This approach to parenting is not impossible (and here's how you can do it)
Some describe it using words like this:
And others describe it using words like this:
And there are some people, some parents, who think it’s just not possible to do.
What am I talking about?
Parenting without punishments.
Yep, without punishments. No threats, no time-outs, no removing privileges. Essentially, I’m talking about you not doing anything that pushes your child into that defensive and disconnected state where if they feel anything at all, it’s most likely to be shame.
(Not to mention the fact that they will at this point be flooded with stress hormones that will send them into fight or flight; they won’t be able to do much except defend themselves, and the punishment that you hand out ends up missing the mark anyway).
Now I could write forever on all the reasons why you might want to consider parenting without punishments, but here is just one compelling one:
And for me, this comes back to what we talk about all time here at Mellownest: being a mindful and intentional parent.
If you think about your goals as a parent and the kind of parent you want to be, then you’ve got to act in way that serves to meet those goals, right?
So, if you want your parenting to be characterised by warmth, love and positive connections then it simply doesn’t make sense to use threats and time-outs as a way of getting your child to behave.
And if you want your child to grow up to be kind and compassionate then it simply doesn’t make sense to treat them in a way that is often fuelled by aggression.
I know that the more common view tends to be the one that sees this approach to parenting as weak, permissive or poor.
And on the face of it, I agree it can seem like that, but when you think about what your goals are as a parent and the kind of parent you want to be, you can confidently say it is anything but.
In fact, it’s just the opposite: parenting without punishments requires you to be strong, authoritative and effective. And who wouldn’t want to be that kind of parent!
So, how do you do this parenting without punishments? Well it’s not easy and it definitely takes practice. But here are 4 ways to give it a go:
See your child’s (mis)behaviour as a form of communication
“Mum, I’m having a really tricky time right now and I just need you to help me get through it” – said no child ever! They’re probably among the hardest moments for you, but it’s safe to say that if you’re having a hard time then your child is too.
They don’t always communicate their needs in the most appropriate ways (and sometimes they’re not even able to) so they need you to try and figure it out for them.
This means having empathy and connection as your key tools and being with them through their hard times, rather than expecting them to get through it by themselves.
Connect and redirect
This is a great strategy (one of many!) from Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson, authors of The Whole-Brain Child. It’s based on the idea that before you can start to reason with your child, you need to re-establish the connection that has been broken. When your child is in fight or flight, they don’t have the capacity to take in your logical explanations (if they are even at an age where they can do this) and they certainly won’t be able to take a punishment from you and see it as something that they need at that moment.
So first, connect with the right brain (acknowledge feelings, use physical touch and a nurturing tone of voice). And then, when your child is calm and your connection has been re-established, redirect with the left brain (use logic to address the specific issues and engage in joint problem-solving with your child).
Empathy, empathy, empathy
Remember that in these moments your child will be experiencing all kinds of feelings, many of which they won’t understand. But what they will understand from your empathetic responses is that you get it and that you’re there for them. And not only that, but you’ll be teaching them about their emotions too.
Effective parenting and emotion coaching at the same time?
Regulate your own emotions
It will be impossible for you to help your child through a tricky time with empathy and compassion if you’re in a state of fight or flight yourself. Remember that this approach is ultimately about modelling what you want your child to see, and if that means taking deep breaths and visibly taking the time to calm yourself before you go in with a response then so be it.
Remind yourself of what you’re trying to achieve and respond in a way that is in line with that.
If controlling another human being is the goal of parenting, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays and physical pain are the means of control.
But if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trusting relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching and communicating are the tools for success. L. R. Knost
Created by a qualified child psychologist
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