Sunday, January 11, 2009

On Positive Discipline

Recently, I've engaged in some interesting parenting discussion over at Principled Parent and The Little Things. I'm always thinking about our parenting choices and it interests me to read about how others are handling similar issues. In trying to explain some of the methods we use around here, it occurred to me that maybe I ought to just write a post about it.

We use Positive Discipline (PD). For a brief introduction by a PD author, Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., click here. PD encompasses so many aspects of parenting, that I find it difficult to know where to even begin writing about it. It's like trying to explain Objectivism to someone who has never heard of it--where to start? (I know Ayn Rand explained it while standing on one foot, but I'm not that smart.) So I'll do my best to explain some of the general ideas and try not to get off topic too much.

Before I start, I must tell you that I'll do my best to cite works and authors and books, but that I've been reading and thinking about this for so long that I'm afraid that it might be almost impossible for me to remember just where I picked up a specific idea. But I didn't make this all up myself--I read lots and lots of books and websites and was an active reader of a Yahoo group on the subject for a couple of years. The integrations and applications are mine, though, developed in conjunction with my husband, Brendan, and my friend Kelly, who I almost consider my other "co-parent" (since we share the same principles and spend much time together). In another post, I'll put together a bibliography if there's any interest.

In a nutshell, PD is a way of raising children without punishments or rewards. Now you might read that sentence and think that that equates to Zero Discipline, which is really not true. So bear with me, lest you think my children are completely spoiled little dictators--they are not.

From Nelsen's Positive Discipline website (emphasis added for ease-of-reading purposes):

The tools and concepts of Positive Discipline include:

  • Mutual respect. Adults model firmness by respecting themselves and the needs of the situation, and kindness by respecting the needs of the child.

  • Identifying the belief behind the behavior. Effective discipline recognizes the reasons kids do what they do and works to change those beliefs, rather than merely attempting to change behavior.

  • Effective communication and problem solving skills.

  • Discipline that teaches (and is neither permissive nor punitive).

  • Focusing on solutions instead of punishment.

  • Encouragement (instead of praise). Encouragement notices effort and improvement, not just success, and builds long-term self-esteem and empowerment..

Positive Discipline techniques reinforce the principles I hold as an Objectivist and the goals I have as a parent. As opposed to a top-down parent-child relationship where Mom and Dad are handing out punishments for misbehaviors, PD encourages parents to work with the child to help him figure out what went wrong, how to fix it, why it's important to do the right thing, and helps the child succeed in the future. This thinking process is really good practice for children who will, after all, be expected to behave in certain ways once they reach adulthood. Filling a child's "mental toolbox" (a PD term) with techniques and experience in problem-solving and handling the consequences (good and bad) of his decisions helps prepare a child for adulthood in a different, and I think, stronger way than a more classic "If you do something wrong, you'll be punished" paradigm will.

Guide Vs. Control

I don't think punishment--as in Child does XYZ Bad Behavior and then I as the parent must then do something to the child in order to make them either understand that the behavior was bad or feel bad about doing it, such as sit in Time-Out or be grounded or hit or screamed at or shamed--is necessary.

I want to guide my children toward full rationality and the virtues I prize, rather than control them into it. I look at punishment as a way to try to control the child's behavior rather than teach the child what's expected. Obedience--the end result of being well-controlled--is not a virtue. I don't want my kids to know how to obey me. I want them to be Independent, Productive, Honest, be Just and Moral, have Self-Control and Integrity. And this entails Rationality, which cannot be present without volition, choice.

Kids need practice at making good decisions. (Actually, many adults I know could use a refresher course, too.) They're going to make good ones and bad ones. And they're not fully rational either [insert obvious joke about adults here]. But I think that PD respects a child's nascent rationality, and in fact, bolsters it--by allowing them to practice and make mistakes without punishment.

When Brendan makes a mistake, I don't punish him by making him sit in Time-Out. Once, I accidentally dropped his computer and it broke. I didn't go to the Naughty Chair--I got the computer fixed. PD is more in line with how adults treat each other, while making allowances for the immature brains and less experience that children have.

I think some examples are in order, to help demonstrate what we do and how it's different from punishing. You'll note that in some examples, what happens in the PD scenario and the Old School scenario (called "Old School" for no other reason than because it's how I was raised) is often very similar. But the differences, while they may be subtle, are important, especially because we are trying to give the child as much input and control as possible.

Misbehavior: Screaming at the dinner table (a popular one around here)

OS scenario: Parent says, "No screaming at the dinner table. That's too loud and we're trying to talk. If you do it again, you're going to Time Out." Kid screams again. Parent puts kid in TO (according to some predetermined formula, usually something like 1 minute per year of age.) May take several rounds of screaming/TO before behavior improves.

OS result: Behavior Stops. Kid eventually learns that screaming isn't acceptable.

PD scenario: Parent says, "No screaming at the dinner table. That's too loud and we're trying to talk. You can stay at the table as long as you can be quiet. If you need to scream, go outside or up to your room." Kid screams at dinner table again. "You want to scream. Are you going outside or up to your room?" Kid screams or argues some more. Parent escorts child to his room and says, "Please come back to the dinner table when you're ready to be quiet." May take several rounds of this.

PD result: Behavior Stops. Kid eventually learns that screaming isn't acceptable and learns to do screaming elsewhere.

The Difference:

In the PD scenario, the child has decisions to make (to scream or not to scream, to go to his room or outside), and his decisions are respected (for good or bad). If he keeps screaming, then he's showing you that's his decision. But he must respect the rights of the others at the table to have a scream-free dinner, so his screaming must be done elsewhere.

He is also given as much time as he needs to decide to comply with the dinner table rules--there is no arbitrary timeline set by Mom. The decision to comply (or not) is his and his alone, and he also gets to decide how long it takes (sometimes it might take 10 seconds, if he's really hungry; sometimes, 20 minutes or longer). He is learning self-control and learning that decisions have consequences--screaming might be fun, but it might not be as fun if you're all alone in your room. He is learning that the others in the family have needs and wants that must be respected and that he is expected to respect them. And he is learning that if he can't respect them, then Mom will help him do what's necessary (leave the table).

In the OS scenario, I'm not sure what the child learns, since we don't use it. My own experience with TO taught me that A) I'm bad because they sent me away, or B) I resent Mom because she did this to me, or C) I'm going to be sneaky next time so I won't get caught. Obviously 'C' doesn't quite apply to the screaming at the table thing, but that is something I thought. I'd be interested in what parents who use TO as a discipline tool think about this--I honestly don't know what the child is supposed to be thinking.

Misbehavior: Splashing water out of the tub

OS Scenario: Mom reminds kid of the rules--no splashing water out of the tub, possibly explaining the reason. Splashing continues. Bathtime is over and kid is punished (I don't mean to pick on Time-Outs only, but I know that's a popular discipline method--there are other ways to punish, of course). Maybe the child will help clean up the water.

OS Result: Bathtime is over and enough repeat scenarios will teach the child that he will be punished for splashing water out of the tub.

PD Scenario: Mom reminds kid of the rules--no splashing water out of the tub. Mom will always explain the reason for this. Splashing continues. Bathtime is over.

PD Result: Bathtime is over and the child is expected to clean up the mess (with help, depending on how old of course).

The Difference:

There's not much difference here--except there is no punishment imposed on the child. The consequence of making a mess is not getting to have a long (or deep) bath. And having to clean up the mess. The child is taking responsibility for his decisions and he will learn to keep water in the tub (or take a shower), even without the extra step of parental-imposed punishment. The same lesson, for less effort on my part--yay!

One more example, this one from real life.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how Ryan and one of his friends were throwing rocks around and broke the windshield of a neighbor's car. Here's what we did, the PD way:

  • We acknowledged that what happened was unintentional.
  • We were firm in communicating to them that even though it was unintentional, it was still their responsibility to fix the problem.
  • We took them to the neighbor's house to tell him what happened, apologize, and offer to fix the windshield.
  • When the neighbor gave us his bill, we had Ryan pay a reasonable (according to his income) portion of our half (his friend's parents paid the other half).
  • We took both boys, with cash in their hands, over to the neighbor's house and had the boys hand them the money.

We did not punish Ryan. If I had done something like this when I was a child, I can 100% guarantee that I would have been either hit, grounded, and/or screamed at. My parents would have made me pay for the damage and talk to the neighbors, but there would have been Adult Imposed Punishment designed to make me feel bad or "think" about what I did or something along those lines.

We never hit our children, but neither did we scream at him or ground him or otherwise try to make him feel guilty about what happened. And you know what? It wasn't necessary to punish him. He knew what he did was wrong and felt bad about it already. He didn't need us making him feel worse about it. He didn't know how to fix the problem, though, and THAT'S what he needed help with. He needed to know that people are responsible for their actions, even when it's an accident. He needed to know that Mr. Neighbor shouldn't have to pay for the damage, that he and his friend--the responsible parties--did. He needed help paying for the damage. He needed me there while he owned up to his responsibility. He needed to know what the next steps were.

That's what he needed, and that's what we did. We guided him through the process, allowing him to be as independent as possible, not making his guilt any worse. No additional punishment necessary. What if he hadn't shown remorse? We would have handled it the same way, perhaps expressing our disappointment that he didn't have remorse. But still--no punishment. Punishing him would not have put remorse into his head, would not have made him feel guilty. Only mad that he was being punished, I think, and probably much less likely to have owned up to it the next time. Yes. VERY much less likely to come to us with a similar problem.

I know this is a super long post, and if you've made it this far, I hope I've done an okay job of explaining a little bit about how PD works. In a future post, I'll write about why I think PD is an excellent "fit" with Objectivism. I really want to write lots and lots more about PD and Objectivism and have many (shorter!) posts planned on the subject. I think what I might do is write a bit more about some of our discipline issues and how we handled them. I definitely understood PD more once I began reading real-life examples.

So. What say you? I'm interested in constructive feedback and questions. Thoughts?


Monica said...

Have you heard of this "unschool" movement? I don't know a whole lot about it, but I've heard tidbits. If you have an opinion, I'd love to hear it.

Kelly Elmore said...

Jenn, that was incredibly wonderful. You are excellent at summarizing why we do what we do. One stab at what I learned as an Old School parented child: I have to keep my eye on the adults around me and always try to be aware of what I can do to keep them happy with me. My fear of punishment helped to make me second handed. I didn't worry much about right and wrong; I worried about how my actions would be perceived and punished.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Positive Discipline is the way that I raised my daughter and it is the way I am raising my son, although I had no name for it until recently.Like you, I was raised in the OS methods of being screamed at and hit, but in many cases, I was not shown what the right thing to do actually was. In other words, the OS methods actually shielded me from learning how to recover from my mistakes. When I thought about it after my daughter was old enough to need discipline, I realized that what I wanted was to teach her how to behave not force her to behave.

Of course, I have had those parenting moments where I did not respond, ummm, quietly--particularly if I was/am sick or have turned into the Daughter of Darkness right around that certain time of the month--but I have never hit my children.

What I can say is that my daughter is now an adult. At twenty-three she has finished a college degree on scholarship. Even though she didn't have to, she also worked through college, and saved that money by living at home. She took the savings and bought her first house--a foreclosure--after she started her first job as a professional chemist, and she has now remodeled it, so that when she gets married she can rent or sell it. She understands behavior and consequences. She is not obedient, she thinks for herself. Rather, she is resourceful in knowing how to navigate the world and correct her own mistakes.

Of course there is much about the CGP's pesonality that helped her to become who she is, but I like to think that the PD methods also helped her.

My son is different in that he has an autism spectrum disorder, and he is socially unaware in many ways. My teaching for him must be far more explicit as he does not read or respond to social cues. But still, the principle remains the same.

I wish you the best in raising your children this way. From my (limited) experience, it does make for a more independent adult who has an internal locus of control.

Kelly Elmore said...


We are unschoolers at our house. The main reason is that I believe that a child learning to ferret out what he values is twenty million times more important than math or reading or any other subject. I never want my ideas of what is valuable to be edicts for Livy. I tell her what I think is valuable, of course, since I have much more experience. I hope she respects that (especially as she gets older). But in the end, the only time I think force (or emotional manipulation - the method often used to motivate children to do the things parents want them to do) is justified is when other people's rights (including mine) are being violated or when the child is endangering life, limb, or mental health in a serious way. If my child makes the mistake of not learning something important, she can always learn it later. No irreparable harm done; no force necessary.

Really though, I don't think it is very likely that a child with good parents in a rich environment would choose not to learn to read or do basic math or any other really important schoolish pursuit. Reading is fun and dead useful, so duh, they will learn it eventually. :)

That's my ultra quick and not too thought out summary of my educational beliefs. I absolutely love talking about unschooling; I'm very passionate about it. If Jenn wants to make a post about it (even putting some of this comment in if she wants to), I would love to talk with you and her and other more about it.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


My daughter is grown and my son has now chosen to go to high school, but when we were homeschoolers we ended up as unschoolers. We evolved from eclectic approaches to unschooling as we uncovered my son's passions. I think unschooling puts the responsibility for the learning on the child, and yet allows the parent to support him in his endeavors. For us, unschooling never meant that we did not have structure. Rather, it did mean that the structure came from the child with our support, and was not imposed top down. For example, when my son wanted to learn algebra, we did some research together, he and I, to determine how he might best learn it. Then we ordered Hands On Equations, and used their books and materials on his schedule. We worked out a schedule together and we were not afraid to deviate from it.

I would be happy to share more about this.

Rational Jenn said...

I'm re-reading this post and already figuring out things I could have explained better....but I do think it's a good start! I seem to do better when answering questions, and I suspect I'll get some questions!

Thanks, Kelly and Elisheva!

Monica, I am familiar with "unschooling." Unlike my friend Kelly, I do not consider us real-live unschoolers. But we are definitely unschool-ish, in that we very much are working WITH R & M to help them determine what they want to learn and how. For example, they are both learning how to read, but they are each learning in slightly different ways. And they are learning without my having chose a "reading curriculum" and sitting down with them every single day to do reading practice. Since they're learning, I don't see any reason to interfere--in fact, I think any interference would be stifling and possibly demoralizing.

But--I also think there are some things that should be learned, and while I will do my best to encourage and work with them to learn certain things--like math, to a certain level, for example--if they don't want to do it, there will be a minimum at some point. For kids as young as mine, however, this just hasn't come up yet. If they are 12 and can't do the kind of math necessary to balance a checkbook (for example), we're gonna sit down and learn some math.

In short, I think there's a balance to be found somewhere, respecting a child's needs to exercise his volition, and the need for a parent to step in and make sure they have the tools necessary to live a happy and productive life. I don't know where that line is yet.

I will write a post about unschooling in the future. It's something Kelly and I discuss quite a bit, and an area (rare?!?!) in which we don't QUITE see eye-to-eye (I think), but love discussing!

Kelly Elmore said...

I cannot imagine this would happen, but what would you do if Ryan said right out, "I don't want to learn math. Stop trying to make me."? And if after your explanations, he still said that?

Mrs. C said...

I have a question for you. Ok, first, please don't be offended b/c I'm asking more info. You said you wanted your children to come to the same conclusions as to appropriate behaviour because of good reasoning and logic. (I think I summed that up ok, if not lemme know)

Under this system, could your children present rational arguments in order to get your rules amended? Do you get verbal duels of reason over the candy bar at the grocery store from toddlers? Wouldn't your kids run the show if they turned out brighter than you in ten years? :]

And have you never had to say "because I said so" in a pinch? Ever?

BTW I have kids on the spectrum, too. We have difficulties to the point where we have to make up RULES about everything. I swear I didn't start that way. But now we have to use a measuring cup on our cereal or we'll hear MAJOR problems (screaming meltdowns) about who got more cereal and can I have another bowl and but you let me have one yesterday and I deserve and you always and YOU'RE SO MEAN and etc.

Sigh. Now it's one cup, level scoop. Can you have more? NO. Sorry.

Amy said...

Thanks, Jenn. This post is helping me see the differences between our methods that we were discussing in the comments on my blog. PD seems to be the way that we discipline in our house for the most part - natural consequences. I agree with Kelly about OS creating second-handedness. If the reason not to do something is just some arbitrary punishment from the parent, then there is no connection to reality.

We try (but don't always succeed) to handle things like the bath or screaming exactly as you do. Many times my only response to a whining little girl is, "I can't understand you when you whine," and that works!

Cleanup is still difficult at her age, but even if I have to do it, I explain that we can't go to the park, or color, or whatever, until I finish. Not much impact there yet, but I know she'll get it eventually.

However, for some reason I have putting hitting into a separate category. Maybe this is a mistake, but I can't figure out what the natural consequence for hitting is, if it's not getting hit back, which is out of the question. I'll be reading Nelsen's PD book soon.

Could you differentiate PD from the ideas in "Liberated Parents, Liberated Children," if you've read that? (I wrote about it here: )

◄Dave► said...

Oh my... an objectivist who is also a homeschooler, and she has John Taylor Gatto's website among her links! I am an objectivist who owns a Montessori preschool, considers public school child abuse, and regularly begs parents to homeschool their children after I have helped them learn how to learn. Obviously, I need to spend more time exploring your website.

Ironically, I found it by following a link on the website of someone who made a thoughtful post, to an open thread on Ayn Rand at the Secular Right blog, which I comment often on from an objectivist perspective. Just last night, I posted a comment there about the nexus between Ayn Rand and Maria Montessori, which I think you would find interesting. At the end of it, you will find a link to an essay I recently published, which after reading this post I am sure you would appreciate.

If welcome, I will certainly be back. ◄Dave►

Kelly Elmore said...


My daughter went to Montessori for a while. We eventually decided that we liked her having even more freedom at home. But, I was amazed when I read Montessori's books about how close her ideas about how children learn were to Ayn Rand's theory of concepts.


Rational Jenn said...

Hi Mrs. C. Of course I'm not offended!

I think you summed it up well--lots of reasoning and logic, followed up by reinforcement of the rules as necessary. My kids certainly test the rules and we try to consistently reinforce the rules. Hard, that.

So, yes, if the kid can think of a good reason to do or not to do something that wasn't what we'd like, we at least hear the kid out. If it makes sense, and if nobody else's rights are infringed upone, well then why not?

Let me think of an example....

We negotiate stuff all the time. Maybe a good example would be clothes. There used to be a time in which I'd try to make him wear shorts in the summer (trust me, I know how weird that sounds!). But it is SO important to him that he wear something that matches whatever he's pretending to be, that it would turn into a battle. I remember telling him once that I was worried he'd get to hot. So he said something like "Why don't I bring my canteen with me and drink lots of water?" He was taking care of his body, and made an effort to let me see that he was drinking and refilling his canteen, and I realized that as long as he wasn't getting dehydrated, it was okay.

Not the best example, but the only one I can think of at the moment.

I have yet to use the phrase "Because I said so" although I've been sorely tempted to. Usually when I don't have a good reason--the issue at hand is a leftover rule from my childhood, for example. I am learning to reevaluate if a rule is necessary and trying to err on the side of giving them more freedom, rather than less.

And many times, I'll keep to my rule. To use your example, we don't buy candy from the checkout lane due to the food allergy. That is non-negotiable. My daughter has recently tried to test this, actually. We. Don't. Buy. Food. With. Peanuts. In It. Ever. I explain the rule, the need for the rule, and I also talk to her about why it's important for family members to help keep each other safe AND when and where she can eat peanut stuff.

And there are times when force is necessary--a topic for another post.

Thanks, as always, for writing and I hope I'm making's late!

Rational Jenn said...

Oh, and Mrs. C.--I don't have kids on the spectrum, but I can see why you would need to have a measuring cup procedure in place. If that respects somebody's needs, and makes it easier for you, then I think that's a good way to handle it.

Rational Jenn said...

Amy, I'm glad what I wrote made sense. Perhaps the reason you've put Hitting in a different category has something to do with the fact that it is a very overt use of physical force, something that we, as Objectivists, despise.

Hitting is wrong, no matter who the hitter is, but in principle, is not much different than dumping food on the floor or splashing water out of the tub for toddlers and preschoolers. Or screaming when they're mad. They do it because it's a Big Thing that gets Mom's attention and maybe because it's interesting, or even enjoyable on some level. But there is a vast difference between a 2 yo hitting and my 6.5 yo, for instanced. I do expect him not to hit, but if he did, I wouldn't hold him as accountable as I would an adult.

Hope that makes sense.

Rational Jenn said...

Dave, thanks for stopping by and welcome! I will read your comment on the Secular Right blog when I've got more time to digest it--it's been a busy evening, what with one thing and another. Can't wait to read your essay and thanks for stopping by!

Rational Jenn said...

And Kelly, I'm not ignoring your question--it's a good one. There would come a point--adulthood, perhaps, when the child would no longer have a claim on support from, and then, as painful as it would be (I can barely contemplate actually), we'd have to stop supporting them and let them figure out life's lessons the hard way.

Although I sincerely don't think I'll ever face it, not with Ryan anyway!

Obviously, it's still something I'm thinking about. You have the benefit of experience here from teaching, even though our parenting experience is pretty even at this point. I think it might be something I need to see for myself...does that make any kind of sense?

Rational Jenn said...

Oh, and Amy, I think the natural consequence to hitting Mom is that Mom gets mad and maybe moves away. For a 2 yo, that might be enough--mine always got sad when I moved away. And I told them that I'd be happy to hold them when I wasn't getting hit. And if they needed help controlling their arms, I could do that, too. I'm not suggesting withdrawing affection, but just removing them from my physical presence. I have a right not to get hurt, too. (Also, this reinforces that Mom has rational self-interests that must be respected, too.)

A natural consequence to hitting a playmate is that the playmate doesn't want to play with you. People don't want to be around people who hit them. So if you want to play with others, then you should learn different ways to express your anger or frustration. And that's what Mom can do--help them name the emotion, give them a special soft Punching Pillow if the child really does have a physical need to express anger--many little ones do, etc.

The hitting behavior is an inappropriate way of expressing an (often) appropriate emotion. So Mom can help the child identify and name the emotion and find a better way to handle the problem.

Jennifer Snow said...

Your response to Mrs. C intrigues me, Jenn, because I'd use a different approach. While I'm not a parent, my brothers are a lot younger than I am so I spent a fair amount of time engaged in childcare as a youngster. My parents were very OS and I've also had to spend quite a lot of time unraveling bad mental habits as an adult, so I think about this sort of thing fairly often.

I wouldn't want to wind up in a situation where I was resorting to having a measuring cup for breakfast cereal because to me, that's just teaching your children that they can push you around. Respect needs to go both ways, and I think it's also important that children learn how to tell that something isn't important.

Of course, I'd have to try out my approach before I could say it was worthwhile, but I'd at least start out with a statement like "you are yelling at me over breakfast cereal? Does that mean you'd rather have cereal than me? Fine, then you can have the cereal, I'm leaving."

From what I've seen of most children, having mother just *leave* would very nearly induce hysteria and drive home the "you must be polite to mother (or anyone) if you want them to help you" and "don't make a Big Deal out of Little Things".

Mrs. C said...

Jennifer, you're right that it sure does seem a little controlling. It's not something I would have ever instituted with my older neurotypical child if my 13-y-o autistic son didn't have such a difficulty with the concept of how much cereal to have and if he didn't get all obsessed about it.

Having the scoop in the LONG run, sets a boundary. G understands that that's the limit, and we get fewer meltdowns (preserving everyone's rights, especially those of our younger children!!).

Your scenario would absolutely work on a neurotypical child. I have some of those, too. But have you worked with children on the spectrum? It's not a criticism, I just think you haven't and so consequently it's difficult to understand how parents can become so anal with schedules and cereal scoops. (Because, really, reading what I've written, before I had kids like G I'd have thought the mom was nuts for practices like this...)

If you could try to think of them as methods to help the child have a sense of order in the world, you'd be seeing it more from my perspective.

THOUGH, if I could get things to work with a few kind words wouldn't that be nice?? I'd really, really LIKE to get to the point where the children can go ahead and eat whatever cereal or play as many video games as they like and just be able to go with the flow and function with whatever happens "next." I'd be a lot happier and so would they, because they would get a LOT more privileges and things wouldn't have to be so stinkin' ordered.

I'd like a break from the schedule, too. I just see what happens in my childrens' lives when we take it. :]

That being said, I think we can all stand improvement in our parenting practices. Of necessity, however, mine have a few quirks.

Kelly Elmore said...

Jenn, I totally understand how letting go of that kind of control can be hard to do before the need arises. I guess I just think it is important to go ahead and let go of it so that we don't approach our children with a hidden agenda. It's very easy to give a little more praise and affection when they learn to add then when they learn to ride a bike. And unless they had expressed more difficulty or more desire to learn adding than biking, it would be wrong to be more excited for them. That's why I work on letting go of my needs as regards her progress as much as I can. So that I can celebrate learning at the pace and in the order that Livy has chosen.

Also, I asked the question because I totally cannot imagine you forcing your kids to learn. You definitely do more subtle pushing than I do, but if it came down to a battle, I don't think you would choose to engage. You are just too respectful a parent for that.

Kelly Elmore said...

It occurred to me that the last post I made came out sounding a little condescending. I didn't mean. "You are too good for that Jenn! Amend you ways!" I meant that I truly cannot imagine you forcing learning on either of your children if it came right down to force. I can't imagine it because you are always so reasonable with them. I meant it as a compliment. :)

Rational Jenn said...

Hi Jennifer! I think measuring cereal would perhaps be an extreme thing for neurotypical kids, but I can see that something like that would be necessary for kids with autism.

I think any agreement like that ideally comes with input from everyone affected, so that everyone gets practice with coming up with a solution that everyone can live with (that's from another PD book).

Now if my kids were upset about cereal, given their ages and abilities, I would ask THEM to come up with a solution. I would also make sure to point out that I didn't find it worth getting worked up over, but that if they chose to do so, then they'll need to come up with a solution--because MY need in this situation is not to hear people screaming at each other at breakfast. Especially before my coffee has been made. :o)

I would guide the negotations, given their ages and personalities (Ryan is the bulldozer type, and he's older), but if they came up with "Let's measure our cereal!" as their solution, then I'd let them try it out. And I wouldn't feel or have been pushed around either, and then I would get what I want (Quiet), too!

Mrs. C.'s situation is somewhat different, but from what I know if kids with autism, Rules as such are very important, and if one of my kids had autism, we'd use a similar approach, I think. But we'd probably have more rules around here than we do today, because of the nature of living with an autistic child. Mrs. C. please correct me if I'm wrong--I could be full of crap, since I really don't have experience in this matter.

Rational Jenn said...

Kelly--I knew what you meant! I really don't think I can force a concept into a brain, any more than I can force them to use the potty. But I can set up conditions under which such things are encouraged! :o)

I'm still thinking and thinking about this, and the most important thing for them to learn is how to think, of course. And I'm not clear in my head about how to encourage it, although I also know that we do encourage it and that both R & M are going to be just fine and dandy!

In other words, still confused. :o)

Monica said...

What a great thread. I haven't had a chance to read all the comments until today, and I don't have kids. But these sorts of threads make me think, "Hm, maybe I wouldn't be a terribly bad parent someday with a little help from others!"

Kelly brought up an interesting point in comment #2 about her own upbringing. I've never thought about it much before, but I'd say that I definitely also had a fear of punishment as a child - worrying about about punishment and how my actions would be perceived than whether the action was right or wrong. There were also a lot of irrational punishments in my childhood -- being punished for things I didn't really know were wrong because there weren't prior rules.

Very interesting.

Mrs. C said...

Jenn, I think you're on the money. It would be extremely (IMO) demeaning and manipulative to start up weird rules like the cereal scoop one if you have neurotypical children and are just too lazy to negotiate, though, so I get where Jennifer is coming from. I mean, I realllllly do.

Our difficulty with G on that issue (and there are many! I also have three autistic kids, did you know that?) is that he gets SO upset so fast about who got more than whom and how much he got yesterday and etc. that it was just "OK, here's the solution. Everyone gets one level cup." Because I'm at the point where I have no energy left to negotiate with someone who is screaming and saying that I'm trying to take his cereal away, etc. while I have a kid who needs a diaper change and another crying baby and someone else who has lost his gloves and needs to leave in ten minutes.

Now, I'm open to negotiation with people who are CALM, don't yell, throw things or destroy property. Not while I'm changing a poopie diaper or trying to go to the bathroom and arguments like "You're a thief, a liar and a jerk," shut down all negotiations.

And you know, you could have the best rationale in the world for wanting a cup and a half instead of a cup, but if you're yelling at me, it's just not happening. Things like this just REINFORCE to me that you are not able to help make these rules. So here's the rule. (And actually, that's one of the few things that "work," though I wish I could just say "go eat whatever" and not hear screaming. But the few times I've asked for input into rules, it doesn't go ALL his way and results in more howling, so forget it most times...)

I find myself being forced into the extremes like that. It isn't just the cereal... it's everything. I hate being like that on everything.

This weekend I thought I'd let G have an hour of video game time before the dinner cleanup. OH that didn't work. Afterward, he was crabby and nasty and mean. He had no motivation to try to even be nice the rest of the day b/c he already got what he wanted. Make sense?

But your post intrigued me because I'd sure LIKE to be less... oh... like I'm parenting a four-year-old. How to get the child to view life rationally? The Christian parenting websites, some of them, would just seem to imply that if only I'd nipped things in the bud and spanked the kid enough, I wouldn't be in this difficulty. (sigh)

How to get through to him that Mom BECAME a dictator in response to the rebellion, but if only you would see the necessity of some parameters that you don't LIKE, we could work on changing maybe SOME of them. If you live in the fence we set up *together,* I'm not forced to make this really tight fence you don't like because you're driving me nuts.

How to get that kid to rationalize? We're still at the "he didn't do what I asked so he hates me" phase of logic.


I am at a crossroads with this child. Nothing seems to work, and yes, we're getting "professional help," but that isn't as helpful as I'd like, either.

OK, I know that's not what your post was about, but that's just "where I am."


PS happy delurking day!!

Jennifer Snow said...

Ooh, I didn't catch that you had autism as an additional hurdle to overcome. In fact, my family may very well be the opposite of that situation because my brothers and I were all developmentally precocious, which leads to its own set of problems.

I don't really know anything about autism so I can't even begin to make recommendations. It almost sounds like your son is hyper-aware of things, but people are just another class of things to him so there's really no mental sorting or classifying by importance. The only thing that matters is what he wants?

Mrs. C said...

LOL Jennifer, it pretty well seems that way. He's not "getting" it.


Principled Parent said...

Jenn, what a great post! You gave such a clear summary of PD. I loved all of your examples, which are really helpful in getting me to think about how I'll handle situations that arise with my son.

I would love to have a list of the Positive Discipline books that you found most helpful. I definitely want to continue to research the topic.

Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with Mac Bledsoe (Drew's father) and his "Parenting with Dignity" work?

It sounds very similar. I'd be interested in getting your thoughts if you have any experience with it.