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Disciplining your Kids without Breaking their Spirit|Positive Parenting

Updated on July 17, 2014

Here are some guidelines or positive parenting mantras that have helped us through some of the parenting challenges we've come across that address the issue of loving our kids without breaking their spirit:

  1. When disciplining your kids, ask yourself: does this leave my child's dignity intact? Are my words/actions hurtful to my kids?If the answer is yes, then don't do it. This from Barbara Colorosa's book, Kids are Worth It.
  2. When giving kids a choice, always offer them options you can live with. For example: If your child refuses to leave the house and go to the car: "you can skip to the car, walk to the car or be carried to the car. If you can't choose, I will choose for you." This from Love and Logic for Early Childhood.
  3. If we understand that children cannot do SEPARATION easily-we will help them to 'hold on' when apart. This from Gordon Neufeld's Making Sense of Preschoolers video teaching series.

How to Discipline a Child Without Breaking Their Spirit?

Since having kids of my own, my limits have been tested daily and I've had to do a lot of reflecting and soul searching about the kind of parent I want to be and how my husband and I will raise our children. When first hearing the word discipline, what often comes to mind is an image of keeping our kids in line, and doing whatever it takes to make our kids behave, as long as their dignity is intact. I grew up being disciplined by spanking. My husband and I talked about this and both of us came to conclusion that we don't feel comfortable using physical discipline in our home. Every parent needs to evaluate what discipline measures work for your family and every family is different, so no judgement here about what kind of discipline you use in your own home. But here's the golden question: how do you discipline your kid(s) without breaking their spirit?

Parenting Skills: What Will it Take?


Positive Parenting: Why Time-Outs Do Not Work

With the rise of time-outs, as a result of a lot of parents giving up on spanking and physical discipline, why are traditional time-outs (placing kids in a room, away from us) ineffective?

  1. We're sending our kids a message that they need to collect themselves emotionally and to get it together before they leave their room. Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) do NOT know how to sort themselves out emotionally. This is where they need guidance from their parents.
  2. Time-outs create separation anxiety, as children are "wired to be closely connected to their caretakers". A lot of children get anxious with the threat of being separated from their parents and this damages their sense of security.

Kids Cannot Do Separation

Does spanking leave a lasting affect on kids? After deciding against physical discipline, we opted for the time-out method. Soon after our preschooler son had a few time outs in his room, we realized that by physically separating him from us seemed to be damaging to him. Whenever he would get a time out he would:

  • Scream loudly
  • Throw anything he could find at his door
  • Immediately after entering his room for a time out, he would start pulling on his door
  • Generally, he would trash his room
  • He would become clingy and emotional the rest of the day (separation anxiety)

Now kids can do some pretty awful things and sometimes I wonder if they are dong things to spite us or to push our buttons because they know they're going to get a rise out of mom and/or dad. At first, after giving time outs in his room, I thought that our son was just testing us. Upon further research, failed time out attempts with no positive behavioural results and after taking Gordon Neufeld's (a local positive parenting guru) "Making Sense of Preschoolers" class, we quickly realized that there was a deep issue going on that needed to be addressed: our child needed us in those moments of separation and we were pushing him away. Attachment is vital to ours kids' survival and well-being.

Instead of pushing our kids away when they disobey us, we should be keeping them close and using these moments to show our kids how much we love them. Read: this does NOT mean you shouldn't be disciplining our kids when they disobey us or when they do something wrong. YOU are the parent and you need to guide your children, no matter how difficult it is. We need to find a way to reach out to our kids, in love, when they misbehave.

Making Sense of Preschoolers: Positive Parenting

Time For a Parent Poll

How do you discipline your kid(s)?

See results

How to Discipline a Child?Positive Discipline

If we rule out discipline measures that break our connection with our kids, then how can we do positive parenting?

  • Be pro-active and try to anticipate problems before they arise. For example, don't allow your kid(s) to be in situations where they're overwhelmed.
  • Have you tried using time-ins instead of time-outs? A time-in means you take your child away from the situation if they've misbehaved. Instead of isolating your child, away from you, put your child within your sight and allow them to have some "thinking time".
  • Make sure your kids physical needs are being met-are they hungry? Tired? Overstimulated?
  • Be the alpha parent to our kids, but also understand that your kids need you to help them through challenges, especially our pre-school aged kids (ages 3 to 5).

Positive Discipline


Parenting Skills: Some Final Thoughts on Positive Parenting

I hope that this article challenged you to think about what kind of parent you want to be to your children and I hope it sparked some new questions too. Let's support one another as parents and find ways to encourage one another to be the best parent that we can be.


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