Model Child: What Happens When You Replace Punishment with Empathy & Skill Building

[Update: I wrote this when my daughter was 3. She's 12 now (2018), and she is still kind, compassionate, and even more emotionally intelligent, responsible, hardworking, and self-regulated (her teacher's words - not mine). She's experienced many consequences in her life, but she's never been punished. I say all this not to brag about my kid - but because our kids don't need punishment to understand right from wrong. They don't need to feel punitive adult-imposed pain to learn. In fact, they learn better when we stick with limits and natural consequences]

Being a conscious parent can be frustrating. Using empathy instead of punishment isn't a magical fix, and there is no simple path to growth. 

We must remain present in the moment while also staying thoughtful, compassionate, and creative to get everyone through the moment.

On the upside, when we do parent consciously, and when we replace punishment with empathy and focus on skill-building, we are rewarded with an undeniable emotional connection with our children. 

This bond strengthens not only our relationship but also their emerging skills - all without force or demanding obedience. 

When I take the time to identify my child's needs, model empathy and compassion for her feelings and resist the urge to give in to her wants out of convenience, I experience a vastly different outcome than when I use force, manipulation, or threats. (I really don't do those things... uh, very often - but let me tell ya, sometimes, I feel the burn).

Clearly, it is not always an easy road.

If you're feeling drained because it takes so much energy to parent with mindful awareness or frustrated because you're worried that you won't get out of the house on time if you're busy validating feelings and needs, here's a little story that made me remember why it's all worth it.

One afternoon, my three-year-old daughter and I were on our way home with some friends from our weekly Music & Movement class. The kids were strapped into their seats singing many decibels too loudly when my daughter's buddy began belting out an original tune titled: "It's time to go to the restaurant!" 

You see, after every music class, we would stop at the same local spot for a bite to eat.  

It was a well-worn routine, and we all know how three-year-olds totally dig their routines. However, today was different, and when he found out that we were "not going to the restaurant," he burst into tears.

 His mom and I looked at each other as if to say, "Oh F*%$! How are we gonna get out of this one?" 

Then, before either one of us had a chance to say a word, my daughter reached out with her hand and in the most loving, but matter-of-fact way said, "You wanted to go to the restaurant... you thought we were going."

She had so much compassion in her voice, but such a dead-pan look on her face, that we didn't know whether to crack up laughing or cry.

Intrigued by her tone, the little boy stopped fussing long enough to tune in and listen to what she had to say. She reiterated, "You really wanted to go to the restaurant!" "Yes, I'm sad!" he whimpered. 

"I know, I know. You're sad!" she said consoling him with a gentle pat on his arm. Then came a fierce wail. She had opened the floodgates for his bottled-up emotion to spill out.

She nodded sympathetically, "You're so SAD! I know... you thought we were going out to eat!"

He nodded in agreement, licking the tears streaming down his face.

"But guess what?" she continued, "We are going to the Papa Nick restaurant where you will have a delicious piece of chicken and pancakes...."

(READ: my dad will give us yummy treats at home) 

Somewhere shortly after, her elaborate menu planning turned into a jumbled mess of nonsensical words (she's three) but she did it with a big finish and a smile which made him forget the last-minute schedule change long enough to giggle along with her. 

Feeling better (and heard), he was able to let go of the "restaurant," and we averted a 5 o'clock meltdown... or my three-year-old did.

She modeled the 5 steps to peaceful conflict resolution as outlined in the TEACH Tool, and his Mama and I didn't have to say a word.

So, the next time somebody complains (or suggests) you're raising a wimp or adding to the "rudest generation in history" or that this non-punitive parenting stuff is crap - just give 'em the finger and tell them to-

Uh, er... no, no, I mean, point to your child, smile, and say, "time will tell."

Thanks so much for reading! And please remember, it's about being conscious - not perfect!

Talk soon,


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