Monday, July 2, 2012

A Baby's First Step

One of the most common points in the discipline debate is claiming that if you don't spank, you're parenting permissively or letting children run all over you. The debater implies that if you refuse to spank, all hell will break loose.

 And although the classic rebuttal to this claim is true- that parents can discipline, guide and teach WITHOUT hitting- I think something else needs to be addressed here, too.

When parents broaden their perspective about parenting methods and parenting goals, (and their children in general), some things become more important while other things become less important. It can be hard to see, but shifting your viewpoint makes all the difference.

Suddenly, the desire to force your child to execute a command becomes diminished, if not extinct altogether. Behavioral goals become a long-term process instead of demanding immediate, blind, almost dog-level obedience. For example, a parent in a punitive mindset will expect the child to say, "Please," after one or two prompts. A parent who gets out of the adversarial mindset is more concerned about modeling polite behavior and would rather remind the child, even if it takes 500 times to become an internalized and honest word as opposed to one uttered under threat of pain.

This is especially true when parents research age-appropriate behavior. Studying the brain provides a lot of insight. Just as children generally crawl around 6 months and take their first steps around 1 year, we can map out general milestones for behavioral developments, too. And understanding that our child's behavior is related to brain development gets us out of the adversarial mindset.

Instead of wanting to smack your 3 year old for making up a very obvious and big lie about who pulled the cat's tail, you can celebrate this complex developmental milestone. Your child is healthy. Your child is growing and developing normally. Why begrudge it? Now you can begin guiding your child through that skill, the same way you smiled and clapped and held out your hands as your 1 year old took his first steps towards you.

For example, I do not expect my 21 month old son to sit quietly for an hour in the restaurant. And so, I do not demand one hour of quiet behavior from him, although we do spend time practicing and encouraging patience. Finally, that means I do not have any desire to punish him when he does not sit quietly for an hour.

Choosing not to punish a child isn't a lack of parenting, or neglect or being permissive. It doesn't mean children are in control and it doesn't point to any failure. Failing in something is defining an expectation and then not meeting it. Any expectation I have is set at a developmentally appropriate level. My children meet those levels at their own pace, and I gently guide them to continue growing and developing in their unique ways.

Setting an expectation outside of normal developmental milestones and then punishing the child when he fails to meet that expectation is an adversarial worldview. It leads to frustration, anger and bitterness for both the parent and the child. Think about this. Would you ever prop up your 6 month old baby and tell him to walk? Then when he fell down, would you count to 3 and then spank him? (Without any anger, of course.)

Or what if your child was actually a year old. Would you hold up your 1 year old and tell her to walk? Then when she falls down, would you tell her to get up or she gets a pop on the butt?

When you use this analogy, you see how an adversarial method is frustrating to the parent and child. Whether the spanking is painful or not isn't even the highlight here. The point is that the child is set up to fail and the parent is then burdened with meting out the punishment. Growth, acceptance, encouragement, patience, communication and resolution are all missing here. It is a short term view, a downward spiral that takes the focus off growing and living and places it on fear of failure, fear of pain and fear of rejection.

Going back to the analogy, think about the child's role and the parent's role in an unconditional worldview. The parent knows that the child will begin to walk sometime around 1 year. (But, of course, all children are different). So when she sees her baby standing up, she smiles, holds out her arms and says, "You can do it! Try! Take a step!" Feeling accepted and encouraged, the baby will smile and bravely take a step. If he falls, the parent is quick to say, "Try again! I believe in you! C'mon, you can do this!"

Moving the goalposts in parenting from adversity to acceptance is the difference between short circuiting our children versus cheering them on while they reach for the moon. It's the difference between taking on the huge burden of meting out punishment every small step of the way versus deeply enjoying and appreciating parenthood as our children grow from little people to big people.

It might be hard to see, but it's worth taking that first baby step into a new world.

If you liked this post...

The Parable of the Unforgiving Parent

Spanking Resources


  1. Lovely picture by the way. Those first steps are one of the best experiences in a child's life.

    Parental Controls

  2. great post!! Wonderfil analogy about walking amd encouraging!!
    Certainly agree wth you..We all STRIVE TO BE AS STRONG AS POTENTIALLY POSSIBLE...AND THAT IS 120% my Responsibilty as a momma...TO BE A GLASS HALF FULL AND to be a genuinely positive Encourager!!!

    SOOOO awesome and Comforting to know the world has such phenomenal parents like you and your husband!

  3. For the record, with my previous comments, I was not arguing for spanking, but punishing when necessary in general. In your earlier post, you stated that you were against "time-outs and punishments". This is completely and totally different than just spanking versus time outs. If people don't want to spank their children, that's fine with me. I disagree with it, because I was spanked and I see the benefits of those kinds of punishments, when necessary. However, spanking or not spanking is their choice, much like your choice to not punish your children. I just (respectively) disagree.
    I understand celebrating milestones, but allowing your child to be a terror (pulling a cat's tail and then lying about it) is not a milestone! A cat that is not harming or hurting anyone does NOT deserve to be punished OR hurt by your child, and your child should be corrected for doing it, not celebrated because they've met a milestone for fabricating lies. I understand not wanting to spank a child, if that's how a person feels. However, allowing your child to do these things without correction is dangerous. Honestly, if one of my friends brought their children over to my house and they hurt my dogs as described, and then lied about it, I would probably not allow them to come back, especially if I felt the child was not being punished properly. Yes, it may be their choice, but it's also my choice not to allow them near my dogs, who could be hurt. Not only is it better for my dog, but it's safer for the imaginary baby in question to know and understand that hurting an animal can be dangerous. What if the cat or dog had scratched or bitten your baby? I would have to wonder what would happen to the animal. Correcting the behavior is in the best interest for both the animal and the baby.

    As far as developmental milestones, I've been through many childhood development classes and understand that you should never punish a child for something they are not developmentally ready for. However, no form of punishments sounds like you really are setting your child up for failure. If you send your child out into the world with the idea that positive reinforcement is the only thing that is out there, what can they expect? I'm not saying that you shouldn't rely heavily on positive reinforcement. After all, this is one of the best forms of behavior management. However, you cannot expect your child to live in a world where this is the only form of management. If you do something at work that is wrong, you get reprimanded, more often than not (not encouraged to do better).
    I enjoy your debates. You bring out some great points, and I enjoyed reading what I've read. Thanks!

  4. I know that this concept is very difficult to grasp, as we are so stuck in the belief that our children must be controlled, shaped and punished at every turn, we cannot see how they could possibly be sensing, thinking, caring beings right NOW.

    Time outs and other forms of punishment come with their own consequences, especially for sensitive children or children already in a damaged parent/child relationship.

    You can read more about time outs here:

    It's disappointing to address the myth of permissive parenting here, only to have someone post once again trying to claim that the only other option is to be overly permissive. I encourage you to read the article again to see if you notice the disparity between your claim and what is addressed in the post.

  5. My problem with this is that this form of parenting, while maybe not overly permissive is the hypocrisy of some of the claims. Let's say your child goes to school (I'm not sure whether you homeschool or not, but let's say for the sake of this argument they do go to school). How would you feel if your child came home with bite marks or bruises from another child? What if the parent had the same outlook on punishments as you, "Well, this is a milestone, my child is 'all boy'! Don't be angry with my child for hurting yours, he's healthy and acting his age." What if there were no consequences for your child being hurt? I'm not saying the other child should be spanked, but there should be some form of punishment for the child that hurt yours. What happens if you send your children to school and they pick up the habits of other children (which often happens when children enter school)?
    I have students who hit, kick, fight, steal, lie. All of these things are very destructive behaviors, and not "punishing" for the fear of hurting a child's feelings doesn't work. At our school, depending on the needs of the child, some kids may get paddled, sent home, ISS, no play time, etc. We look at what discipline strategies are best for the kids. We use positive behavior reinforcement as much as possible, but it's not a catch all. My best friend, growing up, never got a spanking, she didn't need one. Her parents could sit her down and give her a guilt trip that made her feel that her decisions were poor, and that was all it took. They did occasionally ground her, but she loved her parents and understood that when she misbehaved and chose to do something wrong that their would be consequences. And, while this form of parenting may be the best for both of your children, I can guarantee that it is not for all- as you pointed out, all children are different. I wish you the best of luck with this.
    And, yes, children should be shaped. That IS my argument. At this point in development, it is essential to teach them good values so that they will grow to be productive, successful citizens.

  6. I've never had to punish my children for their normal milestones, including the harder ones such as not taking turns, hitting, biting, etc.

    Again, treating a child with respect, and not physically punishing the child does not equate permissiveness. Celebrating a milestone and working together to guide the child does not mean allowing the child to hurt others.

    Um, duh? If we oppose hitting, popping, flicking, pinching, slapping, smacking, or other euphemisms for physical violence against a child, of course we do not support or allow children to participate in that violence either.

    Shape your child without spanking them. You managed to "teach your child" (or rather, be present) things like walking and talking without hitting them. You can teach your child (or rather, be present) things like how to take turns, how to use words instead of biting and how to respect others without being violent.

    Here's my argument: violence begets violence. If you want your child to be peaceful, kind and caring...then treat your child that way. Be involved enough to stop your child before she hits/bites whatever. Be involved enough to guide or "shape" your child so that she has other skills besides hitting and biting.

    And think about what it means to hit a child for hitting a child. How bizarre.

  7. Maybe you will glean some insight from this article:

  8. From my experience, "punishment" is a distraction from the REAL lesson about cause and effect. When a child does something (like that kid whose dad shot her computer a few months back) She'll have to grow up a LOT before she ON HER OWN makes some sort of realization about what her cause (publicly disrespecting her dad) did to her dad and why he was so mad. His reaction made it impossible for her to learn a lesson about what she did...because the only lesson she got out of his reaction was that "when I do something my dad doesn't like he will hurt me as much as he can."

    Punishment mostly seems to serve gratifying something in the parent...making sure the kids get their "come-uppins"...but as far as the purpose of raising up kids who know how to properly and respectfully interact with other people...

    It is also very instant and "easy" to simply "punish" but taking the time to help the kids to draw out the lessons from that which they've done is a lot more "work". A permissive parent wouldn't take that time...and neither does the parent who spanks. And, even if the spanking parent takes time to try to draw out that lesson...the fear of pain freaks the kids "fight or flight" centers off so much that they can't focus on that lesson ANYWAY. It's just totally counter-productive!

    I also think punishing sets kids up to struggle with "unforgiveness" and anger and resentment...because if they're trained that when they mess up they get PUNISHED...what are they do to when someone wrongs them and doesn't get punished? How are they to ever get to be at peace with those types of situations?

    Teaching the kids with cause and effect and natural consequences leads to a person who grows up and doesn't want to text while driving not because they're 'afraid they'll get a ticket' but because they understand that their action (cause) could cause an accident and could cause someone some great hurt and harm (effect). I think the situation we have in the world today with EVERYONE texting and driving (just one example) is because people DON'T grasp cause and effect...and they think that as long as they hold the phone down where a cop can't see they won't 'get in trouble'. They've learned to be vigilant that authority doesn't "catch them" doing something wrong but not WHY it matters.

    I've seen it in other things, too, with people I've had in my house who I know were raised in very punitive environments...they're externally VERY POLITE...but they seem to have no clue how their actions effect others. They speak too loudly in the morning or slam doors and are "rough" with household items and I just observed that they seemed to not have a clue how their actions were affecting the things and people around them.

    And, when it comes down to it...when you take the time to teach cause and effect in everything with your kids...and they learn to trust rather than "fear you"...they will learn to not run out into the street because they're afraid they could get hit by a car...not because they're afraid they'll get hit by ME...and I'd much rather my children fear natural consequences than me...

  9. It's funny, the more confident I get in my own decisions, and convictions, the easier it is for me to not get frustrated with my 3 year old. The less trouble I have acting out in response to things others would find troublesome. At this point in her life, I cannot see reprimanding her for really anything she does "wrong". I'm confident that our choice to not be punitive has helped to make her the child she is, which causes very few incidents that Ashley describes. Why can't you talk to your child like a human if she pulls the dogs tail? Our daughter had a few tugs on our dog's tail. We let he know that the dog doesn't like that. She loves the dog, she doesn't want to hurt him. She made the decision that she doesn't want to hurt her friend. She pets him now instead. Clearly it isn't acceptable to just let your child do terrible things to others. If you are attentive to them, most disasters can be averted before they become disasters. Like I said, I am always gaining confidence in my decisions, particularly in the way we parent. It IS not the status quo, and that is hard to get past. It is what comes naturally for me though, it's just hard to get past feeling apologetic to other people who think I am nuts. I'm getting to the point where it doesn't phase me anymore. I know what is best for her, and us. I see that when she feels confident in her decisions, and that she is loved she acts like a loving human herself. Still always curious, but trusting when we show her how her decisions effect others. We don't need to tell our kids how to act. We don't need to shelter our kids from all the evils of the world. We need to help them see that they want to be better than the evils of the world. Every kid is different, but I feel like this should be the goal anyway.

  10. Again, it's not that I'm an advocate of spanking. After growing up being spanked, I have no problem spanking or seeing other parents spank their children. There is a difference between spanking and abuse, in my opinion, as I have seen both. My problem is the lack of punishment whatsoever. You site references against time-outs, and I've read those. I've also read articles against permissive parenting, and how much more damaging it can be. By many experts, it is considered absentee parenting, not because the parents are absent, but because structure is. "Studies of the effects of the autocratic and the permissive parenting styles indicate that these styles may also impede certain aspects of development (Maccoby and Martin, 1983)." As you encouraged me to read your article, I also have a book for you: The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting.
    Here's another citing from an article about Permissive Parenting and Readmission of patients in Child Psychiatric Inpatient Units:
    The risk of rehospitalization after a child
    receives psychiatric inpatient treatment is generally high.
    Although disorder-specific behavior contributes to the need
    for treatment, other environmental variables may also play
    a role in the need for inpatient psychiatric treatment.
    Therefore, we examined the influence of parenting styles
    (authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive) on children’s
    risk for readmission to an inpatient psychiatric facility.
    Analyses were conducted with a sample of 80 children (57
    males, 50% Black) ranging from 6 to 12 years of age
    (mean age = 8.90 years). Race was examined as a moderator
    of the relation between parenting style and risk for
    readmission. Permissive parenting was the only parenting
    style that was associated with an increased risk for readmission.
    The relation between parenting styles and risk for
    readmission was not moderated by race.
    Further down:
    Authoritative parenting style, for example, has been found
    to be associated with the lowest rates of school misbehavior,
    alcohol and drug use, aggression, delinquency, and
    risky sexual behavior (Slicker 1998). In contrast, a
    permissive parenting style has been associated with some
    of the highest rates of these behaviors and is also related to
    high levels of impulsivity, decreased drinking control, and
    increased alcohol use and alcohol-related problems
    (Patock-Peckam and Morgan-Lopez 2006; Slicker 1998).
    Harsh, firm, and permissive parenting in low-income families: Relations to children's academic achievement and behavioral adjustment
    Lee, Shumow; Deborah Lowe VandellView Profile; Posner, Jill KView Profile. Journal of Family Issues19. 5 (Sep 1998): 483-507.

    I will choose to do what I consider "loving parenting"- parenting that involves punishing your children after thoroughly explaining what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and what their punishment will be. Before giving them their punishment, I will always listen to their side of the story. After following through with the punishment (whatever it might be), I will tell them that I love them, even though they are angry, and if they want to talk, I am always here.