Discipline in a parent’s view is crucial.
What seems to differ though is what the word “discipline” actually represents. For many, it means controlling and correcting through punishment, either physical or emotional. If you read my blog, or look back in the archives, you know that I believe that discipline means to model behaviour, to be a guide and facilitator and to teach self-discipline. I don’t believe in using physical force (hitting, tapping, etc.) or emotional force (time-outs, ultimatums, threats, etc.) as forms of effective teaching, or “discipline”, I actually think that they do more harm than good and they are steps back.
Over the years I have read many articles, blog posts or discussion board posts and have had conversations with people that critique natural discipline, positive parenting, non-coercive parenting.
All seem to repeat the same thing:
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).
The thought, of course, is that people look at all of this as being one or the other. If you don’t punish then you are letting kids do whatever they want. If you don’t force kids to do things, then they will never do it. If you don’t put limits, then no one will.
The defining moment of course is when the controlling parent tries to do the opposite and the child fulfils the prophesy. The theory that “no limits, no punishment” doesn’t work is etched into stone, and those parents that do such a thing are seen as neglectful parents with kids doing whatever they please and running amok.
Of course, for those who do live consensually, don’t put arbitrary limits and don’t punish, their kids are not doing what those people are afraid of, the kids are eating well, getting enough sleep and are happy, well adjusted kids. So why such a gap?
I think it comes down to that definition of ‘discipline’ and what results with the way it is interpreted. Controling is not teaching self-limitation. Punishing doesn’t give them the tools to make the right decisions.
If you punish a child for hitting, they may stop hitting but they don’t learn anything else besides the fact that love is conditional to behaviour and that it is better to not be caught. Not punishing of course doesn’t mean that you let the behaviour continue. In the case of hitting, it is most likely an impulsive symptom of an initial problem. If you want to teach the right behaviour, the focus needs to shift from the actual hitting, to teaching alternative solutions that can replace the hitting. Children know that hitting is wrong, but they might not know what to do instead. That is what discipline is all about.
If you don’t have a bedtime, then you are more likely to follow your own schedule and sleep when you are tired. If you have always had a bed time and then suddenly you don’t, then you might not know your own cues or self-limits because you have never learned how to. Add the lack of self-knowledge to the mystique of staying up late, then you have a child that will seemingly not go to bed if you don’t tell them to.
What we need to be doing as parents is to teach our kids self-limitation and self-discipline and to maintain individuality and have a voice. I don’t believe that this can be done through controlling and punishment but instead through ‘discipline’ in the other sense of the word.
I agree with some of what you say but I have to really disagree on the no bedtime thing. Humans evolved to sleep when it’s dark. That’s why when you have a newborn you are advised to keep things dark at night from the beginning, so they can get accustomed to the natural rhythm of the day. If you were living out in nature in a primitive tribe, at some point in the evening it would be completely dark, except for maybe a small fire in your hut. You really wouldn’t be able to do much other than go to sleep, thus children and adults would go to sleep very early. Since we have electricity and lots of distractions like games, computers, and tv, there is lots of motivation for kids to stay up even when they are tired. I think it is very possible to be extremely tired yet be so engrossed in what you are doing that you just don’t go to sleep, I know I do that all the time. Also, kids don’t have to get up early and do chores or eat breakfast early so the adults can start the work of the day like they would out in nature.I think those two things will could make a child push their bedtime further and further until they are up until the morning hours and sleep in until afternoon, which I don’t think is very healthy. I see moms complain about this a lot on a certain parenting board I frequent. I think the same goes for other things like junk food, tv,etc. We are not living in the kind of world we evolved in so I don’t think all kids are just naturally going to gain self-control because their minds just aren’t designed to think that way. I’m not endorsing any kind of harsh punishment, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having limits. Just wondering what you think about this.
I can agree with you to a point… there are so many variations in human evolution depending on where they evolved.
In the north, the sun doesn’t set in the summer and doesn’t rise in the winter. Their sleep patterns don’t follow the sun. In many places it is unbearably hot midday, people nap during that time so that they can enjoy the cooler evening hours after the sun sets.
If we were to follow the sun pattern here in Southern Quebec we would be in bed by 4pm in the winter and after 10pm in the summer.
If we do go with your idea of what is natural. Families would have all been going to bed at the same time. There would not have been different rooms and beds, they would be sleeping next to each other and it would be part of the natural family rhythm and the parents would be modeling normal sleep behavior. Children have to not evolved sleeping alone.
I am not the only one in my friends and acquaintances that have no bedtime for their kids and we have not seen the “problems” that you seem to be saying will come with no bedtime. I think that it is a misconception that people have that is not based in real experiences. Not having a bedtime doesn’t mean not getting enough sleep, it doesn’t meant that parents can’t help their children fall asleep when they are ready. Not forcing children to do thing or not do things or having punishments doesn’t mean not having limits. Again, a great misconception.
I am completely understand your frustration when a child has a nap and then doesn’t go to bed at the time you expect. But I don’t understand your reasoning for using force to get your child to bed when he clearly does not want to be in bed. If he has already had sleep with the nap, he is probably refreshed and even with going to be later he would most likely have slept the same amount if not more of time as a day without a nap. If he is not sleeping in bed then why could he not be sleeping out of bed and then go to be when he is clearly ready.
Ok, sorry for the length of comment but I just wanted to add that I am not advocating harshly enforcing those limits. For example, my son is transitioning to no naps right now, and sometimes he will take a nap but then not want to go to sleep at night. We will walk him back to his bed each time he comes out into the hallway. If he gets upset we will stay with him until he goes to sleep or give him a toy to play with in bed, but bedtime means it’s time to stay in bed and relax and go to sleep. If we don’t do this he will stay up quite late then wake up late, then go to bed even later. I think I am doing my son a favor because if he were to through the morning he would miss out on kids’ activities around our city and wouldn’t get to play with other kids at the park.
I agree that we can be disconnected to the natural sleep patterns our bodies could most benefit from thanks to electric lights,computers, tv and other noisy bright things. I can’t agree that a natural solution would be to use force to fulfil arbitrary bedtime expectations.
What we like to do here is turn the lights off or lower and encourage a quieter time in the evening. That’s not to say it’s always like that, but when it seems like we could use it most. In the winter we definitely sleep earlier and longer than we do in the summer but then we nap more in the summer when the days are hot.
We also don’t have bedtimes. We all sleep in the same room and go to bed together. When my kids were younger that would sometimes be our bringing already sleeping babies up with us when we were ready to go to bed. They would nurse and sleep on me or in the sling or on the couch before being moved to the bedroom. Other times I would be the one going to sleep first with my young children playing or reading before lying down and sleeping. I believe it’s best if it works for everyone and not just the parent. (Although I can’t imagine having to put a reluctant child back in a room by themselves over and over to be enjoyable in the least unless it’s the power over the parent enjoys?)
When there is no struggle, there is nothing to fight. I would opt to find what works for everyone so no one has to feel face a struggle.
Children can be trained in choices as soon as they are old enough to understand and follow instructions. When a parent gives choices child learns to have more control over the life and can start to develop self-discipline. For example if your kid wants to play video games, but hasn’t put away the toys, you could give the choice of putting away the toys and then playing video games, or not playing video games. By choosing to put away the toys, the kid also chooses to play video games.
I really enjoy hearing your thoughts on parenting and unschooling. I believe strongly in positive parenting and using encouragement to make sure our children feel connected, capable, courageous and counted.
I agree that nature provides the best discipline. Natural consequences are so much more effective than the negative consequences parents try. Nature is constant and kids learn fast. It has been easy and practical for my husband & I to use natural discipline and positive parenting with our daughter. She has always been instinctually wary of water, busy streets, strangers etc.
Our son though, is a different bird altogether. Since birth he has been screaming his determination to go, do and have what he wants when he wants and I am too frightened to leave it up to nature. He spoke clearly quite early and has strength and balance that still surprise me daily. I want him to have self discipline, to understand the consequences of his decisions. At two and a half years old this very capable tot with boundlessly energetic is willing to run into busy streets, will fearlessly jump into water AND has already seen the inside of an ambulance after scaling counters to swallow a blood pressure medication stored high up in a kitchen cupboard.
We are very fortunate I can be a SAHM and we can provide lots of social programs and opportunities for our kids to learn and grow. I would love to convert to full nature parenting, but I’m finding that my son needs structure, boundaries, he needs people holding him back from the streets, holding his hands to keep them ‘calm’ when he starts throwing or hitting. (I have yet to come up with a good reaction to spitting..) but I guess what I’m trying to say is that open-mindedness and a combination of strategies is often what will work in the end. I’d love to say I parent in a certain fashion, but I can’t.. I’m doing a little bit of everything and sometimes I have bad mommy days- we’re all learning in this house. But I’m glad you post your beliefs and experiences and I hope I can use some of your methods in mine.
Gette: I don’t think giving arbitrary choices creates self-discipline at all.
Your example is not a choice but an ultimatum. “If you don’t do what I want you to do, then you can’t do what you want to do.” I wonder in your scenario, is the child allowed to not do either, or would there then be more consequences if still choose not to clean up and decide to de something else instead?
If you said to your child “I would really appreciate your help cleaning up the toys before going to play video games.” That would be giving the choice. That would lead to helping out coming from the child which would be creating self discipline.
Having a very impulsive child of my own, I completely understand what you are talking about. We all have bad days and experiences. As I said, I have made mistakes and I still make mistakes… I often react on impulse, I get upset, I get annoyed, I get frustrated.
I think that all kids need boundaries and some kind of family structure, and I believe that all of what I said in my post can be done within that.
Gently holding hands to stop hitting is perfect example. There is no punishment, no threats, no shaming etc… you are simply stopping the unwanted behaviour. Less is more. In some cases, because hitting is an impulsive reaction, you can then try to see what was trying to be accomplished by hitting and try to model what to do instead. Depends on the child, the situation, the timing, the age etc…
There are of course things that are non-negotiable (carseats etc)… especially when it comes to safety, but I still maintain that punishments (or rewards) don’t help the situation. If a child runs into the streets, you make sure that they hold your hand when you are near a street or wear them, you can even bring them to a quieter street and let them go in the street a bit to take the mystery out of it…
We are the parent, our role is set certain boundaries. Kids can choose what to eat, but we control what foods come in the house. Kids can choose to watch TV, but we choose to not have cable and have control on what is available to watch. Having those boundaries gets rid of power struggles.
I agree more than you know:) In fact I feel like this is the moment to tell someone – we haven’t had cable (or satellite)for years! My oldest is 5 and has only seen a handful of commercials in her life. She thinks they are a sign that their is something wrong with the tv-ha! But I am often greeted with a gasp when I admit such a thing. lol.
I find what you say here very intriguing, and was interested in more resources on this topic because frankly, this blog post is VERY vague as far as a reader trying to implement this parenting style.
For example, my 19 month old tries to ride my 10 lb Shih Tzu sometimes, he is nearly triple her weight and could injure her. I tell him not to do that and he gives me an impish grin and continues trying to mount her as she struggles to get away. She is fairly tolerant but eventually she will snap at him. Now she has never bitten him forcefully enough to cause visible damage, but more than a few people would probably say that I let the situation escalate to a point it never should have. What do you suggest?
Or when my son slaps me for fun, or tries to chew on electrical cords, or hits at the dogs, what do you suggest?
First, I think that you should not leave your son and dog alone together… ever. You can never know how a dog will react. At 19 months he is still very young and doesn’t understand the consequences to his actions. If he goes to ride her, distract him with something else or show him how he can interact with the dog in an appropriate manner. Saying “don’t do that” simply won’t work at that age… you need to get up, go over to them and stop it before it escalates.
Again, 19 months is very young. The best thing to do in all those situations is to distract and give alternatives and avoid putting your child in the situation to begin with. Don’t react too much to what you believe is negative behaviour, give alternatives (something else to chew on), avoid situations (don’t leave alone with the dogs).
thanks for the reply, it was helpful. Typically, I don’t react too much to his negative behavior, he throws tantrums (throws his body to the floor and wails) when I stop him from doing things, for example take him out of the chair he is using to climb on top of the dryer and dresser with. Sometimes though, it seems so easy to just pinch his wrist and tell him no as he reaches for electrical cords, or put him in the corner when he is throwing a tantrum, it works so consistently. My dogs are loose in the house and my son is never really “alone”, but I may be occupied with daily tasks briefly and not have a watchful eye on him at every second. Everything you say makes perfect sense to me, however I feel like I need to develop the patience and endurance to parent this way 100% of the time. I will definitely try to do better. Thank you for writing this post, it is enlightening and has sparked my interest to continue learning.
I love reading about your parenting adventures and philosophy. It highlights for me the ways I need to behave better in order to encourage my children to behave better. The other day I caught myself lecturing my 8 year old for being rude and sarcastic to her sister, after just having been obnoxious myself….(???!!!) It certainly doesn’t make logical sense to expect a small one to behave acceptably, if I’m not modeling the behavior I believe they should have!
I came from a family where punishment was vicious and thoroughly humiliating and while I have tried to avoid that, there are many aspects of personal growth which I have struggled in order to be an effective, attachment oriented parent.
I’d love to read more of your thoughts and experiences and events in parenting.