I first ran across the idea of “positive parenting” when I was pregnant with my third baby. That was in the spring of 2011. I wrote a bunch of posts about why we don’t want to spank anymore, moving towards positive discipline, and 9 examples of positive discipline.
I’ll be honest: it’s only in the last year that it’s started to become easier for me. That I’ve begun to really change what I default to when I’m stressed (threatening to spank). That the gentle language, especially with toddlers, has become second nature instead of forced.
It made total sense to me, on paper, when I really read a lot three years ago. It didn’t make sense to me in practice all the time until we’d been in it for awhile. For the first several months there were situations where I just thought, “This isn’t working, kids need punishment to learn.”
Oh, how wrong I was. But it just hadn’t “clicked” yet. I knew what I shouldn’t do (yell, spank), I didn’t know what to do instead. I didn’t know how to draw fair boundaries or hold to them respectfully.
Now, with our fourth child a toddler, and our younger two (both born after our discovery of positive parenting) generally much easier, more cooperative, and so on, we know that it works. We can see it clearly. And no, it isn’t just “luck” or their personalities. Our third has quite the temper and is extremely stubborn, and the other kids can easily make him scream and shout and hit if they don’t respect his boundaries. He also thinks it is quite funny to poke at people and play games to get a rise out of them… But, we don’t see much of this directed at us and can easily get him to stop without punishment — assuming the other children don’t try to push his buttons some more. The point is, it really does work.
What Positive Parenting Is (and Isn’t)
A lot of people confuse positive parenting with “permissive parenting” (or as I like to call it, “not parenting”). Positive parenting doesn’t mean you give your kid whatever he wants. It doesn’t mean that he gets away with it when he does something wrong. It doesn’t mean you let him run wild.
In fact, positive parenting can come with some pretty firm boundaries. They are just enforced without punishment.
Case in point… Sometimes when I am working, the kids are to stay upstairs with my husband. They have the choice to play with him or go play in their rooms. They may not come downstairs to bug me. Recently, my 2-year-old ignored this and came downstairs anyway. He laughed and said, “I sneak downstairs.” I let my husband know, who came down, picked him up, and said, “I’m gonna sneak you back upstairs!” Boundary held. Natural consequence. No punishment necessary.
A permissive parent would have said, “Oh, okay, I guess if you really want to be down here, you can.” But not a positive parent. These are very different. The boundaries are the boundaries.
A lot of people just do not get the difference. They think that if you are not punishing them, they are not really “learning” anything. That you are allowing them to run wild. And this is just not so. It’s not!
If my kid is hitting someone, I stop him. If he can’t settle down, he sits with me until he can. And if we have to, we leave the situation. I don’t sit there and allow him to hit someone because “He’s just exploring his space.” Neither do I smack his bottom to teach him not to hit others.
We’re looking at a middle ground here.
Some people like to argue “Sometimes you just need a spanking, if it’s really serious, like running in a street.” Running in a street is pretty dangerous. Most kids do it when they are about 18 mo. – 3 years old. Once they’re older they usually know not to do that anymore because they understand the danger. I suggest keeping a close eye or a hand on a child young enough not to understand that the street is dangerous, rather than punishing them for running in it (prevention). Plus, should they get away from you — it happens to the best of us — Mommy screaming “STOP!” and running after them and generally freaking out is going to send a pretty strong message. You don’t really need to “do” something else to drive the message home.
We just have this idea, as a society, that if we don’t “do” something — typically, meting out punishments for certain actions — that they will grow up to be spoiled, rotten people no one wants to be around. My experience so far has shown this is not true at all.
What Happened with My Toddlers
Here’s the honest truth: we started spanking our oldest when she was only about 9 months old. Not hard; a small pop on her diaper if “no” was said repeatedly and not working. We started spanking our second when he was about 20 months old. We don’t spank our younger two at all.
Our oldest had/has the least self-control. As a toddler, I struggled with her starting around 18 – 20 months, as she became more independent. Everything was a stand-off, a battle. Everything escalated because she simply would not do what I said — and gosh darn it, I had to be in control and she had to obey me. Roughly the same thing, in a slightly milder way, happened with my second — he became “difficult” around the same age and we’d end up in battles over silly things.
When you start a fight with a 2-year-old, you have already lost.
I thought it was just “the terrible twos” I’d been warned about. I thought all children were just crazy at that age because they are becoming independent and haven’t yet learned to obey. But it’s not true.
It doesn’t have to be like that. My third is nearly 3 and is still a sweet boy. We haven’t hit that “rough patch” yet and he’s a year older than the others were. I learned to listen. I learned to acknowledge his feelings. (Not give in to them…acknowledge that he had them.) I learned to set up win-win situations and use redirection, instead of win-lose. “You don’t want to take a nap right now. It would be more fun to keep playing. I promise that we will play when you wake up. Now, would you like to take your train or your book to bed with you?” I very often could take a full-out meltdown to giggles and still get the toddler to do what I wanted.
My fourth is following in these footsteps. And it really isn’t luck. If someone else who doesn’t use the same sort of approach tries to come up to them and “make” them do things or “help” them when they don’t want help, they scream! Just like an ordinary toddler.
With my older ones, now, when we take the time to stop and try to connect with them first and work from a mutual relationship approach instead of an adult-vs-kid, you-will-do-what-I-say-or-else approach, we get much better cooperation and much better self-control. Because they want to please us when they feel we are on their side. They thank us repeatedly when we are gentle and when we take their feelings and wants into account, and they try harder to take our feelings and wants into account, too.
When the older kids are “bad” it’s usually because we haven’t spent enough time with them. We can turn it around quickly by taking the time to talk with them and play with them.
Why Positive Discipline is So Important
I truly believe that positive discipline is the way to go. Exactly how it happens, or what the boundaries are, will vary from family to family. But that positive connection and the focus on natural consequences is very important.
The thing is, kids don’t learn from yelling, spanking, or other punishment. It only makes them angry. It doesn’t make them think. It doesn’t teach them what to do instead.
People might argue with a “proper” spanking, kids do learn. A “proper” spanking involves stopping a kid in the moment of disobedience, taking them somewhere private for a spanking, administering the spanking (not too hard or too many), then holding the child, talking to them about what went wrong and what to do next time, and reassuring them that you love them. The reason they learn from that isn’t the spanking. It’s the holding, the talking about what went wrong and what to do next time, and reassuring them you love them. The exact same outcome could be had without the spanking.
And improper spanking? That is, done in anger, with yelling, too often, too hard, or too much? The only thing they learn from that is “My parents hurt me when they are angry. It’s okay to hurt people when you are angry with them.” My child who was spanked the most as a young toddler (and is no longer spanked) is the quickest to hit someone else when angry. That’s not a coincidence.
I really encourage parents — all parents — to consider this seriously. Positive discipline will not make you lose control of your child. It will not make your children run wild. It will not allow your children to run your home and your lives (if it does, you’re not doing it right!). It will give your family peace. It will help your children understand and respect others’ boundaries.
I mean no judgment at all towards parents who have done or do things differently. I’ve been there too. I’ve gone through screaming, spanking, time-outs, and practically every form of punishment you can think of. I know how hard it is to change your mindset. I know what it is to be stirred by the idea of positive parenting, and then conclude in a real-world situation that it “just doesn’t work.” I’ve struggled. I’ve worked hard to change what I think, do, and say.
It’s so hard to want to learn more about positive parenting when people who already do it yell at you for not doing it. I’ve seen this happen over and over — adults insulting and demeaning other adults for spanking their children. How can we take them seriously? If they treat other adults that way…are they really all that positive with their children? No one learns from shaming, whether it’s kids or other adults. It’s so silly that people are trying to encourage others not to spank or shame, and are doing so by being rude and harsh towards those who disagree with them!
I’m not into that sort of advocacy. The sort that pushes and forces others to do the “right” thing. I’m into offering information in a gentle way, and allowing others to do what they want with it. I can understand that some of you will reject this outright, and I understand that. Your personalities and situations are different than mine. I do ask you to consider this, though — to think and pray about it carefully.
And for those of you who believe I am rejecting the Bible by suggesting that spanking is not needed, please read this post about the ‘rod’ verses. The short version: they’re not meant to be taken literally, and don’t advocate striking a child.
What is your current approach to discipline?
Confused about vaccines?
Get our FREE no-nonsense vaccine guide. Answer your questions with rational, fact-based information instead of fear.