Natural and Logical Consequences in Non-Punitive Parenting

As non-punitive parents,  natural and logical consequences are a big part of the process of teaching our children.

The difference between natural/logical consequences and punishment may seem minimal to some but it has a big impact in non-punitive parenting. The problem is that both of these can be used as punishments as well as being simple teaching tools.

I also often see the terms being confused and being used in ways that no longer fit within the realm of non-punitive parenting (in places that non-punitive parenting is the goal).

Here is an example I saw recently: “My child would not pick up his toys when I asked so the natural consequence was that the toys be taken away.” Or: “My child refused to put his coat on before so the natural consequence was that he was cold later in the day.”

This is a great example to show how the terms are being misused or used as a punishment. Taking away toys that are left out is not a natural consequence, nor is it a logical consequence. It is a punishment. It is a punishment that related to the situation, but it is still nothing more then a punishment. And, yes, the natural consequence of not putting a coat on is that you might get cold, but if you can predict an uncomfortable circumstance then you are using the natural consequence as a punishment also.

So, what is a natural consequence? Simply put, it is what happens without any outside manipulation. Natural consequences can be positive or negative and are a direct result of a situation. Some natural consequences are immediate and some can or cannot be foreseen.

Logical consequences on the other hand are consequences that are manipulated by another person. To be effective and non-punitive they need to be related, respectful, reasonable. They are used in most cases to either prevent a foreseeable natural consequence or to rectify a situation. A logical consequence will often not feel like a punishment to either the adult or the child and it will in many cases be what becomes a naturally self-imposed consequence (or solution) as an adult.

So with the above situation, the natural consequence of not putting toys away would simply be that the toys will simply stay on the ground until they are picked up. Some may say that the natural consequence is that the toys will get broken or stepped on. And, yes. That *could* happen, but it is not a guarantee.

So what is a non-punitive parent to do in this situation? Well, first you can explain why you would like the toys to be picked up and since you know that there is a possibility that the toys could be broken if left out, you can point that out and ask the child to find a solution on their own, or find a solution together. It could be for the kids to pick the toys up on their own. You could ask them to help you pick the toys up. They could keep the toys contained to a space so that they do not need to be picked up. You could work together to reduce the number of toys so that there will be less toys to pick up or simply not let as many toys come into the house to begin with…. and well… you get the idea… . All families are different and each situation is different and may need different solutions (without ever using punishment). These are all logical consequences, and as I said, logical consequences often become self imposed solutions later on. So a direct example of this is my husband Simon who likes to play board games which can often take hours to play. Having it on the kitchen table would mean that the kids might touch or that he will have to put it away before finishing because we need the table, so the solution he found was to put a table in the computer room so that he can have the game out for days.

Now, say you have a child that keeps on running in the street. The natural consequence, is that he will be in the street; however, if a car comes there is a possibility that they might get hit by a car. No one will risk that happening of course, so the logical consequence may be that the child must hold hands, needs to stay in the back yard, or be in a carrier, etc., or head somewhere where they cannot run into the street, etc.  Of course, it may be unpleasant for the child in the moment but it is not a punishment per say. For a young child, you would use playful parenting and distraction and other methods to get the child to move onto something else. You are not trying to make a situation unpleasant in order to teach a lesson.

(Of course, there are times when parental fear gets muddled into these types of situations and you have to differentiate between a real danger and a perceived danger…  but that is another post altogether!)

Of course, as said above though, natural consequences can be used as punishments also. If a child doesn’t eat supper, then the natural consequence is that they will be hungry. If you refuse to let a child eat when they are hungry, then you are using the natural consequence of hunger as a punishment because they could rectify the situation by eating yet you are preventing it to make a point.

The same goes with that coat that I mentioned above. A parent has experience and wisdom that a child may not yet have. So if a parent can think ahead and know that a child may be cold later even though they are not cold now and are refusing to take a coat, then the parent should not use the child’s inexperience as an imposed punishment. You bring the coat and when or if they are cold you use that as a teachable moment (with a child of the right age of course) without making it unpleasant. You can simply say, “This is the exact reason I wanted you to bring a coat earlier. you were not cold before but when you are outside for a while/the sun goes down/it gets windy you can sometimes get a bit colder. I brought your coat for you, but maybe next time we can plan ahead together?” That is it. Teaching and learning should not be unpleasant.

Here is another example of logical consequences is something that just happened in our house. Xavier (nearly 11 and stronger then he knows at times) was upset and hit the wall, and well, he made a hole.

Yeah, that happened.

IMGP1788

Well, the natural consequence is that there is a hole in the wall which we don’t want.

The logical consequence is that because he is responsible for putting it there, he needs to help fix it which means that he will be learning about drywall, will be taking part in patching up the hole and will be paying us back for material. This logical consequence is not about punishing. It is not about us trying to make the situation more unpleasant then it should be. It is about rectifying the mistake he made and through it he will be learning skills and might even have fun. (Well, except for giving up some of his money.) Remember, that discipline is about teaching. This is discipline.

There are many people that associate non-punitive parenting with permissive parenting but it is far from being so. It is about learning how to live through life events and being responsible for your actions without the whole thing becoming negative or unpleasant.

Happy parents = Happy kids?

I hate this argument.

I mean, I do believe that happy parents make happy babies. Babies pick up on our emotions and will react to them. If we are stressed, they will be stressed. If we are sad, they will be sad. If we are happy, that will be happy. As a human being, our emotions and what we project will affect the people around us. Depressed people will bring others down and happy people will lift others up.

However, this argument is something that comes up often in parenting discussions and most often it comes up to justify a parenting choice that puts the needs, wants or expectations of the parent, over the needs of a child and that is where I have a problem.

When we choose to become parents, we choose to accept that there will be differences in our lives and that there will be some of our needs, and definitely some of our wants, that are put on the back burner. Is it about being a Martyr? No, not at all. It is about being a parent. An infant is helpless and they simply cannot meet their own needs. As parent we must meet their needs for them. It is that simple. Of course there are times that our needs may come second, but we should be mature enough to accept that we have to wait sometimes.

So now I hear it:“Exactly, which is why we have to “teach” our kids that sometimes they don’t always get what they want right away”. No! this is not the way it works. It is actually the opposite.

If our needs have not been met, then it has been ingrained inside us to do everything and anything to get our own needs met now, because if we don’t do it, it won’t be done. But, If our needs have always been met, then we have the trust that our needs will come to be met even if we have to wait. This includes not only the physical needs but of course, and maybe more importantly, the emotional needs as well.

So to learn that we can wait, we need to have our needs met.

For an infant, or a young child, that does not yet have the capacity to meet their own needs (physical and emotional), If we do not step up and meet their needs, ALL of their needs, their needs will simply not be met, and that, is not acceptable.

Also remark that by putting our needs on the back-burner, it does not mean ignoring them or disregarding them completely. We do have needs but they may not always be done in the way that would want. We have to eat. We have to sleep. We have to go to the bathroom. In these cases, it becomes essential that we find a way to meet everyone’s needs and this is when the scale needs to be balanced but can easily be tipped. This is when we often need to make compromises with what we “want” to then meet every one’s needs.

The thing is, the more we meet our children’s needs, the more they will know they can count on us and the more independent they will become, because they always know there is someone to fall back on. This is the one of the fundamentals of a secure attachment and this type of attachment will flow into all of the stages of childhood until a child becomes an adult and is ready to be on their own and will make it easier to parent. (read my post on Discipline and how non-punitive parenting works) This is the exact opposite of what mainstream parenting practices which is why it fails and why so many adults have trouble putting others first when it counts.

Our society has unrealistic expectations. Babies are expected to sleep through the night, they are expected to not breastfeed as much as the need to, they are expected to sleep alone, they are expected to willingly and happily go with other people other than their parents, they are expected to adhere to a parental schedules. There are so many expectations. However, societal expectations are not congruent with biological needs. They are not natural and they are based on a point of view that has been manipulated and skewed over the years in favour of parental wants over biological needs.

This is when that instance of parental wants often supersede a child’s needs. This when the argument “Happy mom = happy baby” often comes out to justify the favouring of a parents want over a child’s needs.

The thing is, parenthood is not always easy…

A mom should be happy, but happiness is also a frame of mind. You have to be happy within what is handed to you, even in the worst of times and you must have realistic expectations and meet a child’s needs and understand that they’re the ones that know best what they need. And, no, I am not talking about giving kids everything they want, I am talking about giving then what they need. A cookie is a want, food is a need. Going to bed with the pink blanket and not the green one is a want,  Going to sleep cuddled or nursing is a need.

And before it comes up, I do think moms need to take care of themselves and keep healthy to be an optimal parent. That is very true. But it is a choice on how that is done.  Babies are only dependent for a short time in their lives and their needs are actually quite basic. The need to eat, the need to sleep, the need to be cuddled, the need to be loved and feel secure. Meet those needs now and there will be little tears, and pretty soon they grow up and can make their own breakfast while you get a few extra zzzz’s. They will even start making yours.

Praise and the proverbial carrot…

Someone asked me why I am against praise… what’s wrong with showing someone you are proud of them?

Not praising doesn’t mean that you never show someone  you are proud of them. It just means that you put the emphasis on them being proud of themselves, and doing things for themselves, instead of doing things to make others happy or proud. Like discipline and punishment, it is about external motivation vs internal motivation. Like punishment, praise only works in the short-term, it ultimately fails and does harm long-term.

I could write so much about it but I think there are great articles already written that say it all… Here is one by Alfie Kohn “Five Reasons to stop saying “Good Job!”  and here is another on the Natural Child Project called  Rewards and Praise: The Poisoned Carrot… go ahead and read them! I’ll wait 🙂

So now, what is wrong with saying “good boy!” or “good job!”  or when a baby does something new, or a child draws a picture, or rides his bike?

Basically it’s that it has the opposite effect that parents want it to have, it isn’t helping them accomplish new things or feel better about themselves. It is focusing on the outcome instead of on the effort. Children come to expect it and do things for a reward or praise instead of just doing it. Alfie Kohn’s article some great suggestions on what can be said instead…

So instead of writing on about why I don’t agree with praise, I thought I would give a personal example…

Personally I don’t deal well with manipulation, I know that, and if someone tries to manipulate me, it just makes me want to do the opposite. I think it is a normal reaction that many people have.

As you may know, I have been working on decluttering our house and I am finally getting into a routine to keep the house manageable and easier to clean.

When my mom comes into my house, every.single.time says “wow! it’s so clean here!”  it makes my toes curl. I often answer, “yeah… so?” and deep down I feel like making sure that my house is messy before her next visit.

Why does she say it? To compliment me a job well done? isn’t that weird? Why is she so surprised or happy that my house is clean? Does she think that pointing out that my house is clean now will affect how I keep it in the future? Does a clean house reflect who we are?

When I really thought about it I understood that I was reacting to her comment, her praise, in the same way I react to manipulation. I want to dig my heels in and do the opposite. When she says “wow, it’s clean in here” I hear her say that she was expecting to walk into a messy house and that comment, that praise, is her saying that she is pleased.

Her praise is about her, not me. She is making a judgement on the state of my house and pointing it out as being good.

That is what praise is… it’s about that proverbial sugar-coated carrot that is put up to keep you on the right track.

But, you see, under that sugar-coating there is a rotten carrot underneath.

So what could she say instead? Actually, I would rather she say nothing at all. Maybe she could ask for a cup of tea? It would mean a lot more to me.

Discipline and How Non-Punitive Parenting Works

This is in part a continuation of the post “High standards and the cycle of coercive parenting…

We must break the cycle.. But how?

You need to discipline children, because if not, they will never learn. Right?

Ok.. True..

But what does the term “discipline” actually mean and how can it be accomplished in a non-punitive manner?

As I pointed out in the previous post, we live in a world in which most people see discipline as being the imposition of consequences or rewards as a way to modify behaviour. Whether it be spanking, tapping, time-outs, time-ins, praise, sticker charts, rewards or whatever quick fix we can find, the goal is to change behaviour, without regard to the impact that our actions have on attachment.

For non-punitive parents, discipline simply means “to teach”. The emphasis is on preserving a healthy secure attachment in order to do so.

Yes, attachment is the way to discipline.

Attachment is important in any relationship, but, not only is it important, it is required for a relationship to work well for everyone. This is true of all relationships.

We often only hear about attachment as in the attachment parenting movement. Breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping and all of the other components that help us develop secure attachments with our infants, yet the ideology is often forgotten when a child enters the toddler years and beyond. In our society, many parents thrive for independence, not only physical independence but emotional independence, which is something a child will not be ready for until they are in their late teens or young adults and are able to stand on their own two feet in society.

Of course, all children are attached to their parents, however, there are different forms of attachment. There is secure attachment, which is the one I will talk about here; but then there is also ambivalent attachment, avoidant attachment and disorganized attachment.

So while all children are attached, not all attachments are equal. (You can find a quick overview of the types of attachment here.)

The securely attached “easy” child wants to please us. They want to do things for us, they want to be with us and love us. They want to follow us and be good for us.

This secure attachment, this preservation of emotional dependence, is not only important with our infants, but it is as important and even more so, as our children grow.

In the book, “Hold onto Your Kids” Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Maté talk about 6 ways that we attach to someone in a secure attachment. As we grow closer, the attachment grows. And as children mature, this attachment goes through the following stages and you can see the correlation with ages….

From infant, toddler, pre-schooler up to the age of 6/7.  though of course, it is never too late…

The stages are:

  • Senses (all of the physical ways that promote attachment)
  • Sameness (mimicking and wanting to do what the other is doing)
  • Belonging and Loyalty (The “mine, mine” stage)
  • Significance (feeling that we matter)
  • Feeling (giving your heart away, falling in love)
  • Being Known (wanting the other to KNOW you, telling all, sharing all)

Of course I could go into these much more, but I have so much to say already…

So what does Attachment do and why is it so important? And, what does it have to do with discipline?

  • It arranges a hierarchy; We are the parent, we set the boundaries.
  • It renders the other person endearing; Our children love us and like us, and we love and like them.
  • Brings us home; We are where our children feel safe and comfortable.
  • Creates a compass point; We set the direction and they will follow.
  • Activates proximity; our children want to be with us.
  • Evokes a desire to be good; our children want to please us.

Therefore, attachment actually fixes things in a way that the child who is well attached is inclined to want to please us, do things for us, be with us, love us, follow us and wants to be good for us… when a secure attachment is in place, they fall into being that “easy child” (ok… most of the time)

This is the foundation for discipline.

We need to be attached in order to teach, we need to be attached in order to learn.

We learn from those whom are attached to. The grandmother that was always there for us and listened to us without judgement whom we would never want to disappoint; The teacher that made the most impact and who we learned the most from; The friend that was always there for us and who we emulated because we thought they were the coolest. I speak in the past because this attachment works in this way until we are ready to be emotional independent.

Once we reach adulthood, we should be able to be on our own two feet emotionally speaking, and though we still have secure attachments, those attachments will have different characteristics. But children are not at that stage yet, nor are they ready to be.

This is why a secure parental attachment is so important, because if we not our children’s “home”, their compass, if hierarchy is not established in a healthy manner, we are left without the framework in which discipline and teaching come naturally.

Non-punitive discipline is founded on the basis that strong attachment and unconditional love will provide healthy relationships and that children want to emulate what we model, follow our guidance, want to please us and will reciprocate the respect we give them.

So what about behaviour? How do you get a child from not hitting? How do you make a child be polite or not run into the street? How do you make a child obey?

For those coming from a punishment and reward frame of mind, this whole attachment thing doesn’t sound realistic. They just don’t get it. It is because the focus is still on the superficial, often age appropriate, behaviour.

Behaviour is seen as a something negative that needs to be corrected. It is an all or nothing. If you don’t punish then you must just let your kids get away with murder and walk all over you. How else are they going to learn how to not do things? It is an us against them mentality.

The reaction is so predictable at times that it most often follows this formula:

“If I don’t ______ (give a bedtime/force to eat/limit computer/put in time out/tap his hand) then my child would always/never_____ (never sleep/eat anything but pizza/never get off the computer/learn that what they do is wrong/understand not to run into the traffic).”

This ideology leads us to believe that children can not and do not have intrinsic motivation to do the right thing, so punishment (providing a bad experience), or rewarding (pleasurable experience) is the only way children can learn. But this is not true, and we know that it is not true when there is that secure attachment.

Time-outs are probably the most used punishment in our society. They are seen as not being harmful because they are a step away from hitting. But their harm is very real, and it is essential to the very essence of how they work. Time-outs teach that love is conditional to behaviour. This of course is not the parent’s intention, but actions speak louder than intentions. Time-outs only work because they are using the relationship and secure attachment, as leverage. This is why time-outs stop working. The child becomes differently attached and hardened and the leverage is no longer there. The Time-out is a quick fix that may superficially change behaviour but it is done at a very high cost.

Again, the focus is only on behaviour. The goal of punishment; to stop “bad” behaviour. The risk of harming attachment is not even taken into regard.

The non-punitive parent has a different understanding of how behaviour is corrected. Instead of relying on external motivators to change behaviour, we connect and tap into the secure attachment that we have and use that relationship to teach alternatives and demonstrate what we expect them to do.

The twist in this is that time-outs use attachment as leverage to get children to behave in the way the parent finds appropriate and in the end strips that attachment. Non-punitive parents use attachment to their advantage and in the end build that attachment even more. With the former, punishment needs to escalate to keep a balance, with the latter things become easier. Non-punitive parenting is in no way permissive parenting, it is not about ignoring behaviour, it is about correcting behaviour through positive attachment and teaching through that attachment.

So, how is one to break the cycle?

A problem that arises is that we are so used to a fixed set of instructions. When a child does X we must do Y. One set of rules for all children.

But with non-punitive parenting the focus is no longer on the behaviour itself but is on the child and the relationship. Because of that, books and articles that focus on non-coercive, non punishing ways of parenting, focus on the philosophy of a secure attachment instead of being the how-to manuals that simply correct behaviour that are on the opposite spectrum. So unlike the books that focus on punishments and rewards, there are no parenting manuals or simple formulas that will work with every child in every situation so you may need to use your imagination and find a solution that will work for your child.

Non-punitive parenting is far from the permissive, lazy parenting that many make it out to be. There may not be punishments and rewards, but there are rules and boundaries and age appropriate expectations. We may not force our children to say sorry but we do expect them to learn it and say it when they feel it. We may not punish our children for hitting but we will not let them hit and will help them find alternatives. We are not our children’s friends, but we are not their enemy either. We are their parents. We work with our children not against them.

Non-punitive parents understand that healthy attachment is the key. It doesn’t mean that we never have rough patches, or we don’t do things that we regret, or that our kids never misbehave. But what it does mean is that we don’t believe in quick fixes, we focus on emulating the behaviours we want to see reflected and teaching them to find solutions. We work on fixing the problems, not the symptoms.

 

a boy and his shadow...

 

Further reading:

High standards and the cycle of coercive parenting…

High standards and The Cycle of Coercive Parenting…

I saw this article linked to Facebook this morning…

Research shows 50 years of motherhood manuals set standards too high for new mums

New research at the University of Warwick into 50 years of motherhood manuals has revealed how despite their differences they have always issued advice as orders and set unattainably high standards for new mums and babies.

……

“Dr Davis found although the advice from these experts changed over the decades, the one thing that didn’t change was the way it was delivered. Whatever the message for mothers, it was given as an order with a threat of dire consequences if mother or child failed to behave as expected.”

“Dr Davis said: “Despite all the differences in advice advocated by these childcare ‘bibles’ over the years, it is interesting that they all have striking similarities in terms of how the experts presented their advice. Whatever the message, the advice was given in the form of an order and the authors highlighted extreme consequences if mothers did not follow the methods of childrearing that they advocated.”

“Levels of behaviour these childcare manuals set for mothers and  are often unattainably high, meaning women could be left feeling like failures when these targets were not achieved. Therefore while women could find supportive messages within childcare literature, some also found the advice more troubling.”

This article was shared by a group on Facebook that is against “Baby Training” in the form of sleep training such as CIO (cry-it-out) or controlled crying. And I completely agree with them that part of the focus of the article is to show that so many parents are coerced into trying to achieve unattainable standards when it comes to children’s sleep that goes against what is biologically and physiologically normal. I could go on and on about why controlled crying is harmful including the changes in cortisol levels and the long term effects on stress but I think that a previous article by Dr. Gabor Maté sums it up perfectly…

People cannot consciously recall what they “learned” in the first year of life, because the brain structures that store narrative memory are not yet developed. But neuropsychological research has established that human beings have a far more powerful memory system imprinted in their nervous systems called intrinsic memory. Intrinsic memory encodes the emotional aspects of early experience, mostly in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. These emotional memories may last a lifetime. Without any recall of the events that originally encoded them, they serve as a template for how we perceive the world and how we react to later occurrences.

Is the world a friendly and nurturing place, or an indifferent or even hostile one? Can we trust other human beings to recognize, understand and honour our needs, or do we have to shut down emotionally to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable? These are fundamental questions that we resolve largely with our implicit memory system rather than with our conscious minds. As psychologist and leading memory researcher Daniel Schacter has written, intrinsic memory is active “when people are influenced by past experience without any awareness that they are remembering.”

The implicit message an infant receives from having her cries ignored is that the world — as represented by her caregivers — is indifferent to her feelings. That is not at all what loving parents intend.

Unfortunately, it’s not parental intentions that a baby integrates into her world view, but how parents respond to her. This is why, if I could relive my life, I would do much of my parenting differently.

However, the baby training aspect was not exactly the first thing that came to mind when I find started reading the article.

The first thing that came to mind was how much it shows that the cycle of coercion is being perpetuated; from the authority of the book (or people giving advice), to the authority of the parent, to the focus on punishment and reward to keep control, to learning to make decisions because of external motivation and in doing so, continuing that cycle of control and coercion.

 

flowchart

 

This cycle keeps coming up in parenting circles and discussions. It is the stern “reality” that if you are not “in control” then you are permissive and being controlled.

There is no middle ground and no alternatives. Everyone knows that babies and children are master manipulators and are masters of controlling so you can’t let your guard down for a second. You have to be in control. The parents that don’t use punishments or rewards are just letting their kids run wild and walk all over them and they will never to do things because internal motivation just doesn’t happen. Kids have to “learn” and the parents will have a “wake up call” down the road when they kid is doing whatever they please, jobless or even in jail because they never learned how things work “in the real world”. (I wish I was exaggerating, but I have seen all of these said in parenting threads… even just yesterday)

But I “get” it… the ideas that these parents have comes from this cycle. The whole tone of these parenting methods is by using rewards and punishments and warning that any deviations from the method will be punished. If you don’t listen to the authority and exert control, your baby won’t sleep, your toddler won’t learn to not run into the street and will get hit by a car, your child will disobey and become a delinquent and people will hate them and look down at you as the parent for failing to do the “right” thing. Following the rules of the book and the authority will in turn create “good kids”.

The parent’s behaviour is being controlled by the very ideology of punishment and reward and they are in turn is teaching the same to their children.

The problem though is that following the rules, especially when goals are actually unattainable, is that the parents and children are doomed for failure. Parents end up needing to step it up a notch to be more in control and are forced to choose between doing what they are told and doing what feels right.

I have never heard someone say that it feels right to make their baby cry itself to sleep. They say that it just needs to be done. They are taught that there is no other way, and are led to believe that these behaviours are not normal. The fact is that it is completely normal, but to admit to it or relent control is the equivalent of defeat.

The thing about this cycle is that if someone breaks it, they actually have to have a whole paradigm shift. It is a completely different way of seeing things when you start trusting in yourself and trusting that children will thrive and succeed without being controlled. It also means that we must be able and willing to accept and forgive ourselves for the choices they we may have made in the past that have had negative effects. It is easy to become defensive and say that it didn’t happen, or minimize the effects, but it is not constructive to do so.

It is time that we stop this cycle.

If there is anything that we wish to change in the child,

we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. 

~C.G. Jung

Continue to read: Discipline and How Non-Punitive Parenting Works