Reply Turned Post: On Parenting Philosophies and Dangerous Things

May 10th, 2010 by Dionna | 21 Comments
Posted in Children, Eclectic Learning, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Respond with Sensitivity, Toddlers

A reader left a comment on my recent post about labeling kids as “kind.” My response got so long that I decided to turn it into a post, because hey – I can always use more post fodder. Below is the comment and my response.*

I walk away from a couple of your recent blogs with this feeling that Kieran runs your household. I’m sorry but I don’t see what is gained in letting him keep the car he took from his friend. In a roundabout way, isn’t this rewarding his behavior? Sure, he made his friend cry, but he still got his way, with no repercussions. What about when he’s older, and all the kids see him as some kind of bully, because he gets what he wants, when he wants it, regardless if the hurt that he inflicts on his “friends”?
And regarding your story in your other post about the dandelion popper. What parents in their right minds allow their toddler to play with a sharp object? Good thing Tom was wearing glasses, or he could have lost an eye. I’d love to hear what “gentle” discussion, or fun little game, you have with Kieran when you’re waiting for an ambulance to arrive because he gouged someone’s eye out… or maybe his own.

No, Kieran does not run our household. The fact that we are respectful of our son’s feelings does not make him any more or less important than any other family member. We treat Kieran with gentleness and respect, exactly the way we want to be treated. It is incredibly hard to describe an entire parenting philosophy in one comment or post. Instead of attempting to do that, I will encourage anyone who is interested in peaceful parenting to pick up one or more of these books:

Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, by Naomi Aldort

Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids, by Suri Hart

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, by Alfie Kohn

I have tried to explain some of the peaceful parenting philosophy in my posts about gentle discipline. There are also some excellent articles about gentle discipline linked in the Carnival of Gentle Discipline’s wrap-up post and any of the posts during the week of the carnival (click on this link and scroll down to find a complete list). Some of these posts might help explain why I don’t agree with – for example – yanking the car back out of Kieran’s hands, sending him to time-out, spanking him, etc.

To put it very simply, I do not believe that I am “rewarding behavior” by understanding that his behavior is motivated by needs.

Here is a wonderful quote from Aldort’s “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves”:

Parents are often puzzled by the idea of expressing love toward the child who acts aggressively; yet, when you do, you will discover that your child’s aggression is her cry for your love or for your attention to some unmet need. Your love is therefore the best answer to her distress. . . .

The aggressive child does not perceive herself as being rewarded by your love. Instead she feels relieved because she is understood and cared for, which will help her resolve her anguish. By stopping her act and offering your love and care, you give your child tools for kind and peaceful relating. . . . The old belief about tough love is just another thought that justifies hurting a child.

(emphasis mine) (By the way, the phrase “the aggressive child” in the above quote makes my skin crawl. I certainly don’t think of Kieran as “aggressive”; the rest of the text was just appropriate for the situation in question. Kieran is no more “aggressive” than any other developmentally normal toddler.)

Someone might see it as “Kieran got his way.” I see it as Kieran made the choice to give the car back without being forced to. He saw that his action hurt his friend’s feelings. He knew from my words to him and my apology to his friend that grabbing the car wasn’t socially acceptable. He learned without being punished.

And what are parents teaching children by imposing their own will on them? By forcing them to behave in a certain way? I do not agree with the statement that peaceful parenting principles breed bullies. What then does bullying children with punishments and coercion breed . . . pacifists?

Food for thought: the majority of toddlers will go through a grabby “mine!” phase. It’s developmentally appropriate. They will grow out of it. Do they need to be shamed and punished along the way – just for good measure? I do not believe so. And, for that matter, if time-outs, spanking, or other common disciplinary measures “worked,” then why do parents have to rely on those things repeatedly?

If a parent assigns bad intentions to a toddler’s actions, that parent might be inclined to punish the toddler for every infraction. We choose not to. Lauren at Hobo Mama has two excellent posts about that idea. The first is about toddlers and temper tantrums, the second is about choosing not to see misbehavior in any toddler behavior that inconveniences parents.

With respect to the dandelion popper. First – he was being supervised. I think we’d be hard pressed to find a parent who has never supervised her child doing something that ended up in an accident. We will not restrict Kieran’s activities to only soft, “safe” items because he *might* get hurt. And how is anyone to decide when our child is “ready” to handle something sharp? We are Kieran’s parents. We are the best ones to judge his capabilities.

Second – and I’ll end on a light-hearted note – I tend to agree with this guy. No, I’m not saying Kieran is ready to own a pocketknife or play with fire, but he does have access to certain gardening tools while we’re out working the dirt together. He has helped me cut things during dinner prep. He has held a skewer of marshmallow over a fire. We don’t give him free access to dangerous items without supervision, but we do know his abilities and trust him with certain tools in our presence.


*Ok, I’ll admit: my first reaction to this comment was to get defensive. I wish that it was easier to have conversations with people about different parenting philosophies without anyone getting sarcastic, defensive, or feeling attacked. In the spirit of peace, I’ve made an effort to reply respectfully in the hopes of starting a productive conversation.

21 Responses to:
"Reply Turned Post: On Parenting Philosophies and Dangerous Things"

  1. Very respectfully done. I didn’t read the posts that led to this response, but I can understand why someone who wasn’t familiar with gentle parenting might misinterpret what you were saying.

    Personally, I sit on the fence regarding gentle discipline. I do not believe in imposing your will pointlessly on your child, but I believe there are boundaries that must be enforced and respected. I look for cues in the animal kingdom, and I know that other mammals need to teach their offspring by means of a nip or a swipe (not that I’m going to start hitting my daughter!). It’s another issue where there is no right and wrong – you have to go with what feels right to you and your family.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      You do have to work out what is right for your family, I agree. I never want to say “this is 100% right and this is 100% wrong” – I write based on my research, experiences, and ideals. Yours might be different – and that’s ok! It is my hope that I can connect with many other parents through this medium. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t, but I hope that we can all be respectful toward each other. I’m trying to live the principles that I was to pass on to Kieran.

  2. Just wanted to say that I think your parenting is brilliant and K is a lucky man to have someone so full of knowledge, care and instinct helping him through his life.
    I support gentle discipline 100% and think it is the only sensible and emotionally responsible way to raise children, and I look to your blog for examples and support in my own journey with my son.
    Thanks for writing such a thoughtful and well written response to that comment – it helps me think through the responses I have to make in my own life.
    PS – Happy Mama’s Day!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you for my warm fuzzies today :) I love the fact that I can connect with a worldwide community of parents who follow GD principles. I just clicked over to your page and saw links to several people who participated in the Carnival of GD – wasn’t that an excellent resource?! Looking forward to reading more of YOUR posts!

  3. Children who are constantly scrutinized and supervised seem more likely to act out and have their way when nobody is looking. Children need to be allowed to test the waters (within limits) to develop their own decision making skills and foster a strong sense of self reliance.

    let him find his own way and make his own decisions whenever possible. I read a story recently where a father was watching his young son running around in the family’s front yard and the child tripped and fell down in the grass. He cried for a moment and looked over dad… when no one came running to his immediate rescue he stopped crying and started running around again as if nothing had happened. The little boy avoided the place where he had tripped on subsequent round trips in the yard.

    Love your site!

  4. Great response, Dionna.
    I completely agree with you and love the quote you used from Aldort. I have a good example that happened just this morning that supports his point:

    I fixed something that Everett apparently wanted to fix himself. He got really upset and even after I told him I was sorry his feelings escalated and he yelled and tried to hit me. I told him it was couch time (we take a break to cool off and talk about what is going on in couch time). He became angry and took a bit of time to get to the couch, but I kept my cool, talked with him calmly but firmly. He came to the couch but yelled at me (he’s becoming quite clever with his words and a little ballsy these days…) “I don’t love you anymore!”
    Now, I’ll stop here to point out that there was several times that I could have put him in time out, yelled back or punished him in some other way. And especially after hearing him yell something like this I could imagine some form of punishment coming for being disrespectful.

    Instead, I looked him in the eyes, held out my arms and he buried his head in my lap immediately. I knew he needed to get out his emotions (that it had nothing to do with disrespect) and once he was able to do that and be accepted with love that we could talk about the situation calmly. And we did. It was resolved, he was able to learn about what to do if something similar happens again.

    Responding with sensitivity and gentle discipline got to the heart of the problem and talking about it will most likely resolve this problem for the future. Punishment, on the other hand, would likely have caused this problem to occur over and over again because it would have missed meeting his needs.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Wow Acacia – what an awesome example! Thank you for sharing!

    • I’m an adult and sometimes I need to yell at someone and cry it out. Totally okay with the way that was handled. haha

      On a separate note, I’m not sure grabbing a toy back from Kieran sends the right message either. Wouldn’t that be like hitting your kid for hitting someone else? You took that toy, BUT YOU CAN BET I’M GOING TO TAKE IT FROM YOU! It’s okay when I take, but not okay when you take. How confusing.

  5. sara

    love this.

    i wrote to you a few months ago about my nervousness with starting solids and you gave me a much needed bit of reassurance and reminder that breastmilk was enough for the first year and that solids are just an experiment… we’re just about 10 months in and i’m following my babe’s lead: milk, milk, milk – and maybe a halfhearted bite here and there!

    you were totally the voice of reason when i was getting swept up in the “are you starting solids?” mania.

    anyways, i read your blog every evening with a just-nursed and sleeping baby in my arms… i love that time so much… some very needed time to unwind and to get inspired and grounded by your posts… but because my hands are full i rarely get to comment!

    i really wanted to comment on today’s post, though and tell you that i totally support and admire your parenting choices… and it’s really inspiring for me to read your words in the face of criticism to your choices…

    i hope you had a happy mother’s day!


    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Oh Sara, thank you! And I was going to write a post about solids – (gulp) I forgot! I’m so sorry!
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I needed a reminder to be gentle with my fellow parents too.

      And Marilyn – I’m just as guilty of raising my voice as the next person. It’s not normal for me either. My mom is the first to admit that I was raised in a house full of yellers, so it’s *hard* to keep calm sometimes! I’m definitely a work in progress!

  6. Marilyn   ALotofLoves

    Every time I read a post concerning your gentle discipline style of parenting I’m impressed. I would not describe myself as following the same style of parenting. I do make an effort to tone it down and keep calm and collected but that way of acting is not my normal way of functioning so it’s tough. Still I can see the benefit of calmness in the reactions of my kids.

    I think your response was well written and thorough.

  7. Monty

    wasnt me

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Ha! I knew it wasn’t. Besides, I doubt you’d take issue with giving something like a dandelion popper to Kieran. Something tells me you figure kids for more capable than that ;)

  8. Sarah

    It is so difficult to be gentle and respectful at times. But I know that it is the best way to help my children grow into better adults than I am.

    Great topic. I always enjoy reading about others views and how they approach GD.

  9. Melodie   bfmom

    Nicely done Dionna. I think I would have felt defensive at first too. Taking some time to go away and think is always a great idea, and this was done really well.

    Just to add to the conversation a little, I’m interested in what your thoughts are around a child you parented gently and lovingly through her toddler years who continues as a school aged child to be in that “grabby” phase. Who in fact has never grown out of it and has never taken in how to not be in it. I felt so sure my daughter would grow out of her toddler developmentally appropriate (although drives you buggy!) behaviours, but she never did. I doubt you will have the same issue with Kieran as he sounds completely different than my daughter, but honestly my heart drops when I read these kinds of posts about parenting a certain kind of way and this too shall pass kind of ending (not that this was really one of them, but it does stem from one of those). Because it has never passed for me. And maybe it will, but it does make me question my natural and gentle parenting values sometimes. Because they haven’t worked for my kid. It drives me crazy! Anyway, at this point I am mostly venting and I don’t really need you to reply because I know my daughter is different than most kids and she’s gone to Occupational Therapy for a reason, but I guess I just needed to vent. Blah. Sorry.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Feel free to vent Melodie! Not all kids react to parenting strategies the same way. My friend and I were talking about this today – she said “I will never _______.” I said, well, never say never – we don’t know what the situation will be like in 3 months or 3 years. Now, we were talking about her lack of desire to have a 2nd child, I’m not referencing spanking or something ;), but the point is still the same.
      For example, right now I’m not down with sticker charts or other positive behavior mod strategies. But I don’t think those things are bad – they just aren’t necessary for us right now. Some kids might only connect to something like that – and that shouldn’t be anything to feel guilty about!
      I would keep doing what you are doing in searching for gentle alternatives – maybe a little playful parenting, maybe look into some of Aldort’s & Hart’s theories on behavior (looking at the needs/feelings behind it). And if your daughter needs a parenting strategy that is different b/c her brain works in different ways – that’s ok! It is an exercise in thinking outside the box for you, which will probably be a life lesson for her too. Maybe *she* could help think of some ways to help.
      I think you are an amazing mama, Melodie. Just stay true to your ideals, you will find something that works!

  10. Ruth Ann

    Wow, I am glad that I didn’t happen to read the comment that precipitated this blog because I wouldnt have been as gentle and reflective as you were !!! :-)
    I want to assure your reader that made the comment that Kieran certainly does NOT run your household, that it is a loving, caring place full of wonderful examples for Kieran to follow as he grows into the great young person that I know he is going to be!!!
    And I will take full responsibility for the dandelion popper incident since Grandma is the one who introduced the fascinating item into the household in the first place!!! lol

  11. CodeNamePapa   CodeNamePapa

    The whole cause for the dandelion popper discussion is that it was really my fault. I was trying to pull up a weed and had stuck it into the ground next to me. Kieran wanted to help pop some out and told me so, and I wasn’t fully facing him while he struggled to pull the popper out of the ground. Once he wrestled it free, his momentum swung it my direction. It was a total fluke, he wasn’t playing swords or something.

  12. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    And for anyone who is interested, 5 dangerous things has been expanded into 50 (thanks Tom):

  13. Monty

    wow, this person would not like the fact that when my family lived out in the country tyler was mowing the acreage at 5, nevermind not my blog

  14. the Grumbles   thegrumbles

    Nice response. We’re struggling with this between my husband and I. I’ve been sharing some of the Gentle Parenting Carnival posts with him and it’s sparked a lot of discussion about what techniques we might want to use. He has concerns about rewarding bad behavior / raising a child who is still respectful and not in control while still trying to listen to their needs. I think this addresses some of those worries.

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