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Tuesday Tips: Positive Discipline

Just in time for Tuesday Tips are my notes from last week’s Attachment Parenting playgroup.  We talked about the idea of “Positive Discipline”.  There was a mom at the meeting who has started a couple of AP groups here in Phoenix – once I can get the links to the internet groups she started, I will post them.

So what is “Positive Discipline”?  I think that some folks think that Attachment Parents are “absent parents” in this area since we make a conscious choice not to use physical discipline with our children.  Why are we opposed to spanking and hitting?  The core belief is that we respect our children as whole, complete individuals.  It is a criminal offense to hit another adult, and we take the view that even more so a defenseless child.  The goal is to raise self-directed individuals who make healthy choices because they want to and they know how to, not because they are afraid of us or the consequences that we mete out.

What does the research say?  As with many things, you can find studies that support your view.  One of our students who is a researcher at ASU shared some studies with me that support spanking, and other research that supports not spanking.  She shared these sage words: there are bad parents that don’t spank, and there are good parents that do spank.  So does spanking make a difference?

When I asked a friend of mine why she didn’t spank, her answer changed my view on the meaning of discipline forever: A big person spanking or hitting a small person is never acceptable – it is always violence and an abuse of power.

There are a couple of things positive discipline is not:

  • It is not manipulation or bribing.  Manipulating statements tend to sound like this, “If you____, then I _____.”  Having preconditions on behavior sets up a precedence for incentive based behavior.  These kinds of interactions are missing trust.  The other thing you don’t want to instill is fear: what happens if I don’t take the bait?
  • It is not ignoring the behavior and never addressing the child’s actions.  While it is sometimes prudent to ignore a naughty word choice just in case your child is doing it for attention or the thrill factor, ignoring behaviors that hurt or injure others is not being AP.  It would be neglectful and disrespectful of the other people being hurt by your child’s choices.

The three main components of AP discipline are Prevention, Distraction and Substitution:

  • Letting your child explore safely letting them explore, be close, do their own thing
  • Use time in vs. time out
  • Empower and respect
  • Understand the unmet need
  • Work out a solution together – be proactive
  • Have a “yes” environment
  • Discipline through play – act out the better choices with dolls or puppets
  • Change things up – “Change your state” by changing your environment
  • State facts rather than making demands
  • Avoid labeling
  • Make requests in the affirmative
  • Allow natural consequences that are age appropriate
  • Use care when offering praise
  • Offer your child choices
  • Be sensitive to strong emotions – what else is going on?
  • Consider carefully before imposing will
  • Use logical consequences sparingly and with compassion
  • Understand the difference between acting out and developmentally appropriate behaviors
  • Give loving guidance to needs and the temperament of each child

What are your child’s developmental milestones?  Here are a couple of sites that I use:

  • Find good info at Zero to Three (Their sleep info isn’t what we follow, however, developmental info is pretty good.)
  • Another great resource that is generally spot-on with our parenting choices is Aha! Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham.  Her website has developmental milestones and resources for parents from birth through the teen years.  I have a feeling I am going to be wearing a “virtual” beaten path to her site as our family grows :)

What does AP discipline look like in action?  AP parents want to connect with their children, so we use words to direct behavior.  The example was a child who is learning to use scissors and wants to cut everything besides paper.

  1. Tell your reason:  “I can’t let you cut the carpet because…”
  2. Ask them to tell you why they shouldn’t be doing something, or tell them why if they are too young to use words.
  3. Ask them to tell you what is an appropriate choice, or offer one if they are too young to act out or verbalize an appropriate choice: ” If you do not want to cut paper right now, I can let you cut the grass – should we go try using scissors outside?”

The “biggie” in any family or playgroup is hitting.  How does an AP parent want to handle that?

  1. Talk to your child before intervening: “I can see that you are getting frustrated.  Can you think of some words to use with your sibling/friend?  Or maybe you want to try playing something else (or: by yourself, come sit with me for a minute)?”  Hopefully that is enough to get them to make a different choice and avoid a physical expression.  If it isn’t…
  2. Comfort hurt child first: “I am so sorry (s)he hit you – (s)he didn’t use their words – are you okay?”
  3. Don’t force an apology: “When you are ready, I would like you to say you are sorry for hurting them.”  Having it be their choice usually gives yields an immediate, or at least timely, apology.  You want it to be their choice, instead of adding to their frustration by having another interaction in which they feel a loss of control. 

What if you mess up?  Apologize – Reconnect – Rebond
You can read about one of my very worst days this summer HERE. Although it was painful as it happened, and very embarrassing to write about, I shared it in the hopes that it will give you courage to forgive yourself if it happens to you.

I will close with an on-line resource that I also like to read over to remind myself of the positive discipline “tools” in my “toolbox”.  Head on over to Positive Parenting Connection and see what you think.

What are your go-to positive discipline tools?

3 thoughts on “Tuesday Tips: Positive Discipline

  1. Dr. Laura Markham

    Wonderful post, and I’m honored that you mentioned AhaParenting.com. But I do have to ask what studies you have seen that support spanking? I follow the research closely and have not seen one study! There is one by Marjorie Gunnoe that was reported as showing that kids who are spanked are higher achievers, but when you read the study, her claim is that they WANT to achieve more, not that they do. In fact, they achieve less, as shown in other studies. If you know of any other studies that claim that spanking has any positive effects, I would love to have the citation, so I can read the studies!

    1. krystynabowman@gmail.com Post author

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to read our post! I am honored. Most everything our student shared with me (7/9 studies) showed demonstrated spanking is tied to anti-social behavior. There was one study, that to my untrained eye (I am not a researcher, just an avid reader!), read as if spanking were more of a moral dilemma than actually a proven problem. Here is the online link I found on NIH: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12573670. I do have the Gunnoe study as well, and I see what you are talking about. I do not agree with her conclusion *at all*. The other ones I am referring to are the ones cited in Gershoff’s meta-analysis. She cites two researchers that found that, “corporal punishment is both effective and desirable”: Baumrind and Larzelere. Quite honestly, I didn’t look further to find their studies at the time. Reading through the nine our student shared, and the idea that all these children were being hit (and in one, verbally abused!), and nobody cared to stop the parents for the sake of study; it made me physically ill. Reading through all of them again just now to make sure I hadn’t missed anything is still very disturbing, so unless you suggest that Baumrind and Larzelere are important to read, I will continue carrying on in my support of AP knowing that it is the right choice for our family; and continue writing about it with the hope that at least one child is talked to instead of hit when their behavior needs attention.

  2. Pingback: Aha! Parenting & Seeing Dr. Laura Markham | Sweet Pea Families

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