Discipline Is Not The Same As Punishment

“It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” ~ Abraham Maslow

How often have you heard someone say something like “That child really needs to be disciplined!” or “I can’t believe how badly behaved she is, her parents never discipline her”? Before I became a parent I could always tell the good parents from the bad ones because bad parents had children who misbehaved. I was really clued in, wasn’t I? In the 4 1/2 years since I became a parent myself, if there is one thing I am sure of it is that if a child is acting out, it is to get a need met. It is unlikely that they are doing it consciously, but dig around a little and you will most likely find this to be true. My husband is not so convinced.

Discipline-For-Child1-1One of the things my husband and I disagree about most often is the issue of disciplining our children. He is by no means a disciplinarian, but there is a part of him that does believe that his parents’ old-school methods of intimidation (wait until your father gets home) and alienation (go to your room) were effective and when our children are at their most difficult, he often gets frustrated with my more touchy-feely manner of parenting.

Two very different childhoods

My husband and I come from very different families and our parents had very different styles of disciplining us. Because he is one of 7 children, with a workaholic father who had little time or ability to be the doting dad, my husband and his siblings were cared for by nannies and a mom who, although loving, had a lot on her plate; thus, focusing in on each child’s needs wasn’t possible as often as the children may have needed. When he and his siblings misbehaved, they were often sent on the very long walk around their home to where their father’s office was. Down a long, dark hall into a room with a fireplace where their father sat, high above them, in his chair behind a desk. The offending child would pull up a small folding chair, sit in front of him and await their punishment.

I, on the other hand, am the only child of bohemian parents who practiced a more laissez faire style of parenting. They spent a great deal of time talking about feelings, being open about “adult” issues like drugs and giving in to my will because battling me when I had made up my mind was generally a losing game. My memory of childhood holds no recollection of punishment (although there must have been some?) and few firm rules, as their belief was that actions depended on circumstance. My parents modeled kindness, respect and communication. Their parenting style wasn’t perfect, whose is? Yet, the basic concept my parents held that an adult is not superior to a child, is one I believe strongly in.

What is discipline?

The origin of the word “discipline” is from the Latin word “discipulous”, which translates as “learner”. Learner. Thus, discipline is actually about learning, as in being disciplined about something. However, the word discipline has, unfortunately, become synonymous with “punishment” when it applies to children.

The root of this, I think, is the belief that adults need to be in control. Teacher Tom says it in a perfect way in his recent post The Language Of Command:

“I think, for many of us, the idea that the adult is “the boss” is such a deeply rooted concept that we act as if it is an unquestioned truth. And sometimes, I suppose, we are “the boss,” like when we need to take charge in urgent moments where safety is concerned. Stop! Don’t go in the street! That kind of thing. But too often we confuse being responsible for someone with being their superior, and that pre-supposition of command crops up in moments when there’s really no point, like a bad habit.”

If we approach parenting with this idea of superiority firmly planted, even in our subconscious, it is not surprising that we end up treating children in ways that disrespect them as people.

What would The Buddha do?

buddhaIn Buddhist philosophy, discipline is not about being “good” or “bad”, it is simply about a gentle coming back to oneself without judgment or narrative. What if we could look at our child experiencing a tantrum as needing to come back to themselves and not put labels on that? What if we could see our child misbehaving without making it mean something about our parenting skills? One very basic idea of Buddhism is that we all want to be relieved of suffering. If we can look at our children who are in a state of dis-regulation as needing guidance, then perhaps we can step into the role of teacher more easily.

“Mahayana Buddhist teachings encourage us on the path of the bodhisattva-warrior, one who is brave and confident enough to overcome self-centeredness in order to help others”. ~ Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

If we, as parents, can overcome our need to be right, to be in control, to have our children obey us, we can help our children better. And in doing so, we may find ourselves in a more connected, less adversarial, relationship with them. I do not claim to be a bodhisattva, but in my more thoughtful parenting moments I do strive to attain the 6 actions of one: generosity, patience, exertion, discipline, mindfulness, and wisdom. I can’t think of any reason not to want to apply those ideas to my parenting.

Finding a middle ground

Every parent I know began parenthood wanting to teach their children about the world and to give them the skills to navigate life in socially acceptable ways so they will be fulfilled, happy and loved. Along the way, parenting gets complicated and parents get frustrated. It’s out of this frustration and lack of better tools, that parents fall back on methods like time outs, yelling, withdrawal of affection or simply giving in to a demanding child.

All of the research I’ve read, or experiences I’ve had, lead me to know that connection is one of the main things children are missing when they act out. It is our job as parents to figure out what our children are really needing when they misbehave, so we can effectively teach them, instead of trying to simply instill authority over them. There is, of course, so much more to helping your children cooperate and understand what is expected of them. And there are times when the parent does need to step in and be in control, but without connection, nothing else we do has the long term effects we all desire. As Lisa Sunbury from Regarding Baby says in this powerful recent post:

“…parents really need (more) support and specific guidance regarding how to accomplish their goal of teaching children to behave in socially acceptable ways, without using physical punishment or shame”.

I believe that there is no need for parents to put themselves in the role of the dominant superior. We do not need to dominate our children, yet it is possible to have a respectful hierarchy in which the parent is the teacher and the child is the student. And we must expect that, on more occasions than we think, our child will be the teacher and we, the student.

Here are a few excellent posts about this alternate concept of discipline:

  • Teacher Tom: “Spoiled Brats”
  • Janet Lansbury: No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame (9 Guidelines)
  • Alicia Bayer: Attachment Parenting 101: When Your Toddler Won’t Obey
  • Positive Parenting: Toddlers And Beyond: 10 Things That Are More Important Than Discipline
  • Dr. Laura Markham: The Missing Link In Gentle Discipline: Emotion

I want to continue this dialogue on discipline, as it is such an important one, and plan to write more. I’d love to know your thoughts about the methods you use that are successful (or not), what you struggle with most, how you see your role etc. Leave a comment below and let’s talk!

Having A Party? Need Cool Invites? We’ve Got A Great Giveaway!

Now and then I come across products I think are really special and would appeal to those of you who read my blog. I recently found a company who makes really fun party invitations, birth announcements, holiday cards, thank you cards, personal stationary and more. This company’s designs are bold, modern and super cool. Even better, they’re also eco friendly. And when I say eco friendly I don’t mean just lip service:

  • lmartinez_bi_v_jungle-time_n_blue_1092A-X_nA tree is planted for EVERY order
  • All paper is certified as 100% post-consumer recycled
  • All envelopes and packaging are made from recycled paper
  • The paper is generated by wind power!
  • The company is a CarbonFree┬« partner of CarbonFund.org

The quality of the cards is beautiful; the paper stock is heavier than cards you print on sites like TinyPrints or Shutterfly, and the samples I saw of photo style ones that many people love to use for birth announcements looked crisp and beautiful. And I love their FREE mail and addressing offer where they will print your addresses (return and recipient), stamp and mail your cards just for the cost of the stamp! Talk about one stop shopping!

What company is it, you ask? Paper Culture! And it’s not just for kid stuff. They make lovely stationary for grown ups, wedding invitations, thank you cards and more. I would love to show you all of the great designs, but there are so many categories that you really should look for yourself. Go to Paper Culture and browse. I think you’ll be as captivated as I am.

pc_ma_v_furniture_n_pink_82E-X_nPaper Culture has been nice enough to give me two $50 vouchers to give away, so if you’d like to win one, please leave a comment below letting me know – don’t forget to leave a way for me to contact you – and I will pick two winners at random (through Random.org) on Monday, August 29th at noon.

I happen to love stationary, so I was excited to find a company that not only makes quality cards, but makes pretty cool ones as well! And if you’re an information junkie (like me), you might also appreciate Paper Culture’s blog which is full of posts about beautiful toys, cool crafts and yummy treats!

I look forward to giving away these vouchers to help you send out some awesome birthday invitations or even stock up on your Holiday cards. Leave me a comment if you want to win!

Handling Mean Girls And The “Cool” Kids

As a parent, one of the roles we often throw ourselves into with the most fervor is protector of our children. From the moment we find out we’re pregnant, the concern for their welfare begins. We watch what we eat, we try to avoid stress, we set up a non-toxic nursery. We worry about air purification and second-hand smoke, we go out of our way to provide wooden toys and BPA-free bottles.

As our children get older we may make our own baby food from organic fruits and vegetables, we help them learn to take turns at play dates, teach them to sleep through the night and eventually have a smooth transition to preschool. But somewhere along the way our children’s needs get more complex and we, as parents, may feel less sure of our ability to protect them from what might hurt them.

Mean Girls In Preschool?

cute little girlLast week my daughter was particularly moody both at home and, according to her counselors, at camp as well. She’s often moody so, until her counselors told me she had been crying at camp, I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary. At night, before bed, the kids and I spend some time talking about the “ups and downs” of the day. Our daughter’s daily down moments usually are along the lines of “I didn’t have camp today” or “I didn’t get to go swimming”.

But this week, in the dark safety of her room, I heard her small voice quietly say “my down is that Shelly* told me she wasn’t my friend”. Then a little later: “Nancy* (all names have been changed) told me she wouldn’t play with me anymore” and “Justina* pushed me and I fell down”. When did 4 1/2 year olds start being “mean girls”?

Let me start by saying that I love the camp my kids go to. I sing its praises daily. And my kids have loved it for the past 2 months. I know that the fact that camp runs in 2 week increments means each new session means old friends may leave and new friends may enter. Sometimes children of this age (especially girls) are beginning to experiment with the power that comes along with social exclusion. That seems to be the case this session.

The counselors have been working on the issue and have said that I’m not the only one to complain which, I guess makes me happy (?) that my daughter is not being singled out. But I wonder why this is happening and more importantly, I am trying to figure out how i can help.

Are the new girls trying to jockey for position and fit in? Perhaps. My daughter has a big personality when she feels comfortable and other kids tend to follow her lead. Maybe the new girls are used to being in that role and thus, don’t know where they fit in. Maybe my daughter’s cheery personality and closeness with the counselors makes the new girls feel insecure? Maybe these other girls haven’t yet learned how to be a good friend to someone else or how to express themselves when they are feeling bad about something. Whatever the case may be, my daughter was left sitting at breakfast each morning last week complaining that her tummy hurt and not wanting to go to a camp that she loved only days before.

Boys Do It Too. Just In Different Ways.

At around the same time I noticed a similar behavior from our son. He had been very excited about his best friend from school joining the camp for this last session. Our son idolizes this boy, Ian* (again, not his real name), and the only issue it has brought up before is that Ian watches a lot of television and talks about superheros, villains and movies that we are not comfortable with our kids having access to yet.

However, I have noticed lately that our son is so concerned with Ian’s definition of what is “cool” that he is unwilling to wear anything Ian might not like or do anything which Ian might think is silly. He’s started resisting being involved in activities he otherwise would love to participate in for fear of not fitting in. I asked if Ian has ever told him that he’s not “cool” and he said no, but then said that Ian says it about other kids and he’s worried he’ll say it about him, too. *sigh*

So What Are Parents Supposed To Do?

Be The Safe Grownup.

The most important thing for parents to do is to be the type of parent a child can talk to. When they tell you something happened, don’t dismiss it or gloss over it. Conversely, don’t freak out over it, or put words in your child’s mouth about the experience either. When a child tells you something happened, simply say, “Really? How did you feel about that?”, “Can you tell me more about what happened?” Being calm and receptive will allow your children to feel safe reporting to you. Before deciding how you will handle what they tell you, discuss it with your child. They may have fears and reservations about that as well.

Talk About The Bad Stuff, Too.

When you ask children about their day, after hearing all the fun stuff, ask them to tell you about the bad things that happened, too. This allows children to know that it’s ok to speak about yucky stuff and that it’s normal to have not so nice things happen. It also helps you know what is going on in their world. As I mentioned, we talk about the “ups and downs” of our day before bed and I share my own ups and downs with them as well. Knowing that mommy or daddy has bad things happen and hearing how you handle them is very encouraging for a child.

Don’t Fight Their Battles For Them.

It’s important that children feel they have adult protectors, but they must also feel empowered that they can stand up for themselves. Teach your children that the first step is to tell someone who is hurting their body or their feelings: “Stop it! I don’t like that!”. If that fails to stop the behavior, teach them to then find an adult they trust and ask for help and tell your child to KEEP telling until you find a grownup who helps.

Model Compassion And Kindness.

If possible, help your child understand what the child who has hurt them might be experiencing. When we had a “bully” at school during their first year, we talked about all the reasons why this boy was acting out. We stressed the importance of showing kindness towards others. We also talked about the fact that sometimes when someone is being mean or unkind it’s because they feel bad about themselves, or they haven’t yet learned how to be a good friend. It helped our kids see this boy as a whole person, not simply a bully. And when his behavior ultimately changed, he was not ostracized, but simply accepted back into the fold.

I had heard this behavior sometimes happens as early as preschool. I guess I buried my head in the sand a bit because our preschool is so amazing and I can’t imagine this behavior ever happening there.

< But perhaps camp is the real world and this stuff happens in the real world. It’s hard, as their mom, to hear that anyone has made them feel sad. I’ll be honest, I cried a bit about it all. I know it’s not the worst thing they’ll ever face and I suppose it’s a good lesson in learning how to stand up for themselves. Its probably a good lesson for me, too. Mommy can’t always be there…some day my babies have to leave the nest and I need to make sure they’re ready for it. I’d just like a little more time to prepare them.

Parent Like Someone Is Watching

You know that famous saying that begins “Dance as if no one is watching you”? The idea being that we might be our true selves and live happier lives if we weren’t so self-conscious. But what if what we really need is someone watching over us to make sure we are constantly striving to be our best selves?

This morning I recorded one of my numerous, frustrating interactions with my daughter. I recorded it, at the suggestion of my therapist, both to help me keep my tone of voice where I want it to be, as well as to help dissect what I am doing that is prolonging the battles. Listening to the play back makes me sad. The one conversation I taped lasted 8 minutes. 8 minutes spent arguing about eating more food after she had already finished eating breakfast. 8 minutes spent asking her to speak to me without whining. 8 minutes spent trying to keep a calm voice, not roll my eyes, not sigh deeply out of frustration.

And that is only the 8 minutes I recorded. I spent 30 minutes earlier trying not to engage in a battle about her family obligations (otherwise known as chores). But I got very angry with her during that half an hour. So, I decided to start recording the next time a power struggle started. I often pretend there is a camera on me, with the thought of “how would I act if someone was filming me?” I want to be my best self with my children as often as I possibly can. Sometimes pretending that someone else is watching or listening helps me control my tendency to “flip out”.

me and my girlOne of the aspects of engaging in these battles with our daughter that I hate the most, is how they affect our son. On the tape where we’re discussing food, he’s in the background trying to get attention in the midst of it in the way he’s figured out works the best – by teasing her. Teasing her takes the focus off of her and gets it squarely on him. Even if what lands on him is parental irritation. When he’s not teasing her, he tries to get the arguing to stop – often by reminding mommy to “be kind” or saying “I don’t like when you talk to her like that, mommy”. He protects her when he’s not teasing, and his reminder for me to “calm down” is like a pause button. His quiet voice rings loudly in my ears, somehow cutting through the whining and crying sounds belonging to his sister.

I worry that her battles with me are some convoluted way to get me to pay more attention to her. I worry that my kids are going to end up polarizing themselves as “the good one” and “the naughty one”. I worry that he will ultimately resent her for taking up so much of my time and attention. I worry that as she gets older our struggles will drive us apart when what I want most is to understand her and help her be happy.

Although I sometimes pretend there’s a camera watching me, as I wrote about this, I was thinking about the idea of “the observer” and that there is something in all of us that is aware of everything we do. There is always a part of us that is aware of right and wrong, and aware of right action and selfish action; although often, in the moment, we choose to ignore this awareness. This observer can be thought of as the “still, small voice” of our conscience. So, just as my son’s voice cuts through the chaos and stops me in my tracks, tuning in to this inner voice can help me do the same. If I think about it, I don’t need a camera crew to keep me on the path I want to be on, but I do need to remember that someone is watching. And that this someone is me.

What about you? Do you ever get that sense of being outside of yourself and looking in? Are you able to stop yourself mid-tantrum? Would recording your interactions with your kids help you? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Book Review and Giveaway: If I Have To Tell You One More Time

onemoretimecoverHow many of you have caught yourself nagging your kids to do simple tasks? How many of you have children who seem to “act out” on a regular basis? How many of you have ended up yelling over your kids’ sibling rivalry behaviors? How many of you feel as though your discipline strategies just aren’t working? I’m sure most of you have experienced at least one, if not all of these scenarios. I’ll admit I’ve been in these situations, sometimes all of them within the span of 10 minutes!

A few weeks ago I came across Amy McCready’s new book “If I Have to Tell You One More Time” and was intrigued. The subtitle of her book is actually: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding Or Yelling”! But don’t let that subtitle fool you, what this book is also about is how connect to your children in a deep, meaningful way and how to speak and react to them so that you are bringing out the best in your children.

An Expert You Can Relate To

amy mccreadyRight off the bat, I loved Amy’s style and could totally relate. She freely admits to her imperfections as a parent, but also makes it clear that she didn’t want things to continue the way they were going. She knew things were not going as well as they should and she set out to change those dynamics.

The book begins with an explanation of why many of our tried and true methods like Time Outs or 1-2-3 counting just don’t work for the long haul. But she doesn’t just tell us what not to do, she gives excellent, doable suggestions in a step by step plan for changing the way we interact with our children.

Best of all, Amy McCready explains the psychological needs behind our children’s behaviors, helps parents define their parenting style (thank you – I now have proof that I am controlling) so we can recognize how our own behaviors could be making things worse, and shows us concrete ways to bring out the best in our children and ourselves.

Getting Out Of Power Struggles

Many of you may remember some of the power struggles I have with my daughter on a regular basis (like when she’s acting like Veruka Salt or when I let my triggers get the best of me, so I was eager to try Amy’s ideas to improve our relationship.

One area I struggle with that I haven’t written about is my daughter’s obsession with food. She continues to ask for food, even when I know she can’t possibly be hungry anymore. In addition to arguing about her wanting to eat, we would get into battles about how food was placed on the plate, how it was cooked, what I was offering and on and on and on. I have tried everything from saying yes to every request, to setting up meal “rules”, all while trying not to make food an issue for her! As a result, what has happened is that she and I have a power struggle around food on a daily basis much to my chagrin. And really, I knew deep down it wasn’t about the food, but I just didn’t know how to tackle the issue. I really didn’t think anything in Amy’s book was going to help me with this problem, but boy was I surprised.


I began using the first of the tools the book recommends called Mind, Body and Soul Time. This is essentially one on one time with your children. Those who read this blog regularly know I am a huge proponent of this, but since we no longer have a nanny, I have not been able to do it the way I used to. But Mind, Body and Soul time is simply 10 minutes with each child, 2 times a day, set up as a consistent schedule your children can count on. This tiny, little, easy idea radically changed things with my daughter in just 1 day! I was amazed. Here I was thinking I spend so much quality time with them, but all my daughter needed was to know that each day she was going to get me to herself twice a day and her strategy of seeking attention from me by locking into numerous power struggles has dropped dramatically. Now when she asks for more food after she’s already finished a meal, instead of addressing that request I translate it in my mind as a need to be filled up with some attention. My offer to spend alone time is always met with a happy “yes” and the “hunger” she complained of just disappears. As Amy McCready writes in a section titled All Behavior Is Goal-Oriented:

“Your child doesn’t even know it, but she’s on a mission to achieve the feelings of belonging and significance she longs for. Misbehavior isn’t the actual problem, it’s just a symptom of a deeper issue. If we address it, the misbehavior will disappear and our children will get what they need in a more positive way”.

So, while I used a power struggle over food as an example, this idea applies to any area in which your children are misbehaving. Remembering that it’s a symptom of something else and knowing how to react when that symptom shows itself is a huge game changer. Mind Body and Soul Time is just the first of 23 easy and effective tools outlined in this book.

Help With More Subtle Calls For Attention

While the change in my interactions with our daughter may be the most obvious, I can see, too how it is changing my relationship with my son. His way of trying to get attention generally manifests itself in acting helpless or becoming overly frustrated by things he’s perfectly capable of doing. Because I get drawn into intermittent reinforcement of this behavior, it’s only gotten worse. In the past week I’ve been applying some of this book’s methods to understand the reasons behind the behavior so that I am, instead, encouraging his independence.

What Makes This book So Good?

  • me and sI love the book’s approach to encouragement for effort as opposed to simple praise.
  • I love the ideas about getting your children involved in “family contributions” as opposed to “chores”.
  • I love that the book is about empowering our children as opposed to controlling them.
  • I love that the book spends a good deal of time explaining, psychologically, why children behave the way they do so parents can move beyond the label of “misbehavior”.
  • I love how thorough and organized it is, with real tools any parent can use effectively.
  • I love that it has methods that work with children ages 2 to 12 and that the author differentiates how to
  • I love that there’s a whole chapter devoted to sibling rivalry!

This book has, in a very short span of time, helped me make some significant changes in our home. While I was already aware of many of the theories Amy McCready talks about, I wasn’t always confident in the way in which I applied my knowledge. And I was certainly not experiencing the same level of happy cooperation that I am now. I know it will take some work to have these methods become second nature, but I’m excited about the possibilities.

I’m Not Just Reviewing It, I’m Giving One Away

Amy McCready sent me a copy of “If I Have to Tell You One More Time” with a request to review it. Although I was under no obligation to do so, I liked it so much that I not only am recommending it, but I asked if she would consider offering one more copy as a giveaway!

So, if my review has intrigued you and you’d like to understand your children better, have more cooperation in your house and actually have some great tools in your toolbox for handling misbehavior, then leave me a comment below and let us know why you’d like a copy of the book. Make sure you leave a way for me to contact you if you win! If you’d like a double chance of winning, become a subscriber to my blog as well. I will choose a winner at random (through Random.org) on Friday, August 12th at noon and announce the winner on my Facebook page.

I look forward to your thoughts about this book. Do you think it could help with some of your own parenting issues?