You’ve tried the punishments: Screen time, time outs, spanking, and grounding. You may have tried some bribes: Money, stickers, presents, privileges, and even using your own praise as a bribe. Doesn’t it seem like all of this puts pressure on the relationship?
Educators, business leaders, managers, counselors – it’s always about the relationship. I think it’s time we adopt this mantra for the most important relationship in the world – the one we have with our children.
The advice here is unconventional. I have strategies I recommend like extended playtime, keeping toys simple, having firm boundaries, teaching less, and don’t judge behavior, but all of my advice is aimed at building a collaborative relationship with your child – not “getting them to do” certain things.
Notice: The advice on this blog is for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for work with a mental health professional.
I was going to be a disciplinarian. I heard stories of children being disrespectful to their parents and my heart rate would spike. I almost couldn’t wait to become a father so that my kids could talk to me that way and I would show them a thing or two.
Fast-forward to today; I’m married, the father of three young children, currently 6, 4, and 2-years-old, and I’ve never raised my hand to spank any of them once.
“He that spares the rod spoils the child, right?”
I thought so too.
Maybe this proverb applies more appropriately if you’re training a docile conformist. But I didn’t want “yes” kids. My wife and I didn’t want blind obedience from our kids. We wanted creativity, spontaneity, independence, and joy. We wanted to enjoy our kids. So we spare the rod.
Not only that, but we generally don’t respond to our children with the use of shouting, nagging, criticizing, praising, sarcasm, rewarding, or punishing. I say, “generally,” because I’m sure that from time to time we lose sight of our principles and do resort to these types of responses. I wonder if you’re thinking, “Dear G-d, I would hate to spend time with his bratty kids. How can you teach children anything without praising and rewarding their good behavior or without punishing them for doing something wrong?!”
The results have surprised me too and still do every day. Our home is quite peaceful. They follow the rules, eat healthy meals (even though there are things they don’t care for), and go to bed with little to no resistance. They play together with almost no reminders to be kind to each other and solve many of their disputes on their own. They even show a high interest in learning and developing academic understanding of the world. It’s fulfilling and surreal. How is this possible?
There have been several resources that have gotten me to where I am today. I developed a lot of empathy for young people while I still was one. I saw the way the disenfranchised experienced relationships with adults and felt compassion for them. Later, I spent a lot of time with young people as a private music instructor and saw many of the same patterns there. There were always bright, capable, and interesting children who felt rejected by the adults around them. I then went to school to get my degree in elementary education. During my first year as a teacher, I saw myself turning into the adult that the kids I had developed a deep appreciation would never connect with.
I refused to become a part of the system.
There was something in me that knew that children were more capable than the system was letting them be. First, I came across the work of William Glasser. He taught me that we have much more control over our behavior than we think we do and that fun is the biological reward for learning, not schooling. Children love learning; they do not like schooling. Right around the same time I discovered the writing of Alfie Kohn who provided a deep sea of research that legitimized where I was heading.
Around the time my firstborn was one, I discovered the work of infant specialist, Magda Gerber. She taught me that children are born fully human and capable of perceiving a respectful and caring person in their midst. We followed her philosophy as closely as we could through the writing of her protege, Janet Lansbury.
Most recently we discovered the work of John Holt and the Sudbury Valley School. Their content helped us understand how children could be integrated into the decision-making process systematically and they’ve documented how doing so makes for a rich a rigorous learning experience.
I still have a lot to learn. This blog is dedicated to helping you discover new ways of seeing your own children.
I hope the experiences I share here bring you truth, perspective, or radical ideas that will enrich your life.