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Parenting without punishments/rewards support thread

(256 Posts)
BertieBotts Sun 15-Jul-12 22:45:13

Come on, it's about time we had a new one of these grin Whatever label you want to stick on it, unconditional parenting, gentle discipline, or just avoiding carrot or stick methods as much as possible in favour of a more co-operative approach, it works. (Personally I don't like the gentle label because I think that it's perfectly possible to be as firm as you like using these kinds of methods and "gentle" implies wishy-washiness.)

Not intended to be a debate thread, but a support/questions thread. Curiosity welcomed, outright "My way is better" posts not.

I promised a while ago I'd write up the basic principles that I try to stick to so hopefully this will help as a starting point as well as a reference.

1. Punishments are not always bad.
Sounds totally non intuitive, I know considering the thread title. The point is that punishment for punishment's sake is what's bad, or counterproductive, at least, but you shouldn't be afraid to do something which might upset your child if it's necessary to the situation. Try to ask yourself before you impose something:
- Is this helping the immediate situation, or physically preventing the situation from reoccurring?
- Is this helping my DC learn what's actually wrong with what they did?
- Is this helping make things right? (NOT in an eye-for-an-eye way!)
- Is this just to make me feel better?
- Is there an alternative which would achieve the same goal with less bad feeling?

2. Don't take it personally.
When your child is playing up, it's not because they are out to get you, and it's probably not a power battle, despite what all the expert opinions seem to be. They are reacting in the way they are reacting because that is the best way they know to deal with that situation, whatever it might be.

Even if they've done something deliberately hurtful or spiteful, look for the reason behind that - it's more likely to be a misguided attempt to express an emotion, e.g. anger, jealousy, upset, and it's possible to convey "Actually, that isn't acceptable" at the same time as dealing with the feeling behind the actions - in fact it's often more important to deal with the feeling first and the action later, especially if you're feeling you want them to suffer, "pay" or feel bad for what they've done. You can't induce guilt by punishing, it's more likely to induce resentment.

3. Show them what you want.
Both at crisis point and in everyday life, so, again, something often considered a punishment e.g. time out can work well here as long as you aren't threatening it or attaching negative connotations to it - just showing them "You are angry/excited/silly/winding each other up and I need you to take a breather" until they can do that for themselves.

In everyday life - model the behaviour that you want. If you slip into something you don't want them to model, like shouting, apologise as soon as you realise even if it's after the fact. Respond if they ask you to stop shouting, and own it, don't make them responsible for it (by saying things like "If you'd just listen, I wouldn't have to shout". Grown ups screw up too, and they need to see you deal with that graciously if they are to learn to do the same.

Listen to their requests and acknowledge them (which doesn't mean agree) if you want them to listen to you, don't belittle their feelings if you want them to be empathetic, say please and thank you and sorry. Negotiate but be firm.

4. Be specific with instructions or praise.
Linking back to the UP theory that rewards/praise can be harmful, especially if they are too non specific, try to steer clear of "stock praise" like good girl/boy, well done, etc. It's fairly easy once you get into the habit of it - I tend to use "Thank you for..." instead of "good boy" and "That's right" or some kind of comment about whatever it is DS is telling/showing me rather than just "Well done".

With instructions it's similar - you can start even when they're tiny, not just saying "No" but "careful" or "hot" or "Don't touch" and when they get a bit older trying to stick to the positive instruction like "Stay on the pavement" rather than "Don't go on the road" - it's also more instructive since not being on the road could mean the kerb is okay, or the grass, or that little low wall (which might actually be okay but you can negotiate easier if you're starting from a position of nowhere but the pavement.) I suppose points 3 and 4 are linked. So again, focus on what you want rather than what you don't want. It can also help especially with toddlers to instruct in advance/tell them what to expect, e.g. saying a few minutes before you get to a busy road that when you get there, they will need to go in the pushchair.

5. Look past the immediate behaviour.
Why are they behaving in this way? Immediate points to consider:
- Are they tired, hungry, hot or hormonal?
- Are you any of the above and so over-reacting?
- Is there anything else going on, even if it seems unrelated, that might be worrying them?
- Are you assuming adult priorities onto a child who might find something more important or more scary than you do?
- Have they got this behaviour from somewhere else?
- Are your expectations too high?

None of these are a total excuse but should shape the way you deal with things. It's also why things like reward charts etc aren't always helpful because they don't address why something isn't happening in the first place.

(Sorry this is so long blush)

claireinmodena Sun 15-Jul-12 23:02:01

Thank BertiBotts, this is really helpful. I have made many of the mistakes you describe with poor dd1, who unfortunately paid the price of my inexperience!

Everything you say makes sense though, and I try to follow similar principles, but not always easy. sad

I will follow this thread with lots of interest as I am trying my best to be better at handling my (now four) dcs.

Nothing useful to add I'm afraid but I'm taking notes! grin

GoodButNotOutstanding Sun 15-Jul-12 23:14:20

I haven't used any particular praise/punishments with my dcs. I'm finding it harder to convince dp about it though, he seems to want to punish dd1 quite a bit now she's older. He wants to give her chores as punishments, I want her to do the same chores but as a part of general 'this is how you live within a family, everyone does something so nobody has to do all of it'.

I do think this sort of parenting is quite difficult to do in practice as so many people use praise/punishments it's hard to do something different. Schools in particular use a lot of praise/punishment, so kids do get it even if this is your parenting style, unless you home ed of course.

ClimbingPenguin Sun 15-Jul-12 23:16:05

<plomps self in and marks to read at a better hour>

AuntPepita Sun 15-Jul-12 23:22:28

Oooh I would love to join in. I love the theory of up, but having been very conditionally parented myself I do sometimes find it v hard not to turn into my mother and just scream like a banshee till they obey.

I also find it so much harder when tired!

Thank you for your thoughtful post, its made me think about how I could and should have handled tea time better.

goodasgold Sun 15-Jul-12 23:30:29

I think that the main attitude is picked up at home. If the school does things differently you can say to dcs 'at school you might have to do xyz' but it doesn't make it right.

All I want for my dcs is that they are not frightened to talk to me, not afraid of my reaction. That they trust me to listen to them, and hear their problems, to them sometimes so big, but to me always small and fixable.

BertieBotts Sun 15-Jul-12 23:40:27

Ooh, I didn't think anyone would reply at this time of night!

I do find it hard. These are the principles I try to live/work by but I struggle with parts of it - my biggest downfall at the moment is being snappy/shouty and then getting annoyed when DS does it back to me, that or if we get out of routine and lunch or whatever is late, I don't notice his hyperactivity is due to hunger until I'm at the snapping-because-I'm-hungry stage. I noticed it today and realised he'd got it from me again so will try harder to keep that under control. DP is away (long term) at the moment and he's usually good at pointing out to me if I'm being shouty etc so I'm having to self regulate again which is difficult. And I only have one child blush

I think self reflection is good though and the more aware you are of what you're doing the easier it is to avoid them either by building up counter-strategies or just changing the way you react to things.

GoodBNO, a good argument for that could be that you don't want her to associate chores as some negative thing she wants to try and avoid. And if she sees chores as a punishment she's not likely to ever spontaneously offer, I don't think, anyway. (I definitely wouldn't have!)

I think the schools thing has been answered before, the thinking is that as long as you're consistent at home it doesn't matter what outside influences are telling them, at the very least you're showing them an alternative. And DC are very good at switching between different environments and "modes".

whatinthewhatnow Sun 15-Jul-12 23:56:42

lovely first post bertie. I think we get it mostly right in our house, or try to anyway. I would certainly agree that looking at tiredness/hunger/other causes is important. Once I realise that my 4yo is exhausted, the acting up is not as frustrating - I am grumpy when I'm tired, so how could I expect him to be perfect!

I was raised in a very tolerant, anger free house, which lacked openness. DH grew up in a house of lots of tempers, phyical punishment, but lots of honesty and openness. We are trying to get the best of both our upbringings, ie an open, honest but calm and loving house. Sometimes we get it right. There is certainly lots of love, anyway.

ClimbingPenguin Mon 16-Jul-12 09:02:03

I have two DS 9 months and DD 2.4. I have been a bit depressed lately (DS is a 2-3 hour sleeper, bottle refuser and rather clingy) so have found I have been more shouty at DD and more 'this is what we are doing' instead of introducing things before or even realising they don't even matter.

I hope to use this thread as a reason to self reflect more often, especially while I am struggling atm

VikingLady Mon 16-Jul-12 10:09:39

Watching with interest as so far I only have DD (4m) and am looking for good parenting techniques that don't repeat the authoritarian upbringings DH and I had. We want to start out right, at least!

wilderumpus Mon 16-Jul-12 14:25:44

hi all, could I join too? great post bertie, thank you for your thoughts.

I only have one DS who is 2.6 and just lovely. We try to UP parent but I have found myself losing my way over the past two months as he had some kind of development spurt and entered the terrible twos with a vengeance! Everything is 'no' and 'i do it' which is fine, but can be hard going when I am tired. Am ok at the mo, now I know it is not a phase wink

I was brought up in a very shouty/hitty controlling environment and am desperate to break the cycle (parents brought up like this too) and prove that children can be kind and 'well behaved' (erk) and not threatened all the time!

I wonder, and I am sorry to sort of barge in like this, but if anyone haas any ideas on how to help DS with the kitten. He is very empathetic and gentle in the main but with her seems to really love to wind her up. whatever I say or try to approach it I seem to have it wrong because he won't leave her alone.
Drives me to distraction and honestly can't think of what to do apart from put her in her own room sad

climbing take it easy on yourself won't you. tiredness kills good parenting instincts I find.

wilderumpus Mon 16-Jul-12 14:26:41

not that you aren't being a good parent climbing! <face palm> just the details like warnings etc.

Shakey1500 Mon 16-Jul-12 14:35:19

Oooh lovely thread can I join?

DS is almost 5 and, having read Bertie's OP, this is what I try and do and didn't know it had a name!

A massive turning point for me was when DS was about...2? This is so shameful blush We were due to go to playgroup and I wanted to brush his teeth. He absolutely refused. I said we wouldn't be going until we'd brushed them. I had it in my head that because I'd laid the law down, I had to stick to it. We were upstairs for over 2 hours. 2 HOURS! No drinks, nothing. It was absolutely ridiculous (on my part). I felt awful. I had been controlling and bang out of order. He was extremely distressed, I was drained and upset. But afterwards I was SO angry at myself. How had I let myself be so dictorial. It didn't sit well with me at all and I vowed from that day, I would change my entire outlook on discipline.

I worked on compromise, reasoning etc and it's been a joy. Not to mention less stressful on both sides. I'm hoping this doesn't come across as boastful, it just meant so much to me.

notsomanicnow Mon 16-Jul-12 18:40:50

Can I ask what the UP response/strategy should be in Shakey's post above? When the child has refused to do something you really need them to do (or refusing to leave the house when you have to pick up older DC from school scenarios). I love the principles of UP but always fail to see how they can be put into practice at the extreme end of the scale (I'm fine on the pick your battles/compromise/make it fun stuff)

FiveHoursSleep Mon 16-Jul-12 18:50:37

Notsomaniac We have the not wanting to do the school run scenario quite a lot with DS. Not sure if it's 'right' but I try to give DS a 5 minute warning and allow him to put his toys down, or turn TV off himself.
We have a scooter so he doesn't have to walk, and also a wagon so he can ride in that if he's feeling tired.
If I do end up bundling him because he really doesn't want to go, and he's in tears, I spend as much time as I can telling him I'm sorry that it's made him so cross, it's not fun to have to stop playing to do the school run etc, etc and try and cuddle him as much as I can.
Sometimes you just have to do things, and I think as long as you let your DC know that you understand how they are feeling, it's not so bad.

My big struggle is that I have 4, and am just totally shattered most of the time. I find myself yelling 30 seconds after I've psyched myself up for a non shouty morning sad

AngelDog Mon 16-Jul-12 21:36:34

I'll join - it's been a while since the last thread. smile

Thanks, Bertie, that was a helpful summary.

wilderumpus, that sounds very familiar. Apparently 2.5-3 years is a big developmental leap. You can read about it [[ here]]. "No Mummy do it!" is a frequent phrase in our house.

climbing, I agree, tiredness really wrecks the best parenting plans. Did you know you're in the middle of a big developmental leap / sleep regression too - hopefully it might improve once that passes.

Anyone got any tips for dealing with a hyperactive 2.5 y.o. in the supermarket? DS is usually fine but occasionally he starts going mad when we're most of the way through our shopping trip, pulling random things off the shelves and chucking them in the pushchair or on the floor.

I would usually tell him to leave things alone or he goes into the pushchair, but when we're in the supermarket, the pushchair seat is full of stuff. Even if we have a trolley, he's about 5kg above the maximum weight so I can't put him in there.

All the way round I get him to help pick things up and put them in the pushchair or trolley. We talk about the different sorts of food, and the numbers in the aisles.

Often it happens when he's hungry/thirsty, so I need to work harder at remembering to keep him fed and watered. But I do need a strategy for if he gets to the point of going hyper.

BertieBotts Mon 16-Jul-12 22:58:02

wilder I had exactly the same dilemma with DS and our cat at about 18 months. In the end what I found worked was providing the cat with a safe place which was literally out of DS's reach (I put a cat bed on top of the counter height freezer) - although he never bothered to go in it - and then actually removing the cat. I'd sit with him on my lap and then if DS wanted to come over and stroke him he could but he was close enough that I could grab his arm if he was getting too rough and show him "gently".

This is where you have to be careful with the positive direction though because I was forever saying "Gentle. GENTLE!" at him and he must have associated that word so much with him tormenting the cat that it came to mean that in his mind, so I switched to describing his behaviour which I didn't like "Too rough" and then when I was showing him a stroking movement "gentle, aaah, that's nice, stroking nicely" (etc etc)

Since he's a bit older that might be a bit too basic, so perhaps stick with the safe place for cat, removing the cat (not him) if he's being too mean and showing him ways that he can play with her, like trailing a bit of ribbon around the floor or flicking rolled up balls of silver foil for her to chase or something?

Shakey I find I tend to use force on some occasions, like car seats for example. Or, yes, bribery. If the making it fun and distraction and persuading hasn't worked. If it's a one off I don't think this is a massive deal. If it's becoming a regular thing then try looking at what's leading up to it and/or what's causing the mass stand off and address that and it should sort itself. I know for example I get battles in the mornings if I don't leave enough time to do things.

Failing that, try to change things so that it's less of an issue. DS won't let me wash his hair, so I've cut it short so that it doesn't get as mucky, it looks neater and in the hope that it will be easier to give his head a wipe with a flannel as the start of a sort of acclimatising process/to make it easier to wash when he does let me.

Angel I really struggle with the hyperness too and I agree it often seems to be hunger related. Actually I take the easy way out and shop online because I cannot handle the supermarket, but I did take him around Lidl the other day. It wasn't too busy so I kind of let him zoom off at 100mph saying "Can we have this? What's this? Do I like this? Can I look at the ice creams? Where are the ice creams? Can I look at them? I don't want to buy them, just look at them. LOOK! I found spiderman socks MUMMY LOOK!" and did my shopping while offering the occasional "No. Put that down. Don't touch that. You don't like that. Okay, but we're not buying them today. Come out of the way of that lady. That's nice. DS, where are you?" but then, it's a small supermarket with about five aisles and I know him - he might run off but he generally has a goal and he doesn't attempt to lose you, he will try not to get lost. And it was still stressful but marginally better because if people were staring at me, I ignored them. Keeping situations to a minimum helps and definitely snacks, although I despair as DS has an insatiable appetite for snacks but won't eat a meal (even if I restrict snacks) and so the hunger/low blood sugar issue is coming up a lot for us at the moment.

I find it hard when we're in the house and I often end up getting frustrated but again, it's hunger or pent up energy or overtiredness and I get manic when I'm hungry too, so I can see where it comes from, but it's so hard when they're in that kind of bubble and you can't get through to them at all.

lia66 Tue 17-Jul-12 00:39:54

I'm in but can't read all right now as supposed to be going to sleep. Feeding the baby that I just woke up when I got into bed, whoops

Mayamama Tue 17-Jul-12 04:54:59

I'm in too -- only aside struggling with the punishing side (tending to react as if there is something very wrong with DS actions when it is actually simply the emotion), i find it extremely difficult not to praise very generally. I do it very automatically, and I think in daily rush, being more specific cannot always be possible. Parenting often seems to be such a constant mental exercise and I cannot always find the energy to find the right words. So "wow, this is so beautiful!" will be easier than going into any details...

I wonder if posters here have any suggestions how to respond along UP lines when children switch off? My DS, 5, has recently started to cover his ears when I explain (even if very briefly) reasons why his behaviour is unacceptable. I am guessing it is partly what I started from -- sometimes my reaction must make him feel he is the worst child in the universe sad but how to get him to listen again...?

BertieBotts Tue 17-Jul-12 08:02:27

That is specific though Maya, I think? Isn't it?

With the listening thing I would just leave it if he's not ready to listen then and talk to him about it later at a more neutral time in general terms so he doesn't feel you're getting at him. Sometimes at bedtime we talk about our worst/best part of the day which can be a good opener.

whatinthewhatnow Tue 17-Jul-12 08:43:04

I like that idea of talking about it later. My DS loves a chat about the day at bedtime, and will open up a lot more about feelings. I haven't been doing it for a while, I think I'll get back into it, especially as he starts full time reception in september so will be away from me for a lot of the day.

This morning he hit his sister (hitting out when frustrated a big problem here, he's 4, so any tips would be much appreciated), and instead of my usual getting cross, I calmly spoke to him about how hitting hurts DD and it's not something anyone does in this house. Then I just left it, where usually I might demand apologies or whatever. When we got downstairs and I was making a drink he gave his sister a huge cuddle and said sorry to her then me. All without me asking! I was so proud [a bit boasty I know]. It also made my dd really happy and so I was able to say 'look at how happy it makes everyone when we're kind to each other!'. It's actually started my day off really positively, when it could have gone the other way so easily.

It's also working today because I'm not tired and not in a hurry. I often get shouty when we're running late for school or something.

wilderumpus Tue 17-Jul-12 09:27:53

thanks bertie I am going to move the cat if necessary (though feel sad for making her be alone at 4 months old! I have to remind myself I don't need to attachment parent the cat!). I do have a 'special bed' for the cat in her radiator bed behind the settee - there is no reason to go there but to go to my bookshelf. Doesn't stop him going for a 'stroke' (poke) when am out of the room though. grrrr.

Thanks for the tip about showing DS how to play with the cat, that is an excellent idea. I haven't really shown him much recently so he is obviously making up his own 'interaction' smile

And bertie, I wonder but my DS sometimes will come out of wanting to eat three square meals a day, so instead he really does just graze. As long as he is getting decent food - i.e cheese, ham, olives, tommies, carrot, raisins etc grazing is a fine idea for busy kiddies who can't sit still for long? Developmentally their motor impulses are sometimes too strong to sit and eat a 'proper' meal so grazing suits them more. OR I might put his meals down on his little table instead of at the big table so he feels he can get down whenever he wants, but generally is more likely not to. Then he will come back to the big table when he feels ready to join us.

sorry if am teaching you to suck eggs!

wilderumpus Tue 17-Jul-12 09:28:35

what that sounds super, well done!

BertieBotts Tue 17-Jul-12 09:33:04

No not at all! It's supposed to be a thread to share ideas etc. I'm no expert smile

I think if possible you need to make sure the safe place for the cat is truly childproof. At first I relied on the cat being able to go through the stairgate away from DS but then he would just terrorise him when we went up to bed, so that was no good. Animals need a place which is their territory where they know they can get away. Cats are quite sociable but they like their alone time too! Your cat will probably get into a routine of being around for a bit in the day for a play with your DS (if you can get him into some appropriate games), then hide away for a sleep, or be outside, for much of it and then come for a lap cuddle in the evenings.

BertieBotts Tue 17-Jul-12 09:34:07

And whatin that sounds great grin I love it when they spontaneously apologise - it feels so much more genuine.

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