Parenting without punishment is an unlikely concept to most parents. However, many tasks or rules we want followed feel like punishments to kids like chores, going to sleep on time, curfews, saying “No” to requests for material goods, and having limits on screen time of all types (phones, videos, T.V., computer youtubes, facebook, Instagram, twitter). If, however, these reasonable limits are perceived as helpful to happy lives and explained at the time, it’s so easy not to think of them as restrictions or punishments.
Consider sleep. When kids are overtired they get whiny and irritable but insist they aren’t tired. Why not just explain that sleep at night or a nap gives us energy to do all the things we enjoy.
Consider chores. If family members are viewed as a small community, then everyone chipping in to keep the house comfortable seems reasonable. Doing chores together can even be fun. Kids feel good when they contribute when we thank them for their efforts and applaud a job well done. Why can’t chores fit into that category?
Then let’s look at limiting screen time so kids can have time for imaginative play and conversation. That’s not so bad!! Then we get to know what’s on our kids minds and they get to do stuff that’s fun and rewarding. Especially conversation instead of the computer helps kids feel listened to and wanted.
But what about those behaviors that are puzzling and wrong like hitting or lashing out or not sharing. Shouldn’t there be consequences? Before jumping to the consequences, make sure they aren’t things like chores and screen time first of all, because they make sense on their own as noted above. But secondly, how can you give a consequence for a misdeed before you understand what lies behind the act? Let’s say two brothers are hitting and pinching each other. Is the older one always to blame? Well, he thinks so. But actually maybe they feel one of them is being favored by a parent with their attention and maybe it’s true. We don’t like to admit it, but parents do have favorite kids: the ones who seem most like themselves for example. So maybe a conversation about the meaning behind those aggressive behaviors could clarify there’s enough love to go around for all and no consequences are needed. In fact, you get to know your children better with a conversation about why they do things that aren’t up to par rather than consequences that teach nothing in the long run except resentment.
Parental Intelligence is about finding the meaning in your child’s behavior. This is done by helping your child share with you what’s on their mind that led to their behavior. Then in talking it all out, the parent and child collaborate on how to change things so everyone feels better about what’s been going on. This not only ends the negative behavior, gives insight into your child’s opinions and intentions, but improves the ability to be a critical thinker and a problem solver, essential traits to learn when growing up that are useful throughout one’s life.
So the upshot of these notions is that parenting can be done without punishment. But, you say, what about discipline? Discipline comes from the word, disciple, or pupil. It’s about teaching and learning. So punishment seems to take away from that experience. In fact, what we hope for in the long run is self-discipline: being able to regulate and modulate one’s emotions, express feelings, consider others, and become an empathic listener to others. These attributes don’t come from angry punishments. They come from talking, sharing, understanding each other’s points of view, and behind all that effort is love for one another!