Thursday, October 31, 2013

A deal's a deal

In our house, we do not believe in punishment. I've talked before about how I abhor physical punishment. Similarly, we also do not impose non-physical punishments on our children. We don't deprive them of toys or treats, we don't tell them that they can't see their friends, we don't send them to a naughty corner (I did try the naughty corner and I didn't like it). 

In my view, punishment has the potential to create so many negative emotions in the child - fear, guilt, resentment, self-pity, regret, bitterness - and I know that's exactly the objective of some (not all) parents when they punish. To me, it fractures the relationship and the connection between the parent and the child.

Punishment is focused on the past - a penalty for an offence already committed, a penalty for disobedience. We prefer a forward-looking approach. Instead of focusing on retribution, we want to see how we can encourage the child to make better choices in the future. Punishment doesn't provide the child a way to make things right so it doesn't appeal to us.

We also don't ascribe to the belief that a child must "obey" or that a child must be "obedient". I don't have good vibes about that word, "obedient", when applied to children. I don't even think of myself as obedient. Instead of instilling obedience, we prefer to instill self-discipline. We want our kids to be motivated to make good choices, not out of obedience, but out of a desire to do what's best for everyone's welfare.

Some of you have emailed me to ask, how do I handle discipline then?

Well, there are a couple of components to our approach to discipline. The first is making the rules. The second is understanding the consequences of breaking the rules.

Making the rules is pretty straightforward - we do it democratically. A simple example is when it's bedtime and Ryan is still watching Youtube videos. I usually tell him, "two more videos" or "three more videos", whatever the number. Then, and this is the important part, he will say yes or he will nod his head in agreement. Once he has finished the agreed number of videos, he switches off his electronics and we go to bed. Sometimes we agree on a time period - five minutes, ten minutes. He might try to negotiate and I'll let him. Whatever amount of time we agree on, that's what we stick to.

The first one - using number of videos - is easy for Ryan to track, so once he has finished the agreed number, I don't have to remind him. On his own, unprompted, he will switch his iPad off and go to bed. The second one - using time - is less easy to track, so I normally will count down for him. So, for example, if we agreed on ten minutes, I will remind him that he has another five, then another two. Once his time is up, he will close shop without any fuss.

We have rules like "no snatching" and "no pushing". These are rules that were made when babydoll came along and yes, we had Ryan's agreement on these rules. We have other rules too - always hold hands in carparks and when crossing roads, no calling names (like "stupid"), no kicking the dog, etc. We don't have many rules, actually.  

The critical part of making a rule is that everyone involved must agree on it. If not, then there is no rule. I would love to make "eat your food" a rule, but that will never happen. But if you can get a "buy-in", then it's like an agreement, and the result of an agreement is that you do what's agreed because you agreed to do it. A deal's a deal.

So what happens when a rule gets broken? Well, in our house, nothing happens. All I do is remind him that he agreed not to snatch, not to push, etc. Knowing that he broke a rule, that he didn't do what he agreed, is enough for him to understand that he needs to stop his actions. It's like a code of honour.

The rules get broken all the time, to be honest. "No snatching", "No pushing", "No whining", "Use your words" - Richard and I repeat these rules all the time, because they are being broken all the time. That's ok. Failing to adhere to the rules is a sign that Ryan is practising making decisions. Sometimes he still gets it wrong and that's ok. I would not punish him for not knowing how to do math equations even after I've shown him more than twice. In the same way, I don't think of punishing him for breaking the rules. Mistakes will be made. Struggles will be encountered. All evidence of learning. 

The rules are actually based on logical and natural consequences. The logical and natural consequence of snatching something is that your playmate gets upset. The logical and natural consequence of not using your words is that nobody knows what you need and you won't get what you want.

So, where there are no established rules, we rely on natural consequences, whether pain or pleasure. When Ryan was little, he loved playing with drawers. Predictably, he managed to nip his fingers while closing a drawer. A painful lesson, but an effective one - he learned how to be careful when closing a drawer. Experience is the best teacher.

And so, 

- the natural consequence of pushing your playmate is that he/she is not going to want to be your playmate anymore. 

- the natural consequence of studying your poem is that you will feel good when you can recite it in class.


- not allowing him to see his friends because he refused to pack up his toys isn't a natural consequence. The two are completely unrelated. There is no logical link between the two.

- standing in the naughty corner because he scribbled indelible ink on my shirt isn't a natural consequence. Again, the two are completely unrelated. The punishment does not help the child to make sense of his actions.

- taking away a toy or a treat because Ryan hit his sister isn't a natural consequence. The natural consequence is that his sister is hurt and she may be crying (this sort of natural consequence may not be comprehensible to very young children who have yet to develop a sense of empathy).

There are times when we don't rely on natural consequences, most notably where safety is concerned. We buckle our kids into the car seats, no agreement needed. If they ask (they never have), we will tell them the natural consequence of not being buckled in. We certainly do not want them to experience these sort of natural consequences.

So, that is our approach to discipline. Pretty hands-off, but deliberately and mindfully so.

In penning off, let me share these two photos with you. They were taken in Ryan's classroom last term, when his class was exploring the meaning of "community". As part of that inquiry, the students discussed the concept of "responsibility". They came up with some explanations of the concept, which then became "Essential Agreements" for their class. They apply these "Essential Agreements" in their interactions with each other. This process is exactly what we have been doing at home.


Anonymous said...

Hi Leona,
I love what you are sharing for the past few posts a lot, which give me a lot of insights on parenting. Some of which I'm practising but not consistently. Some are new things that are really worth studying and adopting. Frankly in parenting, I have not given much thoughts, and what I have practised is just what my parents did. I like how you always think through your approach and the rationale/ principles behind it. Just makes me want to be a better parent myself. :)

Pinkie Pirate said...

Thanks Kamy! I guess we are all just learning as we go along!

Anonymous said...

How would you handle if your toddler girl refuses to return an item at a store or supermarket and throws a tantrum when you ask her to?

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