish I could help her to grow up being better able than me to cope with frustration, without being overwhelmed by the feelings of rage that make me sacred to loose my control with her.

  4. It sounds like you have already become aware of your frustrations which is already such a good step towards overcoming them. As your daughter is still very much a baby at 8,5 months I would just encourage you to try an be in the moment and accept that the pace will at times be slow. It helps to plan in extra time, for example if I am taking my daughter somewhere, I make sure we have at least 30-45 minutes just for getting ready. Also Often babies like to be undressed at this age or in very comfortable clothing like cotton pants and t-shirts so they can best explore the floor and their bodies, so maybe your daughter just doesn;t want to be dressed all the time – it’s really ok 😉
    As far as finding appropriate solutions, this will come in time, again at your daughters age I would reccomend meeting her needs and providing her with a baby friendly environement – if she is crawling or moving into areas that are not safe for her or pressing buttons for example, simply take her to another part of the house that is safe. You can see this for more alternatives to punishment which are geared towards toddlers but some also apply to the more mobile baby! thanks for stopping by!

  5. Am glad i bumped in your website… An a morher of three, i feel so guilty the way i deal with my strong willed eldest girl… I get so frustrated n angry that i slapped her almost every day as she doesnt seem to bother much when i raise my voice or trying to get her to listen if spoken kindly… No matter how much i tried to be kind n explain the rules to her, she does what she want that i lost my temper every second day. She is 4 years old. I feel guilty for punishing her n i want a different approach to get her to listen..

  6. I have twin boys, almost 8 years old, and I also hardly use any punishments. However, I do think we need to be very carefull with this approach that becomes more and more popular. When the kids will grew up to the real world they will be faced with orders and punishments like in the army or work place. The world doesn’t have the patience to show them the alternatives. It might create adults which can not face orders or instructions not provided with sugar coating. This might make them give up the first time they face such a thing since all they know from their childhood when their mind was developing and getting the habits, is that there are no punishments to wrong behaviour, only choices.


  7. I would love to hear any tips you may have for a mum of 4 boys under 10 who have been diagnosed with adhd, mild asd and a few other things.

  8. I have enjoyed reading your blog and really like and want to take the punishment free approach. I am struggling though to find ways to get our daughter (25 mos) to cooperate with basic requests. One example where I would welcome any and all suggestions for good approaches is in regards to meals at the table. She is up and down in her chair (stopped strapping her in awhile ago as it became such an issue and wasn’t worth the battle). She is up and down in her chair, eats some, then plays with her food … mixes food with milk, asks for a different spoon or cup, eats a little more, plays a little more etc… meals drag on too long. We have tried asking her in a playful way to keep her bottom in her chair and have tried all approaches that don’t come across as reprimanding but at some point in time at each meal I have to tell her she has 2 more minutes to eat. She ends up screaming “still eating” when we go to take the food away and at this point she has mostly been playing with it for a very long time. Any recommendations for good methods for getting her to focus on eating at meal times and teaching her that food is not for playing with. Thanks for any suggestions you can offer.

  9. Hi EMM, meal time challenges can be exhausting – especially because they get repeated over and over again. Here are a few suggestions you can consider and see what you think might be worth trying. Have you tried a weaning table (small table and fitting chair)? These small tables for little ones are great because having their feet on the ground is literally a more grounded experience. Many toddlers really dislike the feeling of dangling feet or sitting too high up when trying to eat. Being low to the ground they tend to eat well. Have you looked at portion sizes? Reducing those to only a few bites at a time is a great way to reduce conflict. “Here are 3 bites, when you finish that, you can ask for more”. The other idea is to use some limit setting tools, to be very honest, these lead to tears initially because sometimes change is hard! One limit setting tool is “Say what you are going to do and then do it” this can come across as harsh and mean initially so it is very important you say it with kindness, confidence and the intent to guide instead of punish. For food playing it might sound like this “Today at lunch, when I see you dumping, smashing or throwing food, I will see that as your way of telling me you are full so I will take your plate to the kitchen.” It’s important to follow through with that limit otherwise it’s really confusing. If your daughter cries, you can acknowledge her upset – “You wanted to play with your food. you are mad that I took it away.” Listen to the tears and upset, once it passes you can acknowledge again “Food is to nourish our bodies, I can give you toys to smash, and throw like playdough” I will serve you a snack at snack time. Many parents feel awful doing this, but remember, positive parenting isn’t about keeping kids happy 100% of the time, we do have to guide them and help them learn so sometimes, supporting their upset is what our job looks like. Lastly, At 25 mos many children want sensory experiences so try to offer opportunities to play with play dough, water, sensory bins with shredded paper for example before meal times or shortly after so she can learn there is a time for manipulating sensory materials and that food is for eating. Hope that helps!

  10. Hi Nathan,
    Thanks for sharing your concerns. I don’t believe it is our job as parents to toughen up our kids. We need to give them the skills to confront the world, yes, and we do that by giving them tools like problem solving, teaching responsibility and supporting them when they are upset, frustrated, mad, and any other feelings they might have. I find from experience in organizational and corporate communication that the majority of people that have trouble at work with their peers and bosses lack problem solving and team work skills. Too many individuals believe that conflict is solved with violence, retaliation and harsh words. The stuff that punitive parenting really highlights… On the other hand positive parenting teaches children to communicate and cooperate, to face problems, acknowledge feelings and accept responsibility. I also talk a lot about limit setting and natural consequences (lots of posts on that on the website too) and there are times when children don’t get to make choices. I hear your concern and this approach is not about being permissive or sugar coating everything, that would be really detrimental to family dynamics and child development.

  11. Marion, the principles of positive parenting and positive discipline can work with ADHD and ASD. It is often helpful in these situations to work with a parenting coach/educator or counselor that has experience that can help you create a parenting plan. Particularly with ADHD, the tools are great because it can help create a rhythm and clear up expectations.

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