Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Discipline Without Punishment

I've been writing about our experience with and applications of Positive Discipline methods for a while now. I'm aware that there may be some new readers who have found this blog (hi!) and so I wanted to do a quick review of what PD entails, how it fits well with my principles as an Objectivist, and to revisit the most controversial aspect of this parenting method: no arbitrary punishments and rewards.

(If you would like to read more about PD, check out my list of resources in this post.)

One of the reasons I like using the PD approach is that it reminds me to treat the children as if they are young human beings--because they are in fact, young human beings. A carrot-and-stick approach may be necessary with lower animals (and I'm not entirely sure if I think that's always so), but young humans, while not fully rational, are not the same as animals. They need guidance, sure. But their nature as humans demands that we treat them differently from other animals.

The Ambassador

I once read an analogy on a discipline discussion group that is a really wonderful way to describe the positive discipline approach. (If you happen to know the origin, please let me know so I can credit it properly.)

Imagine that you are a government official (no, really--it's a good analogy. Stay with me.) and your job is to introduce a foreign ambassador to our country. The Ambassador is brand new here. He has no knowledge of our language or customs, but he sure is excited to be here, and is eager to do things just right. As he tries to get along with "the natives," he's going to make some mistakes. LOTS of mistakes. Your job is to show him the way to do things around here. The Ambassador likes you a lot and has readily accepted your authority in the matter of All Things This Country. What is the best way to help him understand how to behave?

Imagine a dinner party where the Ambassador reaches across the table and grabs food off of someone else's plate. That's how they do it in his country, but not here. Should you smack his hand away and scold him for being rude? Should you scream at him? Should you talk condescendingly to him? Should you force him to apologize to the other guests for his behavior?

Or should you say "In our country, we only eat off of our own plates. If we'd like more food, we can say 'Please pass the carrots.' and someone will pass us the bowl."?

Imagine he doesn't know how dangerous a moving car can be. (They only ride horses in his country.) The Ambassador walks heedlessly into traffic. You grab his arm and stop him just in time. Do you now smack him? Scream at him for being so foolish?

Or do you say in probably a loud, obviously stressed out tone of voice "Don't walk into the road! Those moving cars could hurt you!"

Imagine that he lies to you about something important. Do you make him sit in his hotel room and think about what he did? Do you make him wash the windows of the embassy (a chore he hates) as punishment?

Or do you explain to him that truthfulness and trust is extremely important, that your relationship depends on it, that tricking someone by lying to them is a good way to damage a relationship and make yourself miserable? That because your trust is damaged, you'll be doing an extra careful job of making sure that what he says is true, so that you can continue to help him out?

And if I had belittled or smacked the Ambassador, what would his impressions of our country be? He might feel inadequate or stupid for not somehow automatically knowing what the rules were. He might view the our country as a place that doesn't make sense, and maybe a place that he can't ever understand.

What might he think of me? He might worry that I didn't really like him. He might learn to fear me instead of look to me for guidance and protection and answers about the way things are. He might become scared to try anything new (since my reactions were negative and unpredictable to him), afraid of making a mistake and facing my anger or a punishment or physical pain.

If I treat the Ambassador in a kind way, answering his questions, correcting his behavior, helping him make sense of things that are incomprehensible to him, he will begin to understand the customs, act in accordance with them, and he will look to me as a resource--someone who can help him out.

No Punishment? Really?

When I first started reading about PD, I couldn't get over the whole "no punishing" thing. I kept looking for loopholes--because I simply couldn't see how a child who isn't punished for his wrong actions would learn the right way to behave. How he wouldn't just act like a crazy hooligan all the time. How his parents would keep him under control.

And then I realized--discipline shouldn't be about keeping kids "under control." It should be about helping them understand rational (not arbitrary) boundaries and how to control themselves. In time, as the child matures, he will understand not only what the boundaries are, but why they are necesssary, and have the self-discipline required to abide by those boundaries. He will understand how to correct his mistakes. He will want to do the right thing because it is right--not because he'll be punished for doing the wrong thing, or rewarded with a prize for doing the right thing.

I should define what I mean when I say "punishment." I'm talking about an arbitrary, adult-imposed sanction upon a child for a specific transgression. If you run out into the street, I'll smack your bottom. If you scream at me, I'll make you sit in the Time Out Chair. If you throw a toy, I'll smack your hand. If you hit me, I'll hit you. If you break something precious of mine, I'll send you to your room. If you speak rudely to me, I'll withhold love, affection, or television privileges. If you lie to me, I'll ground you. In other words, punishment is something negative I'll do TO you in order to let you know you did something wrong (or something I don't like).

All of these parental actions are designed to get the message across that the child's action is unacceptable. Because those behaviors are unacceptable (accidents excepting). And of course kids ought to learn those things. And they CAN learn them if they are not punished for making mistakes or bad decisions.

Does this mean that there's an "anything goes" policy at my house? No! The kids take responsibility for their mistakes and bad decisions--but the consequences they face are reality-driven, not mommy-driven.

Children need rational, non-arbitrary boundaries based in reality, because like The Ambassador above, they are new here and don't automatically know the right way to act. If such limits are set and consistently enforced, then there is actually no need for an additional parent-imposed punishment. The child bangs up against the limit, the rule is enforced, end of story. In a way, handling limits in this manner sets the parent free (to a certain degree) from being the Bad Guy or JJ&E (Judge, Jury & Executioner). Mom is there to help the child respect the limits which are grounded in reality. The child can rant and rage against Mr. Reality (and my kids often do this), but Mr. Reality has a way of being constant and immovable, doesn't he?

Non-arbitrary limits include: Cleaning up a spill you made. A parent quickly grabbing you before you run into the street. Being held firmly by a parent until you can stop your arms from hitting. Being asked to choose between taking your screaming voices outside or quieting down a bit. Getting strapped into your carseat against your will, or being taken from a store or restaurant because you are flipping out and disturbing others.

Punishments do discourage unwanted actions. Rewards (the positive flip-side of punishment) do encourage desirable actions. But both are ways of controlling the child as opposed to helping the child learn to control himself in a rational way. In fact, punishments and rewards encourage second-handedness, I think, because the child learns to look to others for an indication of whether he has done right or wrong. He learns to expect consequences (positive or negative) to come from others--not reality. And he doesn't learn why right and wrong actions are right and wrong--only that others say so.


Some limits need no Mom-intervention whatsoever. Walking on gravel in your bare feet is a reality-based experience that needs no adult comment. Not wearing a coat or sweater outside when it's 38 degrees--again, No Mommy Necessary (except to bring a backup jacket). The negative consequence to those actions are "punishment" enough, yes?

The vast majority of the limits my husband and I set for our kids are rooted in Ethics, of course. And the principle we use is that of individual rights (although we don't often use that term when explaining our reasoning, since that's a bit too abstract for them just yet).

When the child's actions infringe upon the rights of another, we put a stop to the action. There is no additional consequence--because all I want to do is stop the violation of someone else's rights. I always explain why the behavior must stop (in terms they can understand), but the most important thing is that the rights violation ceases. The kids will--and have--figure out that what they were doing is unacceptable and as they mature, they will be able to stop themselves from doing it, and they will eventually be able to truly understand WHY the behavior is unacceptable. (Ryan has been flirting on the edge of this true understanding for a while now, but at nearly 7, he's not all the way there. I'll let you know when he gets there--I still expect it to be a while.)

So--hitting. Hitting hurts and is not respectful of other people's bodies. You must stop. If you can't stop your arm, then I will help you, asking you to stop hitting, or by moving you away from the victim, or even occasionally by holding your arm still.

Screaming at me rudely. Well, I really dislike that, and screaming at me makes me not want to help you out. I'm much more willing to help you open the milk if you ask me in a kind way. If you scream, then I'll probably won't help you.

Bossing your friends. Your friends won't want to play with you if they are bossed incessantly. Guess what? I'm happy to report that Ryan is changing his behavior and is treating his friend more kindly.

Coloring on my walls (or writing ASS on it!). My walls belong to me and I like them sans colorful words. (Also, I like them poop-free. Yes.) So you must erase it and if you need to write things, please find some paper.

Trashing your room rock-star-style. The things in your room belong to you, yes, but I wash your clothes and you need to keep them neat and tidy in your dresser drawer. So you'll need to clean them up. Also, we vacuum every other week, so you'll need to clean up the floor, too. And you'll need to get this cleaned up now, so I don't think we'll have time to read your story tonight. Oh, your friends helped you make this mess? Well, then you'll need to ask them to stop making a mess next time, since this is your room. If they won't stop, come and ask me for help. Also, I think you and your friends shouldn't be alone in your room for a while.

In any of the above examples, I can't see how adding a punishment on to what happened would have done anything more toward having the kids understand the limits and why.

Rational Discipline

The best thing about positive discipline techniques is that they are very compatible with my principles. When I am guiding my children through a situation, I am focused on reality; I'm thinking about ideas that are important to me; I'm treating my children as individuals; I'm making sure they treat me and others as individuals with rights; I'm protecting them from catastrophic harm; I'm staying out of the way of them experiencing the consequences of their actions; I'm ensuring that they are thinking about things for themselves instead of accepting an argument from authority (me).

PD tools reinforce the virtues which I try to exercise on a daily basis for my own happiness. When I slip back into JJ&E mode (and I do), I'm not a happy mommy. I don't like thinking up punishments and enforcing them; I'd rather enforce the rational rule. I don't like implicitly asking my kids to do something merely because I want them to do it; I like them understanding that it's important to do something because it's right to do it (even if they don't like it in the moment).

In the words of Aristotle: we are what we repeatedly do; excellence is not an act, but a habit. With rational, reality-based limits, kids will get experience making good and bad choices, and lots of practice in how to navigate the local customs. I think they'll enter adulthood with experience and skills in their own toolboxes to help them be happy, productive adults.

I realize that some of my readers may have disagreements about these ideas. Feel free to comment (pros and cons!).


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I remember reading about this approach to discipline, though it was not called PD, in the La Leche League book (the title escapes me!) about nursing as part of an integrated child-raising approach.

I am not sure if the exact example was the same as yours, but it was similar.

What is interesting to me is how well this approach works. I raised two kids (well, one is still a teen) using it, and my kids have learned to behave politely and properly, but even more importantly, they've learned how to suss out what the proper response is likely to be in new situations based on how they were taught. (The teen, who has AS is still learning this because of the language problems that come with his disability. But he has the ideas down).

This last result is the most important and gives me the greatest satisfaction that I persisted in muddling through using this approach.

Travis N said...

Great post. I hope lots of new readers read this. =)

Jonathan M said...

Jenn - Another great post. I've now read Siblings Without Rivalry and Positive Discipline on your recommendation. Both were fantastic and I've seen some successes already with my 3 boys.

Even when there isn't anything completely new (as in this post), it is very inspiring and motivating to me to hear your ongoing examples of PD success each week. Your blog is like my "personal trainer" for using PD in my own family. Thank you!

David S. Ross said...

My wife asked me to read this posting, and I am glad that she did. This is a clear account of the sensible approach to discipline. Well done, Jenn.

One element did seem wrong to me: the focus on the principle of individual rights in connection with teaching children to behave well. Of course, we do have to teach our children to refrain from the initiation of force! But I'd say that the issue of rights plays, at most, a modest role in the context of teaching children to behave well.

Most of the issues we deal with in teaching children to behave properly, it seems to me, fall in the realm of ethics that is outside the realm of rights. Rudeness, slovenliness, thoughtlessness, meanness, inattentiveness, poor hygiene, and many, many, many other things that we teach children to eschew--and that rational morality demands that they learn to eschew--are certainly not rights violations.

Amy said...

So what do you do if the child colors on the wall and refuses to erase it?

I've been working on the PD for a couple of months now and my 2.5 year old is just entering into another willfull phase, so we're being put to the test! So far, so good. It is more challenging than punishment, but much more pleasant. I will be a true-believer if she comes out of this on her own and doesn't keep getting more defiant.

It is confusing, though. I find myself letting her get away with things when I'm not active-minded. It's much harder to keep to my word. But that is just because I am adjusting to "my word" being an intermediary for reality instead of the arbitrary, "because I said so." If I say "one more slide and then we leave the playground," I used to stick to it because I had it in my head that she needs to listen to me. Now I dropped that and I forget that I can still back up what I say because she does not get to run my life, either!

Miranda Lake Barzey said...

I know you home school, and plan to for a while, but what's your take on the parent's involvement in a child's schoolwork and grades? My parents have always held me to high standards on report cards, and often punished me when I didn't achieve those grades. (The poor grades came from laziness, not lack of understanding!)

If we consider children as young individuals, do we allow them to undertake education on their own, or do parents need to step in and push a child to achieve, as they are more aware of the long term effects?

Even at home, how do you plan to get your children to do consistent school work? Will/do they complete i at their leisure? Is there some loose structure? What about times where they'd rather play? Are they always motivated to learn?

I'd love to read more about your approaches on homeschooling as the kids grow older, especially on daily structure.

geetanjali said...

hi jenn,
i admire the approach you've taken with your kids. i'm a journalist from mumbai, working on a parenting article. would really like to discuss this with you. is there a phone number or an email address i can get in touch with you on? feel free to call me or SMS on +91 9819525249 or email me at geetanjalijhala@gmail.com
i look forward to hearing from you.
best, geetanjali

Alicia said...

I love the ambassador analogy! It's new to me and I think it's a wonderful way to get people to think of things differently.

We've done PD all along with our 4 kids and find that it's led to a really close family and kids who are really *good* people. Not that every minute is sunshine, but in the big picture it's a happier way of life for all of us and I'm really proud of who my kids are. :)

Regarding the question of how to "make" the 2 year old clean off the wall... at that age, we are still very much their helpers. I would probably say "Oh look, that made a mess on mommy's wall. Here, let's each use a Magic Eraser and clean it up." No shame, no anger, no guilt, just a simple solution offered. If the child doesn't want to (chances are, she will if it's presented nicely because magically cleaning crayon off a wall can be fun if it's not made into a punishment), then that's okay. Really. Say "Okay, I'll clean this up but next time I want you go use this paper for your crayons, okay?".

I would love to go into the homeschooling angle too but I'm already yapping too long in your comment box! :)

Nice blog! Glad to find you. :)

Rational Jenn said...

Hi everyone! I'm finally getting a moment to answer these comments. Thanks for your patience!

Elisheva--I'm glad to know someone who has done this and lived to tell the tale. :o) Very encouraging!

Travis--I started this post before the thread got going on HBL. Thanks again for linking here!

Jonathan--I'm glad you're finding this strategy helpful. How old are your kids? I find it so helpful to write about this stuff because it helps me get it stuck in my brain better. So even a review kind of post, which this is, is helpful to me and I hope, to my readers.

And now I'm being interrupted (those meddling kids!), so I will respond more completely to you other commenters later (hopefully, later tonight)!

Rational Jenn said...

David--thanks for stopping by! I think you have a great point, and I was probably being too narrow in my formulation. I should probably say that lately, I'VE been dealing with this rights realm, so that's very much on my mind. I'd say the other areas you mentioned fall into "rational self-interest" of course, and we do talk quite a bit about those things around here, too! Thanks for your insights and it gave me an idea for a future post.

Jonathan M said...

My boys are 5.5, 3, and 7 months. A bit younger than your three, I think -- all the better for me to steal your proven tips!

Glad Travis mentioned you on HBL. I hope you're getting a lot of traffic from it, since I think your thoughts on these topics are much better than the HBL discussion thread.

Rational Jenn said...

Hi Amy! I agree with Alicia that an adult can, and probably should, assist with things like cleaning up a wall. I used to believe that "if you make the mess, you clean it up!" But that's not only unreasonable to ask a small child to handle, it's not even necessarily how we'd treat an adult! If Brendan made a mess, I might help him out, especially if he asked me nicely. So it's definitely an opportunity to do something together (and I need to remind myself to do this more often with my kids, too.).

With a 2.5 yo, I'd get us both wet sponges and maybe even make it into a game. And I'd acknowledge even a little effort--a swipe or two at the wall--I might remark, "Thanks for helping clean this up. That's pretty responsible." And then finish cleaning up the mess myself.

With an older child like Ryan, I would probably talk more in depth about why I wanted my walls clean, and I'd probably insist that he (we) work on cleaning it up before he moved onto other things. I might say "I know you want to go play soldiers, but this wall needs to be cleaned up. Let's do it together really quickly so we can both do the other things we'd rather do."

And like Alicia said, it's okay that they not help, too, especially at your daughter's age. But it's okay to tell her how that makes you feel. You could say "I sure wish you'd help me clean this up. I feel frustrated that I have to do this myself."

I can probably sit here all night and think of ideas, so I'll stop now!

The 2.5-3.5 year is a tough one, what with all of that burgeoning independence. So far, with my older kids, the independence-testing thing comes and goes in waves every so often. I suppose they've got to exercise those independence muscles in preparation for the Big Teenage Showdown. :o)

Anyway, you have my sympathy! I keep chanting "Independence, not obedience" over and over to myself until bedtime (or happy hour!).

Amy said...

Come to think of it, Jenn, what you said about cleaning the walls myself and just noting that I'm disappointed or frustrated is exactly what I do most of the time when she refuses to help (which isn't too often, really). But I still can't help feeling like I'm letting her "get away with" something when I do that. I think I'm really still transitioning my thinking about punishment. It's hard.

I also use the "we can't do [this fun thing] until we finish [cleaning up/getting dressed/other less pleasant task]" like you do with Ryan. Even at 2.5, that works a lot of the time, and it's just the plain truth!

Travis N said...

Amy asked me if I'd expand on the distinction between "enforcing the rules" and "punishing a child for breaking the rules" that I made in the HBL post that linked here. I hadn't, and still haven't, thought really deeply about this, but I'll try to flesh it out a little in real time here with some examples.

To begin with, I understand "punishment" to mean some kind of negative consequence that is imposed by another person and is "artificial" (I mean as opposed to a "natural consequence" of the triggering behavior). Spanking, for example. And both of those aspects (that it comes from a person and that it is artificial) make it less than ideal. What you want, in general, is for the bad consequences to come from reality (not another person) and for them to be natural (not artificial). I think everybody reading this will be already on the same page about that. It's basically just PD in a nutshell.

This maybe raises the further question: what about the sorts of rules that are inherently social (like "don't hit other people", "if you make a mess, help clean it up", or "brush your teeth before bedtime")? It might seem like here, since other people are necessarily involved, any negative consequences triggered by bad behavior will have to come from other people and have to be at least somewhat artificial.

But I don't think that's right. Reality includes people and their interactions. So if my child hits me and I say, sternly, "Ouch, that hurt me; it makes me angry when you hit; I'm going to leave now since I don't like to play with people who hit" and then walk away and do my own thing for a while, that is very much an instance of a natural consequence from reality. And, having gone through exactly this exchange several times, I think anything more (like a spanking) would be, at best, totally unnecessary.

So what about the kind of example Amy raised: the child writes on the wall and it has to be cleaned up? Here I agree with what Alicia and Jenn wrote. If the child is 2.5, it's not realistic to expect him to clean up the mess by himself. Just as a brute matter of fact, you (the parent) are going to pretty much have to clean it up. So the most you can reasonably hope for from the child is a little token help which, as Jenn said, you should acknowledge as appropriate and good. What if the child refuses even that token help? Then maybe the child doesn't get to play with the crayons/markers anymore for a while. I might say something like "Since I had to clean up this mess you made and you refused to help, the crayons are going to be put away for a while to make sure this doesn't happen again." And then I'd leave them put away until the child had asked for them and wanted them and gotten a little upset (once). (Then, the second time the child asked for them, I'd make them available with a respectful reminder that we need to only use them at the table with paper, or whatever.)

The general point here is that you can have rules (like "no writing on the walls with crayons"), and you can take actions to ensure that the rules are obeyed (such as taking away the crayons after the rule is broken), without ever imposing a punishment.

Here's another example. Our kids' bedtime routine is like this: brush your teeth, get undressed, take a bath, get pajamas on, read a couple books, then go to sleep. I think kids are hard-wired to try to extend each step in the process, so as to maximally delay the final step. So we just float reminders periodically about the (very natural!) consequences of too much dilly-dallying. For example: "if you want to have time for two stories tonight, we need to get out of the bath and get your pajamas on now." (Read: "Daddy's tired and *will* start watching House at 8:00 sharp!") And then it's their choice. They can stay in the bath longer (but get one or maybe zero stories afterwards), or hop out now and get the full two stories. It only takes once or twice of actually imposing this kind of consequence before even a 2.5 year old learns that you're not kidding.

A possible objection: sure, you can call withholding stories a "natural consequence", but isn't it really (or really also) a punishment? Here I think the answer is that, yes, thought of strictly in terms of events and actions, a given sequence might involve both a "natural consequence" and a "punishment". But here I think the attitude of the parent is a huge factor. It would indeed be possible for me to withhold bedtime stories *as a punishment*. But that would involve very different explanations, thoughts, emotions, body language, etc., on my part. I try to be purely matter-of-fact and respectful of the child's decisions in the face of rules and consequences that are objective and mutually understood. What I'm saying is that it's partly that attitude/approach which makes a given consequence a "natural consequence" rather than a punishment. (By contrast, if what I conveyed with words or body language was "All right, then, you little bastard... you wanna stay in the bath? Fine. Then I'm not gonna read you any bedtime stories. How do you like that???" the same delivered consequence would be very much into the punishment category.)

Maybe some of that helps clarify what I had in mind by "enforcing the rules" (using "natural consequences" as much as possible) as opposed to "punishing kids who break the rules".

Here's another sort of random thought that occured to me while I was writing. There's an important distinction between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" rewards. The former are rewards such as the deserved feeling of self-efficacy and achievement you get when you do something productive; the latter are things like A's in school or candies given for good behavior. There's a lot of research (and common sense) showing that, while extrinsic rewards can modify behavior effectively in the short term, they have disastrous long-term consequences. (See, e.g., Chapter 5 of Lillard's "Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius".) I think there's a good parallel here between "rewards" (in the broad sense that includes "intrinsic rewards") and "punishments" (in a broad sense that includes both "punishments" as defined above, and "negative natural consequences"). My point is that I think it's helpful to think of "punishments" (in the narrow sense) as "extrinsic punishments", and likewise "negative natural consequences" as "intrinsic punishments." (The confusing terminology here suggests that we need some new concepts, but bear with me.)

If you follow and buy that, you'll see a parallel between (e.g.) paying children money for good grades in school and (to use an example that was mentioned on HBL) punishing a child because he refuses to stay in his time-out corner. Both cases involve bringing in further layers of extrinsic rewards/punishments to try to solve a problem that was created by the fact that the original extrinsic rewards/punishments weren't effective. That, I think, is a clear sign that you're going in the wrong direction, and the solution is to step back and get rid of the whole attempt to control behavior extrinsically. And that, I think, is precisely what PD is all about. In Objectivist terms, it's about helping a child develop a primary relationship with reality (as opposed to other people who give him candies or swats on the bottom).

Let's see. Amy also mentioned feeling sometimes like the child is "getting away with" too much (e.g., when the parent basically cleans up a mess created by the child). I think that's a natural and normal feeling. I have it all the time too. But I think part of being a parent is recognizing that kids are kids, and they will (by adult standards) "get away with" all kinds of crazy, indefensible stuff. You just have to keep your wits, try to stay as calm and matter-of-fact as possible, and bank on the future returns of tiny incremental investments like the kid's token "swipe or two at the wall." My sense is that this is exactly what Amy is already doing, so I think in the end I have nothing useful to contribute!

Rational Jenn said...

Finally! Another moment to catch up with comments! Alicia, welcome and thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share your experience. (I apologize for just now getting around to acknowledging your ideas.)

Travis--your latest comment is Awesomeness. Couldn't have said it better myself. You wrote:

What if the child refuses even that token help? Then maybe the child doesn't get to play with the crayons/markers anymore for a while.

That's exactly what we do. I say just that kind of thing--"Well, last time you played with paints I was stuck cleaning up the mess all by myself. I'm not really in the mood to clean up that mess again right now, so we'll have to save those paints for another time." Then I make sure that next time isn't too far away (and that I can deal with the mess if necessary), and then remind them "Okay, let's paint--but remember that you need to help clean up the mess or it will be a while before you have another chance to paint." Or something along those lines.

I find their development inability to understand time--past, present, future--to be hard to work around sometimes!

Also--I've often thought of your Instrinsic/Extrinsic motivation--only I call it Internal/External. But that is an essential difference between PD and traditional reward/punishment discipline methods.

Miranda--Good question, which probably deserves a blog post (or a dozen) in its own right. As far as homeschooling, we do very little in the way of formal schoolwork just yet. I envision (we'll see if it actually turns out that way!) a guidance role for Brendan and me in their educations, since I'm not sure how to force someone to integrate a concept even if I wanted to. But I've got a lot more thinking to do on the subject before I write about it.

As things go right now, we are so involved with the kids that I think we understand what they know and how well they know it and I have no real worries that they won't one day learn math or science or history. I am very unconcerned about typical school timelines and grades. When a transcript becomes necessary, when they're thinking about college, for example, then we'll figure out a way to assess grades, but I envision that being a very mutual process.

I don't anticipate changing my discipline strategy over "school" issues though. But like I said, there's much I'm still thinking through. Might comment more on your comment later, but have to go just now....thanks!

Amy said...

Thanks, Travis. This is very clarifying for me. I think this hits on a lot of my confusion about what is punishment. For example, I might be afraid to enforce the rule of leaving day care in a timely manner because that seems so arbitrary. But it would be arbitrary if I said, "If you don't come with me now, you can't have any crackers." (They have crackers at the door). It would not be arbitrary if I said, "If you don't come with me now, we won't have time to color before I have to cook dinner." Sometimes you have to stretch the consequence a bit and I have no problem with that. We might still have time to color if she takes an extra 2 minutes, but as long as the principle is that she is wasting time that can be used in a better way, then I think that is a natural consequence.

But then, on the other hand, sometimes I have that feeling that I'm letting her get away with too much and I hand out a "punishment." I really hope that this is just a left over from 1) having the old bad premise of "she must obey" still lurking in my mind and 2) overreaction for the times I do nothing at all because I'm trying to avoid punishment but unable to come up with good way to explain or enforce a consequence.

It might be a good exercise to define all of the common terms related to punishment and consequence and figure out if, indeed, a new term(s) is needed. I'm not qualified, though, since I'm obviously still confused.

Travis N said...

Jenn: "Awesomeness"? I wonder if that means "good" or just "loooooong"? =b

Amy: Leaving daycare on time is a good example to think about, and your characterization of the issue as involving the arbitrariness of the rule/consequence is helpful. For me, there are two different kinds of daycare pickups: the days when I really have no other place I have to get right away, and the days when I have to subsequently go pick up the *other* kid at his different daycare/school. (I know, that's crazy.) On the first sort of days, I often stick around and hang out there for up to a half hour. I just let him decide when he's ready to go, partly because it's fun for me to hang out there and watch how he interacts with other kids, etc. But when we have to jet to pick up the other kid (or whatever the reason might be), I just explain why we have to hurry and then insist on it. The point is, whether or not it's arbitrary to insist on leaving quickly and efficiently depends on, well, whether or not it's arbitrary to insist on that. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.

That was all about whether the *rule* you're contemplating enforcing is arbitrary. You also pointed out that the *consequences* of not following it could be arbitrary or not, i.e., plausibly causally related to the choices made or not. I think we agree that (a) the consequences should be plausibly causally related to the choices made as much and as often as possible (which I think is what's meant by the "natural" in "natural consequences")
-- but also that (b) sometimes you have to "stretch" a bit. (As we do, by the way, when we say "if you don't get out of the bath now, there won't be time for two stories." "Won't be time??" What would that even really mean?! Well, I told you what it really means: I don't want to miss the opening scene of House! But I don't want to tell the kid I want him to hurry so I can go watch TV, so I make it sound like it's just some sort of obvious, universally recognized unquestionable Law of Nature that there is a finite amount of time at bedtime. It's not really a lie or anything, but it does involve a tiny bit of stretching.)

I also want to say, since I've come out against spanking and such, that I do occasionally get angry at my toddler when he just wantonly ignores my polite requests to help clean up a mess, or continues to make a mess after I've politely asked him several times to stop, etc. And sometimes this does result in physical force -- but of the "grabbing and holding" sort, not the "hitting to inflict pain/punishment" sort. For example, I'll grab an arm and hold him so that he's facing me and physically can't continue to ignore my requests. There's probably a definite "I'm not joking" tone of voice and body language involved, too. And usually in these moments there is an explicit statement of consequences if the behavior continues (e.g., go to your room by yourself until you're ready to start being respectful of the rules). This isn't common, but it happens. I just wanted to mention it so it didn't sound too much like the *only* time I'd ever use physical force with a kid is when they're about to be hit by a bus. But still, I would argue, in this kind of case the physical force is being used to implement the rules, not to ("extrinsically") punish the kid for breaking the rules.

Ack, I spent too long writing this comment... now there's only time for one short story before bed.

Kelly Elmore said...

I wanted to comment on stretching the truth of natural consequences. I really think you ought to say what the truth is about the situation, like "When you take so long leaving daycare, it makes me feel tired and stressed out. When we get home, I won't be able to do XYZ with you because I will need to relax a little before I cook dinner." Or, "If you choose not to get out of the bath tub, we won't have time for 2 stories. I have a show to watch at 8:00 that is very important to me, so you will have to get out of the tub now if you want to have time for stories."

We as parents have very real needs that are a part of reality. I think it is ok (even beneficial) to show our kids that meeting our own needs is a big important job.

One more note: I try not to isolate myself fom my child unless I really need to. I do walk away, but that is usually when I am on my last shred of patience and about to shout or say nasty things. Sometimes people not wanting to play with you is a consequence of hitting, but I am not willing to teach her that my love is conditional on her behavior (it is in adults of course, but who could love a child if it was conditional on good behavior?).

Anyway, I am totally enjoying this discussion. Travis, do you mind me asking where you are located?

Travis N said...

Hi Kelly. I agree with you about not hiding my own needs from the kids. And I particularly like your point that it's good "to show our kids that meeting our own needs is a big important job." Very true and very well said.

My example of wanting to watch TV at 8:00 probably gave the wrong impression. The kid does understand that we parents stay up and do stuff (e.g., clean the kitchen, make lunches for tomorrow, have a special date-night dinner, watch tv, etc.) after he goes to sleep. It's not like we try to keep that secret. I just don't think it's necessary to always go into specific detail. Keeping it generalized but straightforward (as in "I have stuff to do at 8:00, so you need to get out of the bath now if you want to have time for two stories") is, I think, perfectly reasonable and actually better because it doesn't invite further discussion of the details as another delay tactic. ("What are you going to watch on tv? Can I watch it with you? Can I watch Bob the Builder tomorrow when little bro takes his nap? What are you and mommy having for dinner? What's asparagus? Why is it spring?")

This probably just comes down to how much you go out of your way to volunteer. If he asks me what I'm going to do after I leave his room, I'll definitely tell him. And if, prior to 7:59 PM, he asks me why spring is coming, I'll get very excited and try to find a way to explain it so that he can understand. But I won't go out of my way to mention all the fun and exciting stuff that he's going to miss out on by going to bed now.

Actually, as I mull this over, I think the real issue is just the perennial challenge of explaining things at a level kids can understand. To use Amy's daycare example, a complete explanation for an adult of why some hurrying is needed might include: we have to go pick up the other kid, he's 20 minutes away, it's already 4:30, and we need to get home in time to get dinner ready by 5:30. But that's way too much information (especially about times, which little kids just don't understand) for a 2.5 year old. Of course, it's also bad to answer "Why do we have to leave right now?" with: "Because I said so, you little bastard!" There's some kind of happy medium which gets the essential reason across in a simple way that the kid can understand without becoming distracted by an overabundance of detail. Maybe just: "Because we need to go pick up your brother now." And then I'd be happy to answer follow up questions (e.g., about *why* we need to go pick him up now, where he is, why he goes to a different school, etc.) once we are on our way.

PS, we're in New Hampshire.

Kelly Elmore said...

I agree with your response, Travis. It can be really hard to make little people who have not yet developed a sense of time understand why I need to be somewhere at exactly 5:00! It helps that I am very very chill about stuff like that. It is much harder for our dear Jenn, who has this weird need to be on time. :)

Too bad you are so far away. I wish all the rational parents were not so spread out. I wish we all lived right here in Atlanta (hint, hint) so that we could all hang out and let your kids hang out too.

Heike said...

Since you have 2 kids potty trained - how did you apply PD ideas to potty training? I have a 27 month old daughter in the middle of the process, and am not quite sure how to deal with accidents that seem 'intentional' - those time when she refuses to go, after I reminded her/asked her to/took her to the potty, then wets shortly after (after being dry for several days before), and when these accidents happen several in a row (usually on days when there's other 'willful' behavior.)
I've tried a few things, but am curious on your perspective, since we continue to struggle on and off, after 3 months of working on it.

Crimson Wife said...

I agree with most of what you wrote, but I do believe in making children apologize for their misbehavior. I first explain why what they did is wrong and then I direct them to tell whoever they've wronged that they're sorry. To me, that's teaching basic manners.

Art Vandaleigh said...

Your understanding of punishment is stereotypically insufficient. Are you really proud of your ambassador analogy? You're going to compare a visiting adult ambassador to a child?
To reason with a child is to assume an understanding you haven't achieved. The real issue is that children often know what is right and wrong and choose to do what is wrong (in contrast to your ridiculous analogy). This is when punishment is not only appropriate, but necessary, and can and has been used effectively to teach a lesson. Punishment, when done properly, with love, is a very effective means of teaching. To completely ignore punishment as an option is a disservice to a child. That is not how life works.

Rational Jenn said...

Art, I'm quite confused by the accusation that my understanding is "stereotypically insufficient." Stereotypical of what? Mothers? Positive Discipline advocates? People who live in GA? What?

As someone who was punished as a child, I'd say my understanding of it is pretty darn good.

I've stated here and in other posts on the blog, that I have no wish to teach my children obedience. If I did, then I'd be advocating punishments, because I'd be more interested in correcting their behavior myself than in teaching them how to correct their own behavior.

That said, I think you've missed the entire point of this post, which is interesting to me, since you found my blog by searching the phrase "discipline without punishment." Were you just up late at night, looking for someone to insult, so searched on a phrase that you obviously disagree with so heartily?

So disappointing in a fellow Seinfeld fan. Don't come back unless you have something other than personal attacks to offer. But please come back if you are honestly questioning or disagreeing and can do so politely.

brendan said...

Art -

You said, and I think this is the "meat" of your argument:

"To reason with a child is to assume an understanding you haven't achieved."

Did you mean: "an understanding the *child* hasn't achieved"? I'm going to assume you did, because I can't make sense of your comment otherwise. Plus, it's consistent with your views that you would attribute the child's ability to reason as *your* achievement (after all, the child is just clay to be molded, right?).

Anyway, the point here is that you & Jenn are working on different assumptions. Jenn is working on the assumption that kids are basically good, but don't have a perfect understanding of the world around them; they have the *ability* to reason, but need to be allowed to excersise that ability in order for it to grow. Punishment negates their reasoning ability by cutting it short; showing them that regardless of their thoughts, this is how things are (smack!).

You seem to be working on the assumption that kids understand reality just fine, are fully capable of reason, and choose to be misbehaving, rotten little bastards, as you said below:

"...children often know what is right and wrong and choose to do what is wrong..."

Jenn's approach seems far more likely to result in an adult that is capable of reason. I think your approach seems likely to result in a resentful adult who was raised to not be taken seriously (unless they use force).

Your approach, it seems to me, might even result in erratic behavior, such as trolling the internet under a misspelled pseudonym at 3am to pick fights with strangers, using Big Words and ad-hominem attacks as your blunt instrument.

Clearly it's too late for you. But don't let this fate befall your children. After all, they are our future!

-Whitnee Hewston

Mary said...

I'm loving Time Travel Tuesday, Jenn. Great post! I love your comment, " Stereotypical of what? ... People who live in GA? What?"

I'm pretty sure the Ambassador example is in a book I have in the house, so if I come across it, I'll let you know.