Why Peaceful Parenting?
Last week, we had the pleasure of spending the weekend with some new friends in an Airbnb together. All of us had young children and after the kids had gone down we got into a conversation about parenting and spanking. It was a very honest and open discussion amongst relatively new parents where we compared thoughts, philosophies and future scenarios that may arise. I found myself unable to fully explain exactly WHY we don't believe in physical punishment. Years ago we had taken some parenting courses centered around "Peaceful Parenting". I realized that the reasons behind why this is a great way to parent had partially escaped me. So I decided to go back and re-read some of the content again. The below is an introduction to Peaceful Parenting that we found very valuable and wanted to share with all of you.
How do you feel about this subject? We would love your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
“I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a parent or teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
-Dr. Haim Ginott
What is a Peaceful Parent? A parent who commits to regulating his or her own emotions, instead of taking them out on their child. A parent who commits to not using violence or shame to control her child, and instead uses connection and coaching to motivate.
Why Peaceful Parenting? Because it works, from toddlers to teens. Peaceful parenting raises a child who WANTS to behave.
Strict Parenting raises angry kids who lose interest in pleasing their parents. Permissive parenting raises unhappy kids who test their parents. In both cases, the child resists the parent's guidance and doesn't internalize self discipline.
Peaceful parenting is using love and connection to keep our kids on the right path. Research shows that children are more open to our guidance when we empathize, and resist any temptation to be punitive. That's what helps kids learn consideration and responsibility, and makes for happier kids and parents.
"Children misbehave when they feel discouraged or powerless. When you use discipline methods that overpower them or make them feel bad about themselves, you lower their self-esteem. It doesn't make sense to punish a child who is already feeling badly about herself and heap more discouragement on top of her."
-Kathryn J. Kvols
Why Spanking Doesn't Help Kids Behave
When most people think of discipline, they think of physical punishment. Fear is a time honored and potent motivator, right? It certainly nips problem behavior in the bud.
But research confirms what intuition should tell us, which is that physical force teaches children all the wrong lessons. Children who are spanked learn that might makes right, that hitting is justified in some circumstances (such as when you are bigger), and that people who supposedly love you may hurt you.
Not surprisingly, study after study shows that children who are physically disciplined are more aggressive toward other children, more rebellious as teenagers, and more prone to depression and violent acting out as adults.
"But then how do kids learn lessons?"
Kids who are physically disciplined are actually less likely to learn lessons, because, as anyone who has ever been harshly punished can attest, they become obsessed with fantasies of self-justification and revenge rather than considering how to control themselves to prevent future misbehavior. Instead of becoming motivated to change and avoid the misbehavior in the future, they become motivated to avoid more punishment – not at all the same thing.
As a result, kids who are physically disciplined are not only more likely to repeat problem behavior than other kids, but are more likely to exhibit increasingly worse behavior, including deception.
So...you’re probably wondering what does work.
Positive Parenting is the Most Effective Discipline to Stop Behavior Problems
"So what kind of discipline does a conscientious, compassionate parent use to coax good behavior out of immature little humans who are still developing the ability to control themselves -- and are completely capable of driving you crazy?"
Every parent grapples with this issue. Discipline is one of the most googled words for parents. And even parents who refrain from physical force usually assume that discipline means some form of punishment, because our culture’s view of human nature assumes that humans must be punished so they will learn not to repeat transgressions.
But the word “discipline” has nothing to do with punishment. The root of “discipline” is “disciple,” from the verb “to teach.”
"Ok, so the question, of course, is what kind of discipline is most conducive to learning?"
And, presumably, the ultimate goal of that learning is self-discipline, so the lesson doesn’t have to be repeated. So what helps kids stop themselves from acting in ways they know they shouldn’t? What gets them to start desirable behavior, and keep doing it?
Let's start with the child acting in undesirable ways. When a child misbehaves, there are three possible explanations:
(s)he doesn’t know what is expected of her/him
(s)he does know but can’t control her/himself
(s)he does know but doesn’t care.
If (s)he doesn’t know, teaching is clearly in order: “HOT! The stove is hot!” or “We have to wait our turn for the slide.” But most teaching of this kind is modeled, as you thank Aunt Jane for inviting you, or wait for the light to turn green before you cross. Kids learn what is desirable behavior from watching you, or their classmates.
"What frustrates me is when my kids DO know the behavior is unacceptable but do it anyway!"
If (s)he does know but can’t control herself, we need to help him/her learn to manage him/herself. But how?
Most discipline takes the attitude that children learn to control themselves by developing more motivation and stronger “consciences.”
But we all know that “doing the right thing” and overriding our “lesser” impulses doesn’t result from admonishing ourselves to do better, or from making new and improved resolutions. If that were sufficient, we’d all have perfectly balanced diets and fit bodies.
The secret of managing our impulses is becoming aware of and motivated by competing impulses.So for adults, self-discipline might look like: “I’d like to go out drinking tonight, but I want to get a good night's sleep so I can do a good job at the big meeting tomorrow.” For your child, it might be, “I really want to skip my homework so I can play outside, but I don’t want to face my teacher without it.”
More challenging, of course, are crimes of passion: “This colleague is really attractive, but my marriage is too important to me,” or, for your child, “I really want to hit my sister over the head when she teases me like that, but Mom would be really mad.”
Eventually, we hope, he will move from his concern over losing Mom’s love to awareness of what he wants in his connection with his sister: “I'm really annoyed at my sister right now, but I know that when she’s not being obnoxious I do love her and I don't really want to hurt her.”
Obviously, all this takes considerable maturity, which kids need our help to develop. It takes practice. Kids get this practice naturally as life deals them upsets and we help them handle them.
The key is providing our children with the experience of relationships where compassion trumps anger. When the body is flushed with the hormones of “fight or flight,” it’s hard for anyone to make wise decisions or to choose positively between competing priorities.
Helping children toward this level of emotional insight and self discipline doesn’t happen in the heat of emotion, whether the emotion is related to the original transgression (“But she was teasing me!”), or created by our punishing response (“I’ll teach you to hit your sister! Take that!”). Instead, we need to reduce the amount of time our child spends in the overcharged physical states of anger and fear, and give him an opportunity to calm down and reflect.
Once kids are calm, we can work with them to strengthen that positive motivation and help them to recognize and control their emotions, so they can manage the opposing impulse.
It's Not a Behavior Problem, It's a Relationship Problem
"But what if the child does know that the misbehavior is off limits, but doesn’t have the competing impulse to control himself?"
This was our third possibility, right? (S)he does know what's expected of him/her, but doesn't care.
The misbehavior in this case is a symptom of a much greater problem. The competing impulse to control him/herself should come from his/her relationship with us. Children only learn to behave and manage themselves because we want them to, and because they want to please us. If she doesn't care that she's upsetting us with her misbehavior, it means our relationship with her needs strengthening. Of course kids need our guidance, but if the relationship isn't strong enough to support that guidance, then our primary focus needs to be on repairing the relationship.
Eventually, of course, kids reap the rewards of good behavior – good grades, self-esteem, approval from peers – and it begins to come naturally. It becomes part of their self image, and they automatically act to preserve that self-image. But this positive way of being always starts with their desire to please us.
On the beach recently, I saw a two year old knocking down sand castles. He took such immense pleasure in this activity that it made me want to try it myself. When his mother saw what he was doing and came running, he looked chagrined, and allowed her to lead him reluctantly away. His desire to be loved by her was already slightly stronger than his desire to knock down sand castles.
Why don’t all of us run down the beach knocking down sand castles? Because we've discovered that it’s more rewarding to be loved.
Ultimately, love is the only leverage we have with our children. Even if they worked, fear and “Because I say so!” only last for as long as they can be physically enforced.
Every parent knows how fast children grow; fear works for a very short time if it works at all. Love, on the other hand, becomes a more effective motivator over time. And it raises kids who WANT to behave.
The above information was taken from Ahaparenting.com, a favorite parenting resource of ours.
You can also learn more from Alfie Kohn's wonderful book Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason; which lists hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that support this view. That's a wealth of research. The book offers a synopsis of peer-reviewed research from a credible academic, and you get the citations to track the studies down if you want to.
How do you feel about this subject? We would love your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.