Positive discipline: The ‘golden rule’ of parenting

“From the attachment parenting perspective, positive discipline embodies the ‘golden rule’ of parenting: In other words, treat children the way you would want to be treated if you were the child.

Positive discipline is an overarching concept based on the understanding that when a child is treated respectfully within loving, age-appropriate boundaries, he will develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and empathy for others.

Positive discipline is rooted in a secure, trusting, and loving relationship between parent and child.” ~ Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children by Barbara Nicholson & Lysa Parker

Learn 25 tried-and-true tips for positive discipline, and so much more in this definitive guide to attachment parenting written by API’s cofounders. Purchase your copy through the Amazon link above to have a portion of the proceeds benefit Attachment Parenting International.

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

You can do it: You are strong enough to stop spanking

Editor’s note: April 30 was Spankout Day, an international observance designed to encourage parents to stop spanking. Attachment Parenting International‘s Seventh Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline advocates against physical punishment and further supports parents to move away from the punishing mindset.

i-love-you-795734-mThere is another way.

You don’t have to spank your kids to discipline them. Or hit. Or smack. Or swat. Or slap. Or give a good whoopin’.

You don’t have to do timeouts. Or threats. Or counting 1-2-3.

You don’t even have to yell.

Yeah, you’ll still get angry with your children. But you don’t have to do the cultural norm to raise your children to be respectful, well-behaved and with good character and moral values.

There is another way.

For parents brand-new to the idea of positive discipline, it may seem really intense at first. You have to learn a whole new way of seeing your child, your child’s intentions, yourself and your childhood — not to mention a whole new way of looking at discipline and, for some parents, child rearing as a whole.

But, wow, is it ever worth it.

It’s like stepping out of the matrix, or stepping into an alternate reality — one of freedom from the status quo, of freedom from anger and fear and the surge of emotion that comes around right before you spank your child.

Eons ago, when I was a new parent and I tried spanking, it at first seemed like the way to go. My child just ran out into the street. I yelled at her to stop, but she didn’t. I felt fear, but also anger at her “defiance.” A quick spank seemed like just what was needed at the moment. After all, I justified that my child needed to learn to listen and obey out of safety. And that spanking did get my child’s attention. She was terrified.

My daughter wasn’t scared of running out into the street, though. She was actually scared of me — her mother.

That’s really stressful for kids and their development. Children are wired to require attachment to their parents for survival. Feeling consistently scared of a parent and being securely attached to that same parent is not possible. That’s how insecure attachment happens: Infants and young children alter the way they behave around their parents in order to maintain some sort of attachment, out of a need for survival, even if that type of attachment isn’t ideal.

Secure attachment is ideal. Secure attachment means that children trust that they can approach their parent with any of their emotions, even anger or sadness or “defiance,” without fear of rejection. In insecure attachment, a child has learned that a parent’s reaction to the child’s emotions, including “defiance,” is scary. The child may react by avoiding the parent in stressful situations, becoming withdrawn or overly anxious, or developing another learned pattern of indirect and emotionally distressing behavior to cope with that fear. Insecure attachment can make for a stressful parent-child relationship over time, with more acting-out, anxiety, withdrawal or other behaviors as the child grows older. But the effect of insecure attachment doesn’t stop there: This way of attaching is how the child will respond in stressful situations in every relationship throughout his life, including marriage, parenting, even on the job.

When parents spank, it “works” because the kids are scared of the parent. That’s not the same thing as respect. But there are many parents who spank and are OK with the idea of their kids being scared of them and reacting to situations out of fear. And there is no law (in the United States) against spanking.

But be careful. Once we start hitting our children, our empathy is removed a bit. We don’t see them the same. It’s way easier to spank the next time, and to spank harder and multiple times. It’s way easier to let that anger in ourselves grow, so that we’re quicker to get angry, quicker to react in anger. It’s way easier to allow that anger, fed by the quick release in spanking our children, to take over our lives.

Spanking is a release of our, the parent’s, anger. Anger needs an outlet. It doesn’t just disappear. It’s either got to find a way out, safely or not, or it will sit in you and fester. It’ll destroy a person. That’s where anger management problems come from, but also sometimes depression or other emotional issues. Mismanaged anger, whether released or stuffed inside, is like cancer of our emotions.

When I did spank, eons ago, I found that anger did take over my life. Outwardly, to others, I was just as happy and outgoing. But when I was with my kids, I found it way easier to spank, way easier to spank harder, way easier to give more than one spanking at a time, way easier to yell, way easier to punish, way more tempting to do other types of physical punishments. And way harder to just enjoy them and accept their uniqueness and to feel empathy toward them and compassion for their strong emotions, including anger or sadness, and to see them in a positive way and to just enjoy being a parent.

So be careful with your anger.

Anger is not a bad emotion. It’s natural. It’s OK that you as a parent gets mad. It’s OK that your kid gets mad. It’s OK that your spouse or boss or friend gets mad. What is not OK is what we might do with our anger.

I stepped out of the matrix. I found my way out. Anyone can do it, too.

You’ll need to learn to control your own anger. You got to live your life the way you want your kids to live theirs. You got to be very careful to avoid hypocrisy, especially in how you handle anger and conflict resolution. Kids live what you model. In everything.

You’ll need to learn how to be an expert at emotion-coaching. You got to learn how to identify and name your emotions. You got to explore the real reasons — think back to your own childhood or life biases — about why you feel angry or fearful or embarrassed or disappointed in any given situation. Check out Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman.

You’ll need to learn how to let your creativity out. Positive discipline is hugely about a secure parent-child relationship, but also hugely about problem-solving. Read all manner of positive discipline books to learn the, literally, hundreds of ways to discipline your child without spanking. My favorites are Attached at the Heart by API Cofounders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, Judy Arnall’s books Discipline Without Distress and her new Parenting with Patience, and Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

Here’s something that is critical, for anyone learning a new skill: Find a mentor — someone who has been using positive discipline for years, preferably someone who has older kids whose behavior is that you admire — and lean on that mentor day in and day out for questions, for modeling your parenting approach and for reassurance that your kids don’t need to be spanked to turn out to be great kids. A local API Leader is a great person to give support in this role.

I know from experience that stopping spanking can be hard. It can be challenging to change habits, and it can be difficult to trust in positive discipline when the only experience you have is spanking and punishments. But you can do it. You are strong enough.

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