Editor’s pick: Where punishment, not even timeout, will have no home

“All behavior is communication.” ~ Linda Hatfield, cofounder of Parenting from the Heart

spankOutLogoToday, as we celebrate SpankOut Day April 30th — an annual observance founded by the Center for Effective Discipline (now part of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center) to bring attention to the need to stop physical punishment of children and promote nonviolent discipline — I want to encourage everyone to take this movement a step further than ending spanking as a discipline method. It’s time to talk about timeout and the detrimental effects this very widespread alternative to spanking has on children, families and society.

This week’s featured article is “Why you should never use timeouts on your kids” from PBS Newshour. It is written by journalist and parenting blogger Wendy Thomas Russell who shares what she’s learned about using timeouts and why they’re really no better than hitting our kids.

“Decades of neuroscience and social research have shown that timeouts and other methods of punishment are not only ineffective in steering the behavior of children but outright damaging,” Wendy writes.

You read that right.

The fact of the matter is all punishments are damaging. It doesn’t matter if its spanking or timeout or taking away privileges or any other punishment. Every form of punishment is harmful, as Wendy reports, because “it takes the core need of the child and uses it as a bargaining chip.”

The core need she points out here is emotional attachment. Timeout separates parents and children, using the child’s emotional needs as a trade — if the child wants that attachment, he or she has to do this certain behavior, even if that behavior compromises another need, such as hunger, tiredness, or acceptance…and even if that behavior is not even developmentally appropriate for that child.

I like how Wendy describes children’s misbehavior — that children simply do not misbehave. All they do is behave, and their behavior — as so many attached parents understand — is a reflection of their needs in combination with their biological development stage. So a 2-year-old child is going to behave differently when hungry or tired or unwell or sad or angry or scared or overstimulated or bored or happy than a 6 year old or an 8 year old or an 11 year old. And it’s our job, as parents, not to punish them for their innate, biologically driven behavior but to guide them toward behaviors that help them cope with the situation.

If we look at spanking, parents who use spanking or hitting or physical punishment are hurting their children in their attempt to teach. If we look at timeout, parents are also hurting their children in their attempt to teach — through isolation and ignoring — and this type of emotional pain is just as damaging to a child as physical pain. What children are learning when they’re in pain or fear of pain is much different than what they are learning when not afraid or in pain.

Think about if you are trying to learn a new skill. Let’s say it’s painting a picture. If your painting instructor yells at you, hits you, or puts you in a corner every time you make a brush stroke she doesn’t like, what are you learning? Anxiety mostly.

If that same instructor guides you on how to hold the brush, how to put the paint on the brush, how to sweep the stroke over the canvas — exercising patience for your skill level, without punishment — what are you learning? How to paint.

Some parents may see this as a long way from trying to teach children not to do certain behaviors, but what all parents are trying to teach are actually skills — life skills. And considering that children learn more from what parents model, the skills that parents are teaching when they spank, issue timeouts, or use other punishments is to feel anxious and afraid, to expect physical or emotional pain when they approach a behavior boundary, and to react to feeling angry by controlling and coercing others.

That is violence.

Let’s promote nonviolence. And we can do it. Many parents when faced with the alternative of not spanking, using timeouts, or punishment assume that there are no ways to discipline their children. But discipline does not equal punishment. There are far more ways to discipline a child without punishment than with, and to be honest, nonviolent discipline is far more effective than punishment in teaching children — every time.

Many, many, many parents who have done both punishment and positive discipline will tell you this. The problem is, many parents who use punishments and who criticize positive discipline have never really tried doing the latter. If they did, they are bound to learn what Sarah Clark at Mothering learned — that positive discipline works and doesn’t turn our children into brats and heathens, but rather into some really amazing kids motivated out of attachment, which is far more powerful than fear.

But it does take a definite learning curve for parents to learn to discipline without punishment. There’s a lot more at stake than simply changing their parenting behaviors regarding discipline. How each of us react when angry or feeling another strong emotion is tied into our own neurobiology shaped by how we ourselves were raised, and even how our parents were raised, as well as the generation we grew up in and the community and society we knew then. Punishment is rooted in a worldview that goes way beyond the moment a parent feels angry and strikes her child or shuts his child, screaming and begging (even if not out loud) to come out, in his room.

All this to say that as we gently push our society toward positive, emotionally healthy relationships, we have to be patient with one another. We have to recognize how far society has come, and while it has a long way to go, we are making progress — bit by bit — through this Attachment Parenting movement. As parents and professionals hear more and more, from mainstream media especially, about the ever-mounting research of the negative effects of spanking, timeouts and other punishments — more parents will be willing to go through the hard work of addressing their often generations-deep perspectives on what it means to have a healthy relationship and to change their hearts toward parenting.

I applaud every parent who is on this journey toward a more trusting, empathic, affectionate, joyful, and peaceful family where punishment will some day have no home.

attachment is everythingEven $5 makes a huge difference to furthering the Attachment Parenting movement, which relies exclusively on donations, to continue providing free education and support to parents around the world

Parent-child conflict resolution

elisaheadshotBy Elisa Llamido, a producer, actress and writer and the creator of “The Perfect Pregnancy Workout vol. 3: The Ancient Art of Belly Dance for Labor,” living in Orlando, Florida, USA, with her husband, 19-year-old stepson, 5-year-old son and four frogs

My 5-year-old son and I were on our way in to the grocery store when I suddenly realized that he wasn’t beside me. I turned back to see him standing on the sidewalk transfixed, staring at the scene unfolding before him.

A mother had been calling to her toddler to come out of the store, but he didn’t want to come. There was a large scale inside of the door, and he liked climbing on it and seeing the numbers move. There was clearly a difference in priorities here.

What caught my son’s attention was her closing gambit: “You’re not coming? OK, BYE!” She turned and walked out without him. The little boy quickly dropped what he was doing and ran after her, terrified of losing her.

My son, Jason, couldn’t take his eyes off of the scene. His horrified expression made his face a frozen mask.

“Why did she say, ‘Bye!’?” he asked.

I tried to explain it away. “She probably has somewhere that she needs to go and she doesn’t want to wait anymore,” I told him.

I realized that this me-centric explanation wouldn’t be enough for my kid. “She doesn’t really want to leave him, but she said this because she wants him to come now,” I said. Since one of the things that we work on in our house is not doing things to try to manipulate others, that sounded even worse. I grasped wildly for an explanation that would mollify my son, but I came up with nothing. We both stood, watching and waiting for the rest of the drama to unfold.

We didn’t have to wait long. The boy ran out of the store to the sidewalk, where his mother grabbed him by the upper arm and attempted to pull him so he would walk to the car faster. The toddler promptly sat down on the ground, in a last effort of defiance. Now the mother pulled harder, yanking him to his feet and dragging him, stumbling to the car.

I heard crying. It wasn’t coming from the stumbling boy. There was another witness to the scene, another towheaded moppet who was watching as the pair made its way through the parking lot. I glanced from Jason to the previously unseen witness. Wow, they’re really upset.

After they walked away, Jason suddenly reanimated and started walking into the store again, but this time he had a million questions. Why did she say that? Why did she do that? Did she hurt him? Why was she so mean to him? Was she his Mommy?

I realized that to Jason, and likely to the other little witness, this scene made absolutely no sense. They put themselves in the other boy’s shoes and couldn’t see any reason why the person who was supposed to love and care for him suddenly turned mean.

I confess that I could easily relate to why the mother did what she did. It had probably been a long day, she had probably run into the store for one forgotten item that she needed to make dinner and she just didn’t have time to wait for lollygagging. Add that to any sleep deprivation that many parents experience, and I think any adult could understand what she was feeling.

But not the kids.

Little children are gifted with the joy of living completely in the moment. They don’t understand deadlines and schedules, and their birthday or winter holiday is an eternity away. Time doesn’t mean anything. So when passing by a scale, there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t climb on it. They’re here, and there’s a scale that has a hand that moves up and down when you jump on the plate. If you asked them, they’d tell you that they couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t stop to check it out, even though you have to get home to make dinner. They may never get the chance to play on this scale again.

It’s a question of priorities.

When I’m able to adopt my son’s outlook, I feel much happier. This week, I stopped on my way into a store to snap a photo of a double rainbow on my phone and then stood and looked at it a moment, savoring it, knowing that in a minute it would be gone forever.

Before becoming a parent, I was so caught up in trying to get ahead that I dismissed anything done just for pleasure as frivolous. One of my son’s many gifts to me is that he makes me stop in my break-neck pace of deadlines and stress to look at a bug or see a bird in the yard. I realize that it’s important to stop and take in the beauty of these everyday miracles, including the miracle of the big scale at the supermarket exit.

At the same time, we adults do live in a world of schedules and we need to find a way to balance this while taking our kids’ priorities into consideration so that we can create a win-win situation where both sides feel like they get what they need.

Instead of going head-to-head with her son, the hurried mom could have spent the extra minute that she spent dragging him through the parking lot making a compromise: “We’ve got to get home to make dinner, sweetheart, so 10 more jumps on the scale and then it’s time to go.” She could then count backward as he jumped so that he’d know when his time was up. That way, he’d feel as though he was allowed to do something that he wanted, even if it wasn’t as long as he wanted to do it.

Or, if she was really in a hurry, she could have offered something more fun than the scale.

I am an athletic mom, so it’s always been easy for me to squat down, show my son my back and offer a ride. “The Mommy Train is leaving the station!” I’d call out when my son was younger, then make a door closing “Rheeeee!’ sound. My son could never resist, and he’d run over to jump on my back for a quick ride to the car. Or, if he didn’t jump on, I could scoop him up making big sound effects and then swing him around — with more sound effects, of course — as I carried him off, laughing. Now that he’s older, I can usually tempt him with a race to the car.

My friend, Cynthia, has a bad back and can’t carry her daughter, so she came up with her own invention of getting her little girl moving. Her daughter was captivated watching a marching band once, so now when she needs her to move quickly, she calls out, “OK, it’s time to march! Let’s march! Let’s march!” and her daughter quickly forgets everything else in her haste to fall in line and march after her mom.

Before I became a mother I was apprehensive about parent-child conflict. I’d seen so many of these confrontations in public places, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. My mom gave me her advice: “An adult should always be able to outsmart a child. We have experience. We have fully formed brains. If you can’t find a way to get a child to do what they need to do happily, you need to try harder.”

Does that mean that kids will always be reasonable? No, of course not. There are some times when they want something that they just can’t have.

My son used to want to operate heavy construction machinery. It’s just not possible, and he would get very upset. At those times, I would hold him close as he cried and let him know that I understood his frustration: “I know, honey. It would be so cool to push the levers on that truck! I want to do it, too! But we can’t. It’s not our truck.” He would cry for a moment, and then it would be over. He knew that I understood him.

I glanced at him now as we walked. His eyes were toward me now, looking for answers. I told him the truth as I saw it: “That Mommy was probably tired. She needed to get home soon and was in a hurry, so she tried to get him to leave. When he didn’t want to go, she grabbed him and made him go.”

Jason’s eyes were fixed on me now, riveted. I was confirming the horror that he thought he saw. And then I added, “I don’t agree with the way that she did that, and I would never do that to you.”

“I know, Mommy,” he answered. I then asked him, “What did you think of what you saw?” and he replied, “I don’t think she should have done that.”

Questions answered, his eyes left my face and he went back to his normal mode, contentedly observing the world around him and looking for exciting things to explore. I touched his shoulder in a gesture to satisfy my need for closeness after talking about something that disturbed him.

I wondered if that mom and son had resolved their differences as they got to the car. I hoped so.

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