Frequently Asked Questions
7th Principle: Practice Positive Discipline
- When my toddler hits another child, takes a toy, or throws things, what should I do?
- I'm afraid my child will be a spoiled brat if I don't spank him. How can I discipline him without spanking?
- My son is two years old and throws things when frustrated. My second baby is due in less than a month, and I'm worried that my son is going to hurt the baby. How can I keep him from hurting the baby while practicing gentle discipline?
- Our son frequently hits other children. We have tried to teach him to use "gentle touches" and to share, but he continues to hit. Should we hit him back?
- My friend practices AP with her child, but he is extremely aggressive with other children. I have tried to empathically discipline this child to no avail. The mother usually tries to help, but only after a child is hurt. How do AP families deal with discipline issues, and how can I gently approach this mother?
- I would like to learn more about positive parenting in discipline. I am a bit overwhelmed. Having a book to refer to would be so divine. I love my kids and want to do the best for them.
Toddlers need to learn limits in a warm, loving way, including that hitting or taking toys is not something that we do. There are many ways to help toddlers learn this without yelling or hitting or being harsh. Gently removing her from the situation and explaining what is appropriate is a first step, if she is old enough to understand. If not, try substitution and distraction. Sharing is something that children learn, and often by our example. For some children, removing the favorite toys before others come over can help. There are many good books on disciplining without yelling or hitting that might help you discover the best way to teach your child.
When your child acts out in these ways, she may be trying to communicate to you that her "emotional tank" is empty or that she is feeling stressed out. In other words, she may be asking for a little more one-on-one attention. Try reducing your activities and spend some time alone reading, playing, or talking. You may be surprised how quickly this fulfills her needs and calms her down.
The real meaning of discipline is to guide and teach by example. Children basically want to please their parents when they feel loved and listened to. When your child misbehaves, parents need to examine the reasons that might have caused the misbehavior. There usually is a reason. It may be stress or major changes at home, hunger, a need for more quality attention, or overstimulation. In some cases, children's misbehavior can be caused by allergic reactions to foods or additives.
Parents can learn to anticipate situations and plan ahead. In order to discipline effectively, it's important to try to avoid overreacting by yelling or hitting. These might frighten the child into obedience in the short term, but will teach nothing in the long term. Parents teach discipline by example with loving guidance, natural and logical consequences, and talking with their child about their expectations. When parents discipline with respect, they elicit respect from their children.
My son is two years old and throws things when frustrated. My second baby is due in less than a month, and I'm worried that my son is going to hurt the baby. How can I keep him from hurting the baby while practicing gentle discipline?
First of all, this kind of behavior is absolutely normal for two-year-old children. Two year olds have little to no ability to handle frustrations. They lack the verbal ability to articulate their feelings, and their little brains are still developing the ability to cope with frustrations. Babies and young children gradually learn to regulate their emotions after the age of three, but, until then, parents have to help them.
In this type of situation, the best defense is a good offense. In other words, you will need to anticipate situations for your son before he becomes frustrated. You can model empathy for him by acknowledging his feelings, stating that you know he is feeling mad or angry, and giving him the words to express his frustrations: "You don't like it when someone takes your toy from you!" or "I can see you feel mad when Mommy doesn't look at you." Try to anticipate and avoid stressful situations for him, and make sure he eats when he is hungry. Toddlers need to eat several times a day; hunger just adds to their frustration. Remember that toddlers are usually easy to distract, so see if he can be interested in something else by enthusiastically redirecting his attention.
When a new baby arrives, it is an excellent opportunity for other caregivers to strengthen their relationship with an older child. Together, explore ways in which they can spend time with your child, either at home or on an adventure away from home. Armed with ideas and strategies, relax and enjoy your new baby.
First, understand that it is completely normal and developmentally appropriate for a two-year-old to hit. Your son isn't old enough to really understand "sharing" and, even though he can talk, he likely doesn't yet have the developmental capability to put his feelings into words.
Of course, this doesn't mean that you let him hit other kids. By remaining close by and engaged in his play, you will often be able to intervene before your son lashes out at another child. In the event that he does hit another child, you can model empathy and issue an apology to set the example for him. You can help your son put his feelings into words and continue to work with him on sharing (or "taking turns," which is sometimes an easier concept to understand). By staying calm and comforting his distress, you help regulate his emotions and model empathetic behavior.
Hitting your son would teach him to fear you rather than trust you and would model that violence is an acceptable way to change someone else's behavior. Hitting will anger and humiliate him, but it won't be effective at teaching him to regulate his emotions or to control his impulses.
It can be very frustrating and even embarrassing when your child hits other children, but by modeling appropriate behavior yourself, other parents will understand and appreciate how you go about it. With your calm help and loving guidance combined with time for his natural cognitive development, your son will eventually learn to share. For now, prevention and compassion are your best tools.
My friend practices AP with her child, but he is extremely aggressive with other children. I have tried to empathically discipline this child to no avail. The mother usually tries to help, but only after a child is hurt. How do AP families deal with discipline issues, and how can I gently approach this mother?
It can be very difficult to watch a child be aggressive towards, or hurt, another child. We appreciate that you have concerns and applaud you for wanting to find solutions that might help this mother on her AP journey.
API encourages parents to take a holistic approach to determine what might be triggering their child's challenging behavior. There are a variety of issues that might be at work with this little boy. Age and development may make it difficult for the child to express himself in a gentle, clear manner. Perhaps sensory issues or stress in his home life may be the cause. Maybe the child is seeking more one-on-one attention from the mother or the second parent works long hours and is unable to spend as much time with him. Often, the arrival of a new sibling will cause a child to become aggressive. There can be many reasons why a child acts out, and API believes that it's our job as parents to identify the unmet needs of the child and help him express his needs and feelings in more positive ways, rather than punish him for the challenging behavior. Sometimes children seek attention and obtain it through any means possible, including bullying other children. Parents need to watch, listen, and speak to their children to determine what might be the root cause of the challenging behavior.
A great tool for communicating with children and adults is called "nonviolent communication" (NVC). It is a tool developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, and there are several books on the subject, including a few specifically related to parenting. Some great things about it are that it is very simple, easy to learn, and can be used in communicating with people of all ages. Sometimes it is difficult to implement because it is so different from our normal way of communication, but just learning the basics can be very beneficial at changing the way we understand and communicate with others. Raising Children Compassionately is a wonderful booklet that teaches NVC techniques that can be used with children.
I would also recommend reading some articles about living with children on the Natural Child Project Web site to see if anything there might be helpful to either you or the mother.
It sounds like you really want to help this child, but if the parent dismisses the aggressive behavior and doesn't work with you to minimize it, then another solution might be finding an alternate play date location. Another idea is to set up the play date so that children and parents are sharing space and their activities are monitored so that the children's needs can be met and aggressive behavior addressed before it results in tears.
For many of us, practicing positive discipline may be the most difficult of the Eight Principles to implement, mainly because of prevalent contemporary parenting practices and the way we were parented. It requires self control from us as parents and for us to examine our habitual ways of communicating and reacting.
"Discipline" means to train or instruct. "Positive discipline" means training or instruction that is respectful, empathic, and loving. In Attachment Parenting, positive discipline means that the training or instruction does not weaken or threaten the attachment between parent and child.
Tools for the practice of positive discipline are many and varied. You might discipline through play, change things up, offer choices, or create a "yes" environment. The particular techniques, words, or tools you use are not as important as your goal -- to strengthen the attachment between your child and you. The key is to know yourself and your child and be aware enough of your personal dynamics to know what will and will not foster attachment.
Getting support may be essential for positive discipline to become part of your parenting style. Seeking help from your local API support group, online at the API Forums, or from a professional can help you practice discipline more positively. API also offers many tips and tricks for gentle discipline in The Eight Principles of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline.
A few books we recommend:
- The Discipline Book by William and Martha Sears
- Discipline Without Distress by Judy Arnall
- Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté
- Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Cooperation by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish