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    38 Alternatives to Punishment

    Starting on my parenting journey years ago, I found this list* of alternatives to punitive discipline, printed it out, and hung it where I could see it every day. It's not perfect, but it's a good place to start. If you want to stop spanking, if you want to parent more peacefully, if you want to feel more connected with your kids, you CAN. Let go of the need to punish, let go of that feeling of having to "teach a lesson" when your child does something you're not fond of. A little empathy, trust in the natural human learning process, and a lot of love goes a long way. I hope this helps you move along your own peaceful parenting path.


    Use positive reinforcement.

    Create a positive environment.

    Say yes as much as possible.

    Save no for the important things.

    Use natural consequences.

    Use logical consequences.

    Use restitution.

    Leave it up to your child.


    State your expectations, and get out of the way.

    Give specific instructions.

    Give a reason.

    Offer help.

    Give a choice.

    Redirect your child.

    Remove your child.

    Make positive statements.

    Give in occasionally.

    Give your child time to agree.

    Simply insist.

    Make rules.

    Ignore some behavior.

    Avoid nagging and threats.

    Distract your child.

    Use humor.

    Make it a game.

    Be willing to admit your mistakes.

    Stop and think before you act.

    Don't make a big fuss over little things.

    Stick to routines.

    Don't hurry your children too much.

    Get to the root of the problem.

    Correct one behavior at a time.

    Give yourselves time.

    Use the golden rule.

    Model appropriate behavior.

    Think of your child as an equal.

    Always keep your love for your child in mind.


    *from the book, Natural Family Living by Peggy O'Mara

    Posted: Dec 18 2013, 09:56 by kelly | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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    If Not Spanking, Then What?

    I love my children, and I know that the world can be a hard and angry place. I want to be a haven for them. A gentle place. I want to reflect love and tolerance back to them so they can carry that gift into the world.
    ~ Alex Iwashyna


    I recently read a post over at LateEnough.com on why mom-of-two Alex chooses not to spank her children. I agree with her wholeheartedly, and believe there is no room in parenting for violence (of any kind – physical or verbal/emotional). We should all be aware of crossing the sometimes fuzzy line of punitive discipline in our homes – not just because it can lead to escalating violence – but because parenting through fear, intimidation, anger, or violent outbursts is no way to raise a child, nor to live as a parent (you know it just stinks to be a constant rule-barking angry disciplinarian – parents end up missing out on a lot of the joy & so do kids!).  If we want our children to grow up to be empathetic, caring, and peaceful with others, we have to treat them with empathy, caring, and peace.


    Of course that’s easier said then done, right? The word peaceful doesn’t always seem congruous with life with children. Children are perpetually in motion, breaking rules, testing boundaries, and outbursting. And as adults, I believe most of us have moments where we really feel like we could or want to spank or scream at our kids (or anyone). And, I believe that we ALL have moments where we actually do react less-than-peacefully, in spite of our best intentions. There are times in parenting where our children can be frustrating. Days that are long after nights where sleep was elusive. Sometimes our patience is short and our creativity lacking. And when all of these things come together, it feels much easier to fall back into modes of parenting that were used on us, or methods that work for others, or just what comes out of frustration – even if those methods aren’t how we would ideally want to parent.

    But even if yelling or spanking seems easier, it certainly isn’t better.  Violence towards our children – in words or deed – isn’t okay. It escalates our stress, it makes our children afraid or worried, and it clouds whatever messages we were trying to send to our kids – because all they’re focusing on is our anger or avoiding being hit or yelled at. I think that most parents understand this and don’t want to resort to violence – whether as a planned out form of discipline, a knee-jerk reaction, or even a last-resort method. But it's not always easy, and it takes awareness, and practice. And more practice.


    So, how can we reconcile the desire of “needing to discipline” our children with an innate feeling of wanting to maintain a peaceful home and raise open, empathetic, and loving children? What CAN we do instead of spank to get our message across? And what options are there instead of yelling to get your frustration out and be heard?  How do we get beyond the feeling of wanting to act angrily, and into actually acting peacefully?


    Here are some ideas that I’ve used to help calm down when I’m angry, and help me move towards creatively disciplining, without resorting to spanking or outbursts. It doesn’t always work – I’m not perfect – but I’m trying every day to be a better parent.


    When you know better, you can do better! And our children (and ourselves) will all be better for our efforts.



    Calming techniques & alternatives to spanking for parents AND kids:


    Count to Ten. Or Twenty. Or One Hundred if need be. Whatever number you need to reach in order to gain some distance between anger and action. You can do this out loud in order to better focus your anger on counting instead of what you were about to scream instead – or – do it in your mind as a metal exercise in patience.  Sometimes the sudden Silence Of Mom will get kids’ attention, too. They might ask you what you’re doing. And even participate. End tantrum. Begin teaching.


    Walk Away. If mental distance (a la counting) doesn’t work, try actually separating yourself from the situation. Tell your children – as calmly as possible – what you are doing, so that they can understand (and hopefully model in the future!), “I am feeling REALLY frustrated. I’m going to take a break.” Try NOT to put any blame on this statement – as in, “I’m going away because you guys are acting like maniacs!!!!” Of course, this may in fact be true, but screaming it as you’re separating defeats the purpose of calmly removing yourself from the frustrating situation in order to calm down and at the same time, puts bad, and potentially damaging feelings out there. You can scream it in your head whilst walking away. Or… see the next idea:


    Scream into a pillow. Seriously, this works. Just make sure you didn’t slam the door on the way into your bedroom towards the pillow into which you’re about to scream. :) Once screaming is done, tell yourself you’ve released all that negative energy, take a deep breath filled with positivity, splash some water on your face, and re-greet the situation refreshed. Chances are in the meantime, everyone else has cooled down a bit too.


    Relocate. If your child is old enough (and calm enough), ask her to remove herself from the situation to calm down. Not in a punitive way, as in “go to your room!”, but in a suggestive, empowering way like, “I see you’re feeling frustrated.  Maybe you’d like to take some time away to get calm”. Once the storm has passed, you might try building a “calming down” area with your child that she designs with things that are comforting – maybe a photograph of kittens or flowers, an iPod with soothing music, a favorite book or puzzle, a soft blanket.


    Distract. Sometimes the only thing that works to break everyone out of a potentially volatile situation is simply changing the scene. Start telling a joke. Start juggling or singing or dancing or doing jumping jacks. Open the back door & walk outside. Turn on the shower or turn on the TV. Break out the bubble gum (sweetened with xylitol of course). Dump out a bucket of legos on the floor (didn’t that feel good?). Just changing it up – allowing everyone to move out of their current frame of mind, then revisiting the issue once all is calmer – often does the trick.


    Offer a choice. A choice moves the control into your children’s hands, and gives you a moment to cool off while they think about the choice presented. Even if the choice is: do you want to stop running wildly right now or do you want to leave (fill-in-the-blank-place-where-wild-running-isn’t-acceptable) right now? Of course, if said place isn’t actually fun for the child, this may backfire… but still, it gives everyone a moment to think, and if you do end up leaving, you can also offer the option of returning.


    Realize YOU have a choice.  Every moment you have a choice. You may feel like you don’t. You might feel like you HAVE to discipline in this moment. That you HAVE to “teach a lesson”. Believe me, I’ve felt that. But you *always* have a choice… and often the best choice is simply to wait it out. Get everyone calmed down by whatever method works best, and THEN talk about the behavior you didn’t like. If it’s a situation that requires immediate intervention (say running into the street or a child hurting another child), intervene swiftly and firmly (a scared voice & face really does work to alert a child to danger – better than a spanking), and separate the child from scene. Then, choose to talk about it later. You never have to spank or yell. You can always choose to do something else.


    Pretend someone is watching. If what you are about to say or do isn’t something you’d want your spouse, neighbor, best friend, mom from playgroup, (someone whose parenting opinion you *value*) to hear or see you say or do to your child… don’t do it. Instead, say or do what you’d want someone to think, “Wow, that Mom has her act together!”. I’m not saying we have to live for anyone else’s expectations, but *sometimes* feeling like someone is watching over my shoulder helps me be more measured in my response.


    Assess your (and your child’s) current state. Are you hungry or thirsty? Are you trying out a new diet or routine? Did your plans for the day not work out? Are your jeans too tight? Did your child skip his usual nap? Are your hormones out of the norm (because of pregnancy or menstruation for example)? Did you get in an argument with your spouse?  Sometimes these smallest things that seem unrelated to parenting can cause big upsets in our ability to react well to situations. Sometimes just realizing, “Hey, I didn’t get my coffee yet this morning!” and sitting down for five minutes with a hot mug of joe puts things into perspective again. The same goes for children. Potty learning, a new sleeping arrangement, starting or ending school, a new sibling, a growth spurt... all of these "little things" can have big effects on little people.


    Imagine you are your child. This is a really powerful tool. Getting in the shoes of the person with whom you’re angry is never easy… but it’s so worthwhile. If your child was looking at you, would they like what they are seeing? Would they want to be covering their ears? Are they actually able to hear what you are trying to teach, or is your message so wrapped up in being angry about behavior that they can’t hear anything other than, “you’re doing it wrong”? Imagine what you would want to hear your mother say or do at that moment – and then do it. Maybe it’s a hug, maybe an offer for a snack, a walk outside, a do-over. I can guarantee it isn’t a verbal lashing or spanking.




    Please remember that using these ideas instead of spanking or yelling doesn’t mean you don’t discipline. It just means that you are demonstrating to your children that in the face of irritation, you can be calm, measured, and in control. A tantrum isn’t enough to faze you – and kids need to feel that and see that! When they know that it’s possible not to go crazy when they are angry, they’ll begin to do it themselves (let me tell you, it is positively heavenly to hear my child yell, “I’m taking a break” than to hear other, angrier or hurtful things yelled). Once everyone is calm, THEN you can talk about whatever rules were broken or whatever misbehavior occurred, and begin to discuss logical consequences to the action if necessary. Chances are you will be able to be more fair in your assessment of the situation and children will be more open to hearing you out and wanting to fix the problem than in the midst of an angry outburst or while trying to avoid a spanking.



    Online resources on the effects of spanking; plus, gentle discipline techniques:


    Spanking: Facts and Fiction http://www.stophitting.com/index.php?page=factsnfiction


    Gentle Parenting During Toddler Tantrums  http://typical-ramblings.blogspot.com/2010/04/gentle-parenting-during-toddler.html


    101 Things to Do Instead of Yelling or Spanking http://codenamemama.com/2010/08/31/100-things-to-do-instead-of-yelling-or-spanking/



    Books to read on non-punitive discipline & keeping cool while parenting:


    ScreamFree Parenting by Edward Runkel


    Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort


    Adventures in Gentle Discipline by Hilary Flower


    Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen

    Posted: May 18 2011, 15:11 by kelly | Comments (22) RSS comment feed |
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    The Bouncing Ball and the Child's Spirit

    Remember, you are not managing an inconvenience; You are raising a human being ~ Kittie Franz


    We were shopping today at an (unnamed) big box store. My 3yo was sitting in the seat of the cart, contentedly chattering away, while my 6yo daughter was walking along side the cart, bouncing a small ball. Both of my children were conversing quietly and cheerfully with me. We were having a good time, enjoying the moment, and were on our way out. As we came around the corner of the shoe section, we were suddenly accosted by a stern, accusing voice: “You can’t bounce that ball in here. It’s against the rules.”

    (Artist: Ctd 2005  Source: Flikr) 


    My daughter, immediately stopped bouncing the ball, and concernedly looked around for the source of the voice, as did I. The closest employee to our location was bending over her work in the shoe area – and hadn’t yet made eye contact with either my daughter or me. In retrospect, I assume said employee considered it part of her work to espouse “the rules” to unsuspecting passersby. Unfortunately, in conveying said rules, she didn’t think it appropriate to direct her comment to me – the parent – she instead preferred to dole out her regulations to defenseless children.


    In the moment, I was caught off-guard, flustered (those thoughts above about appropriateness and eye contact didn’t come to me until much later). At the time, I was simply taken aback. I had been in a great mood, my kids were “behaving”, and suddenly a random person thought it acceptable to harshly correct my daughter, without addressing either her, or myself directly.  I inquired over the shoe section to the general area from where the admonishment came (we had by this time already moved away from the source of the rebuke) a meek and less-than-eloquent, “Why”? To which I received the matter-of-fact (and disembodied) reply, “Because she could hurt a guest”. I really didn’t know what to say. I’m not one for confrontation, and apparently, neither was this faceless person.


    My daughter, obviously embarrassed, had already put the ball down, and we continued walking.  After regaining a bit of my composure, I told my dear daughter that she did not, in fact, have to put the ball away. I told her it wasn’t the rule of (unnamed big box store) it was simply the rule of an individual who at that moment, felt she had the right to dictate rules. I told her she was bouncing the ball well, and if she wanted to keep doing so she could (because I know recently, she’s been working on perfecting her dribble, and she was, in fact, controlling the ball quite well). She chose not to. I told her not to feel embarrassed, and that she had done nothing wrong, and that in the future, it was okay to ask why she wasn’t allowed to bounce the ball; that she didn’t have to immediately comply. But that good feeling was gone. I felt I’d missed a moment. I was chagrined.


    Undeterred, my sweet daughter picked up a book out of our cart, started reading as she was walking, and we continued on to the check out, and before long, the irritating scene was forgotten. At least by her. I hope.

    But I didn’t forget it. It’s not the first time a “stranger” has thought it appropriate to discipline my children in front of me in a store. And it’s not the first time I didn’t have the guts to tell that person off. And the whole situation really bothers me, for a couple of reasons.

    In this, and the other instances I can think of, my children weren’t hurting anyone, they weren’t being overly loud, they weren’t damaging anything, they weren’t invading anyone else’s space. They were happily entertaining themselves while I, the adult, went about the task of shopping – which, all things considered, can be boring for small children after a certain period of time. They were simply being children: Joyous. Happy. Lighthearted. And yes, often blessedly frenetic. Perhaps my parenting style is more lax than others, but I find it hard to believe that there’s much merit in restricting children’s expression just because their childishness might irritate an intolerant adult around them.  In this instance, had my daughter been throwing the ball or bouncing it wildly, or running, or yelling, I’d have stopped her – I like to believe well before any stranger thought it necessary to intervene. But she hadn’t been. So I didn’t. Yet, I also didn’t confront the person in any of the instances – I preferred just to let it slide.  But I’m not sure that’s the best way. I’m not out to raise a generation of blind rule-followers. I want to raise children who are aware of their rights, who speak up when they have questions or are confronted, who won’t let their sprits be squashed by some grumpy curmudgeon.


    Which brings me to the last thing that bothered me: why would a person take it upon themselves to squash a child’s spirit – just because they can? It’s not just this instance. I think it happens far too often in our society. Children are routinely shushed, corralled, restrained, and restricted for the sake of placating adults – from infancy onward. The quiet babies are the “good babies”. The “good kids” are the obedient ones. The character of children is so light and open, that it makes some adults uncomfortable. But really, instead of discomfort, we need to learn from children – embrace the beauty and wonder in each moment that our children freely see and enjoy.  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we stopped worrying so much about the what ifs (she could hurt a guest) and started embracing the what ares (she’s really good at bouncing that ball). Imagine the possibilities if adults started looking at children as real, whole, people, not just as nuisances needing to be dealt with.

    Posted: Mar 01 2011, 00:44 by kelly | Comments (12) RSS comment feed |
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    Nine Parenting Truths

    In my going-on-seven years of parenting, I’ve discovered some things – seemingly universally experienced by parents – from all “sides” of the parenting spectrum: stay at home parents, working out of the home parents, homeschooling parents, attachment parents,  etc. – that no one bothered to tell me, prior to having children. Of course, when you want children, you don’t listen to anyone else anyhow because your pregnancy will be super-awesome, your birth will be a breeze, and your baby will be all sweetness and light, right? Right. So, without further ado, nine things:

    (Me... A mere ten days before my world completely changed)

    1) There is no off switch on children. Volume? Always on, and usually set to high. Movement? Always on the go unless sleeping (& oftimes not even then). Needs/requests? Always present; never ending. Certainly many needs ease a bit as children age, and all but the most urgent can usually be delayed a bit. But, especially when they're young, the urgent needs (see #2) of children really don't let up. The fact of the matter is, in spite of what you might see in pictures or hear from great-grandma’s memories, children aren’t typically quiet, they aren’t usually calm; they aren’t mini adults.  They are always on, and expect you will be as well.  The good part about this is that you learn how patient you can be. Patience, as they say, is a virtue.

    2) Taking care of sick kids is really quite challenging. It pushes the limits of your empathy and innate care-taking qualities (for details, see #3). Most especially when you also are sick (& when you're not sleeping because you're up with sick kids, and being exposed to all manner of germs picked up from every possible play surface in the universe even some that you don’t consider play surfaces but your children certainly do, like grocery store aisle floors – you likely will be), and would rather be in bed, having someone care for YOU.  But, there must be a light at the end of the tunnel.  I think there are two: First, I keep in mind that through illness, children are building their immune systems one cold at a time – getting stronger and healthier. And two, I remember my childhood illnesses with an odd fondness – being home with my mom all day while being allowed to draw and watch as much television as I wanted – I don’t much recall the illness as much as the special attention.

    3) Cleaning throw up out of the car stinks. Literally. As does cleaning throw up out of the bed in the middle of the night, or off of yourself, at any time of day. There's just no good time for puking, really, but it's particularly unappealing when it isn't yours and it's on your stuff, your person, and/or you've had about 2 hours of sleep when said cleaning is required. Trying to think of an upside to this… if there is one, please feel free to chime in.

    4) Appreciation for all you do as a parent is not readily forthcoming. Whether you work another job in addition to parenting or raising your kids is your sole vocation, no one really says thank you – not specifically, anyway. And why not? Because parenting is not really considered a job, and, big sigh, its commonplace: nearly anyone can become a parent; nearly everyone is.  Thanking someone for being a parent is like thanking someone for clipping their own toenails: Great job, keep on being human, you. And children don’t know to thank you because… well, because they’re children and, you’re just doing what you’re supposed to be doing – taking care of them. Thanks, Mom, pass the granola, and can you take me to the playground, please?
    And though it’s arguably one of the most important jobs on the planet – the maintaining of new, and hopefully functional, kind, and creative humans – it’s just a particularly thankless, underappreciated job.
    Yet, there are some periodic bonuses: sweet chubby cheeked kisses, toddler snuggles, lovely drawings with MOM scrawled across the top, spousal recognitions of job well done, strangers’ comments on how "well behaved" your children are, watching your kids achieve their own independence or success – it's enough to keep going at it each day.

    (Appreciation from my 6yo - note that it says love-together-peace-life. Man, she's awesome!)

    5) Parenting can be boring. Like glassy-eyed staring at the ceiling (or the clock counting the hours ‘til bedtime) oh my goodness when will the repetition end kind of boring. Babies are incredibly adorable, and… they don’t do anything (but they sure need a lot) – thankfully they have the big eyes and chubby thighs going for them. Toddlers are sweet as pie, and… they want to read the same book. Over. And over. It’s kind of like that knock knock joke your preschooler memorized that was really funny the first time, but not so funny the eleventy-billionth time she told it.  Boredom is just part of the deal. On the upside, this has made me more creative – both in my kid-and-adult-centered-activity-planning (i.e. finding things that can be interesting to both me AND my kids) and in my clandestine escapism (i.e. learning to tweet whilst doing the dishes), AND more able to slow down & appreciate the boring... because my children's childhood goes far too quickly.

    6) Parenting makes you tired. Bone tired. To the core. No matter that your kids are sleeping through the night or not – by that time your ability to sleep normally yourself has been so altered that you can’t sleep anyhow. No matter if your kids are older – then you’re staying up to make sure they come back home safely at night. Parenting is synonymous with exhaustion. When you go to bed at night you fall into bed. It’s a tired more deep than a day’s hike with a heavy backpack or International travel. Of course, you learn to live with it, you adjust, your kids start sleeping better, you start sleeping better… but the sleep of the parent is never the same as the sleep of the non-parent. Perhaps the good from this is how amazing a morning to myself is – sleeping in while Adam makes breakfast and plays with the children – those two extra hours of sleep never felt so good.

    7) Parenting is huge. Even when you don’t want it to be; it is everything. You are in charge – whether you want to be or not and whether your children “fail” or “succeed” – you are to blame. You make the choices, you carry the burdens. You select your children’s method of birth (or sometimes it selects you, no matter how much you prepared), your children’s method of feeding, schooling, discipline, experiences, etc. etc., and however it works out – or doesn’t – falls on you. The responsibility (as unfair as it may be since we all know nurture – or is it nature? – isn’t everything in how a child turns out. ) can be overwhelming.  It can also be liberating – realizing, as much as we want our children to be a certain way – as much as we try and succeed, or fail – our children are going to be who they are; they are resilient and amazing, in spite of us.

    Of course, the unspoken rules of parenting aren’t all negatives. There are some positives that I wasn’t told, either. Like:

    8) Watching your child figure something out is awe-inspiring. Whether it be learning to speak, crawl, walk, stack blocks, multiply, write in cursive, ride a bike… Just observing your child learn, and develop skills – particularly ones that you weren’t even directly involved in teaching – is absolutely and endlessly fascinating.  
    9) You will feel more love than you've ever felt or ever know what to do with. If you thought you loved your spouse, or your dog, or your mother... you didn't really know how deep love could be until you held a tiny baby, drifting off to sleep, who’s clutching tight to your finger in the silence of the middle of the night in the rocking chair. The smell of your baby's head is the most delicious aroma you've ever experienced and stirs a fondness so strong and lasting and bonding… the love of a parent for a child is infinite.

    So, did I leave anything out? What’s the most amazing – or challenging – thing you’ve discovered about parenting?

    Posted: Jan 10 2011, 15:04 by kelly | Comments (13) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Children | Parenting