This post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is No Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph. D, authors of the book The Whole Brain Child. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.
Articles and online threads regarding gentle parenting often find themselves subject to a frantic cry from parents who want to do better but don’t know how. “How?” they ask. “You tell us what not to do, but what is it that we should do?” This is a valid question. If someone was trying to teach you to use a computer and only told you what not to do, it would be difficult for you to figure out what exactly it was . Imagine going to orientation for a new job and only being told what not to do. It would be frustrating at the very least. You might feel like screaming, or crying, or just flat out giving up.
Now imagine a similar scenario except as a child. In families that use punishments, you often find a similar situation, times one hundred. “Don’t hit your brother.” “Stop leaving you stuff all over the house?” While you may be frustrated at work, at the end of the day you get to go home and take a break. If the situation is really bad, you might request a change or even decide to leave and find a better job. But what if you didn’t have any recourse? A child doesn’t have those possibilities. Home is supposed to be their safe place. If all, or even a significant amount of, what they hear is what not to do, they aren’t learning what they should do.
Parents may say that punishments are set up to help children learn responsibility and to do better, but the truth is that punishment is set up to make child feel bad. Punishment, whether hitting (i.e.spanking), time-outs, or grounding, is the easy road for parents. They can feel like they did something while putting very little effort into the situation. Your child hits her brother? Punishment. He forgets to take the dog out? Punishment. She got home later than the agreed upon time, left his homework at home, didn’t take the trash out, questioned an adult, wanted a different pair of pants than you wanted to buy, chose his words poorly, and on and on. Frankly, when you are a child living in such a world, everything you do is subject to judgment and punishment. And you thought the work scenario was bad.
Kids are going to screw up. We, adults, aren’t perfect, either. We screw up quite a bit. Kids haven’t even had the same opportunities we have in order to learn how they should be handling all of these situations. And yet, many adults, parents included, expect kids to be able to handle everything perfectly. It is bad news for the kids who don’t have everything figured out yet. In this punishment mindset, we can just hope they figure it out for next time.
Right about now, you may be thinking to yourself that I still haven’t told you what to do, You would be right, and there is a reason for that. Every situation is different. Every person is different. While punishment takes a one-size-fits-all attitude, life isn’t like that, though. I can’t tell you what you should do in any given situation, because I am not there. I am not you. I don’t know your child or the background. There isn’t one thing you should do.
So, how do you know what to do then? You have to think about it. Sometimes you have to put yourself in your child’s place. Ask yourself why they did what they did (there is always, always a reason behind why a person does something, even if they, themselves, don’t know it). Talk with your children. Listen to them. Work with them. Connect with them. Help them to figure out a better way to do whatever it is. I won’t lie. It is not always easy, especially when you are first starting out and especially if you grew up with the authoritarian mindset. But you know what? No one ever said parenting was easy. But it is definitely worth it.