Instead of Punishment … ???

In How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1999, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich look at discipline as an education process that helps both parents and children to develop internal control, self-direction, and efficiency. To them, saying “I’m sorry” is not good enough. It’s just the first step and must be followed by figuring out what behaviour must be changed.

To constructively lead to significant permanent change in the child’s behaviour, the child must learn to grope toward self-improvement in an autonomous way. Whether young or old, this is one of the keys to real change. One has to internalize the need for change and take control of making it happen.

To encourage a child’s autonomy parents must:

  • let children make choices;
  • show respect for the child’s struggle;
  • avoid asking too many questions to encourage the child to figure it out on their own;
  • avoid rushing to answer questions, again allowing he child to think deeply about it;
  • as the child grows older, encourage the use of sources outside the home; and
  • always be optimistic, especially when progress is slow.

Barbara Coloroso, in Kids are worth it!, Penguin Canada, Toronto, Ontario, 2001, expands the learning process to a more complete and mature concept she calls “Reconciliatory Justice” which includes:

  1. Restitution – fixing both the physical damage and the personal damage,
  2. Resolution – figuring out ways to keep it from happening again, and
  3. Reconciliation – the process of healing with the person you have harmed.

Encouraging autonomy is an important phase in building the character of your child. It’s a very complex mission. There is a myriad of guidelines, principles, and attitudes that come into play. Here’s a “short list” for starters:

  • Let her own her own body and mind.
  • Stay out of the details of her life, unless she brings them up and wants your involvement.
  • Don’t talk about a child in front of him, no matter how young he is.
  • Let a child answer for himself.
  • Show respect for your child’s eventual “readiness”, especially when they aren’t ready physically or emotionally.
  • Watch out for too many “No’s“.
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