This post is written for inclusion in the Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted by Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries. All week, April 26-30, we will be featuring essays about non-punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.
Here is what I do not do: I do not spank the Boychick. I do not put him in time outs. I do not count to three1. I do not punish him for failing to live up to my expectations. I do not expect him to live up to anyone else’s unrealistic expectations. I do not use a “naughty step”. I do not use reward charts. I do not, in general, bribe2. I do not believe yelling is particularly effective or acceptable.
Here is what I am not, that people nonetheless often assume when I say the above: I am not perfect. I am not yell-free. I am not a saint. I am not a martyr. I am not a zen master. I am not a naturally low-conflict person. I am not a naturally comfortable-with-chaos person. I am not without anger. I am not without impulses to violence. I am not even without impulses to violence toward my child.
Here’s the thing: I choose — for it is a daily choice, a moment-by-moment choice — this parenting style3 not because it comes easily to me (in case you hadn’t gathered from the above, it doesn’t), or because I’m selfless (I’m not), or an emotional masochist (I’m really not), or because I think people who parent differently are bad parents (I don’t). Rather, I choose it for two reasons: one, I think it’s a way to raise an emotionally healthy, secure, confident, interdependent child, and two — no less important — I like feeling good.
I could expound upon the former point, but the second I think is said less often. Simply: given the choice, I would rather feel good. I would rather look at my child and smile because he’s being rambunctious and learning about his body than tense up and get ready to yell because he’s being wild and tearing through the place (it is, after all, often a matter of perspective). I would rather take the time to find creative solutions that leave us all satisfied than waste hours feeling angry and resentful and listening to him cry and be grumpy. I would rather practice finding joy in chaos than create frustration trying to control that which is not controllable.
Which is not to say he never needs, or gets, guidance, limits, or boundaries (neither is it to say that I’m particularly good at shifting my attitude to one of joy, but when I’m not it’s often because I am stuck in HALT TOT4, or have been triggered by his behavior). But we assume he wants those things, and is at all times doing his best to meet both his needs and our expectations. Our part is to communicate effectively what our expectations are and help him meet them.
Communicating guidance and boundaries effectively means both using language he can understand and making sure our behaviors say the same thing our mouths do: saying “don’t put this in your mouth” is the fastest way to get him to put it in his mouth; saying anxiously “you can do it by yourself” while hovering over him tells him we think he can’t do it; shouting across the room to not dump all the cereal out doesn’t work nearly as well as getting up and righting the container. So we think about our words, and we think about what we’re saying without words, and sometimes we don’t use words at all because he’s not in a place to hear them right then.
Helping him meet our expectations means making sure that they’re reasonable, that there aren’t any impediments, and that he has the tools and guidance that he needs. Reasonable expectations take into account the world he lives in, and his abilities — both his limitations and his strengths (for children are often far more capable than we think). When he’s tantruming on the floor over his popped balloon, we consider that possibly he’s in HALT TOT, and seek to rectify that and address the underlying problem, rather than getting upset over what is only a symptom of an unmet need. And if we want him to say please and speak to us kindly, we make sure he has the words and the modeling to know how to do that.
While working on this post (at night, after The Man took him to bed, when I do all my writing), the Boychick came out of the bedroom, unable to sleep. I helped him go back to bed, after letting him stay up for a little to eat and to use the toilet — and he got back up after another while.
I had a choice, then: I could get upset, and try any number of ways to coerce or manipulate him (ordering, bribing, or threatening him to go back to bed); or I could accept that this night wasn’t going to go how I’d planned, find the joy in the moment, and get creative about either getting him to bed, which would probably have involved going to bed with him, or, as I’m doing right now, writing it with him in my lap. Neither set of options (for there are near endless options within each paradigm) would get me what I originally envisioned for the night; but one way — choosing joy — would leave us both happy. Why would I choose anything else?
Welcome to the Carnival of Gentle Discipline
Please join us all week, April 26-30, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the USA and April 30th is Spank Out Day USA. In honor of this we have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives.
Are you a Gentle Parent? Put the Badge on your blog or website to spread the word that gentle love works!
Links will become available on the specified day of the Carnival.
Day 1 – What Is Gentle Discipline
- Gentle Discipline 101 at The Parent Vortex
- The Power of Praise (hint: it’s not what you think) at Mighty Marce
- Golden Rule Parenting at Novel Mama
Day 2 – False Expectations, Positive Intentions, and Choosing Joy (coming Tuesday, April 27)
- Choosing Joy at Raising My Boychick
- Making It Fun – The Power of Play at Schmoopy Baby
- Assuming the Best Intentions at Hobo Mama
Day 3 – Choosing Not To Spank (coming Wednesday, April 28)
- 50′s Childhood – Guest Poster, Connie at Baby Dust Diaries
- I Have The Urge To Spank But I Choose Not To at Breastfeeding Moms Unite
- Mistakes at Breastfeeding Momma
- Undermining General Beliefs about Corporal Punishment at Authentic Parenting
- Choosing Gentle Discipline at Hybrid Life
Day 4 – Creating a “Yes” Environment (coming Thursday, April 29)
- A Tiny Word With a Powerful Impact at Little Green Blog
- Parenting a Toddler With Loving Guidance at Little Snowflakes
Day 5 – Terrific Toddlers; Tantrums and All (coming Friday, April 30)
- A Positive View on Tantrums at Edenwild
- The Terrible Two (and Two Parenting Strategies to Replace Them) a guest post by Code Name: Mama on Good Goog
- Gentle Parenting During Toddler Tantrums at Typical Ramblings, Atypical Nonsense
- Gentle Parenting Ideas from a Toddler’s Perspective at Code Name: Mama
- Except on the way to his favorite number, 5, when we’ve agreed that’s how many more times he’s going to do whatever it is I’d like to be done doing. ↩
- I do, however, sometimes use lubricants, like making sure I have a snack to hand out when it’s time to get in the carseat. ↩
- Joyful parenting, gentle parenting, mindful parenting, attachment parenting, whatever you care to call it; labels don’t matter so much to me as what it feels like. ↩
- HALT TOT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Thirsty, Overstimulated, or in need of a Toilet. ↩