I’ve seen a lot of discussion about gentle parenting lately that implies it does not work. That hasn’t been my experience. I’m a gentle parent. I’m careful with my children’s consequences. That doesn’t mean they don’t face consequences for their actions. But I don’t see my children’s actions as requiring vengeance or punishment when they make a mistake. Giving a child consequences is about teaching them how to behave. It is about learning that what you do has repercussions.
We use natural consequences when we can. If you make a mess, you clean it up. If you hurt your sister you have to apologize, fetch her an ice pack and set the TV to her favorite show, or read her her favorite book to make it up to her. If you hit your brother with a doll, dolly has to go into time out until she can be good. Those are just some of the situations I have encountered as a parent and how I handled them.
The goal is to have the child do something active to recover from the bad behavior. The key is for the child to do something positive. Being in time-out or having to do a repetitive task, like writing lines, isn’t cleaning up the mess or helping your sibling feel better. And frankly, they are hard to enforce. Restraining a child and making them sit still can be a herculean effort. Redirection and giving your child an opportunity to fix the issue is usually so much easier.
The appropriate reaction depended on the child’s age and maturity. Did they understand what they did was wrong? If not, we need to talk it through. Being punished when you don’t know what you did wrong doesn’t reinforce the lesson. It just leads to confusion.
Sometimes Nature Needs A Little Help
Those things are easy, but what do you do when the consequence isn’t so apparent? We still have consequences and I carefully choose what those consequences will be. Whether we take something away or assign extra chores, there are a lot of ways to give a consequence.
Rule number one is: Don’t make them give up things you want them to do. Even if they love that thing and it will make a point. If you want them to attend scouts, take dance classes, or play soccer, making them stay home from those things is a horrible choice.
When you send the message that you see the things they see as important as optional it diminishes that activity in their eyes. This can lead to your child losing interest in activities and losing out on opportunities. If something is important, it is always important, not just when they are “good.” Honestly, it is even more important for a child who is misbehaving to have as many positive activities in their lives as is reasonable. Positive experiences help them learn to control their actions and work with a group. Taking away their social activities can be far more damaging than grounding them from math. And you wouldn’t ground them from math, would you?
Chores Instead of Grounding
Instead of preventing them from doing the things you want them to do, have them do things that make your life better. This is especially appropriate for times that they have done something that drained your energy or took your time away from other things. Because you had to use your energy to deal with their actions, they now owe you some time.
My philosophy is, if I have to deal with giving you consequences, you need to do something that makes my life better. Clean the toilets. Vacuum the car. Wash the windows. Scrub the bathtub. If your child learns nothing, at least the house is cleaner and they learned how to do those chores!
Will this make my kids hate chores? I don’t know. I hate cleaning the house and I never had to do it as a kid. And I make a point not to frame it as they are being punished and therefore must do this awful thing. Instead, I reinforce the point that I don’t have time or energy to do something that is normally one of my chores as a result of dealing with their misbehavior. Therefore, to make it up to me, they can do one of my chores. It is an action they can take to repair the situation, not an arbitrary punishment.
Consequences That Backfire
As much as possible, I strive to not punish myself when my kids have done something that makes me feel we need a consequence. This means that doing things like taking away all screen time for a week was rare. I treasured the couple of hours I could plant them in front of PBS kids and take a shower or drink my coffee in peace. Yes, taking away the TV or an iPad may be the right thing to do in some cases, but if that is what makes you hold onto your sanity, consider carefully how you will give that consequence.
One way I did it when the kids were little, was to take away screen choices for my older kids and let the youngest choose the show for TV time. My older ones ended up watching preschool shows, with the little one, and I still got my coffee in peace. They felt they had had a consequence without me losing my sanity.
So, if your little angel is having a bad day, I wish you well in figuring out the right way to teach them how to behave so that they grow into thoughtful adults.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.