Compassionate Connection: Attachment Parenting & Nonviolent Communication

Written by Inbal Kashtan.

How do we deal with a two-year-old when he grabs every toy his friend plays with? What do we say to a four-year-old who screams in rage when her baby brother cries? How do we talk with a ten-year-old about the chores he has left undone, again? What strategies will keep our teenager open with us – and safe?

Nonviolent Communication (NVC), sometimes referred to as Compassionate Communication, offers a powerful approach for extending the values of attachment parenting beyond infancy. A process for connecting deeply with ourselves and others, and for creating social change, NVC has been used worldwide in intimate family settings as well as in organizations, schools, prisons, and war-torn countries.

NVC shares two key premises with attachment parenting: Human actions are motivated by attempts to meet needs, and trusting relationships are built through attentiveness to those needs. Both premises contrast with prevailing child rearing practices and with the assumptions about human beings that underlie these practices. Instead of focusing on authority and discipline, attachment parenting and NVC provide theoretical and practical grounds for nurturing compassionate, powerful, and creative children who will have resources to contribute to a peaceful society.

Human Needs And Human Actions

Unlike conventional views of babies as manipulative and in danger of being spoiled, attachment parenting suggests that our babies’ cries are always attempts to get their needs met. NVC, too, shifts attention away from judgments about our own and others’ actions (as manipulative, wrong, bad, inappropriate – or even good), focusing instead on our own and others’ feelings and needs.

Consider the following common situation. A child, Anna, leaves her clothes and toys strewn about the house. Dad may reprimand, remind, offer incentives, or punish. These tactics may or may not lead to the immediate outcome he intends. They will, however, likely result in unwanted long-term outcomes, such as hindering Anna’s intrinsic desire to keep her home orderly and impairing the sense of connection and trust in the family.

Anna’s mom may choose to say nothing out of confusion about what might work. Not getting her needs met, and lacking trust that her needs even matter to Anna, Mom might feel resentful and frustrated. The relationship is again impaired, and Anna loses the opportunity to practice finding solutions that will work for everybody – a powerful skill she needs in order to live in harmony with others.

NVC offers parents two key options that foster connection: empathy for others’ feelings and needs and expression of one’s own. In this situation, Dad can guess – and thus connect with – Anna’s deeper feelings and needs. He can ask, “Are you excited because you want to play?” Or, “Are you annoyed because you want to choose what to do with your space?” Often, simply shifting to an empathic guess of the child’s feelings and needs eases the parent’s reaction. Dad no longer sees Anna as an obstacle to getting his needs met; rather, he is ready to connect with this other human being. For Anna, having the experience of being understood may nurture her willingness to listen to Dad’s feelings and needs and to contribute to their fulfillment.

Mom may choose to express her own emotions. She may start with an observation: “I see clothes, books, markers, and toys on the living room floor.” The observation, instead of an interpretation or judgment (“The house is a mess”), can make a tremendous difference in Anna’s readiness to hear Mom’s perspective. Then, when Mom follows with her feelings and needs instead of going immediately to a solution, she humanizes herself to Anna: “I feel frustrated because I enjoy order in the house.” Mom clearly expresses that her feelings are caused by her own unmet needs, not by Anna’s actions, thereby taking full responsibility for her feelings and for meeting her needs. She continues with a doable request: “Would you be willing to pick up your things and put them in their places?” Or if she wants to explore the broader pattern: “Would you be willing to talk with me about how we can meet your needs for play and choice and my need for order?”

Even if Anna were not willing to talk at that moment, her parents could continue to use empathy and expression until mutually satisfying strategies were found – in that moment or over time. In fact, one of the most profoundly connecting moments in relationships can occur when one person says, “No” and the other empathizes with what that person is implicitly saying “Yes” to: “When you say you don’t want to talk about this, is it because you want more confidence that I care about your needs?”

Every interaction we have with our children contains messages about who they are, who we are, and what life is like. The parent who takes a toy away from a toddler who just took it from another child while saying: “No grabbing,” teaches her child that grabbing is okay – for those with more power. The parent who unilaterally imposes a curfew implies that his teenager can’t be trusted to make thoughtful decisions about his life. Instead, in both words and actions, a parent could convey three key things: I want to understand the needs that led to your actions, I want to express to you the feelings and needs that led to mine, and I want to find strategies that will meet both of our needs.

By hearing the feelings and needs beneath our children’s words and behaviors, we offer them precious gifts. We help them understand, express, and find ways to meet their needs; we model for them the capacity to empathize with others; we give them a vision of a world where everyone’s needs matter; and we help them see that many of the desires that human beings cling to – having the room clean “right now”, watching television, making money – are really strategies for meeting deeper needs.

Allowing ourselves to be affected by our children’s feelings and needs, we offer ourselves the blessing of finding strategies to meet our needs that are not at a cost to our children. Conversely, by sharing our inner world of feelings and needs with our children, we give them opportunities all too rare in our society: to know their parents well, to discover the effects of their actions without being blamed for them, and to experience the power of contributing to meeting others’ needs.

Power With Versus Power Over

When we want our children to do something they don’t want to do, it is almost impossible to resist the temptation to use the enormous physical and emotional power we have over them. Yet attempting to coerce a child to do something she doesn’t want to do neither works effectively in the short term nor supports our long-term needs. (The only exception comes when there is a threat to health or safety, in which case NVC suggests that we use non-punitive, protective force.)

Marshall Rosenberg, founder and Education Director of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, asks parents two questions to point out the severe limitations of using power-over tactics such as reward and punishment: “What do you want the child to do?” and “What do you want the child’s reasons to be for doing so?”1 Do we really want our child to do something out of fear? Guilt? Shame? Obligation? Desire for reward? Most of us have experienced the deadening effect – and the ensuing anger and resentment – of doing things out of these motivations. Human beings do not respond with joy to force or demands. It follows that if people get their needs met at a cost to others there is an attendant cost to themselves. Our needs are met most fully and consistently when we find strategies that also meet others’ needs.

While helping us meet our needs without coercion, NVC also helps us resist giving in to our children’s every wish by teaching us to express our feelings, needs, and requests clearly, and to expect our needs to be considered. When we consistently express our commitment to attending to everyone’s needs – not just theirs, not just our own – we model a way of life to our children and create power with them: the power of choosing to contribute to making life more wonderful for everyone.

Neither coercive nor permissive, NVC focuses on human needs and helps us realize that we, our children, and all human beings share these needs. I draw profound hope from the knowledge that by living this way, I can foster harmony in my family – and contribute to peace in our troubled world.

Growing Up With NVC

People often ask me how old children have to be before parents can start using NVC or when it is too late. I reply that we can always use NVC. With babies, NVC may look essentially like attachment parenting, with verbal expression of our own and our babies’ feelings and needs. The younger the baby, the more primary her needs; as she grows, so does the possibility of including everyone’s needs. Starting NVC with older children raises the challenge of altering existing patterns, but NVC’s simplicity and transformative power make the process more accessible. As everyone’s skills grow, so does the joy of deeper connection and the relief of parenting in ways more aligned with one’s core values and hopes for the world.

NVC doesn’t make the challenges of parenting go away. Our child, like most three-year-olds, demands, refuses, hits, and ignores. And like most parents, we sometimes raise our voice, get frustrated, feel helpless, and forget how we want to parent. However, in these challenging moments NVC gives everyone in our family skills that restore communication and connection. In the midst of the daily wrestling with how to meet everyone’s needs and how to share our power, our son often expresses his feelings, makes requests, and comes up with creative strategies to meet all our needs. Having grown up with NVC, he seems to have internalized a new paradigm for relationships.

One evening several months ago I was very frustrated and expressed myself quite strongly. My son responded, “I am not enjoying the way that you’re telling me your feelings about what’s happened,” and demonstrated for me the tone of voice I had used. He continued, “I’d like you to say it this way,” and demonstrated the tone he would enjoy. Without judgment, my son stated his observations, feelings, and request, with the implied need for respect. I immediately and gladly altered my tone, and two sentences later we snuggled, deeply reconnected.

My son also assumes that parents and children share power. Recently we played that I was his child, scared to go to the doctor. Instead of saying, “You must go,” he asked, “Are you willing to go?” “No, I am scared that it will hurt,” I answered. Then he said, “The doctor won’t hurt you. Now are you willing to go?” Playing a parent, he understood that we were two autonomous human beings, making our own decisions, using the power of words to move toward mutually satisfying outcomes.

In addition, my son is beginning to understand the difference between needs and the strategies we use to meet them. To my: “I’d like to talk with you; would you put down your book while I’m talking?” he replied, “I don’t want to.” I could have empathized with that “No,” seeking to understand the needs he was trying to meet, but I chose to express myself more fully: “I don’t feel comfortable talking with you while you’re looking at the book, so would you be willing to put it down?” He answered, “Okay, I’ll put it down in a minute. But first I want to understand why you don’t feel comfortable talking while I’m looking at the book.” Realizing that I had not made my need clear, I said, “Because when I talk I like to know that I am being listened to.” My son then understood my need and saw that we were not in any conflict. He said, “I am listening to you, so you can go ahead and talk.” Once we recognized my need, we could both see that my strategy was not the only way to meet that need.

NVC teaches that all violence is a tragic expression of unmet needs. With the ongoing cycles of violence that devastate our world, it takes great vision and faith to believe that we can find ways to see each other as fully human and to create a world that meets all our needs. Bringing up our children to speak and live the language of compassion, we embrace that vision and participate in creating that world.

1 See “The Protective Use of Force“.

Originally published at NaturalChild.org.

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How Children Learn Bravery in an Age of Overprotection

Written by Peter Gray.

In the spring of 2008, Lenore Skenazy, a resident of Queens in New York City, left her 9-year-old son off at Bloomingdale’s in midtown Manhattan, in the middle of a sunny Sunday, gave him a handful of quarters, $20 for emergencies, a map, a Metrocard, and a kiss (I assume) and said he could go home himself.  To do so he would have to take the subway and a bus, on a route he had taken many times before with his mom. When he got home he was pleased as punch. He had been begging for this opportunity to prove that he could get home himself by public transportation, and now he had done it. He glowed with his new sense of maturity.

Lenore, who was then a columnist for the New York Sun, wrote a column about it. Within hours after the column appeared some in the media had labeled her as “America’s Worst Mom.” In a rare show of unity, all of the women on ABC’s The View soundly condemned her decision. The more polite of the other fourth-grade moms at the playground said, according to Lenore, things like, “Well, that’s fine, and I’ll let my son do that too…. when he’s in college.”  Lenore used this incident as a trigger to write a wonderfully funny book entitled Free Range Kids, in which she diminishes parental fears by showing how ridiculous so many of them are.

Now, I don’t mean to one-up Lenore—whom I got to know and admire at a conference where we both spoke—in the America’s worst parent department, BUT…. My son, at age 13, went to London for two weeks by himself. That was back in 1982, when it was easier to be a trustful parent than in 2008 or today. He had approached his mom and me in the spring, when he was still 12, with this request.  He would earn all the money for the trip himself, so we couldn’t use money as an excuse to stop him. He would plan the whole trip himself—in fact, he had already planned much of it. He wanted to prove to himself that he could organize and do something this complicated without adult help. He also wanted to see certain castles and museum treasures, which he had been reading about and were prominent in the Dungeons and Dragons games he played. He had never been abroad. Neither, for that matter, had his mom or I.

We hesitated about saying yes, “not because of your age,” we explained, “but because of your diabetes.” He had (and still has) Type I diabetes.  He had been testing his own sugar levels, giving himself insulin injections, and regulating his diet appropriately ever since his diabetes first appeared, at age 9. He was as good at all this as any adult diabetic I knew. Yet, it is dangerous for anyone with insulin-dependent diabetes to travel alone. There’s always the risk of insulin-induced hypoglycemia, in which you lose judgment and even consciousness. What if that happened while he was away, in a strange place, and nobody helped him?

To all this, he said, in essence: “I’ll always have diabetes. If you’re telling me that I can’t travel alone because of diabetes, you’re telling me that I’ll never be able to travel alone. I don’t accept that. I’m not going to let diabetes prevent me from doing what I want to do. When I’m older I’ll travel alone and you won’t be able to stop me. If it’s not age you’re concerned about, then what’s the difference between my traveling now and my traveling when I’m 18, or 30, or 50?”  His logic, as always, was impeccable.

We said, “OK.” We fulfilled our parental obligation to nag only by making him promise to wear his medic alert medallion everywhere, so if he did have an insulin reaction people could read it and see that he was diabetic and needed help and would not assume that he was drunk.

He spent the rest of that spring and all summer working and earning all the money he needed for the trip. He earned most of it through a job at a small restaurant, which he got on his own. At first he washed dishes, but then, when they saw what a good worker he was, they promoted him to working the grill and coordinating the kitchen. That itself was a wonderful growth experience.  By October, he was ready to take his adventure. He was by then 13 years old. He was a student at Sudbury Valley School, with its broad view of education (which I’ve written about here), so taking time off from school was no problem. Everyone at the school understood that this trip was a valuable educational experience, so they marked him as in attendance but on a field trip.

He was abroad and out of touch with us for two weeks, saw countless castles, toured Westminster, spent days immersed in the treasures of the National Gallery and other museums, and took walking tours all over London. He also took a side trip to Oxford for a Moody Blues concert, another to Cardiff to walk the hills and see Cardiff Castle, and another to Paris with a 15-year-old young lady he had met on the plane to London. All in all, an amazing set of experiences that led him to new heights in confidence about his ability to run his own life. Diabetes diaschmetes.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my son was not just any 13-year-old kid when he took this adventure. Had he been less responsible and less able to think things through, his mother and I might have said no.  To be a trustful parent is not to be a negligent parent. You have to know your kid. But responsibility does not grow in a vacuum. If you want responsible kids, you have to allow them the freedom to be responsible, and that, sadly, is much harder to do today than it was in 1982; and in 1982 it was harder than in years before that.

Today it would be almost impossible for parents to let their kid have an adventure like the one that my son had at 13, no matter how responsible the kid might be.  For starters, that job of working the grill at a restaurant, where he earned the money for the trip, is now illegal for anyone under 16 years old (in our home state of Massachusetts).  The state itself has decided that kids under 16, just by virtue of their age, are incompetent and irresponsible.  And, on the matter of social pressure, even in 1982 our decision raised a few eyebrows. Imagine how your friends and relatives would react if you, as a parent today, made such a decision.

But, at other times and places people might have wondered more about our hesitation than about our final decision.  As Lenore says in the introduction to her book, “[Our great, great grandparents] sent their sweet children out on slow, rusty steamers to the New World with only a couple of rubles and a hard salami.”[1]

To illustrate the enormous contrast between our own babying of children and the view of people in traditional cultures, here’s a quotation from the writing of researcher Mary Martini, about her observations of little children on the Marquesan island of ‘Ua Pou, in the South Pacific:

“Thirteen members of a stable play group were observed daily for four months and less systematically for another two. . . . Children ranged from two to five years old. They played several hours a day without supervision while their siblings attended school nearby. They organized activities, settled disputes, avoided danger, dealt with injuries, distributed goods, and negotiated contact with passing others–without adult intervention. They avoided adults, probably because adults disrupted their play. The play area was potentially dangerous. A strong surf broke on the boat ramp. The large rocks on the shore were strewn with broken glass. The valley walls were steep and slippery. Children played on a high bridge and high, sharp, lava rock walls. Machetes, axes, and matches were occasionally left around and young children played with these. In spite of these dangers, accidents were rare and minor.  Hitting, teasing, and scolding were frequent, but fistfights, tantrums, and prolonged crying were rare. Disputes were frequent but were dissipated after a few minutes. Children did not seek adults or older children to settle conflicts or direct their play.”[2]

Martini goes on to explain that, in these play groups, the 4- and 5-year-olds cared for the 2- and 3-year-olds, and they did so almost entirely in the context of their play.  She found that 24% of their time was involved in sociodramatic (shared fantasy) play, generally at themes relevant to the adult culture, such as “ship,” “fishing,” “hunting,” and “preparing for feasts.” Another 30% was spent at object play (building things), and 28% was spent at physical play (chasing games, climbing, and so on).  All this without any adult supervision.

When Martini asked parents about their children’s playing with matches and machetes, she found that they would take those things away when they knew about it, because they were afraid that the children would waste the matches and ruin the machetes, not because they were afraid that the children would hurt themselves. According to Martini, the children on this island were remarkably well adjusted psychologically and socially. They didn’t whine or demand adult attention as Western children so often do, and they were extraordinarily adept at solving their own problems as they arose.

I doubt if there has ever been any human culture, anywhere, at any time, that underestimates children’s abilities more than we North Americans do today.  Our underestimation becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, because, by depriving children of freedom, we deprive them of the opportunities they need to learn how to take control of their own behavior and emotions.

Nothing in life is without risk.  When we deprive our children of taking the risks that they must take to grow in competence, confidence, and courage, we run the greater and ultimately more tragic risk that they will never learn to take charge of their own lives (see post on rise of anxiety and depression ).

So, be brave and let your kids be brave.

Notes:

[1] Lenore Skenazy (2009), Free-range kids: Giving our children the freedom we had without going nuts with worry.  Jossy-Bass.

[2] Mary Martini (1994). Peer interactions in Polynesia: A view from the Marquesas. In J. L. Roopnarine, J. E. Johnson, & F. H. Hooper (Eds.), Children’s play in diverse cultures (pp. 73-103). State University of New York Press.

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The Case Against Time-out

Written by Dr. Peter Haiman, Ph.D.

For generations, parents have sought a reliable and dependable way to handle childhood misbehavior. The most recent and popular discipline technique is time-out. Although time-out is better than spanking, it is not an appropriate way for parents to cope with the misbehavior of their children. Moreover, the use of time-out can create subsequent childhood behavior problems. These problems can affect the well-being of the child and severely strain the parent-child relationship.

Child Behavior – A Symptom

The behavior of children has a legitimate cause. Childhood behavior is determined, for the most part, by how children feel about the current state of their physical and psychosocial needs. Needs are strong in every child, and children are, by nature, sensitive to their own needs. If one or more of their needs are not met, children will soon feel uncomfortable.

Children will cry out when they feel uncomfortable. An infant or toddler’s cry announces feelings of frustration. These cries have evolved as a survival mechanism. They attract parental attention. The purpose of a cry is to obtain the kind and quality of parental love and care that will properly attend to unmet needs and, therefore, establish feelings of security in the child. The misbehavior of older children and adolescents is a cry for help announcing that their needs are frustrated.

Cries and misbehavior from children and adolescents are, in a way, very much like a sore throat, stuffed up nose, aching muscles, or a fever. All are symptoms. All have causes. A medical practitioner knows that when the virus or bacteria that is causing physical symptoms is eliminated, the noxious feelings will be quelled. Similarly, when parents correctly diagnose and provide remedies that address the needs of children and adolescents, the symptoms of crying or misbehavior will also disappear.

The frustration of important needs does not feel good at any age. However, children can become quite upset and demanding when their needs are not met. Their often intense outbursts stem, in part, from their dependent nature. Unlike most adults, young children lack the ability to meet their own needs. They are physically unable to do most self-care tasks. By nature, they also have strong emotional needs and vulnerabilities. Moreover, unlike most adults, young children are unable to tolerate frustration well. In addition, infants, toddlers, and many preschool-aged children are unable to identify the frustrated needs that are making them upset. This makes it impossible for most young children to tell their parents what is bothering them and why they are often unable independently to get their needs fulfilled.

Time-out

When time-out is used, parents first firmly demand that their child stop misbehaving and be quiet. The child is then usually required to go and sit alone in a room, away from parents, and admonished not to come out of the room until they are sure that they can control their behavior. Being placed in time-out prolongs the time that a child must endure the frustrated need that caused their misbehavior. Thus, unmet normal needs become increasingly uncomfortable as the time-out continues. Young children depend upon, want to be with, love, and need their parents.

What exacerbates this increasingly uncomfortable state of being frustrated is the fact that the child must be alone, away from the parents who they must rely upon to meet their needs, This enforced separation from their basic source of comfort, security, and well-being adds considerably to the woe of a child. Moreover, being alone in time-out can create additional disturbing feelings that the child must endure. Painful emotions like fear and worry often develop. A frustrated child who must sit quietly and alone in time-out frequently becomes angry. Although the youngster dare not express this anger when in time-out, the child often expresses it by becoming angry and defiant sometime after being released from time-out. The practice of separating a child in time-out from parents can in itself become the cause of future misbehavior, because being alone and in time-out increases the frustrations felt by a child who is already frustrated.

Interpersonal dilemmas and conflicts are best resolved when each individual has sufficient opportunity to talk to and be heard by the other person. Modeling, initiating, and practicing the process of open dialogue is essential if a youngster is to learn healthy problem solving. Does time-out lend itself to this process? Helping children talk about how they feel, combined with parental patience, is required if children are to develop the ability to verbalize their feelings and needs rather than act them out.

Lifelong Effects of Frequent Time-out

For the frustrated and uncomfortable child, time-out offers enforced silence and the feeling of being rejected by one’s parents. A youngster who misbehaves and then is given time-out feels hurt. This hurt, combined with the frustration that caused the youngster to misbehave, gives birth to anger. And discipline practices like time-out, which create hurt and anger, can harm a child.

A serious cost of being given time-out in childhood is the lesson that one should bottle up uncomfortable emotions. Upset in time-out and unable to express distressing feelings, youngsters desperately need to stop the painful feelings going on inside them. To cope, children learn to ignore and/or distract themselves from the energy of their hurt and angry feelings. Thus, children learn to repress their painful feelings. In the process, nervous habits emerge such as thumb sticking, fingernail biting, hair pulling, skin scratching, tugging at clothes, self-pinching, and many other similar behaviors. The purpose of these behaviors is to ward off uncomfortable feelings and, in identification with their parents’ criticism of them, to punish themselves. These defense strategies serve to release anger and ignore uncomfortable feelings.

As a result, being unaware of true feelings can often become a characteristic feature of a person’s life. This reduces a person’s self-awareness and can affect the quality of life throughout an entire lifetime.

Developing the Well-behaved Child

Parents can develop a well-behaved, self-disciplined child best by responsively and continuously meeting their child’s developmentally normal needs and drives; by demonstrating and articulating humane values in day-to-day interactions with their youngster; and by exposing their child to life experiences that strengthen and reinforce these values. Troubled and spoiled children are created when parents do not meet their child’s normal needs and drives consistently and appropriately.

What are the basic, normal childhood needs? If a child is physically healthy, well nourished, satisfactorily exercised, and not tired, the youngster’s physical needs are being met. A youngster who has received sufficient and continuous satisfying attention, affection, and recognition from parents and other adults and children to whom the child is emotionally attached, the child’s social and emotional needs are fulfilled. If a child’s normal curiosity, exploratory nature, and intrinsic interests are regularly allowed opportunities to unfold and develop, the intellectual needs of that child will be satisfied. When young children are given opportunities, within a securely supportive and trustworthy environment, to become increasingly more independent, make choices, and meaningfully participate in decision making, their normal need to exercise some control over their life and to express their own will are being appropriately addressed.

It is very important for parents and parents-to-be to learn the developmentally normal characteristics’ of each stage of early human development. It is also important to recognize a virulent myth that still exists in our society: that fully meeting a child’s needs will spoil the child. The research literature clearly says that the opposite is true. The well-disciplined child is created when parents appropriately fulfill the needs of childhood and adolescence.

Originally published at NaturalChild.org.

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What Does a Punishment-Free Home Look Like?

Written by Mama Eve.

I’m always a little surprised when people are horrified to hear I don’t punish my children.

“How will they learn right from wrong?” is usually the first question, and I can see them picturing a household run by unruly hellions jumping on furniture and swinging from the ceiling fans.

It’s not that we don’t have those moments (maybe not quite that extreme) — but as much as I want punishment-free to mean always calm, always peaceful, and rules always followed, that isn’t the truth either.

What we have in our home is a lot of love, a lot of respect, a lot of empathy, and a lot of communication.

I can’t remember exactly when I started time-outs in our home, but I definitely remember when we stopped them. It was after one or two efforts, and putting my son in the corner was like doing an exorcism. I stayed calm, I took a deep breath, I explained what the transgression was and how long he needed to sit there, and those were the worst thirty seconds of my life.

I could see that if I wanted a punishment to work on my strong-willed, spirited, and stubborn son, I would have to break his will and wield complete control over him. I needed to find another way. It’s been over two years since then, and we’ve traveled on our journey together as a family.

We have two hot-button issues in our house: hitting and sharing; not surprising considering my sons are 4 and 2. My goal is that some day not too far in the future, my boys will be self-motivated to share, and also have the self-control to not hit when they’re frustrated or angry. They’re showing signs of doing this — all without punishment.

When it comes to sharing, I want them to have control of their toys and their actions — I’m not an all-knowing, omnipresent being who dictates toy possession. They are responsible for working out who plays with what toys, for what length of time, and in what manner. When scuffles inevitably arise, I’m there to narrate, prevent feelings from escalating to the point of hurting each other, and suggest alternatives if they get stuck.

When I deal with sharing issues in this way, there is no room for punishment — it’s just all about learning. My boys are learning to control themselves. They’re learning to problem solve. They’re learning to negotiate, and to look at situations from different angles. Once we started working out conflicts like this, the idea of punishment seemed ridiculous.

With hitting, it’s not quite as clear-cut.

It pains me when one of my children hurts the other, and these are situations where my husband and I still learning how to effectively deal with it — mostly because we have to check our own anger. Sometimes we separate everyone until we all calm down, but then we still have to come together afterwards and talk about what happens. Usually it’s best when we deal with it straight away.

First, I attend to whoever got hurt, and I give kisses and cuddles. I include whoever the aggressor was. If they’re acting out, they need cuddles too. I narrate what happened, and if there is still anger and hot tempers, I firmly say, “I won’t let you hurt your brother again”. We talk about alternatives to hitting when our tempers rise, and we talk about how it hurts the other person.

In these situations, I can of course see how it makes sense to punish, but I don’t see how it would benefit my children.

I don’t understand what they would learn from a punishment, but I can see them learning when I bring them together. They’re learning that someone cares about them and doesn’t want them to hurt other people when they get out of control. They learn that they are the ones who control their actions, and they have different options. They learn that when they make mistakes, they have a safe, loving place to come to where they can learn a better way of doing things.

The result of not punishing my children is trust. 

While they still have occasional squabbles over toys they need me to help them work out, more and more they can play together for hours and regulate themselves. They still hit each other, but more and more they move away and say, “I’m so mad! I want to hit him” and come to me for a hug. They don’t run away from me, and they respect me.

Ending punishments was the best thing we’ve ever done for the relationships in our family. Now that we’ve had some practice at it, I really can’t imagine our life any other way.

Originally published at MamaEve.com.

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“Spanking” Children Is Domestic Violence

Written by Sara Burrows.

While the average American would look at you like you were crazy if you said it was okay for a man to hit his wife if she didn’t obey him, that same person would likely argue that hitting – or “spanking” – children is not only acceptable, but advisable for producing “well-behaved, functioning” members of society.

This not only defies logic, it defies science.

According to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking, representing around 160,000 children – “the more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.”

The analysis is of what typical Americans define as “spanking” – an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities – not what the typical American defines as “abuse.”

“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors, yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree,” said Elizabeth Gershoff, associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, in a press release about the study.

In an earlier study, Gershoff found kids who are spanked are also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and drug use.

Children are more vulnerable than women

While hitting grown women – or grown men for that matter – without their consent, is always wrong, hitting children is destructive on another level. At least adults typically have the ability to leave their abuser. Young children – totally dependent on their parents – do not. They are more vulnerable, more impressionable, less able to protect themselves, and less able to put the abuse in context.

If you try to argue that hitting a woman is abuse, but hitting a child is not, you’re a hypocrite. It’s not your fault. You’re probably experiencing cognitive dissonance. Your parents undoubtedly hit you as a child and told you it was for your own good or “because they loved you.”

Perhaps they were those creepy “spare the rod, spoil the child” parents, who calmly “disciplined” you on a regular basis just for good measure. Or perhaps they spanked you only a handful of times, when they lost their temper, because you did something really “bad” that just pushed them over the edge.

Either way, you probably look back and say “my parents loved me – they wouldn’t have done anything to harm me.”

“It only stung for a minute, but the lesson I learned will last for a lifetime,” someone argued on my Facebook page today, as if any positive lesson could be learned from one’s guardian violently assaulting them.

Or – even worse – maybe you’ve spanked your own children, creating even more cognitive dissonance. When studies like the one above come out indicating you’ve put your child at risk for mental health disorders and lower IQ, you just can’t handle it. “That can’t be true! It wasn’t that bad!” – you might tell yourself.

I’m here to tell you it is that bad. I know from firsthand experience.

I hit my daughter once

I hit my daughter once just before she turned 2. I will never forget how her trusting eyes filled with tears, fear and confusion the first and last time I slapped her chubby little thigh. It was during a time in my life where sleepless nights and financial stress had turned me into an emotionally unstable wreck. I was struggling to get a diaper on a flailing, over-tired toddler, whose late-night meltdown triggered my own meltdown.

“Maybe if I just give her one little smack, it’ll snap her out of her tantrum and get her to hold still for a second,” I thought, without thinking.

It was awful. Her fierce defiance was momentarily transformed into submission and obedience, at the cost of her trust. She stared at me with a look of betrayal as if to say – “Who ARE you? You’re not my mother.”

I sobbed as I breast-fed her to sleep, and then made my way downstairs to do some research on spanking alternatives and peaceful parenting. I’d already promised her I would never hit her again and wanted to learn some strategies to help me keep that promise.

I found two really helpful websites – AhaParenting.com and LittleHeartsBooks.com, and later a great book called Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children.

They explained how non-violent parenting does not equal “permissive” parenting – how, in fact, setting boundaries can help prevent parents from losing their tempers. They explained WHY toddlers have tantrums and why teens “act out” and what you can do to reconnect with them and repair the trust. They emphasized teaching children empathy rather than obedience.

Later, I was given a copy of The Continuum Concept, which demonstrates how hunter-gatherer tribes raise happy, healthy, generous children with zero violence or coercion. It taught me how children naturally WANT to please their elders when they are treated like adults, with respect… how they WANT to cooperate and share, when these behaviors are modeled for them.

So even if it’s taken you longer than it took me to realize you’ve been doing this whole parenting thing backwards, don’t be afraid to turn the ship around. If you’ve been spanking your kids and are starting to realize it’s not working – do your research and make some drastic changes. See what happens.

And don’t just go from one punishment, to a lesser punishment like time outs. Learn to parent beyond punishment altogether, because the dirty little secret about punishment is – it doesn’t work.

Originally published at ReturnToNow.net.

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12 Amazing Reasons Why Dogs Are Good to Help Raise Children

Written by Jenny Perkins and HerePup.com.

Animals have always played an important role in many people’s lives, since time immemorial. Dogs are the most common animals to have stood by man and have become one of the most beloved household pets, up to the modern day. They have been valued not only as companions but also as family members who have significantly impacted the quality of life of both the parents and children.

The phenomenon of families getting pet dogs for their children has been tremendously widespread worldwide. This is because of one simple reason: most children simply love dogs. Dogs are so friendly, cute, cuddly, and loyal. Beyond all these, there are far more benefits to owning a K9 companion for the children in the family.

If we better understand the human-pet bond, the more we get to know our four-legged best buddy and in turn improve our lives. One of the most common convictions to have pet dogs at home with your children is that dogs help teach kids skills which can be used to improve their socialization with other children, and other human beings too.

Below is a list of the many benefits of dogs in children’s lives. These impact both physical and psychological development. The colorful and well-thought off graphic details why parents should allow children to grow up with pet dogs. It is an interesting picture that kids can also see.

Scroll down and check it out. You will be blown away by the number of possibilities of how dogs can indeed improve the quality of life of the whole family, especially the children, and how they will grow up to be contributing members of society with a memorable childhood.

12 Amazing Reasons Why Dogs Are Good to Help Raise Children

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