Want to Stop Punishing Your Kids? Here’s How.

So, you’re on-board with Peaceful Parenting. You try to co-regulate with your kids, empathize, and collaborate with them toward solutions that are mutually beneficial. You’ve been cognizant of your attitude and you’ve been working toward remaining calm most of the time. But, then something happens and you snap. You yell or you spank or you threaten or otherwise forcibly control your child, even though this isn’t who you want to be.

I hope you’re not looking at me thinking that I’ve got it together. That I must never yell or spank or act out in a non-peaceful way. Nope. I’m working toward being a Peaceful Parent just like you are and stumbling all over myself along the way. Let me tell you a story.

This past week, circumstances got the better of me. I thought myself such an accomplished parent one day when I whipped out drawing pads and Crayons for the kids and got to work cleaning up. I even left the kids alone at the kitchen table for a while to draw while I cleaned other areas of the house. Soon enough, I heard Crayons hitting the floor. I returned to the dining room to see my son snapping Crayons in half and shoving them into his mouth to chew and spit on the floor. The anger welled in my chest. I kept it together and asked him to go ahead and sit down so he could keep drawing while I cleaned up the chewed pieces of waxy mess. Instead, he went tearing around the house, a bouquet of Crayons in his hand poised to be cleaved in twain. It was too much and… I started hollering. “SIT DOWN.” “DON’T BREAK ANYMORE CRAYONS!” “LET ME WORK.” “STAHHHHHP!” My reaction only served to fuel the flames and the situation quickly escalated.

I angrily swept and tossed the Crayons (which could have been used again even in their broken state), I ignored my son as he continued to dysregulate, and then, in a moment of fury, I started toward him to snatch away a toy he had in his hand so I could throw it away in front of him in a cruel and punitive move. But, before I got to him, I stopped. I stopped dead in my tracks as my own words echoed back at me. Would you devastate your child for a $1.50 box of crayons? Would you provoke tears for pocket change? And, there it is. Right there. The first step toward ending our reign of punishment. It’s a decision in the heat of the moment. A choice we’ve already committed to.

Punishment Rejection Action Steps

1. Start With a Choice. You have to decide before you ever get angry what your limits are. Yelling is my vice. It’s deeply ingrained from my childhood and it is the language of my hot temper. But, yelling is a punitive act. We use our adult voices to suppress and control our children, leaving them with unseen scars. It may not be as clearly punitive as time out or spanking, but it is undesirable as a tool in our Peaceful Parenting kit. What’s your go to? What punishment do you turn to when you feel you can’t bear anymore? Make a commitment right now to stop. Draw the line in your mind and say, “I will not fall back on this action.” Even if you do it again, reinforce your belief that your actions are unacceptable and then try again the next time.

2. Engage in Prevention. As you may know if you’ve been following my posts, I am a big advocate of the Three Rs: Regulate, Relate, Reason. When my children begin to dysregulate, I intervene then. I try not to wait for the situation to escalate. Most of the time, prevention also helps me avoid dysregulating myself. It gives me a chance to get a grip on my emotions and fully invest in the moment when my kids need me most.

3. Have a Game Plan. Decide, in advance, what it is you’re going to do when you’ve gotten to a point where you’re about to blow your top. The Learning Parent SG put together a fantastic series on what she does as she nears her breaking point. She calls her approach, “Reactive Distancing.”

During a calm moment, take some time to put your game plan together. Decide what it is you can commit to doing when your thinking mind begins to struggle.

4. Think Like a Child. Ever notice how small children go from huge emotions to giggling in no time flat? They aren’t weighed down by the self-judgment and mental turmoil that adults experience. A dear friend of mine told me she takes a cue from Daniel Tiger. When she starts to feel dysregulated, she says, “If you feel so mad that you have to roar take a deep breath and count to 4.” As she counts, her jaw and fists start to relax, and she finds she’s more able to breathe. Then, she makes an effort to speak to her children in a neutral way in an effort to de-escalate the situation. Sometimes neutral is the best she can do and sometimes she’s able to nurture. Either way, she and her children both benefit from her efforts. She shared that she’s learned how valuable things like hugs, cuddles, and tickles can be as she works toward co-regulating with her kids. Play is always called for when tensions are high.

5. Do the Hard Work on Yourself. Our reactions are not the fault of our children. They are the result of a lifetime of experiences and the neurotransmitter conditioning our brains have undergone. Many of us could improve our situation by shifting to a more positive outlook to build emotional resilience. “Thinking positively” is absolutely NOT the only answer to resolving our lifelong triggers, but it is one action we can take. We can also find a therapist, exercise regularly, reframe negative situations, and relinquish some control.

6. Never Stop Trying. Every time you choose to be gentle with your children, you are reinforcing to your own psyche that what you’re doing is good and it’s achievable. Even when you mess up, and oh will you mess up, brush yourself off and make a better choice at the next opportunity. Parenting is about relationship. When we push our kids away with our attitudes, we have to focus on reconciling and confirming to them that the issue is us not them. In the backs of our minds, we have to give ourselves grace enough to say, “I will do better next time” and really mean it.

After the blowup with my son, I sat down with him and apologized. I told him that I was having a hard day and I had no right to yell at him. I told him that I loved him and gave him all the cuddles he was craving. As I was holding him, his little body released its tension and he drifted off to sleep. Turns out, that energy burst he’d had was his last ditch effort at alerting me that he was exhausted. I misread it and got angry when the answer was staring me right in the face. I will not absolve myself of the harm I caused him that day, but I will say that I make good choices more often than not and I am actively working on my temper. I yell less than I did a year ago and still less than I did a year before that. Things are improving over time and, before too long, I will consistently react neutrally when members of my family touch a raw nerve. That’s my commitment to them and to myself. What are you willing to commit to today?

No Sew Dress Cincher for Kids

I’m going to let y’all in on a part of my life I haven’t discussed much here yet. We are not rich people. We live pretty simply on a budget and don’t really buy into the “American Dream.” We try to be responsible with our money and generous with people who need help. So, even when it comes to pretty inexpensive stuff, I consider my purchases carefully.

I have some sundresses for my daughter that are loose enough in the bodice to create a problem with the straps falling off, which causes the dress to slip down. I’ve been thinking on a solution and finally came up with something that’s cheap, easy, adjustable, and reusable. While I’m willing to do a little hand sewing, that’s not something I wanted to try to tackle with these dresses. Safety pins are the low tech solution, but I can’t bring myself to essentially hand a safety pin to a little child. That doesn’t seem like a wise choice, knowing my kids. I’ve been looking for a while now to find a better solution, and I came across two possible alternatives that ultimately didn’t work for us. But, I’ll let y’all know about them in case they’re a better fit for you.

#1 Today’s Parent recommends pulling the straps of the dress together in the back and clipping it with barrettes. This is certainly a cheap, easy, adjustable and reusable solution, but I can’t get it to stay on an active toddler. You might find you have better luck with this one.

#2 Sweater Clasps are another option that ticks all the boxes. They’re already designed to hold two pieces of fabric together. However, they are typically metal and the sturdy ones are heavy. I knew my daughter would do her best to remove a sweater clasps as quick as a wink. Plus, there’s spendier than the alternatives and not something I’d want to replace over and over. Still, they’d be a great solution as she gets older, if she finds she has the same issues growing up. They’re a more mature version of the solution I came up with.

Now, my solution is cheap, easy, adjustable, and reusable. It’s also super fast and kid-friendly. I present, the Ribbon Clasp!

Here’s what you need:

Scissors
Lighter or Match
Mitten Clips
Ribbon

I used these mitten clips (under $2 at my local store):

And, this ribbon (under $2 at my local store):

How to Make A Ribbon Clasp

Here’s an example of the type of dress that gives us trouble. The flowy nature of the dress paired with the thin straps means there isn’t much actually holding the dress onto my daughter’s body.

I used 7/8″ ribbon because my clips are 1″. You can find lots of ribbon colors to match various dresses. I went with white as my standard because it works with so many colors.

Step 1: Snip your desired length of ribbon. Make sure to have your lighter handy for the next step!

Step 2: Gently wave the flame under the ends of your ribbon, being careful not to scorch it. The little frayed ends should melt away leaving a nice crisp layer that will resist fraying. The end product should be the same color as your ribbon. (Thanks for the assist, Peaceful Dad!)

Step 3: Place your mitten clips where you want them, either on the dress or on the straps, and put the dress onto your child.

Step 4: Lace the ribbon through and tie it as tightly as you need to ensure a snug fit. (You’ll notice I used a longer piece of ribbon for this look.)

See, I told you it was easy! It’s been very helpful for us here, since it’s lightweight, unobtrusive, comfortable, and easy to fix if needed. I hope this makes your life easier. Love to you and yours.