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Parenting Advice Column
Subject: Discipline techniques for an older child

I am interested on your opinion on the use of discipline techniques for an older child such as "diversion", "consequences" and taking away items/toys as discipline.

- Tammy


Hi Tammy,

Thank you for asking about this. Many parents understand that spanking is harmful, but don't see that other forms of punishment are harmful and ineffective too, and, just like spanking, interfere with the bond between parent and child. Other parents understand this, yet wonder what they should do instead.

All forms of punishment are harmful and ineffective over the long term. This includes the ones you listed and all other kinds of punishment, such as "time out", "grounding", removal of privileges, and so on. All of these methods have much in common with physical punishment, and all give the same messages: that the parent has no interest in the underlying unmet needs that led to the behavior, and that the parent is willing to take advantage of his greater size and power over the child. Above all, they tell the child that the people he has come to love and trust wish to cause him pain. This is a "crazy-making" message, because it is so alien to the child's intuitive understanding about what love should look like.

Finally, all of these approaches miss the best opportunities for learning, because they sidetrack the child into fantasies of revenge, where he is too distracted to focus on the real issue at hand. Real alternatives to punishment are those that help the child to learn and to grow in a healthy way. There are few greater joys in life than allowing our child to teach us what love is.

To explore this further, see my article "Ten Reasons not to Hit Your Kids", which could just as well have been titled "Ten Reasons not to Punish Your Kids".

The only form of discipline that really works is gentle loving guidance that respects the child fully and is consistent with the Golden Rule. My article "22 Alternatives to Punishment" describes effective approaches that give the child only positive, loving messages.

I am convinced that punishment of all kinds is harmful, ineffective, and dangerous, and such approaches as time-out and removal of privileges are inevitably experienced as punishment by the child, regardless of the parent's intentions. These approaches all have the same ramifications as spanking: they weaken the bond between parent and child, they teach the child a negative response to others' behavior, and, like spanking, they can only be used during the years that the parent is able to maintain physical and emotional control over the child.

My own experience raising a child without punishment is described in my article "Confessions of a Proud Mom". My article "Children: Do We Get It?" may also be helpful.

Dr. Elliott Barker says it best (this was our "Quote of the Month" for June 1999):

"Kids who have their needs met early by loving parents ... are subjected totally and thoroughly to the most effective form of 'discipline' conceivable: they don't do what you don't want them to do because they love you so much!

"If you haven't cluttered the airwaves between you and your child with a thousand stupid 'don'ts' over your Royal Doulton china, or not eating their dessert before the main course, or not finishing their spinach, or not doing this or that, then those few situations where it really matters because of safety and impropriety don't need anything approaching the connotation of 'discipline' to ensure appropriate behavior."

- Dr. Elliott Barker,
Director, Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

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