A Chance to Choose Nurturing Instead of Punishment

March 23rd, 2010 by Dionna | 24 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Eclectic Learning, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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My 27 month old loves to play in the sink. Almost every day he gathers a few toys, climbs in his Learning Tower, and begs me oh so sweetly to turn on the faucet. I put a towel down around his feet, pull up his sleeves, and turn the sink on just enough for him to get a small stream of water.

I am guaranteed at least 15-20 minutes of down time while he splashes and scrubs. The little bit of water we have to wipe up after he’s done is well worth the break.

We only have one rule during sink play: no intentional dumping of water on the counter or ground.

Usually, I don’t have to remind him of our rule. Every so often, though, he gets a little too exuberant and water goes flying. In those moments, you can usually find me gritting my teeth and saying (with more than a trace of exasperation), “Kieran, we do NOT pour water on the floor!”

It’s so hard to be patient sometimes. (sigh)

Recently, Kieran was playing in the sink. I let him know that I was running to the basement to start a load of diapers. I returned within three minutes.

The scene I was greeted with upon entering the kitchen?

Kieran almost doubled over belly laughing as he filled a little cup with an inch of water before flinging it onto the floor. Multiple times.

Nurturing, Not Punishing

In that second, I had a choice. I could:

a) Choose to Punish: Get mad. Yell. Angrily tell Kieran that he broke our rule. Shame him. Hit him. Make him go sit in a corner. Take away his toys for a set amount of time. Teach him “a lesson.” Ignore his joy. Turn my back on the fact that he is a two year old child having fun. Ruin his evening. Put a dent in the trusting relationship I have with him. Cause him to look at me with fear.

b) Choose to Nurture: Instead of hurting Kieran – or hurting his self-esteem, I chose to nurture him. Perhaps it was his carefree laughter, or maybe it was the few seconds I took to breathe before simply reacting. But when I walked into the kitchen it was with laughter. I laughed right along with him as he dumped another inch of water onto the floor.

I said, “what are you doing you goofball? Are you having fun throwing water on the floor?” He laughed and said “yes!” before dumping some more out. With a smile in my voice, I said “good! Oh my! Look at the water running all over the floor! Let’s have fun stomping all over it with some towels.” He stopped to look at the floor, and I took the opportunity to turn the water off. I ran out to get towels, and then we both sopped up the mess, laughing the whole time.

Have you chosen to nurture, rather than punish, your child lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

I’m also looking for people who would like to submit a guest post about choosing to nurture instead of punish.

Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/

24 Responses to:
"A Chance to Choose Nurturing Instead of Punishment"

  1. Sheryl   sheryljesin

    Just last night we chose to nurture instead of punish. My two year old son had just come out of the bath and it was time to put on a diaper, get in his pjs, brush his teeth and go to sleep! He was overtired from a late night the night before, and instead of co-operating he kept on running away from my husband. I could see my husband getting increasingly exasperated as his attempts to get our son dress were not working at all. We could have yelled at our son, held him down screaming and forced him to get dressed. Instead, I said to Dylan: you must be tired. Let’s lie down on mommy’s bed and you can have some milk while Daddy gets your diaper on. I proceeded to nurse Dylan while my husband put his diaper and pants on. Nursing calmed him down enough to allow us to subsequently get his shirt on and then brush his teeth. Success!

  2. Katje Sabin

    I learned a long time ago never to create a “rule” without spelling out the consequence, and if possible, having the kid help create and agree to that consequence… it helps them own the action, and actually will make them police themselves better. If something happens that I haven’t covered with a previous agreement and consequence, the kid and I sit down and discuss what would happen the next time it comes up.

    So I don’t do punishment. Cleaning the mess would definitely be a consequence, but I wouldn’t have laughed about it… I have seen that laughing at behavior reinforces it. But there are certainly situations where you have to either laugh or cry, and it’s better for all involved when laughter becomes the default.

    • Heather   xakana

      Yeah, laughing says to me, “It’s okay to disrespect me and the few rules we have.” But I also understand being moved by their joy and not wanting to spoil it. I’d have taken a moment to explain that the water made the floor unsafe and that we needed to clean it up. Your way reminds me of Little Bear’s Mom :D

      • Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

        I don’t know. I think laughing (assuming no one is hurt) is appropriate. I don’t like to assume the worst by imposing consequences to every rule as I come up with it — for one thing, I might reconsider and realize my rule was inappropriate. I often have a knee-jerk reaction to mess that is largely fear-based, and I need my 2-year-old to show me that messes are not the end of the world.

        I think laughing with Kieran was a way of sharing in his joy and not making him feel shamed. I think it also refused to give his actions more power; if she’d made a huge, sad/angry deal of it, I think he’d be more likely to try it again in the future. Whereas this way, he’ll still get the impression that he did something he was asked not to do (and I imagine he understands that), and now he knows why — because they have to clean it up. That’s just my take on it. No love lost, no joy lost, and lesson learned.

      • Lauren, I agree with you. I don’t assume the worst of my kids. I think assumming that my child was being disrepectful is in line with thinking that children are inherently bad and must therefore be taught otherwise. That’s my not my belief or style. I also want my children to learn to think for themselves rather than having a list of rules and consequences for everything. In order for consequences to work (and I’m talking logical consequnces, punishment, and not natural consequences which happen regardless of what you do), you have to be consistent, which is impossible because each situation is inherently unique in its own right.

        There was an old Brady Bunch episode where one of the kids was a safety monitor. He went around citing his brothers and sisters for breaking rules, which they all had good reason for. He didn’t understand that there were reasons for doing things differently in different situations until he found himself in a similar situation. He had to decide whether doing the “right thing” was more important than “following the rule.” That’s pretty much the extent of my Brady trivia. :)

  3. Those two ladies have obviously never seen Kieran in full giggle mode… you can’t do much other than laugh with him :)

  4. Hmm, I need to figure out a way to nurture my almost 2 year old away from torturing the dog. Maybe that will be my submission to the April blog carnival.

  5. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    The book Unconditional Parenting (I seriously have a love affair with this book) really helped me understand why as a society we feel a need to punish and that not doing so is somehow wrong — that it is unjust in some cosmic sense. Just thinking through that helped me to let go of some of my insistence on righting those cosmic scales. What also helped was thinking of times I felt completely misunderstood by my parents or other authority figures and was punished; I wasn’t thinking then, Well, at least my punishment was fair! lol

    In a case like this, I absolutely think considering what Kieran was thinking and feeling was the appropriate way to go. Was he doing it just to annoy you, to give you more to clean up? Or was he just really curious about what you meant and how it would look and feel to splash water on the floor? Since I doubt he’s a budding sociopath, I suspect the latter. The fact that he cheerfully cleaned it up with you is a good sign, too! I love that you were able to breathe and respond instead of reacting. Beautiful story, and I hope I can do as well next time my buttons are pushed.

    (Here’s an excerpt from Unconditional Parenting since Alfie Kohn can explain things better than I can…)

  6. Baby hasn’t really gotten to where he can understand commands/instructions/requests, but I’m curious how your system works. Like what is the incentive for him to not pour water on the floor again next time? I’m glad I’m stumbling across interesting ideas like this now so I can think about it before we are in a situation to apply one method or another!

  7. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Sheryl – I often find a little mama’s milk defuses a situation before it gets out of control!

    Shana – Kieran went through a phase where he wanted to hit the cat. It was a LOT of redirection and hovering when I thought he was getting close to a hitting moment. It’s tough!

    re: laughing – I agree that a lot of “rules/consequences” are convenience based. Yes, someone could slip and fall on water – we actually did discuss that (I tend to edit for length/yawn-factors). But you’re right Lauren – a lot of my rules (keep the playdough off the carpet, keep the yogurt on the table, etc.) are really just for my convenience. (Not to say that’s *wrong* – my feelings and time are important too!)
    The logical consequence was that he helped me clean up the mess. I just can’t feel bad about laughing while doing it. I spend enough time with an exasperated look on my face as it is, I’m glad I incorporated a little joy into the process.

    • Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

      Well said. I think I need to write a post about my inability to tolerate mess and how hard that is around a toddler! The sad part is, I think it’s rubbing off on him and making him fearful of exploration, so I’m really working on loosening up there. As you said, though, your feelings and time are important as well.

      Anyway, glad you were able to find joy instead of (just) exasperation!

      • Sarah   fthw

        I think this is why I cannot have kids, haha, I have a hard time not freaking out because The Boyfriend leaves his shoes downstairs. WE HAVE A CLOSET FOR A REASON! haha

  8. I love how you handled it! Sometimes we need to let go and just appreciate things. There really aren’t that many hard and fast rules in life. I think it’s important for our children to see that there are different ways to respond in different situations.

    One of my children drew pictures on the wall with a pencil when she was two. We discussed the pictures (honestly they were really cool), took pictures so we could preserve them, and then washed them off the wall together. Later we taped up big sheets of paper on the walls to draw on. I’ve also been known to take my share of deep breaths or remind my children to take a deep breath when I/they are feeling a bit overwhelmed. It helps us so much.

    As a side note, I’ve never personally liked the “we do not statements.” I caught myself doing it once (I think society ingrains it in us) and found myself thinking, “Well that’s silly. Obviously one of us does do that. He just did it.” I was having a conversation with some mothers about this topic just this week. One mother said that she noticed when she used a similar phrase with her children, especially at an age when they were asserting their independence and own identity, it was like issuing a challenge to them.

    Again, thanks for sharing! It’s nice to hear stories like this from other parents. Rather than just being a parent, being a person who is a parent…

  9. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Lauren – I love Kohn too :)

    Maman A Droit – hmm . . . well, he saw that when he poured water on the floor, that we had to clean it up. He also knows that I don’t particularly like cleaning up messes all over the house, and that we live much more harmoniously when we’re not constantly cleaning up spills. Basically, I try to respect his needs for play, and we are raising him so that he will (in turn) respect our needs too. Does that make sense?

    My overall philosophy? I treat him like I want to be treated, because he is just as much of a whole person with needs/wants as I am. :)

  10. BrianJ | Online Business Blogger   briannchrystal

    Good for you… I was one of those kids who was spanked/ screamed at/ hit/ punched growing up… And I totally agree that all it does is ruin the relationship with your children…

    That trust you have for your parents goes out the door when punishment comes into play. And as a kid who was on the other end of the spectrum, you really learn to value and envy nurturing relationships that other kids have with their parents.

    Our 22 month old Zoë gets into tons of mischief… We are firm in telling her “no,” but we laugh as much as she does when she explores.

    She recently turned our bidet on then threw a towel over it (in hopes to stop the water from going everywhere). It flooded our bathroom with over an inch of standing water… Just as I discovered the water everywhere, she ran up and pointed at it and said “oops.” I laughed and said, “Do you want to help daddy clean up your mess?” She smiled and said, “Yeah…”

    I talked to her and explained why it wasn’t a good idea to turn the bidet on, but I feel she would have got nothing out of being yelled at or punished… The moment had long passed in her mind.

    I think too many people have it wrong when it comes to punishment… The time to correct is in the moment, not 5 minutes later or 2 hours later. And correcting (in my opinion) is talking to your child to explain why something should or should not be done a certain way.

    Our kids are learning; nurturing them through the process will help them want to learn and explore more. Handing down punishments (especially at such a young age) will do nothing but bruise their ego when there’s not enough ego there to bruise.

    I think our job is to guide our children in the best way we feel we can and nurture them along the way.

  11. wow! what a conversation this started. I love to read everyone’s opinions. I would have done the same thing you did, Dionna. I probably couldn’t have helped but laugh if Everett was in full giggle mode. I probably would have said something about the safety of water on the floor but what a simple, logical consequence- helping to clean up, for something that really isn’t a big deal. Typically, messes are just that. Messes. I don’t understand why we get so upset and worked up about them. Don’t get me wrong, I do too at first impulse, but Everett has taught me well that it’s not a big deal.

  12. Ruth Ann

    Dionna, as I was reading this, my thoughts kept going to those crazy videos that you can see on Americans Funniest Videos and the like, of some child who has covered himself and the kitchen with flour or who has dyed the dog pink, and the parent is laughing as they videotape it! My first thought has always been “HOW did they keep from exploding and laugh instead!!”. You are a very wise Mama

  13. Melody

    This is such a great reminder! I love reading everyone’s comments – so many good points.

    There are too many times during the day that we end up in a hurry or serious. I love being reminded that we should take the joy and silliness at every opportunity. Our little ones will not be little for long and they will not want to play with us forever. If we can take a moment and enjoy it rather than making it negative, we end up with more fun, more love and more great memories.
    In my moments of clarity, I try to remember that the world is not all about me. My child is not doing something to defy me, to make me angry or to cause me more work. He is doing exactly what is developmentally appropriate for his age! How wonderful!

    We try to make as many things as possible in our home a kid-friendly, “Yes” zone. It cuts down on our stress and then we don’t have the conflict that comes from trying to keep them out of lots of things that are off-limits. It is their home too and while I want them to respect me and our home, I want to show equal respect to them – that it is their space too. I know I would not be very happy living in a space where everything was a “No”.

  14. Corrie Kolbe   newwife777

    Just found your blog! i’m in love! I think I actually tweeted that at you a few minutes ago… I love the toddler activity schedule! I have taught Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade, and always found that having activities either planned or even just jotted down helped a TON. (Overplanning was always a must, too.) I’ve been trying to do this with my 22month old-having an activity to do here at home as well as going somewhere outside- a walk, the park (weather permitting, we’re in Chicagoland!), library, Barnes and Noble storytime, etc.
    Soooo all that being said, I’m excited about your toddler activities schedule because it not only gives me more ideas of things to do, but they’re aimed at toddlers.
    And.. of course I just realized that I’m commenting on the “nurturing not punishing” post. Sorry!
    I do my best to nurture and not punish, as well. I try and ask myself “Why not?” “What will it hurt?” “Is it really THAT big a deal if she does ____?”
    An example would be a couple months ago, DD got into a box of potato flakes (that had been left where she could reach them), and came and dumped them on the carpet. She was playing around with them before I even noticed what she was doing. Instead of punishing her- for what? being an inquisitive toddler??- I chose to laugh, like you, and tell her it was not a problem since the carpet needed to be vacuumed anyway.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Hi Corrie! Feel free to leave suggestions for future activity schedules, or even better – guest post some activities!
      And your example is perfect – why punish a child for being naturally curious? It’s probably healthier to remind ourselves not to leave things (like potato flakes) in a toddler’s reach :)

  15. curlymonkey   curlymonkey_

    You can’t punish a baby or toddler….. They see magic everywhere!

  16. jen   diplomom08

    Too funny, I have a 25 month old and this is his favorite activity. He even ‘washes’ the dishes for me…I just have to remember to check them on the dish rack, as he sometimes forgets the rinse cycle.

  17. Jess   sweetlikemaple

    Wow, I am so inspired by you. It largely depends on my mood, which is terrible, and I’m constantly trying to remember to breathe as well. Because if I can breathe, or if I’m having a day where I feel pretty calm and easy-going, then I can respond in ways like this. I always have to remind myself that my son is 2, and he does not have malicious intentions. I agree with some of the previous posters, that it’s ingrained in us that kids are inherently bad, and I always have to fight against the immediate reaction in my head, in order to give discipline that is about teaching and learning, and not about forcing my sense of justice upon my young kids.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you Jess! I was just talking to some friends, and we all agreed that when we remember to breathe and step away for a few minutes when we get upset (putting ourselves in time-out, so to speak), then we are in a much better frame of mind to come back and talk through a situation with our kids later.
      btw – I’m starting a “gentle discipline success stories and questions” series soon – if you have a story to share (or a question to ask), please consider submitting something :)

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