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It has been a long, hard road since I decided two years ago that I didn’t want to spank anymore.  It’s one thing to intellectually say “I don’t want to do this.”  It’s another thing to find yourself in the middle of a tough, frustrating situation and actually know what to do instead.  When you’re angry, your ability to think is diminished, and it’s so easy to revert to the old ways…even when you said you wouldn’t and are upset, later, that you did.

It’s a long process.  I still occasionally threaten the kids with things I don’t want to do, but then stop and think and redirect myself.  It is very, very hard to replace your habits and thought processes, but it is possible.  Over time.  And cut yourself some slack — you’re human.

What a lot of people say when they first hear about positive discipline is often something like “Okay, that sounds good in theory…but what does it look like in practice?  What do you do if the kid does x, y or z?”  All the research and theories in the world cannot replace this practical knowledge, which is rarely given.

So today, I’m going to share with you several examples of positive discipline.

Is Not Spanking No Discipline?

First I have to answer this.  Too many people think that not spanking means you just let your kids run wild.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I can’t speak for everyone, but we have clear boundaries, that mostly surround health, safety, and respect for people/property, and there are consequences for breaking those boundaries.  Not spanking, but consequences.

It frankly drives me nuts when people say “Kids that aren’t spanked are total wild brats; spanking is the only way to teach ‘em.  Hit ‘em if you love ‘em so they grow up to be good.”  I won’t say what I think of that line of reasoning but it isn’t nice.

Anyway, yes, there are boundaries.  I don’t let my kids hit me or each other (and I don’t hit them to teach them not to hit).  I don’t let them run around and speak rudely to me and throw their toys everywhere and never clean up.  And yes, they’re kids and humans and they mess up.  They do occasionally hit, throw, make messes, talk back, and so on.  Ironically if they do these things and I use positive discipline to address it, people might say I “don’t do anything” but if I spanked them and their behavior was exactly the same they would say I “did something.”  Even though the behavior wasn’t different.

My goal over time is to modify their behavior, to teach them empathy and give them an internal moral compass.  I don’t do it by hitting them, but in a bunch of different ways.

One last thing about spanking before I get into the examples — people always say “Spanking the right way is just fine; all those other people give it a bad name.”  No one’s really studied spanking, because most people wouldn’t really be honest about it (who wants to stand up and say “Yeah, I smack my kid repeatedly and in anger?”), but I’d venture to guess that most of the people who spank do it in anger, for minor offenses, and don’t cuddle and love on the kid after.  They get mad, they yell, kid still doesn’t listen, and they spank.  I’ve done it before.  Since that’s probably how it goes down in a lot of homes, we can’t say that spanking is okay, in a general sense, or that “the right way” is better.  It’s not typically done “the right way” anyway.

But, on to the practical examples of positive discipline.  If you don’t spank…then what?

Examples of Positive Discipline

These are just a handful of examples of what I might do in my home.  It cannot possibly cover all situations and will not work for all children.  You know your child best.  The biggest take away here is going to be “Know your child, and problem solve together.”

Throwing

If a child throws a toy, that toy is put up.  They do not get it back, especially if it was thrown at a person.  If someone is hurt, then we talk about how that person was hurt and suggest they say sorry/make them feel better.  (I do not believe in “making” a child apologize.  What good is “sorry” if it’s said with anger and by a child who simply doesn’t mean it?  Did anyone gain anything there?  But we do suggest that it might help, and model it ourselves.)  We don’t follow up with additional discipline unless the child then starts other undesirable behavior.

Hitting

The children are physically separated if necessary and we ask what is going on.  We discuss the problem that led to the hitting (at least with the older ones, who can talk well) and then help them work it out with words, and remind them to use their words in the future.  Repeated hitting usually results in them getting separated for awhile, being sent to play in different rooms, etc.  They typically do not like this because they want to continue playing together, but if they cannot play together without hitting then they cannot play together.  Usually hitting occurs because of built-up frustration, so separating the kids and ending the situation defuses it.

Rudeness

I don’t answer to rudeness.  I ask them to try again, or sometimes pretend I didn’t hear them.  If they are talking to someone else, I will pull them aside and tell them what they said was rude and give them the words to try again — then ask them to go say the nicer thing and I suggest they apologize for having been rude.  If rudeness were to continue, directed at me, I would not do what they wanted and would tell them I would be ready to talk when they were ready to do so nicely.  If directed at others, I would separate them from the situation, leaving if necessary.

Running/Wildness

This usually happens while out.  At home, they would immediately be directed to the backyard — “You can be loud and run outside, but not in the house.”  They would have the choice of going outside or going to play alone in their rooms until they could play more quietly, especially if a baby was asleep.  If we are out, I might end the trip and take them home, or possibly take them and leave them with my husband while I finished the errands.  Since they want to be out and not home with Daddy, this is usually effective.  Typically this behavior means they haven’t had a chance to get out and run enough, and the best solution is to go home or to a playground and let them run in a more appropriate location.  It isn’t realistic to expect kids 5 and under with too much energy to just be quiet and still.

Cleaning Up

So many people say “How do you make them clean up?!”  Well, first — I model doing it myself.  I have morning chores I do every morning.  I clean as I go.  I show them how I do it and they often just jump in and help, because it’s “normal.”  If you don’t model cleaning yourself, they will not do it.  Even so, cleaning isn’t fun and kids drag their feet about it.  Typically we clean up one activity before we move on to another, and we simply don’t move on until the cleaning is done.  As I’m writing, the kids are cleaning up their art activity in the kitchen, and Grandpa is coming to visit soon.  If the cleaning isn’t done when he gets here, they won’t get to play with him until they are finished.  We clean up before lunch everyday and they don’t join us at the table until they’re finished.  Sometimes one finishes before another and we all sit down to eat except that child.  One of mine will refuse to clean up and continue playing and ignoring all instructions, but when it comes down to everyone eating and that child is not, the kid quickly and calmly cleans up.  Joining us at the table is much better than sitting alone in the play room.

It also helps to train them to clean.  The kid who doesn’t like to clean will refuse if we say “Go clean up.”  But if we say, “Please pick up the books,” it goes much better.  I spend time sitting with them all and instructing on what to pick up and where to put it.  We also try to keep it positive (I won’t say I don’t still yell sometimes when they are dawdling, because I do!) and say “Can you clean up ____?”  They usually smile and do it.  If I sound stern, they usually refuse/ignore.  I’ve found I can’t motivate them to do something that they really don’t want to do by force.  But if they are happy and want to please me, they will do it.

Don’t make cleaning a battle.  Teach them how to do it repeatedly until you are sure they really understand — you might be surprised that they don’t.  (I really didn’t “get” how to keep things clean even as an adult and had to learn!)  Sometimes I set a timer and say “Okay, we have 15 minutes to get all this clean, who can do it the fastest?”  Or possibly, “Once we are done cleaning, we can go eat lunch/take a walk/play a game.”  And you don’t do that activity until the cleaning is done.

Older kids (5 and up) can be reminded ahead of time “If you choose to make that mess, you will have to clean it up,” and they can decide if it’s worth it to them or not.  If they choose to make the mess, hold them to cleaning it up.  If they do not, or they whine and moan and take forever, then they do not get to do that particular activity again.  I have taken away messy toys/games because they would not clean them up.  It’s simple — if you don’t take care of your things and respect my property (i.e. cleaning up the kitchen, our family area, when you are done), then you don’t get to have those things.

Toddler Hurting People

Although I covered the guidelines for hitting/throwing above, those are mostly for slightly older kids.  The younger set, from around a year to 2 and a half is a bit different.  They have no self-control or ability to think ahead.  They have strong emotions and they act on them without thinking.  This does not mean they just get away with it.  If a toddler hits me, they get put down or lose my attention.  Same if they kick, pull hair, etc.  I tell them to “use nice hands.”  I back away and say “I will not help you if you kick me.”  I redirect them to new activities.  I could say “No, don’t hit the cat” 4264 times and the kid will keep doing it — or I can say “Come listen to music with me” and that’s the end of hitting the cat.  Redirection is big from 12 – 18/20 months.  After that they start to learn to talk, realize they are separate, and get more determined.

Older Toddlers Disobeying

Most of the time, the real disobedience and tantrums are not because of “behavior” issues, but because they are not feeling right.  They can be rather logical and “good” when they are feeling good, accepting redirection and “We’re not playing with that” with general ease.  It’s when they don’t feel so good that they have a short fuse and throw tantrums.  Punishment is not the answer.  We *all* have a short fuse when we don’t feel well.  So, we problem solve — hungry?  Tired?  Teeth hurting?  Typically if we can figure out what the issue is and fix it, the poor behavior stops.  My 21-month-old might wake up from a nap angry, but once I give him a snack he’s perfectly fine.  Sometimes he needs teething tea, another nap, etc.  One day last week I called “Meltdown City” because he was so angry and fussy all day.  We had just gotten back from a weekend trip and he was out of sorts.  He improved all week and was back to his normal self in a few days.

Positive Instructions

It is important to us to try to prevent problems by issuing positive instructions.  Instead of “No worms in the house!” I say “Worms live outside, please take them there.”  It’s a clear instruction and tells them what to do. Kids sometimes misbehave because they got what you don’t want them to do, but they don’t know what to do instead.  (Not unlike parents who are told not to spank but not given alternatives, eh?)  I might also say “When you want to get through, say excuse me instead of pushing.”  And I make them try again immediately if they pushed someone out of the way.  We practice good behavior.

Obey or Else

There are a few rules that we simply don’t mess around with.  “Your car seat stays strapped until the car is off” is one.  “Hands stay on the car or in mine in a parking lot” is another.  Anything dealing with serious health/safety issues is a firm, no-matter-what rule.  When the kids have taken straps off before the car was turned off (although we were stopped), I made them re-strap, I drove around a bit, then parked again.  I kept doing this until they were completely strapped when I stopped, until I shut the car off.  We practiced the proper behavior, and we explained why it was so important — for their safety.  This was very effective and really only required one instance before they got that I was serious and it was important.  If a kid rode a bike without a helmet, the bike would be gone for awhile.  If they ran in the street, we would go inside and be done playing immediately.  I have found it entirely possible enforce these hard-and-fast rules without spanking, although I am much more firm and the consequences are more serious and immediate, if needed, than with other rules.  I don’t mess around with safety.

I’m sure there are many more situations, and feel free to ask in the comments if you have specific questions about how I’d handle things.

Remember this is what works in our home.  Some of you are going to read this and think that you would just never handle things that way, that I am way too easy and I don’t punish enough.  Others are going to think I’m too hard and I don’t treat the kids as equals enough.  I’m not writing this so that you can judge my parenting and tell me I’m “not doing it right.”  I’m not writing this because I have all the answers.  I’m not writing this because I am a perfect parent.  I am not writing this so you will copy exactly what I do and hope it works for your family.  I am writing this to provide one example of what works for us.  That is the bottom line.

Take away from this ideas, examples and see what works for you.  Every parent and child are different, have different personalities and different needs.  That’s okay.  Use this as a general guide and nothing more.

How do you discipline your children?  Do you feel it works for you?


This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (6.5), Daniel (5), Jacob (3), and Nathan (1.5). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a popular book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. She also recently released Healing With God's Earthly Gifts: Natural and Herbal Remedies, which teaches people to use natural remedies to keep their families healthy. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children.

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71 Comments

  1. Thanks for these examples. I struggle with positive discipline and can always use more inspiration!

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  2. Thank you so much for this, Kate. My husband and I both come from spanking families, and I’m struggling to find a firm alternative.

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  3. My son will be 2 next month. We found that explaining him what the rules are for helps tons. ” Please dont hit the cat because it hurts her and it makes her sad. Remember when the little boy hit you in the park yesterday? It hurt and made you feel sad. The cat feels the same” or ” Please dont throw your food on the floor. I will have to spend more time cleaning and less time playing with you”
    We do this for everything: why we need sunblock, why we eat healthy balanced food, why we need to go to bed at a certain time, why we cant touch all the stuff in the shops, …
    We also talk him through his feelings when he is overwhelmed. ” You are very frustrated because you can’t have this toy car” or ” You are tired and it’s harder to deal with your emotions when you are so tired”

    We reckon he feels understood and respected because we acknowledge his feelings.
    We hardly have tantrums – if we do we talk him through what’s happening and he is fine.
    We have been doing this since he was a few months old and I believe it is making a huge difference in his emotional development.

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    • Simple explanations are so great. Although my 21-month-old (almost 22 months) has quite the temper, we don’t see it too often because we talk about things. He can tell us what he wants, and we can explain sometimes why the answer’s no, and he often accepts that. He understands if we say “Would you like it if he hit you?” (“No!”) “He doesn’t like being hit, either.” Giving them the words to use for their feelings is great too. They will use them if they know them!

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  4. Great article! I’m struggling with my 3 year old daughter and not leaving her baby brother alone. Yesterday she pulled his teething necklace off of him while I was in the bathroom, then my fiancé caught her putting his spit up towel over his head while he was laying on his blanket. We’ve been over being gentle, staying off of him, out of his face, etc and told her it could hurt him or its not nice. We’ve sent her to play in her room and talked. I don’t really know what else to do, any advice? She’s a sassy one and now tells me no along with other things.

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    • Is he fairly new? Sometimes with new babies, they act out as a means of getting your attention. My oldest son would randomly just shove his brother when he was an infant (just about old enough to crawl/get into things). No warning, he would just suddenly do it. That was a couple years ago and I tried yelling and putting him in time out and etc. and that never stopped it. But then, I turned it around, and started asking him if he was sad. He’d start crying and say “Yes!” and throw himself in my arms. So I would simply say to him, “If you’re sad, you can come ask me for a hug, but you cannot hurt your brother.” It only took a couple of times to stop after that.

      Or, it can simply be a desire to “love” on him, and she’s accidentally too rough. My 5-year-old LOVES her baby brother and is constantly picking him up and carrying him around. You may try to show her better ways to love him — “Can you touch his feet? Rub his tummy? That’s a nice touch.” She may not know how to love him.

      Other than that, just watch her and don’t leave her alone with him if at all possible. Put him in a pack-n-play or somewhere safe if you need to go to the bathroom or something.

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  5. We have recently decided to not spank our children anymore. We have struggled with knowing “what to do” now that we are not spanking. I see that you remove them from the situation, discuss the behavior, etc. I wonder if you have any other consequences that you use—writing sentences, taking favorite things away, going to bed early, not allowing participation in pre=planned events, etc??—-We are having some issues with our older daughters, ages 9 and 7 with deliberate and repeated disobedience even when we are trying to implement the redirection and discussing the situation, etc. Is there any advice you can offer during this transition period for older kids?

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    • We have done things like earlier bedtimes (though usually it’s because they’re behaving poorly because they are overtired) and refusing participation in events (again, usually because we feel it’s a bad idea — the kids were told they couldn’t go to church on Wed. nights if they didn’t nap because we were up over an hour past bedtime and it would be Meltdown City at church if they were overtired).

      The transition period is HARD. They don’t believe you won’t spank them again. They don’t have that threat immediately looming over them, either. They test you a lot. Since they are older, I would sit down with them and lay it out: “We made mistakes. We’re going to do things differently now. We need your help, though.” Explain the rules you want them to follow, ask them for possible consequences for not following those rules. Come up with a plan together. Assure them you mean it and tell them you are sorry for having spanked (assuming that is what you want to say).

      It will take a few months but you’ll start to see things change. They’ll become calmer and want to spend more time with you, and they’ll listen because they love you and want to make you happy. It took us several months of us “relapsing” and the kids acting out before we really got a handle on it. It’s been two years (sigh) but I FINALLY feel like I’ve replaced my old ways of thinking and I’m seeing so many positive things happening.

      With any change, they simply don’t believe it’s “for real” until you’ve proven, over time, that it is. Good luck!

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  6. I could have written this! This is exactly how we handle these situations in our home (our kids are 3 and 1). We’ve never spanked or used time out and my kids are well behaved (not perfect of course), gentle, compassionate, kind, and respectful. Positive discipline works for us!

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  7. Thanks! Great article! We stopped spanking a few years ago when my 4th child was a baby! I’m so happy we did and I would never go back…my children’s behavior is actually better now than when we spanked!!

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  8. We spanked all four of our children. They are all grown up now and not one of them ever were rebellious. We only spanked if they refused to obey us when they were young. It wasn’t very often but it worked. They learned at a very young age that we meant what we said and they quickly obeyed us. We used other forms of discipline for many other things but the Bible clearly talks about using the rod of discipline.

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  9. I like all of these – I think they are great! Thanks for sharing!!!!

    I have a question about this statement that you made:

    “Since that’s probably how it goes down in a lot of homes, we can’t say that spanking is okay, in a general sense, or that “the right way” is better. It’s not typically done “the right way” anyway.”

    I would venture to suggest that I think it is somewhat unfair to first (rightly) acknowledge that there are no studies done on spanking and then go on to state with certainty that spanking is incorrectly administered in most homes with most parents. If there are no concrete studies (rather unrealistic, as you point out), can you *really* know what happens in most homes? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to stick with your own experience, as you did state, and not possibly offend other parents who do use spanking as discipline, are very careful to never spank out of anger, and do spend lots of time cuddling and loving their children afterwards? Just curious as to your thoughts on this.

    Thanks! :)

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    • Well — there are no studies done on spanking while it is happening, no. But there are lots of studies done on what happened to people who were spanked, through self-reports from kids. Many, many teens and adults report having been spanked in anger, for “every little thing,” with objects, etc. A lot of studies have measured the effects of this after the fact. So while can’t get people to honestly admit to what they do, as parents, we hear the kids talking a lot. So it’s really hard to say…where do we draw the line? How do we say it’s okay when we really don’t know if someone’s doing it “right” or “wrong?”

      Not to mention that every kid’s going to react differently. One of my kids has the ability to be calm in the center of a storm. When I’m stressed and yelling at everyone and losing my mind, this kid is like “Mom, seriously, it’s okay. Let me help you out, and we’ll get through this.” The kid’s been like this since barely 3 years old. But, another kid explodes in tears of fury and curls up in a ball on the floor and screams, completely unable to handle the exact same situation. It’s so hard to say, as a general recommendation, what is really good or bad.

      That just means that some could deal with even a “wrong” spanking and it would roll off them, but others would be extremely distressed even by a “right” spanking. It’s hard.

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      • I appreciate your response and I hope you know I’m not trying to argue, just to speak to a different perspective! My husband and I were both spanked as kids and both of us grew up feeling so very loved by our parents and we knew that our parents didn’t spank us in anger. We both experienced spanking as a positive form of discipline and we plan on using spanking, as necessary, with our own children.
        We can’t know if everyone is doing it “right” or “wrong” but I do believe it *can* be done in love and be an effective means of discipline. It does depend on the child, of course, as you point out!

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  10. Any ideas for teenagers? Mine aren’t rude, nor do they hit, (ok the two boys often wrestle, and play slug bug) but getting them to do chores is tough. It is especially tough because I work full time, and often not home when I need things done.

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    • I don’t have teens, so don’t take me too seriously. :)

      But, IMO, privileges come with responsibility. If they want to have a day out with friends or borrow the car, then they have to pitch in around the house. You all have responsibilities. I’d sit down with them at the kitchen table and just lay it out: “These things need to get done. I work x – y everyday, so I can’t do these chores that have to be done during the day. I’ll do those chores in the evenings. Now, of these jobs that need done, which do each of you want to do? I really need your help around here, and then we can all have more fun.” Then let them choose what they want to do. I used to *hate* emptying the dishwasher every couple of days, so I traded my mom for feeding the cats and cleaning the litter box every night, and she’d do the dishes. It was more work but I preferred that job. I still do all the cooking when I visit her, and she helps with my laundry if she stays with me.

      I’m guessing if they have control over what they do and you talk to them like adults, that they will be better about it. But they won’t remember all the time, just like we don’t either. You could promise them something fun, like, “Let’s ALL try to stay on top of our chores this week, me too, and if we do it, we’ll reward ourselves with a family trip on Saturday.” Make it obvious that you all feel happier if the boring stuff stays done (and it’s easier if you keep at it instead of letting it pile up) and that you can have more fun together too.

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      • I saw a post of Facebook that was about getting your children to do chores. You make a place for chore assignments and your say that they will get the WiFi password once they finish their chores.

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  11. I think I remember from reading previous posts that you are a Christian…. If so, maybe you can give me your view on the Biblical standpoint of spanking. While I do not think it is wrong to spank when you do it the “right way” as you referenced above (spanking out of anger as well as using your hands is always out of the question), this “positive discipline” sounds attractive to me, and it is how I choose to discipline when spanking would not be appropriate, depending on the child and the situation. I guess the bottom line is that I don’t feel like I can call spanking ineffective or wrong when the Bible speaks so many times about not “sparing the rod.” Thoughts?

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    • We believe “the rod” is figurative. It is so important to teach and train your children, but it is not necessary to spank to do it. There are entire posts dedicated to exploring the use of the word, and it is about much older children (teens) and for specific situations, and refers to a figurative rod. I actually kind of think spanking is irrelevant. Whether or not a child turns out “well” is dependent more on if they feel close to their parents, if their parents are consistent in training, if they have clear rules, etc. If they are spanked or not doesn’t seem to be that important — from what I’ve seen, anyway. I know people who were spanked who HATE their parents. I know people who were spanked who have a great relationship with them. I know people in both categories who weren’t spanked. It’s really the teaching/training that goes on at all other times that is so important.

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  12. Just a reminder here, Moms…we live for an audience of one. No matter how we parent, God is the only one we should aim to please. Asking the Lord to guide and direct us as we raise our children is the best way to parent because these children that we have are his children. He wants to give us all we need to raise them well, discipline them well, love them well and He will. Ask Him for wisdom and He will direct you.

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  13. Thank you! I’d be interested in examples of how you direct them to choose healthy foods. For instance if you are out and there is a table full of sweets, or what they make for their own breakfasts, etc…

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    • Hi Natali,

      We talk a lot about healthy food choices all the time. When we are at the grocery store, we sometimes read labels on products, and I ask them if it sounds healthy or not. We talk about how unhealthy food, especially too much of it, can make you sick. We sometimes point to times when we ate some things we shouldn’t have and how that made us feel. I involve them in cooking and learning to make their own healthy options, and I keep lots of healthy options around. We make sure that sometimes, we make healthy treats at home, so it’s not like they only see treats in situations like this. Then, if we’re faced with several options, we might say “Of these 10 options, you may choose x, y, or z” (whichever ones we are okay with them having). It’s hard, and sometimes my 5-year-old says “When I’m a grown up I’m going to eat junk and buy junk for my kids” and I just say “Okay, when you’re a grown up, you go ahead.” Most of the time she ‘gets it’ but hey…don’t we sometimes just want the junk too? :)

      So bottom line, I give them a few choices from the options I consider okay, and I don’t keep anything around the house normally that I would hate for them to eat (and if we did, like if my husband wanted something that I wouldn’t give them, we’d hide it).

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      • At home, if their only options are healthy choices, that’s what they’ll eat, and it’s super important for parents to model healthy eating. We rarely have snacky stuff other than pretzels or tortilla chips around our house and almost never buy sugary cereals. If they don’t have the option of eating junk, they won’t eat junk. That and we talk about why we make those choices. This results in a few things: 1. They learn about making healthy choices. 2. When we’re out, if there are sweets or whatever, it’s a special treat. Then there’s usually a meltdown. Then we make sure they understand the connection that they’re having a meltdown because they ate crap.

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  14. For the most part this sounds similar to our home, but if I need to send a seriously strong message they still get a swat on the tail. Spankings are reserved for the absolute non-negotiables (think running into the street). In those very rare instances we talk about the offense and I explain that in order to send a strong message a spanking is necessary. For most of my children, I can count on one hand the number of times I have spanked them.

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  15. At first, when I read the title, I didn’t see what was wrong with time-outs. But as I read your examples, I realized that I haven’t put my 3 year old on a time out for months now because it never comes to that. Through redirection, calmly talking to him, etc. he is very well behaved. Thanks for the examples!

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  16. I loved reading this, this is exactly the direction we are headed in, in our home. Thank you for posting. My heart is heavy when I go to sleep at night feeling as though I have let my children down. I have made a LOT of mistakes as a parent, and I wish I could take them back (spanking, yelling, etc.) But, had it not been for those mistakes, I would not have known to do better.

    And I must say, I had to do a double take…your daughter’s handwriting is superb! A lot neater than mine, even! LOL

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    • LOL…she is tracing here. :) While her handwriting is pretty good for her age, it isn’t that nice!

      Reply

  17. Children should always apologize whether they want to or not or they will learn they don’t have to or say they don’t feel like it to get out of doing it. it’s SO IMPORTANT they apologize when necessary, no exceptions. I was taught that and to this day always apologize when it’s needed. if nothing else it mkes the other person feel better. If I waited till I was “ready” to apologize it could be too late. I have never observed discipline working like you suy it does at your house. It’s always wild brats that screech in stores, etc. if they aren’t spanked or put in time out. I applaud folks who spank when they have kids having temper tantrums. so nice to see someone caring about others, like in stores, etc. Those who do nothing to screeching kids in stores make me want to scream. Sometime before I die I would like to observe this in work. Good luck. it only gets harder as they get older.

    Reply

    • I don’t believe in making them apologize because I believe that an apology has to be meaningful. I would personally feel worse if someone said “sorry” to me insincerely! I don’t want the words, I want someone who actually cares. I can’t MAKE them care or feel sorry, so I don’t make them apologize. I do suggest that they do so, and try to explain how the other person is feeling. Often they do choose to apologize anyway, and many times they do it even if I didn’t tell them to. And they MEAN it. That is important to me. I remember as a kid being told I had to say sorry to my brother, and sitting there feeling so angry at both him and my mother, then finally spitting out “SORRY” with a nasty tone of voice. Somehow that satisfied my mom. That makes no sense to me, because, again, I’d personally feel worse if someone talked that way to me!

      As far as “wild brats screaming in stores” I can assure you that mine do not do that. I have never had a single negative comment on their behavior. I have had compliments. And my third child, who has never been spanked, has *never* thrown a public tantrum. There would be consequences if he did, like going home immediately and not being allowed to shop with me the next time. I don’t have to spank him to get the point across. It may not work for everyone, but it certainly works for us.

      Reply

  18. Honestly this all sounds great! But what if you do all this, which I do, and they still refuse to do it??? My son is string-willed like his momma to say the least! I have felt it best to spank him calmly and explain to him I didn’t want to spank him as much as he didn’t want to be spanked but I love him and his actions were sinful and God corrects and disciplines us for our sin. He needs to fully understand that it’s NEVER ok to act that way! He has no other siblings to follow as he’s 5 and 6 years older than his sisters. I try to give him grade and calmly correct him in most situations but I cannot and will not put up with behavior that God calls sinful. I definately don’t believe it is wrong to spank out of love, in fact we need to if the children aren’t grasping what is sinful behavior, such as lying, complaining and whining constantly, blatant disobedience bc he/she wants to do what they want to do! Etc…ps. If I feel that I am angry and just want to hit him bc of his behavior, then I know that’s my anger talking and the consequences in that situation won’t be effective! Really God gives us the wisdom to effectively discipline each child in each situation, God knows our children’s hearts. So I don’t believe it’s right to say spanking is wrong, it’s not but HOW it’s done is so much more important. Ps. My son does not spank bc he does either.

    Reply

    • Strong-willed kids are hard. And you have to ask yourself which battles you want to fight. My oldest is VERY strong-willed. I try not to say no unless I have to and I try not to engage her in silly battles (like whether bread is called a “bun” or a “bundle” — who cares?). I’ve had to constantly ask myself if I’m meeting her needs and if I need to approach her in a new way. There are NO perfect answers and it’s not easy. If only there were a parenting manual! :)

      Reply

  19. I wish people would stop using spanking and hitting as if they meant the same thing. Spanking is proper and biblical discipline. It is absolutely never, ever done in anger. If one is not calm, one should not spank. Hitting on the other hand, is not ok. Hitting is what one does when angry. Hitting is taking out frustration. I do not spank to take out frustration. I spank to train and discipline.

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  20. I don’t really see much discipline here. Redirection is great when it comes to smaller children and young toddlers. But when you have an older toddler that is starting to test boundaries it’s different. I spank, when I need to. I never spank out of anger because my mom spanked me in anger as a child.
    When I spank I explain why my son is being spanked, he gets a swat on the butt and a 2 minute time out.
    Then he gets hugs and kisses because he always waits out his two minutes quietly.
    If he doesn’t he gets a hug and has to sit another 2 minutes.
    I see so many parents who just yell at their kids not to do something but never get up to do anything.
    I guess as long as your children are well behaved your form of discipline is working just fine for you.

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    • You don’t see much “punishment” here. There’s a whole lot of “discipline.” Discipline means to teach and train, which we absolutely do. Punishment means to inflict negative consequences, like spanking, which we often don’t do (we’ve used and occasionally still use time outs). There is such a big difference between those two.

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  21. My parents spanked my brother and me when we were small for major infractions, but not for every thing. We were not spanked repeatedly at a time (one “crime” = one spanking) and we were not spanked after we were old enough to attend school. Most of our spankings came from blatant disrespect or situations where safety was compromised.

    I don’t know what my husband and I will choose to do should we have children, but being spanked as a child does not seem to have been a major problem for either my brother or myself.

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    • I think lots of people have been spanked and have no problems. Others have been spanked (probably the “wrong” way, frequently or very hard) and do have problems. It’s up to each person to decide what they believe about raising children and what is going to work best for them. Sometimes we choose to follow our parents’ example, and sometimes we choose not to.

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  22. I’m struck at the difference between what I would consider “discipline” and what you would. Anyway that aside, I thank you for your honesty and thoughtfulness. I am not particularly interested in behavior modification; I lean more towards driving my kids to Jesus as often as I can. Hopefully, the Lord can get a hold of them in grace and their behavior will change because their heart has changed. Until that happens, we do a lot of “positive discipline” all the time, and there doesn’t seem to be lack of opportunity for either that sort of correction or spankings. We use both regularly, but more importantly, we pray a lot, especially when there is wrongdoing. I do hope that parents in general can come to understand that fine line between “doing what is right for us” and doing what is Godly, and not judging parents with different understandings, convictions, and practices. I love reading how other people train and discipline their kids. Call me crazy; I am fascinated by various parenting philosophies and practices. :)
    Thanks again for the post!

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  23. I thank you for this post! Just what we needed to fine tune what we want to do as our almost 3 year old enters the clever testing phase! I also think it’s important to discuss what to do during the protest to the rules. Lately, our generally balanced boy protests loudly when we simply don’t understand what he is asking for. He is raised bi-lingual (Dutch-English) so he can still be a bit difficult to understand. How to you react to “tantrums” that you know is pure frustration? He doesn’t always like to be treated like a baby anymore.

    I would like to add something quite personal. I was raised in a devout Christian home which took “spare the rod spoil the child” literally. I was never spanked in anger and was told “I love you” every single day. It confused me and I have no memory of trusting my mother. Her punishment csused me pain and mental distress. Often, waiting for her to calm down after the promise of my “well deserved” and god sanctioned spanking made it all the worse. It didn’t help. I pulled away from my mother and never had that close bond she liked to tell people she shared with her terrified daughter. I needed a mom, not a master. There is no difference between spanking and hitting. It is hitting a defenceless child and there is no correct way to do it. This is of course my opinion, but it is an opinion based on experience. I want my home to be a safe haven for my children, not one filled with impossible rules and the promise of pointless pain. If any one tells me my son is so nice and compliant, I will know I’m doing something wrong with my (almost) 3yo! I believe he is a kid only once and it’s my job to teach respect for others and how to be a confident self assured man one day. I truly believe spanking him will only teach him to do what he must to avoid pain, not what to do to make others happy.

    Reply

    • For the tantrums based on understanding, I try to give them a way to make me understand. “Show me. Take my hand and take me to it.” Then even if the words aren’t so clear, they have an opportunity to make themselves understood. My 21-month-old often says “Mommy up! Kitchen! Hand!” and then will pull me in and show me what he wants. It’s easy to talk to them without seeming like they are babies and this really seems to help. At least until I say no, you may not have the blender…lol. He is obsessed!

      As for what you shared about your experience being spanked, there are so many stories like that. For everyone who says “I was spanked, and I’m fine,” there is someone who isn’t. Everyone is so different and you just don’t know how they are experiencing it. I shared in another response that one of my kids is really resilient and is a true rock in a storm of chaos, and probably could “handle” being spanked (although has expressed to us previously “I don’t like being spanked. It makes me angry and I don’t like you”). But I have another kid who is easily stressed and when there is too much chaos, will run and hit or curl in a ball and cry (depends on the situation). That kid could NOT handle it. That kid can barely handle a time out or being yelled at! If I do yell, the kid lays down and sobs “I love you mom!!” It just is hard.

      Everyone is different. And you just never know. My thought is always how I want them to turn out. I want them to love Jesus, I want them to feel empathy for others, I want them to be confident and happy and know how to do right — and do it because it’s right, not because they fear punishment.

      Reply

  24. I so appreciated this post. I definitely disagree with you on spanking (particularly in that there is a right and wrong way to do it), but I loved a lot of the ways you handled situations in this article. It seems to me that these examples mostly deal with childishness rather than outright disobedience. And in those cases it is absolutely best to instruct, train, practice, tell them what TO do, etc. So to that end, I found this post extremely helpful! Will be paying more attention to how to respond to my kiddos in like manner. Thanks!

    Reply

  25. Thank you for some tips about how another mom deals with little one issues. I’m curious how you handle the running away toddler when you are out running errands and NEED to finish them (ie, can’t just leave and go home). My nearly 3 year old is strong willed and very athletic so he runs the chance he can, even if he tells me he won’t moments before entering a store. He screams and fights me to be put into a shopping cart, such as at the grocery store. I can’t avoid food shopping with him most times. How would you go about disciplining such a little one? Right now my tactic is either distraction by snack or joking, or using the stroller so he’s more tightly strapped in. He’s also a hitter, mostly hits me when I have to pick him up from running away! My first child was nothing like this so I’m extra frustrated with this. Thanks!!

    Reply

    • I might try one of those kid-leashes in that circumstance. Gives him the freedom to not be in the cart, but he can’t really get away and into trouble. If it’s for his safety, you might need to. Or, bring snacks or a game along with you and stick him in the cart anyway and give him the snacks or game to keep him occupied. You could also promise him he could pick out a treat at the end of the trip if he stays with you. However — at this age, when they are runners, they just do not think and can get themselves into trouble easily, without meaning to. It’s a rough age. My second was a runner and it was hard from maybe 18 months until 3.5 years. Now at almost 4 he finally doesn’t really do it anymore, unless way overtired. Avoiding shopping when he is hungry or tired if possible is also a good idea so you don’t set him up for a hard time.

      Have you ever spanked him, or has he been around kids who hit? My oldest son did hit, but as it’s been awhile now since I’ve spanked him, he is much more likely to yell “I don’t like that! Leave me alone!” instead of hitting if someone is bugging him. It took time though, and he is older now.

      This, too, shall pass! :)

      Reply

  26. LOVE THIS! We do positive discipline with my strong willed almost 2 year old. But it works! Anyone who thinks ANY way of parenting will spare you from any sort of tantrums/bad moods/etc. is mistaken. NOTHING will work 100% of the time because your child is HUMAN! She/He is feelings & emotions. Our kids are ALLOWED to be in bad moods, they are ALLOWED to feel, they are allowed to have bad days.

    Reply

  27. For those who quote “spare the rod….” In biblical times a “rod” was considered a standard, a measurement, like a cord of wood. Something that all understood to be standard. Not a stick to hit with.

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  28. I’m sorry if you thoguth screeching brats was aimed at you. I was not implying that. Just one of the things that make me hate shopping for what I must buy in stores. My kids never had tantrums in stores either. I used to shop with one covered and nursing, 1 in the seat and 1 in the back of the cart or hanging on the side. I didn’t have a choice to come back. that owuld be a 40 mile wasted trip and didn’t have the time or money for that. i only took them if I ahd to, if their dad could watch them I did it alone so much faster of course. well, since it’s hard to determine if someone is really sorry or not, I certainly appreciate their saying they are and accept that they mean it. I didn’t always feel sorry at home but had to say i was sorry and as time went learned to say it without prompting and guess for the most part meant it when I said it. Again sorry as I didn’t mean for you to think I meant your children screeched in the store. it seems they do right most of the time or you don’t have to do time out or spankings so presumed they behaved appropriately.

    Reply

  29. [...] Modern Alternative Mama – 9 Examples of Positive Discipline [...]

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  30. I love the heart of positive discipline and think it is much clearer way to draw children’s hearts to God. Just my two cents on spanking- if we have to instruct people on how far is to far, how much is to much before a child is injured it really just doesn’t seem like a good method of discipline. For those of you wondering how in the world you can parent biblicaly without spanking I encourage you to read Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson

    Reply

  31. Thank you!!! I pinned this yesterday, and needed it tonight! We just had an aweful bedtime, the kids were crazy, I spanked, cried, prayed and cuddled and 2.5 hrs later they were all sleeping – boys 4, 2, and baby. The bigger boys share a room – the two yr old has been in a toddler bed for 2 months, and I cannot get them to settle! We have the same routine every night, they are exhausted but get a second wind and totally disregard my wishes. I am at a loss – I hate that i am spanking – I was never spanked as a child – but I am beyond tired still because of their ages and having a baby, and of course they won’t accept help from their amazing dad at bedtime, they want mama. . I am just at my worst by this time of night….have you experienced this or have any advice for helping our bedtime become more positive and peaceful? Thanks for your wisdom and judgement-free dialogue :) trying but missing….

    Reply

    • Our bedtime routine basically looks like this:

      Around 8, we send the oldest two kids to go potty, and help everyone into PJs. We go from room to room, making sure everyone has water, everyone has hugged everyone else, and sometimes read a story. I go in and say good night to each alone and then Daddy goes in to do a final “tuck” and say good night, and then they are down. It helps that we are both involved. They do not like going to bed without me (although they will if I am really unavailable), but having both of us helps to cut down on shenanigans, plus we both get to say good night.

      You might be missing the “opportunity” if they are getting a second wind as you are putting them to bed — perhaps try starting your bedtime routine 30 minutes earlier. Sit in their room, turn on just one low light (use room-darkening curtains at this time of year if you need to) and read a story. Require them to be in their beds to get the story; if they will not stay in, don’t read it. You can try different things, like an extra story if they don’t need any reminders to stay quiet in their beds, or they can take turns picking that night’s story.

      After the story, tuck them in, and leave. If they get up or get loud, walk them back to bed quietly and firmly over and over and say “It is bed time and you need to stay in your bed now.” If you want, you can try, some nights, offering a simple but fun activity in the morning, like walking to a nearby playground. BUT if they don’t stay in their beds, ‘We will be too tired in the morning and we won’t be able to go.’ It is going to take a couple weeks of being consistent with the new rules and routine for them to actually be calm with it, the transition is often hard. Pray hard! :)

      Plan for something nice for yourself after bedtime, too, so you have something to look forward to and something keeping you feeling more positive. A bath, a favorite book or TV show, a cup of tea, whatever it is that you enjoy.

      I hope this helps!

      Reply

  32. [...] “9 Examples of Positive Discipline,” from Modern Alternative Mama. [...]

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  33. Thank you for posting this! I am struggling with this right now. I don’t want to spank anymore but I really do feel like I don’t know what else to do. This is very helpful and I would like to read more on the subject. Any suggestions for resources?

    Reply

    • Hand in Hand Parenting, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Grace-Based Parenting, Aha Parenting…there are more but those will get you started! (Some are books, some are websites, if you google them you will find them.)

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  34. Great ideas! I have always thought spanking was the easy way out of a difficult situation. Every child Is different and it takes work to find out what what is best in different situations. You can’t teach a kid not to hit by spanking(hitting) them, that just doesn’t make any sense! I have 6 kids and a home day care and my best advice to parents is don’t reward bad behavior and don’t expect more out of your children then you are willing to do yourself.

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  35. I read, appreciate greatly and re-share (almost) all your posts. I am a new mom at age 36. I was a high school teacher for a decade, but being a single mom is much more challenging and more rewarding. :) My little guy is 9 months old. I will be working super diligently to be the kind of positive parent described above. He deserves that, and I agree with everything you said. I just hope my mom is wrong, and he is not as stubborn as I am nor that he gives me three times the grief I gave her. –Olivia

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  36. I have trouble getting my son to listen, follow the rules of the house, not to throw toys, not to hit etc but every time I try to get onto his level and talk to him he laughs and thinks everything I say is funny I need help

    Reply

    • I wonder why he laughs? Is it a game to him…or does he feel disconnected with you? What do you do when he throws? Does the toy get taken and put up? My boys get very upset when the toy gets put away. Also, how old is he? That makes a big difference too.

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  37. Thank you for this wonderful article. I will definitely be trying out some of your parenting styles.

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  38. I agree with most of what you said. All of it if it worked. But when your child blatantly rebels against a rule, I don’t see how positive redirection or the positive discipline works. And I don’t see what you can do to a 18 months old who keeps undoing his car seat and getting out will benefit from anything else other than a spanking. And when I say spanking for a little one, I mean with a paint stick, and just a little tap so they know that you mean what you say. And just a question, what is your interpretation of these scriptures:
    Proverbs 13:24
    Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
    Proverbs 29:15
    The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
    Proverbs 23:13-14
    Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

    I don’t know how you interpret this, but I don’t think that especially the last verse is talking about verbal instruction. It is the word “She’vet” in hebrew which literally means rod, staff, branch, offshoot, club, sceptre, tribe. So, I don’t think “not spanking” is necessarily wrong, but maybe not effective for every instance. But I also don’t think spanking is right for every situation. But I believe the Bible clearly says it is ok to use it if you have to. And of course, repent if you spank out of anger, and repeatedly spanking in one session. Always talk to them first about it before you do it. And follow it up with talking about the right response they should have had, repentance, and then lots of hugs.
    I also think that if you don’t require children to ask for forgiveness of a child when they hurt someone, and they get in a pattern of not asking for forgiveness, then as adults, they don’t see the necessity of making things right with someone that they have hurt. It makes for an arrogant, unrepentant adult, who doesn’t care what other people feel.
    Proverbs 18:21
    Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
    So this shows me that even speaking words or repentance to someone will bring life to the situation, even if they don’t “feel” it in their spirits, they eventually will, and releasing the anger by way of repentance is a way to do this.

    Just my 2 cents :)

    Reply

    • I left out the very important little word “not” in the second paragraph. That verse is “not” talking about verbal instruction. But literally talking about the actual rod.

      Reply

  39. Thank you so much for this. My husband and I are working on this too. My parenting has changed across my four kids, but so have so many of the circumstances of our lives – me working, not working, going to school, getting done with school, our finances, etc., all affecting my stress level and parenting abilities. I’m becoming more conscious – again – of how to love and care for my kids according to *their* needs now that I’m able to pay more attention to what those are. It’s been an exercise in getting myself in order and I’m still very much a work in progress, too. I appreciate your examples because yes, “Kids sometimes misbehave because they got what you don’t want them to do, but they don’t know what to do instead. (Not unlike parents who are told not to spank but not given alternatives, eh?)” Exactly that.

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  40. These examples are great! I’m going to try these. I’m guilty of spanking & yelling, as is my husband. I’m trying my hardest to change that. We have 3 boys (8, 5 & 14 months). Our oldest is a very trying child, he was diagnosed with ADHD by one psych. We refuse to do meds & I don’t think it’s bad enough where he needs them anyways. When doing something wrong he always says that he “forgot, sometimes he even has a smirk on his face which is very frustrating”. I’m hoping some of your suggestions help!

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  41. These are fantastic examples that I will be using with my children! I’m going to share with my husband. He will greatly appreciate this.

    Reply

  42. I am curious what you do for bedtime! Bedtime is rough with our 3 year old. I hate to say it…but I think we’ve tried everything. My husband often resorts to spanking (this happens a couple times a week). We’ve recently gotten back to our solid routine (it went down the drain with a new baby, but this has been going on before the new baby). Bath, pj’s, put away toys, books, prayers then lights out. One of us will lie down with him until he’s settled. About 1/2 the time he falls asleep quickly. The other half of the time is the issue. He just gets wired. We tell him he can play quietly, then he makes as much noise as possible. Kicking walls, etc. For at least an hour we’re in and out trying to deal with it. Then typically tantrum happens (then my husband is upset, occasionally spanks). Seriously we dread bedtime – it can take 3-4 hours from lights out to sleep. Sorry this is long!

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  43. Alice Miller wrote a book “For your own good” that I would highly recommend to anyone afraid of spoiling a child if sparing a rod. Myself and my brother we spanked and raised in discipline. We were well behaving children, did not dare to disrespect our parents, or other adult, reacted promptly to all requests and did our chores. We also learned to hide and suppress our frustration, anger, resentment …perfect children to an outsider… It did a lot of harm to us, and it will take lifetime to overcome the integrated urge to spank and yell at my own children, another lifetime to learn to express own feelings adequately and to communicate constructively. Spanking only cancelled some emotions, never taught how to handle them. My brother killed himself.

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  44. These are all basically good, logical consequences that I would use. But what about the REAL stuff? Like when you instruct your toddler to do something, and they give you a look of defiance and purposely do the opposite? Do you expect them to come when called? To be quiet when you ask (for good reason, like daddy worked all night and needs to sleep. It is currently -37 c so going outside is not an option). Do you expect them to generally obey? The Bible does say children should be obedient. I read your post on not spanking and am in complete agreement, I am going to stop spanking as well, but not having some sort of back up like timeouts seems a bit scary and extreme.

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  45. I really appreciate this because we currently spank and yell and threaten lol sounds horrible right? and we know it is not the solution so he(husband) asked me to email this to him so he can read it and i have to re read it a few time (perhaps even print it out) that way we practice positive discipline, and we also try to stay biblical but sometimes when your angry to shoe is quick to come off. We know and have been noticing that it doesn’t work and its getting nothing done. Our girls are not bad children and we are quick to keep them in line about being rude and all that. In fact they are incredibly kind and loving and giving. Right now my eldest got a bad habit from someone…. sticking out her tongue at people, that drives me nuts. She is more understanding when I speak to her but my real issue is the baby. My oldest is 4 and the little one is 2. She is just a wild child hahah, I really want to cry sometimes! She eats things that are not food, like chalk, dirt, shoes (chews the rubber),erasers,crayons,money, etc! and right now she is i think exploring cause-and-effect to the max, because she loves to color…the walls. spanking definitely doesn’t work with her, she is one tough little woman. So I really do not know how to deal with her right now. Lots of prayer for me hahah, most of the time I make myself laugh if not ill cry. I literally cannot leave her alone for less than 1 minute because she will be doing something. Any suggestions?

    Reply

  46. […] I first ran across the idea of “positive parenting” when I was pregnant with my third baby.  That was in the spring of 2011.  I wrote a bunch of posts about why we don’t want to spank anymore, moving towards positive discipline, and 9 examples of positive discipline.  […]

    Reply

  47. […] It’s similar to Montessori in that it’s based on logical consequences to misbehavior. This post has some good ideas and advice about how to use it with your kids. It also involves no spanking. Big […]

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