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Wendy Thomas Russell
Wendy Thomas Russell
It’s been almost six years since my husband and I went cold-turkey on punishments.
One day we were trying to steer our daughter’s behavior by imposing timeouts and taking toys away and limiting TV time whenever she went astray. And the next, we weren’t.
READ MORE: Why you should never use timeouts on your kids
Did she start running roughshod over our house, our feelings and our rules? She did not. Did we discipline her? Absolutely. But our tool of choice was our words — and still is. Today, when problems arise, we talk things through. We have family meetings. We negotiate (a lot) and compromise (a lot). Sometimes we argue. Sometimes she wins.
It’s not always smooth-sailing. My husband and I make lots of mistakes, and I have endless empathy for other parents trying their hardest to raise their kids right. It isn’t easy for any of us. On the best of days, it isn’t easy. But I can report to you that while my daughter has all the markers of a 10-year-old (for better or worse!), she also has more self-esteem than I know what to do with. She is resilient, well-adjusted, kind, compassionate and happy. And she is the most honest person I’ve ever met.
On Thursday, I joined a growing chorus of voices calling for parents to stop punishing their children — particularly through the employment of timeouts. Today I’m going to tell you what to do instead.
First, let me reiterate that punishment is not the same as discipline.
Discipline is setting limits and teaching those limits to your child. For example:
Punishment is enforcing discipline by inflicting physical or emotional pain — often by withholding or seizing something of value.
Disciplining our kids is the rent we pay for the privilege of being loved by a child; it’s vital. The trick is to stay in the realm of empathetic discipline without crossing over into the land of painful punishment. Here are just 12 of many, many ways to manage discipline without punishment.
One of the best things about freeing my daughter from punishment is that it provides endless opportunities to teach her skills she’ll need as adult. She is learning to talk through problems, listen to others’ points of view, speak out against injustice, negotiate for what she wants and find solutions. She is learning that her worth as a person is not dependent on whether she makes mistakes and that it’s okay to show emotion. Best of all, she is learning that her parents love her unconditionally and will never turn their backs on her — even when she’s at her worst.
Especially when she’s at her worst.
Wendy Thomas Russell is an award-winning journalist and co-author of the "ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths That Will Change the Way You Raise Your Kids." She lives in Long Beach, California, with her husband and daughter.
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