Saturday, January 29, 2011

Punishment and Consequences

Punishment or Consequence?
Natural Consequences or  Logical Consequences?

Punishment:  suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution  (

 Punishment is something you do to your children.  I can't say "we do to our children" since I do not punish my children.  I have been involved in several discussions lately where parents have implied, or stated out right, that you cannot raise children without punishment because they won't be ready for life as adults.  They think That's just the way life is so they are doing their job and preparing their children for the harsh realities of life.

Consequence:  something produced by a cause or necessarily following from a set of conditions (

Consequences happen as the result of cause and effect. If you jump up and down long enough you will get tired. If you take a bath you are going to get wet.

The term "Logical consequences" has come to mean a consequence that is determined by a parent to be the logical punishment for a child's behavior or action. Some parents and parenting experts think that it is logical to create consequences in addition to the natural consequences. Any consequence that you dole out, influence, or create as a parent is actually a punishment.

Natural consequences on the other hand happen without any effort on the part of the parent. Natural consequences are those things that happen naturally. Life is hard enough, you don't have to make these up. However, some parents feel the need to enhance natural consequences by not stepping in to support their child and some parents feel the need to use natural consequences as a "teachable moment" by pointing out the consequence and shaming the child in the process.

Yes, there are natural consequences in life for adults and yes, there are natural consequences for kids, too.  However, as adults with more life experience I think that we can often soften the natural consequences for our children, as opposed to making them more harsh with "logical consequences." Children do not have the life experience and maturity to always understand what the consequences of a behavior or choice will be. If we know that our child splashes in puddles we can plan ahead and bring along a change of clothes where ever we go.  How much kinder than looking at our soggy child and saying,"You'll just have to be wet and cold, there's nothing I can do about it." Yes, there is something you can do about it, you can show your child the kindness of having extra clothes at the ready.

For those of you who think that parents must punish children or they won't grow up prepared for the realities of life and for those of you who think that we must make sure our children suffer the consequences of their choices and behaviors, I ask you, what is wrong with treating our children how we would like to be treated?   If your husband was getting ready to go to work and he couldn't find the tie that matched his shirt would you tell him that was the consequence of his not hanging it back up, and continue drinking your cup of coffee while he searched on in frustration? If you headed for the door only to find that your keys weren't in their usual place would you expect your children to tell you that was the consequence of not putting them were they belong as they continue to playing their game?

We all forget things, we all lose things, we all make mistakes. When we do isn't it wonderful when someone goes out of their way to help us out, offer us support or tell us they know what it's like because they had the same thing happen once upon a time? We're human, we are imperfect, we don't always get it right. Our children are human and imperfect and they are also new to this world. Why would we expect them to always get it right? They have so much to learn and we have the opportunity to support them in the learning process.

If my child is heading out the door and cannot find the shoes that would match her outfit I am not inclined to say, "You'll have to wear your sneakers, that's what happens when you don't put your shoes by the door." It doesn't matter if my daughter is 2 or 14, I will do everything I can to help her search for her shoes in the amount of time we have before she heads out the door.  Do you think I am making life too easy for my child?  Do you think I am helping her avoid the consequences of her behavior? Here's what I think: When I help my child find her shoes I am showing her that I care about her. She knows that her shoes aren't by the door, she knows she can't find them, she knows that it means rushing around at the last minute.  And if she's too young to know that, then she's too young to be expected to put her shoes by the door in the first place. For some children keeping track of their shoes is easy, for other children it is a challenge. There is no one age when a child is old enough or should know better. Children will do the best they can. If a child fails to meet your expectations than your expectations are out of line, not the child.

"Being kind to everyone includes being kind to our children, our partners, and ourselves.  Kindness begins at home. When children live in a world of kindness they internalize being kind, they understand that when someone is kind to you it feels warm and fuzzy, and they understand that when you are kind to someone else you both feel blessed. Children who experience kindness and respect in their homes are more likely treat others they meet with kindness and respect."  (from my post Be kind to everyone)

As Dana Ellis said, "Yeah, the whole "natural consequences" thing always annoys the shit out of me. My family doesn't hold ME to that! If someone else is making dinner and I get home after dinner, they don't tell me I can't eat! They ask if I want some warmed up! Or if I can't find my shoes they don't make me wear others--everyone crawls around under the furniture to find them for me! It doesn't make me less likely to lose my shoes, it just makes me more happy I have the family I have! :)"

If you think you have to punish your children, create consequences for their behaviors, or let them suffer the natural consequences without support please reconsider. Punishment does not need to be a part of parenting. Learn about unconditional parenting and living a life with your family built on a foundation of unconditional love, respect, trust and connection. If you don't think you have the time to read books here are some articles to get you started:

"The Case Against Time Out" by Peter Haiman

"Parental Love with Stings Attached" by Alfie Kohn

"Atrocious Advice from the Super Nanny" by Alfie Kohn

From my blog:

"Problem Behaviors"

"Arbitrary parenting"

And pretty much every other blog post :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"I hate you!"

A reader asked how I handle things when siblings are saying (or yelling) "I hate you!" to each other.  Here is my reply:

I've struggled with the "I hate you!" statements made by my children towards each other.  It can be hard not to feel reactive when people you love, and who you hope will love each other, are using the word hate to describe how they feel.  However, that was actually the answer for me, realizing that the word was being used to describe how they were feeling.

If I say "Don't say that!" I am discouraging them from expressing their feelings.  The reality is that they are using such a strong word to express some very strong feelings. When there are strong feeling swirling around it is easy to get sucked into the situation and become emotional or angry. However, I have learned that if I can disconnect from the word they are using and connect with the emotions they are feeling it makes it a lot easier for me to stay calm and compassionate.

It is then easier to say, "You are really feeling angry towards your sister," instead of lashing out at the use of the word hate.  Sometimes validating their strong feelings can help diffuse the situation and lead to each child feeling more heard and understood.  Sometimes we have to step back and make room for the children work it out for themselves, particularly with older children. In that case we can then make time later on to reconnect with each child to provide them with the opportunity to talk with us about what happened and how they felt about it and how they are now feeling.

If we get distracted by the words that our children use it is easy to lose sight of what our children need.  If we start scolding our child for using a particular word we are creating a disconnection.  If we focus on how our children are feeling and what their needs are we are creating connection.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Parenting Without Hate

What can you do to promote world peace?
Go home and love your family.  
~Mother Teresa 

Some parents seem to think that hate is a necessary part of the parent/child relationship. They believe that if they are doing their job there will be times when their children will hate them. They assume that teenagers will be angry and resentful and that there will conflict. When a parent says publicly, in real life or on-line, that their child is mad at them because of some punishment other parents will respond with support. The other parents say that it's normal, that the child will get over it, that the parent needs to stay strong, and that it's important for children to know who's boss.  Some parents think that they have to use punishments that will upset their children and make their children angry.  They think that they have to do this to control problem behaviors.

Definition of HATE: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury (

Is that really what you want for your family?  Do you want your children to hate you? Do you want yelling and screaming and tears? Do you want hostility and aversion to be a part of your relationship with your children?  Do you want your children to fear you?

Do you remember being punished as a child? Did it make you less likely to do something again or less likely to get caught the next time?  Did punishments make you more likely to do something because it was the right thing to do or less likely to do something because you were afraid of punishment? When you were sent to your room did you think about what you had done or did you think about how mad you were at your parents?

Many parents think that by punishing their children they are being "good parents."  Some parents parent this way because it was how they themselves were raised.  Many parents simply do not know that happy, confident, loving, generous, capable children can be raised without parenting that causes conflict in the parent/child relationship. Many parents don't know that the most effective way to have children who are all of those things does not involve punishment, bribes, rewards or other forms of parental manipulation and control.  If you don't believe me I encourage you to read Alfie Kohn's book "Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason."

Parenting does not need to involve hate.  In fact, parenting should not involve hate.  Parenting should be based on unconditional love, respect, compassion, trust and connection. Imagine a family without conflict, without yelling, without punishment, without consequences that are created by parents.  Imagine a home where parents respect the children and the children trust the parents. This is not some fantasy I've created in my mind, this is how families I know are living today. This is how my family lives.

Do you enjoy parenting?  Do your children enjoy spending time with you?  Do your children choose to spend time with you?  Do you choose to spend time with your children? Do you want to have relationships built on trust and mutual respect? Do you want to be able to trust your children?  Do you want your children to trust you?

We can be our children's partners on the journey of life. We can live together joyfully in peace. This is possible when we meet the needs our our children. Meeting our children's needs is The Easy Button of Parenting.

If you are parenting with punishments and find that yelling, tears and even hate have become a regular part of your family it is time to look at what is causing the conflict.  My blog post on Triggers which will help you begin identifying and neutralizing the triggers that are causing conflict.

It is never too late to create a more loving and peaceful relationship with your children.  I know because I made dramatic changes in my parenting when my children were between the ages of 8 and 12.  I am now enjoying the teenage years of my oldest daughter which lead me to write "Hopefully some day you will have a teenager." I'm actually looking forward to when I have three teenagers in the house.

Hate has no place in our house.  If my children are angry with me than I know I need to find out why and figure out what I can do to reconnect.  Notice that the above sentence is all what I need to do, not what my children need to do.  I do not want my children feeling "intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury" because of something I have done.  If they do then I need to examine my behavior and apologize for what I have done. Have you apologized to your children for your behavior lately? Perhaps that's a good place to start as you begin to change your own behavior and learn to parent without hate.

If we have no peace,
it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
~Mother Teresa

Friday, January 21, 2011

That's just how life is...

Most parents will tell you that they are preparing their children for life.  Most people would agree that this is part of the parental job description.  My question is, what kind of life are we preparing them for?

Parents justify all kinds of parenting decisions by saying, "That's just the way life is." When a child has a teacher who is harsh and negative, or one they just don't get along with, a parent will say, "She needs to learn how to deal with people like that because some day she will have to work for a boss who is like this teacher." When a child doesn't like the food that the parent prepared for dinner the parent may say, "This is what's for dinner, you need to learn to eat what you are given. There will be times in life where you don't have a choice about what you eat." When a child is teased by another child the parent may say it is a normal part of childhood and that their child needs to toughen up. When a child tries a new sport or activity, and finds out that they really don't enjoy it, their parent will say that they can't quit. They need to learn how to stick with what they have started. The parent will tell you the child needs to learn how to deal with things they don't enjoy doing because they will have a job in the future they don't like. Parents tell their kids that that is just the way life is.

Parents tell their children that they must do what they are told, be respectful of adults, go to bed at a specific time, go to school, complete their homework and do chores. Parents tell their children how much time they can spend on the computer, who they should be friends with, and what and when to eat.  Parents try to prepare children for life by controlling them, teaching them lessons, and making them do the things that adults have decided are important. Parents do this because they want to be good parents. They do these things because this is how it was done by their parents before them. Parents often say that they do these things to prepare their children for life. They do these things because they want their children to be prepared for how life is.

How often do we as parents stop and ask why life is the way it is? Do we stop and ask ourselves if we want our child to live in a world were life is set up so that people have bosses they don't get along with and jobs they don't enjoy? Do we consider what life would be like if everyone ate food they liked when they were hungry and participated in activities because the activities brought them joy? Have we considered that not only does life not have to be the way it is, but that life is rapidly changing and it isn't how it was 20 years ago and it won't be the same 20 years from now. We really have no idea what life in the future will be like, we have no idea what the world we are preparing our children to live in as adults will be like.

When we prepare our children for life by teaching them lessons based on the "That's just how life is and you need learn to deal with that" philosophy we are helping to perpetuate life like it is. If we teach our children to accept a life with bosses they don't get along with and jobs they don't enjoy, what life are we preparing them for? Is that the life you would wish for your children?

The next time you say to your kids, "That's just how life is..." or something similar, ask yourself if that is true.  Parents tell their children that they have to go to school, that's just how life is.  But that's not true.  My children don't go to school.  Their life isn't like that.

Instead of perpetuating how life is, ask yourself, "What kind of life do I want for my family?"  "What do I want my children to know about how life is?"

I want my children to know what foods they enjoy and when they are hungry. I want my children to know how to recognize if a situation, job, relationship, or activity brings them joy. I want them to know how to remove themselves from situations that are not healthy. I want my children to know how to use the resources around them to learn whatever they want to learn. I want my children to know that there are all different kinds of ways to live life and I will be right here with them as they explore the options. I want my children to know that they do not have to accept someone else's definition of how life is.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I am presently reading "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are" by Brené Brown, which I decided to read after watching the author's Ted Talk  "The Power of Vulnerability.  In the book, Brené Brown talks about how we need to be compassionate and accepting in order to create connection with the people in our lives.  I agree with that.

She went on to say, "...if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior."  (Brown,2010,p.17)  This statement did not ring true for me.  I kept reading as she described a work situation where the boss was frustrated because two of his employees did not listen and would always do things their own way even after he made sure they understood every detail of a project.  Her answer was to hold the employees accountable for not following the project protocol.  She said the boss should tell them that that he was going to write them up or give them an official warning the next time they didn't do things according to protocol.  This was holding them accountable.  She went on to generalize this idea, "We can confront someone about their behavior, or fire someone, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down.  The key is to separate people from their behaviors - to address what they're doing, not who they are." (Brown,2010,p.18.)

And with that, she had completely lost my agreement.   Looking at the work situation I see a boss who says it has to be done one way and employees who consistently do it a different way.  Without knowing anything else about the situation I have to ask "why?" " Why is it so important that they do it a specific way?"  and "Why do they always do it differently even if they understand how they are supposed to be doing it?"  It seems much better for the relationship between the boss and the employees, and for the general work environment, for the boss to find out why the employees are not doing their work according to protocol.  There has to be a reason.  Employees do not willfully do something against protocol without a reason.  Separating the people from the behavior takes away all understanding of why they feel the need for that behavior.

The same is even more true for our children.  Children are their behaviors.  If you say to a child,"You aren't bad, but your behavior is," however nicely you want to phrase that, you are still saying to the child that they aren't good enough.  A child doesn't behave randomly.  There is a reason for every behavior.  As a parent we need to figure out what need our child is trying to get met through the behavior.  When we show compassion for our children we take the time to validate their feelings and experiences.  When we take the time to understand the Why? of a behavior our children feel understood, listened to and loved.  Children use behaviors to get their needs met.  When we as parents focus on stopping behaviors we are only exacerbating the situation, as I explained in my post "Problem Behaviors."

Brené Brown concludes that section of the chapter by saying,"When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated....It is also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment.  If we're going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability." (Brown, 2020,p.19)

Even though she quotes Pema Chödrön in preceding paragraphs regarding compassion, it seems that Brené Brown does not actually understand the Buddhist practice of compassion.  Our compassion does not rely on anything outside of ourselves.  We can bring compassion to every interaction in our lives, even with those people who we feel have mistreated us and those we have feelings of anger towards.  No one needs to change anything before we can practice compassion, they do not need to be held accountable for their behaviors.  The only person we need to hold accountable is our self.  Are we acting with compassion?  Are we doing our best to understand the "Why?" behind someone's behavior?  Similarly, the boundaries we may set are for ourselves.  We may say, "I will not let you hurt me," and we may remove our self from the situation.

I recently found myself at a red light behind a large pickup truck with truly unpleasant political bumper stickers.  I found myself thinking negative thoughts about the driver.  Then I remembered a blog post from Single Dad Laughing which said, "And so, I will ask you now to not hate the bullies. Experience tells me that hating them, or being angry with them, will always make it worse. Instead, put your arm around them. Love them. Tell them that they are valuable. Tell them that you expect great things from them. They will stop the bullying. They will stop, because they will start to love themselves. And people who love themselves don't bully others."  I started thinking about the driver of the truck as someone who could really use a hug.  I felt compassion for someone who felt so angry at the world.  Nothing changed but my perspective.  I chose to feel compassion for the driver.

We do not need to hold people accountable for their behavior in order to live a life of compassion.  We need to hold our selves accountable for our thoughts and behaviors.  We must cultivate a spirit of compassion for everyone around us so that our response to their behaviors is not limited to reacting and trying to make their behaviors stop.

     "True compassion is not just an emotional response
but a firm commitment founded on reason.
Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others 
does not change
even if they behave negatively." 
- The Dalai Lama

I found it interesting that the Dalai Lama's message on compassion speaks specifically to the needs of children, starting at conception and continuing through childhood.  "Then there is the critical period of brain development from the time of birth up to at least the age of three or four, during which time loving physical contact is the single most important factor for the normal growth of the child. If the child is not held, hugged, cuddled, or loved, its development will be impaired and its brain will not mature properly."  This was taken from the middle, visit the Dalai Lama's website to read his message on compassion in its entirely.
Sometimes when we come across a passage in a book that challenges us we find that there is a shift that needs to take place in our lives or in our thinking.  We may feel defensive and realize that this is a signal that we need to look more deeply, with an open mind, into something we believe to be true.  Other times we may realize that while much of what a particular writer or speaker says is in agreement with our own beliefs and philosophies, we take exception to something in particular.  We need to examine the Why? of our own feelings and reactions in order to gain a clearer understanding of the person we want to be and the life we want to live.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The final answer is...

There is no final answer.  If you are looking for a blog that tells you exactly how to live, what to say to your children, what to feed your children, when and how long they should sleep, how they should learn, how many hours a day you should spend together building craft projects to ensure that they will grow up to be happy, healthy, confident, capable adults then you are missing the point.  No one can tell you the final answer.  You need to live knowing that your life will change, your children will change, what works today may not work tomorrow, what your children enjoy today may be irrelevant tomorrow.  I do not know you or your children.  I do not know how you have raised them up to this point and I cannot know all the variables in your life.   I do not know the final answer on any specific topic, even for myself.

What I do know is this:  If your children are happy and feel safe, know that you are there for them no matter what, that nothing they do will make you withdraw your love, that who they are and who they become will not change your love for them, that you are going to do everything you can to make sure their needs are met and that they are more important to you than anything else in the universe, then you should probably keep doing what you are doing.

If you and your children fight or argue frequently, you resent your children and feel the need to vent about them to friends, family and absolute strangers, if your children have "problem behaviors" that leave your frustrated and angry, if you cannot wait for your children to leave the house to go to school, their friends house or to get an apartment of their own, if your family life is full of stress and anxiety, if your children fear you, if your children hide their feelings from you and avoid expressing what they want and need, then you need to consider if this is what you really want for yourself and your children.   I'm hoping that this is not what you want for yourself and your children.  In that case, I encourage you to keep learning and growing and finding new ways to heal the hurts and create connection, trust, and respect in your family relationships.

How do you want to live as a family?  Have you ever written up how you want to live as a family like I did in "How we live at our house."  What kind of relationship do you want with your children now and in the future?  When you think about your life with your children do you feel warm and fuzzy?  Are you comfortable with how you interact with them?  Do you feel good about where you are getting information about parenting and living together as a family?  Is someone telling you to do things that don't feel right to you?  Does it not feel right because it is different from how you were raised, how you believe things have to be, how you believe things should be?  Does it not feel right because it is causing conflict between you and your children, making you feel sad when you implement a proscribed punishment, or causing your child distress?  There are so many people who will tell you that they know how you should parent, they have the magic solution, they can tell you exactly what to do and guarantee you results.  There are no guarantees.  Listen to your heart, listen to your children, seek out new ideas about parenting, but be aware that only you can know what really works for your family.  No one should be giving you a final answer.

Please remember that when I am writing I cannot cover ever possible variable, every allergy, sensitivity, combination of family members, health issue of parents or children, spiritual path, financial situation and educational option.  If I tried to write so that I covered ever possible variable my blog posts would be pages long and my children would not be getting their needs met.

If you feel the need to justify your life, or your parenting, or your relationship with your children after reading one of my blog posts then ask yourself if you are making excuses, feeling defensive because you have doubts about how you are living, or if you actually do have a special situation where what I'm suggesting would not help you and your children live a more connected, trusting, love filled life.

Nothing is more important than my relationship with my children but how we maintain connection, what our relationship looks like, changes, shifts and grows as we grow together.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Bowl Of Hot Cereal

A simple bowl of hot cereal.

I decide to have a bowl of hot cereal on this very cold morning.  ("Have you considered green smoothies?  They are the best way to start your day.") ("Cereal?  Have you thought about a veggie omelet?  It's really important to start your day with protein.")  ("I'm not hungry in the morning, I usually skip breakfast.")

I've burnt the bottom of my smallest sauce pan so I decide to make it in the microwave.  ("A microwave?  Are you kidding me?  Don't you know they change the molecular structure of your food?!? Not to mention the radiation they leak.")  ("Oh, I couldn't live without my microwave!  It makes heating up leftovers so much easier and the kids can make their own hot chocolate.")

I get out my Bob's Red Mill Creamy Wheat Farina ("You eat wheat?!?! Don't you know that eating grains causes inflammation, ruins your digestion and is really bad for you?)  ("Is that wheat whole grain?  You really should only eat whole grains.)  ("That sounds so nice.  I love how content I feel after eating a bowl of hot cereal on a cold day.  It reminds me of when I was a kid and my mom made hot cereal for us in the winter.")

I get out my organic raisins.  ("You are mixing fruit and grains?  Don't you know that you should always eat fruit first thing in the morning and *then* eat your cereal?")  ("Organic is good!  Got to avoid those pesticides.  But where are they from, are they local?")  ("Raisins?  Ick!! Raisins look like bugs in my cereal.  I can't believe you like raisins.")

Once my creamy wheat is cooked to the point of being creamy, I add in some butter.  ("Butter?  Is it organic?  Is it local?")  ("Animal fats are really good for you, since you're a vegetarian it's good that you eat butter.")  ("Butter?  Don't you know that butter leads to high cholesterol?" )  ("Butter?  Why would you add fat to such a great low fat food?")

And then I add a touch of soymilk.  ("Seriously?  You still drink soymilk?  Haven't read the studies?  Soymilk is so bad for you!  Have you considered raw cow milk?")  ("I love soymilk on my cereal.  It makes me so happy to know that I am not supporting the veal industry, and it's good for me, too.")  ("Soymilk?  Have you considered a nut milk?  Or maybe hemp?  That would be so much better for your body.")

Finally, I sprinkle the top with brown sugar.  ("Refined sugar?  You eat grains and refined sugar?!?! Do you want to end up with diabetes?  Don't know know that sugar destroys your immune system.  I seriously thought you were smarter than that!")  ("Have you considered honey?  Honey from local bees would be best.  And make sure it's raw.")  ("Oh yum, I love brown sugar!  I can eat it by the spoonful!")

And I sit down at the computer.  ("You eat at the computer?  Don't you know about mindful eating?")  ("You eat alone at the computer?  Don't you eat together as a family?  Families that eat together all the time have better relationships.")

And I enjoy eating my cereal.

I think about my friends for whom eating a bowl of wheat cereal would result in an immediate and unpleasant response in their bodies.  I think about how thankful I am that I have food to eat, raisins for my cereal and butter in the fridge.  I think about the people who would take my simple bowl of cereal, one meal on one day of my life, and turn it into something tragic, some horrific act against my health, a social cause and reason for political action, an excuse to get up on their soap box and bang on their pans (should those be aluminum free, cast iron, soap stone or stainless steel?)  And then there are those people who would barely give what I'm eating a second thought as they continued on with their own lives.

And I wonder.  Why is what I eat so important to you?  You probably don't even know me.  Why do you care so much about my bowl of hot cereal?  Does my way of eating threaten your way of eating?  Do you think that everyone on the planet should eat exactly like you do?   What button is my bowl of cereal pushing?  If you do know me well you might know that some days I do have green smoothies and some days I have a veggie omelet.  Some days I just eat fruit in the morning and some days I have a nice soothing bowl of creamy wheat farina.

May your pantry be full, your fridge over flowing and I hope you enjoy whatever you eat today.