My son is an amazing child: he’s considerate, kind, and sensitive. And I knew early on that I would never spank or hit him. But he’s at an age where we need to have an effective, consistent way to correct him and teach him.
I’m here to tell you: attachment parenting does not mean that you let your kids do whatever the hell they want. We have high expectations, we are consistent, and we mean what we say. But how we discipline our kids may look quite different from what you’re used to. And let me say, it works beautifully.
It comes as no surprise that I identify as an attachment parent. Put simply, this means that I work with my child to understand and guide them through life. I take pride in doing lots of research about development and milestones, so that I can respond appropriately to my child and his needs. Being AP is often more time-consuming and more emotionally draining than other options, but I honestly adore how I parent and how it has kept me so close to my child as he grows.
“You cannot control a child. Attachment parents become like gardeners: you can’t control the color of the flower or the time of the year it blooms, but you can pick the weeds and prune the plant so that the flower blooms more beautifully. That’s shaping. Attachment parents become master behavior-shapers.”
-Dr. Sears (found in this article here about being AP)
It took quite a while before I could put this mentality into my own words – how I really felt about discipline. My husband and I both have high expectations on everything from empathy to manners. We remain aware of our son’s tone of voice, and we are quick to help him through tantrums and boo boos alike.
With that being said, I will also admit that I hate the word “punishment.” Particularly when it comes to parenting. As parents, we should be on the same team as our child. It is not us versus our kid. We should not get joy out of punishing our child, taking something away from them or making them cry. Where many parents see a chance to dominate or “win,” I see a learning opportunity… and a window for my child to grow. All the while, he knows that I will be at his side, on his team, encouraging and cheering him on. (There’s a reason that I sign his journal as “your biggest fan.”)
Be on the same team as your child. If you don’t win together, you both lose.
It should be pretty obvious that there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to strike my children in anger. And I’ll never hit them as a way to get them to do what I want, to “break” them into submission. (I say this as someone who was spanked/hit as a child; I don’t resent my parents but I don’t ever want to treat my kids that way. I see it as weakness, a desperate act to get short-term results. And studies are now finding the same thing.)
I’m also not really a fan of “time-out”: I do see the validity in having your child removed from a situation, away from others so that they can decompress and calm down. I also like to bring my child over to the side so that we have a bit of privacy when we talk through something. But just having a kid sit somewhere, not allowing them to play nor participate (and potentially being shamed or given more negative attention) doesn’t really work. Trust me, I’ve taught kindergarten through high school. Singling a kid out in this way is not effective.
I can hear the skeptics now: that’s all well and good, but then how can you get your kid to do what you want?
The fact of the matter is, if it is not an issue of safety, I can’t. And I don’t worry about it. As long as he’s not in danger or hurting himself or someone else (particularly his little sister, which is extremely rare), I take the high road. I know that it will be more time-consuming, but I also much prefer the results.
So then what does a “natural consequence” look like? It takes practice certainly, because the consequence needs to match the intensity and the type of behavior you’re wanting to correct. In plain English, I mean that you need to have a relevant consequence that’s the same severity as what your kid did. Let me give you some examples.
For instance: my 3.5 year old (I’ll call him Kiddo) is jumping around the table as I prepare lunch. He’s not being mean or violent, just a bit crazy. I put his juice on the table – a special treat left over from a party, he doesn’t normally get juice – so I tell him in a calm voice, “Kiddo if you hit the table and knock over your juice, I can’t get you another cup.”
Being crazy = knocking over cup = no juice. Makes perfect logical sense. Natural consequences.
Another example: Kiddo is getting mad at his one year old sister for playing with “his” toys. They’re on the floor so the rule is that they’re fair game (if he doesn’t want to share, he’s supposed to put the toy on the playroom windowseat). He’s snatching toys from her and pushing her around. I call him over to me calmly and explain, “if you continue to push your sister, the consequence of your choice will be that this toy needs to go away for a while. I need to keep her safe.”
Being mean/hitting/not sharing = toys go away to protect sister. Simple cause and effect.
Here’s how I talk to my child: we use the terms “choice” and “consequence” to put the power in the hands of my kid, instead of him having no say in the matter. Thus, whatever effect happens is because of his action. He knew what would happen, and he did it anyway. So to reference my example above, I would specifically say “If you make the choice to jump by the table, the consequence will be that your juice spills and you don’t get any more.” This gives my child the reins, and control over what will happen.
How would hitting my kid be effective (or even relevant) in these situations? If he’s mad, would isolating him and forcing him to sit for “x” many minutes calm him and help him think clearly, or would it make him more angry and resentful?
The big thing to remember when using natural consequences is that
you’re preparing your child to be emotionally intelligent, respectful,
and kind as they grow up.
It’s not looking for a “quick fix” to an unwanted behavior, nor is it thinking short-term without considering the long-term effects on your child. Hitting your kid may get them to stop doing something right now, but at what price?
And the best part about utilizing natural consequences? It’s free, and you can start immediately.
All you need to do is think about what would naturally, logically happen if your child continues this unwanted behavior. The key is to make as simple a connection as possible. Remember my example above? If he knocks over his juice, he doesn’t get any more. That makes perfect sense. (Sitting him in a corner, taking away a toy, or striking him is not only not as effective, but it has nothing to do with spilled juice either.)
Think about how you’d assign a natural consequence to the following:
A. your kid won’t put on their shoes;
B. your child doesn’t want dinner;
C. your child starts whining and making a fuss in the store.
Here’s what I would try to do in these scenarios (while trying to be calm, and think about what I can teach my child in this moment):
A. “If you choose to not put on your shoes, the consequence will be that we won’t be able to go to the park.” (This means that you have to not go wherever you were going, if your kid doesn’t put on their shoes! So make sure you’re ok with staying home before you say that. Never tell your child anything that you won’t follow through with.)
B. “If you choose to not eat this dinner, the consequence will be that you can’t eat anything later if you get hungry.” (We offer the same dinner later if they want to eat it before bed, but nothing else.)
C. “If you choose to not be calm and quiet, the consequence will be that we leave.” (This is difficult since it means a world of inconveneince for you – depending on your own situation, you could take away something but just try to keep it as related to the behavior as possible.)
Remember that natural consequences require you to be in the moment with your
child, aware of what they’re going through, as well as thinking of how this moment
will affect them later in life.
It’s all about the greater good, and raising a kind and respectful person.
Let me know your thoughts on this. Is the concept of “natural consequences” something that you do at home (or would like to do)? How does it look in your home?