My children have been punishment free for nearly two years now. Somewhere around five hundred days, it’s a long time. With three small children that are curious, active, spunky and growing, there have been plenty of opportunities to challenge myself, or rather ourselves, as my husband has been practicing punishment free parenting right along with me, to implement and practice alternatives to punishment.
Raising Children Without Punishment
Yes in all seriousness we have not punished, shamed, isolated or otherwise taken actions that are commonly associated with traditional discipline and raising children in the last two years.We have not become permissive, anything goes, no limits, dump your trash anywhere you want, “sit back and let the children run the house” kind of parents either.
Prior to our resolve to go punishment free, we were already working from a quite positive angle. We have always parented, and continue to parent very in line with principles of attachment parenting and playful parenting and have mostly been working just with time-ins, calm communication and setting limits.
However, when we had our second baby, there were new challenges. I was armed with great knowledge from books like like the Positive Discipline series, from the Sears Parenting Library, Aletha Solter and a few others… but perpetual tiredness for me coupled with a very spirited furniture climbing, cupboard emptying tot and no family members living nearby and an often traveling husband, i was exhausted.
I was trying to use gentle guidance and yet somehow in my haze and insecurity as a new mom of two under two followed our pediatricians advice and fell into using time-outs occasionally.
Most often, talking things out and upholding limits worked fine but if things escaleted,I started enforcing artificial consequences like time outs in the corner for a few minutes or loosing privileges like watching TV. Taking sweets away was another thing I did (even if it felt so very mean while doing it, I seemed at that time like I had no other choices.)
The Very Moment That Turned it All Around
I remember a particularly exhausting day when it was raining and cold. We had recently moved really far away from home and had not yet made any friends in our new town.
To add to the stress of it all, I was on semi bed rest for my pregnancy. I wasn’t supposed to be moving around much. (Easy to do with two little toddlers running around right?!)
My sweet boys managed to somehow dump the full contents of a flour bag into the bath tub.
While I tried maneuvering my bump and cleaning up the mess, my boys were hitting each other with a kiddie broom and my youngest ended up slipping and biting his lip. “Off to the corner and no sweets today” came babbling out of my mouth. I knew this served no purpose at all to them.
I quickly realized I was frustrated and tired and feeling totally out of control.
Truth is, it just wasn’t working for me or them. I wasn’t being true to my heart.
The Decision To Go Punishment Free Became Clear
I felt mean, disconnected and it hurt to see my boys get that look in their eyes that they hated being sent to the corner. What’s more, their behavior was NOT changing, in fact on days after one time out or two it seemed like bad behavior quickly escalated.
On that bad day as my then three year old dragged his feet and found the dreaded corner he asked me *Why are you so mean to me?”
My heart sank! My eyes and my little boys sweet, innocent eyes flooded with tears.
I scooped both boys into my arms. My oldest told me many things, among them that he didn’t want another baby to come to the house, he was sad we had moved, he was afraid his friends had forgotten about him. I listened and confirmed what I already knew, he was hurting and needed me more than ever to be there for him. He did not need to feel isolated or worse. My other boy, just about 18 months at the time, kept gazing at me with his swollen lip and big green eyes, and we stayed like this a long time. The rest of the day was time-out free.
Following My Heart To Raise Happy Children
That night I thought and cried and finally resolved to follow my heart. I decided I did not care if it was socially expected or the norm or the recommendation from our pediatrician or what most of our friends were doing. For us, it was not working. I went back to my pile of parenting books, and onto the web, I wanted to change but I also needed support to do so. I found amazing resources and support for what I was already resolved to trying. I put together a plan and resolved to change how I approached these tougher moments. After a great heart to heart with my husband we decided we would in fact go punishment free and see how it worked out.So in the last two years, even when things escalate, which they do a lot less anyways, we have traded time outs for hugs and talks. We have traded revoking privileges with working together and finding solutions.
We had always parented with kindness in mind but truthfully got a little side tracked.
Now even in the toughest moments I pause, breathe and then seek connection and solutions.It’s not that we were bad before or doing it *wrong*, it just wasn’t working for us as a family. I believed then and still do now on maintaining family harmony based on kindness and cooperation and my boys have always been very empathetic and happy to help. It just did not seem right to make them feel worse as a way to expect them to do something *better* or differently. As we made our shift practicing punishment free parenting, we noticed the more respect and trust we
placed in them, the more we got in return.
Things don’t run perfectly around here and mostly it is up to me (and my husband) to choose how we react to our children as they grow and learn. It is not easy either, but it feels much more authentic and true to our hearts.Perhaps this is a big leap of faith, but if as a parent I don’t have faith in my children, then who will…
Peace & Be Well