Why we choose to parent without punishments and rewards

I can’t think now how I came to discover parenting without punishment specifically – I think it must have been something I naturally discovered having got really into the neuroscience and psychology of child development during pregnancy, and once you know how that works there’s no going back.

One tricky side effect of that research is it brings to the surface a lot of injustice and adultism and negative experiences from having been a child on the receiving end of punitive treatment at times, and parenting practices that sought to punish or suppress what was considered undesirable behaviour but was either developmentally normal or a child expressing emotion that felt uncomfortable to adults. It’s hard to sit with and forgive sometimes. But when we know better we do better, right?

Until I did this research I suppose I’d have just parented more traditionally because that was what I knew and it’s everywhere in our culture – punishment and behaviourism are embedded in mainstream parenting and school institutions right?! Instinctively though, having a child on the way made me jump right in to understanding their world and needs and thankfully that research brought me to respectful parenting, peaceful parenting, gentle parenting, whatever you want to label it.

What’s really interesting is I found this path through research but my husband was just here by instinct. I’d chat to him about everything I was reading and he’d be like yeah, makes sense… why would you ever want your child to be afraid of you? Not a bone in his body could punish or dominate or seek to exploit our position of power over our daughter and I’m so grateful for a partner who aligns with me so completely on EVERYTHING who do with raising her ❤️

The idea is parenting with respect for the child’s personhood and child rights, respecting their autonomy, parenting in a way that accounts for and supports their physical, mental and emotional development with age appropriate expectations and understanding and, importantly as part of this… Parenting without punishment. (Ideally without praise too but I find this much harder!). There’s a big misconception this means being permissive which it COMPLETELY doesn’t. Holding boundaries is key. Let’s get into it 👇🏽

Others have written far better on parenting without punishment than I ever could so I thought I’d link and refer you out here to some of the people who’ve really done an amazing job in talking about this and putting these ideas further out into the world, although they’re not new by any stretch ❤️ 🌎

I thought I’d include the below quote from Eloise Rickman’s Instagram here to sum it up, and then you can dive into some of my favourites on the subject if it appeals to you.

« EIGHT REASONS I DON’T USE PUNISHMENTS:

I take a positive, whole person view of my daughter rather than a negative, behaviour focused one. I think she’s inherently good and that “problematic” behaviour usually stems from unrealistic expectations from me, or from a deeper feeling or need she needs to work through.

I want my parenting to reflect and communicate the unconditional love I feel for my her. Causing emotional or physical pain won’t do that.

I don’t want to raise her based on a model of parental control; I don’t think it’s my right as an adult to control her & I don’t want our relationship to be based on power inequality & struggle.

I don’t think unquestioning compliance is an attractive quality in people. If you heard an adult described as “always does what they’re told, no questions asked” – what would you think about that person? Yet we demand this from children!

I want her to develop intrinsic motivation rather than learn to act through fear of someone more powerful. I want her to make choices in life based on her needs and what she believes is right, not because she fears retribution.

Punishments make NO sense. If a child is too young to understand reasoning, they’re too young to understand the abstract reasons behind punishments; if they are old enough to understand reasoning, use reasoning. Punishments have more to do with our own frustration & anger than wanting to help our kids learn.

Punishments encourage children to think about the impact their actions have on themselves, not how their actions affect others. The kid who has been punished will feel angry & upset; their thoughts will be about the unfairness of the situation. There’s no space/support for reflection.

I want to future proof our relationship. Sometimes she’ll need help and guidance to get through a hard time. Reinforcing from a young age I’m on her side & love her no matter what opens the door to good communication for years to come.

Beautiful Parenting has a whole module on parenting without punishments: what the evidence says, why it matters & what we can do instead to ensure the whole family gets their needs met. »

So let’s chat about some of my favourite people talking about this way of parenting without punishment.

Eloise Rickman – (quoted above) I love Eloise and came across her via podcast interviews (search her name in Apple Podcasts and listen to them all! There are also two great YouTube interviews here and here) and she’s great for all things peaceful and child rights based parenting, as well as eclectic education using a blend of different pédagogies from Montessori to Waldorf to Reggio Emilia… I’m also doing her wonderful course Beautiful Parenting and took a lovely workshop with her Parenting from Joy which I really recommend, but she sums up this idea of punishment free and reward free parenting so well in that Instagram post, and also here in this blog post on parenting without punishment and this one on parenting without praise and reward. I’m obsessed with her whole blog Fridabemighty.com and she’s almost single handedly my responsible for making me question my previous anti home school stance and actually consider home education up to the age of 6/7 but that’s another discussion for another day!

Two Instagram accounts – Our Mama Village and Babies and Brains – I took the Our Mama Village free workshop on punishment free parenting and also her course Parenting Little Kids with Big Feelings which I highly recommend. Her Instagram is a goldmine of gems for free too. Ditto Babies and Brains – her webinar Understanding Attachment was a nice basic way to talk about attachment styles and how to nurture secure attachment and you can find her courses and workshops here including one on Parenting Through Attachment.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith – she’s been around for ages and her books including Toddler Calm, Gentle Discipline, Gentle Eating, How to be a Calm Parent, Gentle Sleep are all great places to start. She has a great blog post on why traditional punishments don’t work and what to do instead here.

Okay this one sounds radical as I’m not a hippy leaning person, I’m not about off grid living, I have no desire to live in a yurt « in community » – but Lucy Aitkenread who is about these things (which is fantastic if that’s your bag its just not mine! I’m not criticising her AT ALL but if like me this kind of lifestyle makes it super hard to relate I just want you to hang on a sec!) has spoken a lot about child rights, the importance of consent and them having power over their bodies, how traditional parenting and schooling practices disrespect this and she has some ideas and critiques which are SO IMPORTANT so I’d urge you to not let the very alternative lifestyle put you off looking at her work because some of it is super helpful and interesting and important. I may not be 100% in agreement with this post and all her ideas but this post on The School Wound is so well written and worth exploring and sitting with – it’s hard not to take away new insight from this and question our norms even if you’re on the more traditional side as my previously staunch pro school anti home Ed self was! Let’s leave the school and education chat for another day though. She also talks more about child rights and consent which you can find if you search her name on Apple Podcasts.

So that’s probably enough punishment chat for the day. It’s tricky sometimes to find a village of people who are questioning the harms of more mainstream methods but aren’t fully hippy alternative living in commune types which really isn’t my cup of tea 🫖 so it’s lovey to chat about this online with other mums and parents who want to sit in the shades of grey between the ghoul that is Gina Ford and the tree hugging hippy shake!

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