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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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    How to Stop a Tantrum

    When a child is having a tantrum, is it really our job as a parent to physically stop that tantrum or punish a child for having one? I say no. Our job is to acknowledge the tantruming child’s upset, to give them words for feelings they may not have experienced before (or just don’t know how to express), to help guide their anger or frustration or extra energy in a productive way, and to keep them and those around them safe in the process.  But those emotions - expressed as a temper tantrum - they BELONG to your child, not to you. You aren’t responsible for your child’s feelings, and It isn’t your job to stop them emoting. You are responsible for keeping them safe, but curtailing or punishing expression of emotion isn’t healthy in the short or long term!

    A tantrum is an expulsion of energy and emotion from a child who doesn’t yet have a full understanding of the range of human emotions, nor the knowledge or control to express them in a reasonable manner. Sometimes a tantrum comes from a child wanting to say something, but not having the right words. Sometimes they are overstimulated. Sometimes, they’re just plain tired. Kids are NEW to all of these things - excitement, fear, large groups of people, boredom, jealousy, anger, frustration, feeling super tired but not being in their bed… and the list goes on. Children are new to the WORLD! They are still learning - everything.  

    Of course, tantrums aren’t fun. And they usually aren’t convenient. But they are normal, and can be awesome learning experiences!  Here are some ideas to help you help your child navigate a tantrum:

    1) Practice patience. Both for yourself, and for your child. Seeing you calm in the midst of her storm is an awesome lesson to be teaching. Remember no tantrum lasts forever; this storm will pass - so it’s really okay to allow your child room and to express themselves. As long as they aren’t in danger of being hurt, or hurting someone else, there’s no harm in kicking the floor for a bit. If it’s upsetting to you, give yourself some space. If you’re worried about your child getting hurt, gently move them to a safer spot, or if they’re bigger, suggest they move themselves (this is something that’s great to be talked about ahead of time - when things are calm - choosing a “calming spot” or a place that’s okay to kick around in).

    2) Acknowledge their feelings. Let them know you understand through your words & actions (and in doing so, you’re giving them words to describe how they feel) by describing what you see:

    I see you are upset because I didn’t let you have a cookie.

    I can tell you’re really frustrated because the game didn’t end up the way you wanted.

    I know you’re not feeling great right now because your friend can’t come play.

    I hear you are really angry because I changed my mind about our plans.

    3) Empathize. When you’re not feeling good, it helps to know you’re not alone. Let your child know you’ve been there:

    I know how it feels to be mad; I get mad sometimes too.

    It isn’t fun when we have to stop playing; I don’t like to be interrupted either.

    It stinks to feel left out.

    4) Accept them. Let them know it’s okay, emotions are normal, and that no matter what happens, you love them:

    It’s okay to feel bad sometimes, and it won’t last forever.

    It’s alright that you’re upset, that’s normal to feel that way when something happens that you don’t like.

    It’s okay to get angry at me, I love you even when you’re angry.

    5) Wait. You DON’T have to teach anything in the middle of a tantrum. You can wait it out. Once the storm has passed… THEN you can talk about what happened. Or, you can leave it. Sometimes a kid just needs a release, and moving on can be in everyone’s best interest. A hug, a high five, or a pat on the back, then continuing with your day may be just what’s needed. Another time, apart from the emotional event might be a better point to discuss what to do next time.

    If and when you do choose to talk about the tantrum, here are some ideas:

    1) Remember the good stuff. Don’t hang on to the bad feelings or even the why’s of what happened, instead, bring up what they did right.  If your child used words you’ve been working on, praise them for that, if they took themselves to their quiet area without being reminded, let them know you appreciated that:

    I heard you say that you were really frustrated. Thank you so much for using those words, I really understood what you were feeling!

    I noticed that when you were so angry, you went up to your room. I bet you felt proud to recognize your feelings and choose to move yourself to your calming spot.

    I saw you kicked your pillow instead of your sister. That was really good self control, thank you for not hurting anyone.

    2) Suggest alternatives. If your child tends to be destructive during a tantrum - throwing or breaking things or kicking, think about some things that they could physically do that would be OKAY with you, like (suggesting SOFT stuff ahead of time may help direct their behaviors towards those things):

    Hitting a pillow or punching a punching bag

    Lying on the bed or couch & kicking

    Tossing/kicking stuffed animals into a laundry basket

    3) Talk about prevention. It’s amazing to see a child recognize they are getting angry or upset, and refocus their energy BEFORE they have a tantrum. It is possible! Giving your kids some ideas for getting their feelings out without hurting themselves, others, or damaging things around them. Let them know those feelings are real, but they will pass, particularly if they are able to focus them onto something else. Some ideas:

    Building a fort with pillows and blankets

    Rolling, pounding, sculpting clay or playdoh

    Drawing - can be about how they feel or not - just the action of drawing can help

    Weaving potholders or rainbow loom rubber band bracelets

    Stacking blocks or building legos

    Acting out how they feel or what happened to make them feel angry/sad with dolls/Barbies

    Meditating or reading

    When we are tired as adults, we take ourselves to a place we can rest. We we are frustrated or angry, we say so. When we’re overstimulated, we say goodnight, and leave the party. ;) We’ve had years and years of practice at recognizing how we feel, and learning how to curb it, act on it productively, or express it without hurting others or ourselves - emotionally or physically (and sometimes, we even fail). Your kids are new at all of this. Give them the tools to succeed and... give them time to figure it out. Work with them to find solutions, and things will get easier.



    Posted: Nov 25 2013, 23:45 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Spanking Your Children is Not Okay

    Society reaps what it sows in the way it nurtures children... ~Dr. Martin Teicher

    You may have heard of the Texas judge who’s been in the news recently, because his (now adult) daughter, posted a video she’d taken of him beating her (and her mother participating and egging him on) as a 16-year-old. If you haven’t seen the video, here is a link to an article that Annie (at PhdinParenting.com/Care2.com) wrote about it. **TRIGGER WARNING** For those of you who have experienced childhood trauma/abuse, please be warned that the video is graphic, and very difficult to watch.  As of the latest news, this man is not being charged with any crime.

    To be frank, I don’t think spanking or physical discipline of any kind is a tool that any parent needs in their toolbox. There are far too many negatives, and no benefits to keeping such an antiquated method of discipline around, even as a “last resort”. There are far more creative and effective and less hurtful methods of guiding and teaching children available.  I’ve written about things you can do instead of spanking. but I’ve sat on my hands when it comes to really speaking out loudly against spanking because… I want to believe that at the heart of most parents who say things like (as overheard on Twitter, Facebook, message boards, and real life): “I spank because… it’s necessary” or “…children need discipline” or “…their father isn’t around, so I need to keep them under control” or “…sometimes you have to get their attention” or “…I’d never hit an older child, but younger kids don’t have the ability to understand anything other than a quick spank” or “…the bible/God says…” or “…(I have to let them know) I’m the boss” or “…culturally, it’s a requirement” or “…I only spank when I’m not angry” or “…I spank out of love” or “…I only do it in an emergency”... is a parent with love for their children, and a desire to parent well. I've avoided using inflammatory language: hitting, smacking, beating, abuse, in favor of the less hackles-raising “spanking” because I recognize that understanding differences is the key to changing minds, and if someone just closes their ears to you, they're not learning, and you're not teaching.

    But, when I see news like this, when I see a father on video, BEATING HIS CHILD, who is not getting punished for his actions; when I realize he’s only one of thousands (millions?) of parents who still hit their children and think it’s okay, I can’t stay silent. I can’t believe that this type of behavior still happens. I can’t believe there are parenting books still on the market advocating physical punishment as an acceptable form of discipline. I can’t believe there are still so many parents ready to defend the act of hitting a child. I can’t believe spanking is still legal. I can't believe this man isn't going to be brought to justice for what he did to his daughter.

    Plainly speaking: It is NOT OKAY to hit, spank, beat, whip, smack your child. Ever.

    Spanking is not alright. It’s not acceptable discipline. It’s not appropriate. It’s not necessary. It isn’t legal when it’s done to adults; it isn’t legal when it’s done to animals. It shouldn’t be legal to hit children – even in the name of discipline.

    I understand we all make mistakes, we all get pushed to our limits, we may not always live up to exactly the ideal image of mother/parent that we have in our minds-eye. But, to use spanking as a deliberate and regular form of discipline is reprehensible.  When you spank a child, as an adult, you are either a) out of control or b) misguided and undereducated about the negative repercussions that come from using violence as discipline. 

    There is AMPLE evidence that violence begets violence. Children who are spanked are more likely to express themselves through violence – that means hitting you, hitting their siblings, hitting their classmates; and are more likely to grow up to be abusers themselves.

    I KNOW you don’t want this for your children.  There are OTHER WAYS to guide your children, rather than resorting to violence. Really. REALLY.

    You know it doesn’t feel good when you hit your child (if it does, you’re likely not reading this, or, if you are, and it does feel good when you hit your child, please stop reading, and PLEASE GET HELP NOW – talk to someone, a counselor, a friend, a clergy person, someone; your child will thank you for the rest of their lives). Maybe it hurts you. Maybe it makes you feel sick.  Maybe you feel guilty or ashamed.  Maybe you want to change, but you don’t know how.  Maybe you feel like you won’t be an effective parent without spanking. I know it's difficult, particularly if your parents spanked you, and "you turned out okay".  

    The bottom line is that you don’t need to feel that way anymore because you DON’T NEED TO USE SPANKING AS DISCIPLINE anymore. You have a choice.  You can change.  Your children NEED you to change.  You have the power to show your children that no matter what they’ve done, you still love them. No matter how angry you are, you can control yourself.  You want your children to behave, but they can’t if they don’t feel good, if they don’t feel loved.  When you spank your child, they don’t understand the distinction you’ve created in your mind that spanking is necessary and loving discipline, they only feel pain, fear, shame, and anger.  They don’t deserve to feel that way, no matter what the misdeed.  All children deserve gentle guidance in a home filled with peacefulness and love. Show your children with your own words and actions how you’d like them to live, and they will follow you. If you show them how to hurt, they will hurt.

    Children who feel right, act right. Children who don’t, won’t. They can’t. If violence is what they’ve been shown and taught, then violence is how they will express themselves.  Hurt and anger and pain is what they will associate with you and they may spend their lives trying to get away from it – and you. Maybe this manifests itself in “good/obedient behavior” as children, but as teens and adults, it will likely evidence as acting out, experimentation with dangerous behavior, distance, and separation.  Don’t do that to your children.

    So, what can you do?

    1) If you can’t think of anything to do (other than spank), do nothing.  It’s okay to walk away until you’re calm. Really. The message you wanted to convey by spanking, that lesson you wanted to teach? It will still be teachable after the heat-of-the-moment has passed. I suggest that a child who feels calm will be more receptive to talking about a misdeed than one who is afraid of being hit, or who has just been hit. Think about this in terms of your own life.  Are you more likely to be receptive to…. a) your boss storming into your office yelling about a mistake you made, or,  b) your boss telling you about a mistake you made & asking if you’d come to his office later to talk about what you can do differently next time…? 

    We both know it’s B. Children are no different; humans are humans, and respectful, peaceful discourse is always the better route to go.  Give yourself a time out, cool off, regroup.

    2) Use your words. With emphasis, but without hurt.  We always ask our children to use their words instead of resorting to tantruming, screaming, yelling, kicking, biting, throwing. Yet, when you spank your child, you’re not using your words, your having a tantrum yourself – only you’re taking it out on your child. Instead of spanking, tell your child that you are angry, sad, disappointed, whatever. Say what you need to say clearly, loudly… but do it without hitting them (keeping in mind that hitting can be done with words, not just hands, so tread carefully here). Say to your child what YOU are feeling.  And, like #1, if you can’t think of anything to do (or, in this case, say, other than spanking – with words or with hands), then walk away until you’re calm.

    3) Take and give a time out.  Tell your child that you’re going to take a time out, and ask them to do the same. This doesn’t mean forcefully lock them in their room, or restrict them to a naughty spot or time out chair. A time out is just what it sounds like: a time to step away from overwhelming emotions, to take a moment OUTside of the anger that you’re feeling.  It isn’t punitive, it’s learning (and teaching!) how to separate yourself and your responses from your children’s actions. You don’t have to respond in a super-emotionally-charged way to your children’s misbehaviors – and it’s better for them if you don’t. If you take a time out to get composed and think about a measured response, you’re teaching a lesson much greater than the lesson you’d have taught by spanking.

    4) Forgive. 
    Forgive not only your child’s misbehavior – they’re just learning about this world, remember? But forgive YOURSELF for whatever you’ve done in the past. Try to forgive whatever may have been done to YOU in the past, and realize that you have the power to change, to break the cycle, starting now. I learn every day about forgiveness from my children – they are so open, so willing to accept that people make mistakes. Hug them, forgive them, forgive yourself and realize every moment is a new moment for starting anew and trying again. 

    Spanking is never necessary. You are the adult, you can make a choice – starting now, regardless of whatever has gone on in the past – to stop spanking, and start guiding your child with more gentleness and empathy. Your children, and your children's children are depending on you.

    If you want to learn more about the effects of spanking, and things you can do to discipline your children WITHOUT spanking, here are some great starting points:

    Ten Reasons Not To Hit Your Child: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/discipline-behavior/spanking/10-reasons-not-hit-your-child

    Plain Talk About Spanking: http://nospank.net/pt2011.htm

    Gentle Discipline That Works: http://www.beliefnet.com/Health/2007/03/Gentle-Discipline-That-Works.aspx

    Ten Reasons Not To Hit Your Kids: http://www.naturalchild.org/jan_hunt/tenreasons.html

    Posted: Nov 04 2011, 18:46 by kelly | Comments (13) RSS comment feed |
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    Getting Beyond Punishment

    One of my resolutions this year is to more effectively & consistently use peaceful, positive discipline with my children.  I strive to connect with them, and teach (the right message) with every interaction; even if that interaction is one of a corrective/disciplinary nature.  Teaching children a certain behavior is undesirable doesn’t have to include anger, punishment, shame, or isolation. And it should include empathy, kindness, and natural consequences. I don’t achieve perfection every time, and do make mistakes. But I strive to learn from my parenting mistakes, to forgive myself for those I make, and move on with better tools in my toolbox (and leave the ones that don’t work in the garbage).


    Positive discipline is so important to fostering not just good behavior in children, but more importantly, in developing a fully functional internal guidance system. What distresses me, is that for the overwhelming attitude of adults, “well behaved” is the penultimate goal for children. And because of this belief, any and every method should be used to achieve this in your children.  Punitive or not. Logical or not. I believe it’s a misguided objective, and leads ultimately to frustration. Unfortunately, it begins in babyhood with most - with the unreasonable expectation of producing a “good” baby: one who doesn’t fuss, and who sleeps through the night – and continues on through childhood with the “good” child who doesn’t talk back or tantrum or rebel. It’s as though people have forgotten that when babies cry, and children test limits, they do so from a natural, normal place of need: needing to be held, needing attention, needing to be gently guided. They are asking to be taught, not punished. They don’t come into this world knowing anything. And so, every interaction we have with them teaches them something.  Don’t we want to make sure that what we’re teaching is what we actually want them to learn? 


    I fear that in an effort to make children more convenient, parents are resorting punishments and techniques aimed at quieting instead of actually parenting, and teaching: getting to the root of what the baby is trying to say or what the child is trying to learn or express.  Take “cry it out” for example, used rampantly by parents as a means of “teaching” babies to sleep.  While it may work in the short term – and achieve (at least temporarily) the goal of the quiet sleeping baby, it hasn’t actually taught the baby the intended lesson. Baby didn’t learn that sleep is a peaceful state, or to willingly go to bed.  Instead, baby has learned that no one comes when they cry, so stop crying.  That nighttime is a time of loneliness and discomfort.  What this translates to in the long term is a sense of defeatism, lowered self worth, and detachment from parents.  It may achieve a quiet “good” baby, but at what cost?


    The same goes for the typical punishments of childhood: spanking, parent-determined consequences, and coerced/enforced/isolation timeouts. Don’t hit, or I’ll spank you.  Don’t talk back or I’ll put you in a time out & I’ll tell you when to get out.  Certainly, the hypocrisy of hitting as a punishment for hitting is obvious. But what about the less obvious parent-determined punishments like timeouts?  I say that punitive discipline (as opposed to natural/logical consequences) only serve to teach children this: Don’t do what parents don’t want you to do; with one big caveat: while they’re watching.  You see, unless you teach children WHY hitting isn’t an acceptable form of expressing frustration – and unless you give them alternative methods of expression, they WILL continue to hit, they’ll just do it when mom isn’t looking.  Kids may appear to behave, but unless they have an understanding of why, and how, the “good behavior” is in appearance only.  Wouldn’t you rather a child have the ability to self-control, instead of behaving only due to external control? A kid who can understand that we don’t hit because it hurts another person, and hurting another person feels awful to me, and to them, and instead I should walk away before I hit, or use my words to express my frustration, is SO MUCH better prepared for life than the child who doesn’t hit because Mom is in the room & doesn’t want to get in trouble. 


    To this effort, I strive for more thoughtfulness, and less reactivity in my responses to my childrens’ unwanted behaviors. I keep a keen eye on my own actions and responses, as children learn most from what they see & do than from what they hear.  I DO tolerate more that perhaps is typically expected, because I don’t think just “being good” is good enough for my kids, or for me as a parent.  I expect my children to learn from their behavior as I learn from mine. In my previous post, I mentioned the Positive Discipline parenting cards.  The one I chose for this week seems appropriate to this post:

    If you're interested in positive discipline, and getting away from punishment, you may find these articles & sites helpful:

    Positive Discipline Methods
    What is Discipline?
    How Children Really React to Control
    The Case Against Time-Out

    Posted: Jan 07 2010, 12:11 by kelly | Comments (7) RSS comment feed |
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