It IS Possible To Discipline Children Effectively Without Shame- A Very Personal Post

August 28, 2011 · 52 comments

in Daily Life, Relationship

One of the things I appreciate about social media is the opportunity to connect with so many wonderful people, and to learn so much from them. One of the ways I connect and learn is through participating in chats on twitter. There are chats on any number of subjects on any given day, and each chat has it’s own purpose and feel. Chats can range from light and informal, to serious and educational. All chats provide a great opportunity to network, and interact with a number of others who have an interest in the same subject matter. #pschat is one  I participate in on a fairly regular basis (as my work with children allows). It is hosted by the lovely Lela Davidson who is the author of Blacklisted From The PTA, and editor of the parenting squad site.

The majority of the women (and a few men) who participate in the chat  are parents, and the topic each week varies, but it usually centers around a  current “hot button issue”  in parenting. The conversation is lively, and the tone is often lighthearted and funny, and I’ve made some lovely connections. Most of all,  I enjoy “listening in” and hearing from parents regarding their honest thoughts on their parenting challenges and joys. As is my wont, I often play devil’s advocate and bring my own unique point of view to the arena.

This week, the topic and the conversation took a  more serious turn than usual, as the discussion centered on a news story that has been making the rounds recently. The story is about Jessica Beagley, more commonly referred to as the “Hot Sauce Mom.”  She lives in Alaska with her children, two of them adopted from Russia. In this segment, which aired on national television, and was filmed by her daughter, Jessica  punishes her seven year old son for misbehaving at school and lying about it, by washing his mouth out with  hot sauce,  and forcing  him to take a cold shower. Jessica is now being investigated for and charged with child abuse.

Needless to say, there were strong reactions and varying opinions on this topic, and the conversation quickly veered toward this general question: “What are effective ways to discipline children?”  Everyone  participating in the conversation seemed to agree that it is necessary to “teach” discipline, but there was disagreement as to the  best approach, with some advocating for the use of “judicious” spanking, others for  time out,  some for consequences such as the removal of  TV and computer privileges, and still others advocating for more gentle and respectful ways of instilling discipline.

It was clear that we weren’t all going to reach an agreement, but to me, that’s fine. What is important, as far as I’m concerned, is that the conversation is taking place. As my friend Suchada says, “The more people talk, the more the word is out there. It’s the only way change will happen.”  One Mom, who is a believer in spanking as a form of teaching discipline, ended up asking those of us who believed discipline was possible without spanking for resources that gave alternative (effective) ways to discipline children. My final comment, which was passed on by many was this: “We’ve GOT to separate “discipline” from physical punishment, and shame. You can accomplish one without the other!”

Lela concluded with a question to me which inspired this post: ” How do you instill authority? Because at some point the kid has to STOP when you say so, instead of running in the street.” There is no answer to Lela’s question that can be given in 140 characters, which is what one is limited to on twitter. It so happens I wrote a series of posts on the topic a few years ago (before anyone knew I even had a blog). So, over the course of this week, I am going to share those posts,  but I am also going to be writing some new ones on the topic, because this chat made me realize that I have more to say about disciplining children, and the story of the “Hot Sauce Mom” made me realize that parents really need (more) support and specific guidance regarding how to accomplish their goal of teaching children to behave in socially acceptable ways, without using physical punishment or shame.

My goal is to support families and teachers of young children to find ways to discipline that are both respectful to the child, and that work! I want to be clear that I’m not coming from a place of judgment, nor am I a (self proclaimed) expert. I believe people love their children, and  do the very best they can as parents (even Hot Sauce Mom) given their own childhood and life experiences. I also believe that there are effective ways to discipline children that don’t involve using  physical punishment, instilling fear, threatening disconnection, shaming, or intimidating them. Not only do I believe this, I know it to be true, based on my (ongoing) education, personal observation, and professional practice and experience.
#99 a child crying
Why am I so passionate about sharing this message, information, and resources for alternatives to physical punishment as a means to discipline? The answer  is borne out of my own experience as a child. I was disciplined in very traditional ways: “Do as I say, not as I do.”  “If you don’t follow the rules, you will be punished.”  I was bribed to be “good” – “You won’t get xyz if you behave like that.” “You’ll get $5.00 for every  ‘A”  on your report card.”  “You won’t get dessert if you don’t eat all your dinner.”  “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”  I was shamed, and told I was a “bad child,”  when I did “wrong,”  and I was hit with a wooden spoon for general “disobedience,”  slapped across the face for being “fresh” and sassing back, and I  had my mouth washed out with soap for saying bad words.

I am forty eight years old, and I still  remember the pain (both emotional and physical) and the outrage I felt when these “punishments” were meted out. I both loved and feared (and sometimes hated) my parents.  The message I received and internalized was this one: “I am inherently bad.”  I learned to be outwardly compliant, and to cover my tracks and lie very well. (In fact, much to my embarrassment, I was voted “Best Alibi Artist”  my senior year of high school.)  I also learned to be dependent on outside evaluation, and  to look outside of myself  to decide how to conduct myself  and how to live my life, as opposed to developing an inner moral compass to use as a guide. As  I shared during the chat, the way my parents chose to discipline me… “may have kept me out of trouble as a kid, but  kept me in therapy for most of my adult life.”  (My brother and sister didn’t fare as well. My sister committed suicide at the age of fifteen. My brother is still alive, but lost to his addiction to alcohol and drugs.)

Please understand that I love my parents, and I know and believe that they love me. I understand they did their very best to raise me (and my sister and brother) in the only way they knew how, and the way they thought would ensure my happiness and success in life. This is not about blaming or bashing anyone- least of all my parents. In fact, I believe I have my parents to thank for leading me to study with Magda Gerber, and to my ultimate passion, which is the work I do to support children and families. I believe my experiences as a child have also helped  to make me a less judgmental, more compassionate person, in general. (I’d just like to see more children get to where I am today, with a little more joy and ease, and a little less shame, and I’d like the same for parents!)

I’d like to end this post with two questions that I hope you will respond to, so that I can make the next posts I write as empowering and helpful to you as possible: 1) What is (or should be) the goal of discipline? 2) What is your biggest challenge, fear, or question when it comes to teaching your child discipline?



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Kathleen (amoment2think) August 28, 2011

Great post Lisa.

I think, for me, the goal of discapline is to support a child to learn how to best function in society. Like it or not we all have rules we need to follow and realizing these rules are to help keep us in the bounds of a safe, productive and (hopefully) kind society is their purpose.

That being said, my biggest challenge is the toddler running into the street while giggling, while I chase her in utter fear of her getting hurt, with her ignoring my frantic calls is my current parenting discipline nightmare. I am at a loss, I have no idea what to do, save hovering around her as she plays so that I am close enough to catch her before she runs onto the street. And I hate hovering! Ideas?

Conny Jensen August 28, 2011

I never had a fear of my kids as toddlers running away from us, although my daughter got temporarily lost in the outdoor area of the German equivalent of a Home Depot where she loved looking at the ponds on display. I panicked and was afraid she might leave the area and wander into the street. But, how you you discipline for that? It was my fault for not keeping her in my view.

Our second born was “leashed” from his wrist with a Mickey Mouse band to my wrist when we were out in public. Later just holding his hand sufficed. My biggest fear was that (after starting school) they might get lured away by a stranger. We came up with a very unusual password so they would knowthat a person could not be trusted unless he or she knew that word. We still remember it to this day, and my kids are 27 and 23 now!

janetlansbury August 29, 2011

Kathleen, I don’t mean to state the obvious, but I believe that she needs (and you need) places she can play that are safe and either fenced in, or don’t have traffic nearby, so that you can both relax. She can’t be expected to control her impulses (and she can’t help but get a big exciting rise out of you when she scampers, so it’s very tempting!). Fear, frantic-ness, anger (and punishments, because of all the negative attention) give our children the urge to do it again. It’s as if they need to keep testing until they are sure that the parent is 100%, most definitely in calm control and not in drama-mode, and that they are therefore safe and protected. Our fearful reaction unnerves them.

When I’m on the sidewalk, in a parking lot or otherwise near traffic, I insist children hold my hand, even if they complain (and, okay, I’m finally letting go with my 9 year old baby now!). That isn’t too much to ask and it isn’t hovering, it’s safety.

I know you didn’t ask about this, but my personal belief is that a child is far safer when we insist on holding hands, than with a leash, because the leash encourages the child to be “out of control”, unaware, inattentive.

Kathleen August 29, 2011

Thanks Janet- I know you are right. I certainly do insist that she hold my hand in parking lots, ect. The specific incident I am referring to happened in the park across the street. She was playing in the park and all of a sudden took off up the hill and across the street. Unfortunately it is not fenced in. Now I know to be on the watch for it- I understand she is acting in an age appropriate way- but I still feel unsure as to how to proceed/react when it does happen. We live and learn and do the best to prevent unsafe situations- but you can control for everything- so how do you react when the unexpected happens?

janetlansbury August 29, 2011

No, of course you can’t control everything, so there are going to be those emergencies and we’re going to lose our cool. I’m sure I would have run frantically, too. I might also tell her that if she does something like that (something she *knows* you don’t want her to do), you’ll be taking her home…and then follow through. That is the kind of thing toddlers often do to signal that they are too tired to function well and need to go home. My son used to suddenly hit and push when he’d had enough but couldn’t communicate that to me verbally. And he’s not an aggressive child at all.

Aunt Annie's Childcare August 30, 2011

You know, I used a harness and ‘leash’ with my son when he was little- 18 months or so- because it was the only safe alternative. I would have far preferred to just hold his hand, but he was so independent that he simply refused from a terrible early age… whereas he was quite happy with the harness.

With both hands free, he could stop and explore without me having to fret about him (for example) running away and falling in the river- I still have a charming photo of us happily bushwalking along the banks, him on the harness and me looking very relaxed. He was NEVER inattentive- quite the opposite- he was so engaged with the world that he didn’t want me to interfere and limit his ability to touch and interact by disabling one hand all the time. So to me, it’s a ‘horses for courses’ call.

Without that freedom for him and lack of anxiety on my part, would he have developed his life-long love of the bush? He even got married in the middle of the bush, on a rock! Maybe I would have not taken him with me when I bushwalked, out of sheer anxiety.

And I’ll come clean and say that we also used baby walkers and jumpers, because that was seriously the ONLY way to survive. He was that sort of baby. He told me what he needed very clearly from an early age… and that was to be able to see the world and engage with it on his own terms.

Conny Jensen August 30, 2011

Janet wrote “a child is far safer when we insist on holding hands, than with a leash, because the leash encourages the child to be “out of control”, unaware, inattentive.”

Not really, at least not in my child’s case. It really allowed him to toddle on his own, but he also was held by the hand when needed. This “leash” was very handy to have in Germany where we lived and from where we also visited my native Holland, as the population density is so much higher than in the U.S. and people walk more than they drive cars. In such situations, where there are a lot of people around, such a leash make’s it impossible to suddenly lose the child as could be the case if just holding hands. Also, it added security on the platforms of railway stations, and yet a lot of people seemed to frown on this helpful tool!

Lisa August 30, 2011


Thank you so much for jumping in here with your thoughts and ideas! You’re making my job easy!

On the topic of leashes for children, I do understand why some parents find them beneficial, and even necessary, but I always cringe when I see a child on a leash, for the same reason I cringe when I see an adult take a child by the wrist instead of by the hand.

I realize this is my bias, but to me it seems disrespectful to the child. I agree with Janet, that the leash may give both the parent and the child a false sense of safety, and a sort of permission to be less in tune with and aware of both the environment, and each other…

You know, I can imagine many people will take exception to this, but I don’t like “water wings” and other flotation devices for babies or young children who haven’t learned to swim, for the same reason. I’m a big believer in “the right experience at the right time” ( as the child shows s/he is developmentally ready and capable). So in the case of swimming, I would advise parents not to expose children to bodies of water over their heads, unless they are in the water with them, and their child is in their arms…

Conny Jensen August 30, 2011

LIsa wrote: “On the topic of leashes for children, I do understand why some parents find them beneficial, and even necessary, but I always cringe when I see a child on a leash, for the same reason I cringe when I see an adult take a child by the wrist instead of by the hand… I realize this is my bias, but to me it seems disrespectful to the child.”

It really depends on the relationship that exists between the parent and the child, and on the manner in which it is used. Certainly, a leash becomes obsolete once the child is old enough to reason with.

Lisa August 30, 2011

Thank you Kathleen!

Like you, Magda (Gerber) defined the goal of discipline as helping children to gain control over their impulses and become cooperative members of their families first, and then, society.

In terms of limit setting, Magda talked about red, yellow, and green light situations.The red light situations are those that revolve around safety, and they aren’t negotiable. For instance, your child must always be buckled into her car seat before you go anywhere in the car. Likewise, if she is running towards the street, you stop her immediately.

Ideally, your daughter’s play environment is safe, so that you can both relax, and she can enjoy free reign, but if this isn’t possible, I’d say your options are somewhat limited: You can choose to continue to visit the park knowing you will need to be extra vigilant to keep her safe. Is it possible to plant yourself somewhere between her and the street, so that if she bolts, you can easily catch her? I’d also talk with her, telling and showing her in a very calm and matter of fact way as you enter the park, “This is where you may play. I don’t want you to run towards the street.The street is where the cars go. We must always be together, and hold hands in the street. If you run towards the street, I will stop you, and we will have to leave, and come back another day.” Then follow through, if need be. If you are firm, calm, kind, and consistent, she will learn to respect the boundary in time.

The other option is to avoid this park altogether for awhile, until she is a bit older, and her impulse control is a bit stronger.

As a side note, I believe toddlers love playing the game of chase, not only because it’s fun, but because they are often caught between their need and desire for independence at the same time that they want and need to know that their trusted adults won’t let them go too far, so I’d play chase with her any time she initiated – in a safe environment. I also recommend introducing the story The Run Away Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown at this time.

I hope maybe these ideas might help a bit?

Conny Jensen August 28, 2011

It is our ego, hurt in childhood, that in adulthood lashes out at our own children. We still feel small inside and cannot bear to be one-upped by our kids. That makes us angry, often too angry and may make us do things in the name of discipline that we should regret! Discipline should really be about keeping calm and helping the child learn appropriate behavior; it should not be a power struggle or lead to micromanaging the child.

Most of us as children were not really validated by the adults around us. Our elders didn’t know any better and simply believed that “children should be seen, but not heard”. Therein lies the problem! It can build resentment, cause hurt feelings and a bruised ego. Later, though “grown up”, we cannot accept any inaction or refusal by our own children.

But if parents build a loving and respectful relationship with the child, discipline will hardly be needed. I was spanked only once for refusing to swallow a pill that was needed to make me healthy. Clearly it was out of fear and frustration that my father felt he needed to do that.

I trusted that in raising my own two children I would never spank them, but I did. Both my husband and I lost our cool a time or two, but thankfully no harm or emotional damage was done. It happened because of frustration. The little kid still residing in me was intent on winning, so much so that I chased after my 9 yr-old daughter through the room, up the stairs where she locked herself in the bathroom and I threw an object at the door. It was insane,….I was momentarily insane and vowed right then and there to never ever act out like that again and I didn’t. That was the end of “discipline” and the beginning of dialog regarding things I wanted them to do or not do. Of course it sometimes ended up in debate or discussion, but ultimately we all were the wiser for it!

Peter August 29, 2011

Holy crap. You just took a page right out of my book. That little kid in me still hates getting one-upped by his children, And my 4 year old is smug about getting her way, which makes it even more tempting to punish her. There have to be ways of dealing with that inner voice, aside from biting your tongue and counting to 10 or punishing her for her smugness in addition to punishing her for the deed committed.

Lisa Sunbury August 29, 2011


I want to share an article with you from Doctor Laura Markham, of Aha!Parenting, entitled How To Handle Your Anger At Your Child: Dr. Laura gives 16 concrete strategies for coping when you’re feeling out of control due to that “inner voice.” I hope you’ll find it helpful. I have found Dr. Markham’s advice around disciplining children to be invaluable, and I return to her site to read again and again.

Conny Jensen August 30, 2011

That is a great article and website. I will send it to my son, a dad now of a 9 month old son.

In the column it stated: “If you frequently struggle with your anger, seek counseling. There’s no shame in asking for help.” I just want to add here that my husband struggled with anger issues. Now, he’s taking St. Johns Wort every day and it has really lowered his frustration. In the past just the littlest of frustrations could get him to blow up. Now, he has control over it.

This heightened sense of frustration runs in his family; his dad was an unhappy camper all of his life. People would walk on egg shells around him! Because of that he missed out on much as people became reticent around him, fearful of saying something that would anger him. No doubt he would have been helped by St. Johns Wort too, instead he self medicated with alcohol which would make his moods even more volatile.

On alcohol; drinking too much is never a good thing, but especially not when being a parent. There has to be at least one parent sober enough to take action in an emergency!

Conny Jensen August 30, 2011

Hindsight is 20/20 and I am indeed looking back since my kids are adults now, so it may not work what I will suggest, but it might. It is known that it is attention that kids crave and if they do not get it for being well-behaved, they’ll act out which makes it a sure bet they get it 🙂

So, rather than losing your cool, you may simply walk away after telling her that you are disappointed in what she did or did not do and that you will not have anything to say anymore until the situation is changed.

I found that when I wanted my son to do something, clean his room or whatever, he would refuse to do it, but when I would leave him alone, he would ultimately do it. He just did not like obeying on the spot!

Lisa August 30, 2011


Thank you so much for your participation here. I really appreciate you so generously and respectfully sharing your thoughts, experiences, and ideas.

annie August 30, 2011

Yes– you write discipline “should not be a power-struggle or lead to micro-managing the child.” I would call the “micro-managing” a controlling kind of behaviour. When I feel either of those things happening, I realize things are going wrong and I’m not going to be effective either. The power-struggle feels as well like a breach of trust that my children place in me. When I seek a certain result (like less bad table-manners from my not-so-little-anymore son) I have been trying to work it as an aspiration rather than a correction (let’s eat nicely so we can go out to eat). This feels fun not punishing. But it’s all a constant challenge indeed! And very very interesting to watch in oneself when anger (sometimes rage) arises, to better understand our own childhoods and not repeat the mistakes….

Christine@TheAums August 29, 2011

Goodness, Lisa…I had never watched that video of Hot Sauce mom, only read about it and even then it really saddened me deeply and made #pschat hard. My take on discipline is not this first definition I found in the dictionary: The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
It’s more along these lines: Train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way…
My kids see me working hard day in and day out. They see me doing things I don’t love in order to do the things I love. They know I wake up early and go to bed late. The see me planning activities for our family and carrying them out. They see me doing for others and encouraging them to do the same. They see me cooking, cleaning, exercising. Basically, they see that I am self-motivated and self-disciplined. They also see me mess up, argue with my husband, yell at them. They also see me shove hard feelings aside and give them all tight hugs. We talk a lot. A LOT. When we are in the car on our way to an event, I talk about expected and welcomed behavior. I talk about the disappointment I and others may feel if there’s fussiness. I talk about how happy it makes others to see polite manners. I talk about how other kids probably won’t be doing the things I’m asking and that’s between them and their families. At bedtime, we talk about what we loved and didn’t like about our days. I bring up the kind gestures I noticed and discuss the frustrations of the day. We talk about our feelings and how we could handle things differently next time.
We are a normal family, my kids act out and give me a run for my money…but I don’t ever want to shame them or power trip. Anyway, I’m hoping by my example, imperfect as it may be, my children will learn the gift of self-discipline. Hope this makes sense! Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts!

Conny Jensen August 29, 2011

“We are a normal family, my kids act out and give me a run for my money…but I don’t ever want to shame them or power trip.”

Wow, Christine,….no you are not normal. I mean that what you describe and how you deal with life and your children is not the norm at all. If it were, our society would be a lot better!

“Anyway, I’m hoping by my example, imperfect as it may be, my children will learn the gift of self-discipline.”

I’m sure they will grow up to be great and loving and caring and responsible kids! So much hinges on honest communication with kids without punishing and shaming them! Thanks for sharing; it may help others take a different approach to “discipline”. I’m glad you looked up the definition. I do not subscribe to it explained as: “training people to obey rules..”.

Lisa August 30, 2011


Thank you so much for your beautiful comment. It makes perfect sense! What lucky children, to be raised by someone so loving, kind, and wise. You said, “Anyway, I’m hoping by my example, imperfect as it may be, my children will learn the gift of self-discipline.” This is exactly how children learn- through the example and modeling we provide for them, day in and day out. And it’s not about being perfect- it’s about being authentic. I love this: “They also see me mess up, argue with my husband, yell at them.They also see me shove hard feelings aside and give them all tight hugs. We talk a lot. A LOT ” What an amazing example you are for your children.

Sarah August 29, 2011

I think the goal of discipline is to teach the child how to self-modulate his / her emotions and encourage self-control, not to punish, hurt, or shame. I too remember growing up and always thinking that the punishments never fit the crime, so I always was angry about the injustice, felt like I wasn’t worthy of being treated fairly, and still to this day have very negative responses to things like yelling.

Today, my biggest challenge with my toddler is to get him to look me in the eye and listen to gentle discipline techniques. I would appreciate more guidance on age-appropriate techniques. For example, is it “normal” to repeat something to a toddler 200 times or is something not working?

Lisa August 30, 2011


Your question made me smile. You bring up a good point- if we know what behavior is considered “normal” and to be expected at any given age or stage, it can go a long way towards helping us to be patient.

It is considered perfectly normal to have to repeat the same things again and again, day after day, for a long time, before toddlers are able to internalize, remember, and develop the self control (or self regulation) to manage on their own, without reminders or support.

I have lots of practical, concrete techniques to share, but just quickly, some things that might help right now: If you haven’t already, try to develop simple and consistent daily routines. When your child knows what to expect, he can more easily participate and co-operate, because he can anticipate what is coming next.

It can be helpful to understand that toddlers often become so involved in what they are doing, they literally don’t “hear” us, unless we first make sure we have their attention.

Also, toddlers take a bit longer to absorb and process what we’ve said before they respond. This is something called “tarry time” which is the amount of time it takes for someone to process incoming information. Everyone is different, but a general rule of thumb is that toddlers take a little longer than most adults to actually take in and respond to requests.

So, when you want your son’s attention, go to him, get down on his level, and ask for his attention. “I see that you’re very busy building with your legos, but I’d like to tell you something, and I want to make sure you hear/understand. Please stop for a minute and look at me. In a few minutes, it will be time to stop playing, and put your pajamas on for bed, so please start to finish up now.”

Avoid tagging “OK?” on to the end of sentences if your child really has no choice in the matter. As adults, we understand “OK?” in a different way than toddlers do. Toddlers understand language literally, and can become very upset if, for instance, we say, “It’s time to pick up your blocks and get your pajamas on now, OK?” and they say “No,” but we then insist they comply, because as they understand it, we have given them a choice when we say “OK?” and then we are taking the choice away.

When making requests, try not to repeat yourself over and over. If you’ve made eye contact, given transition, and tarry time, and he’s not responding or is resisting, you can try giving a choice: “I
can see/hear you telling me that you don’t want to stop playing, but it is time now. Would you like to walk to your room, or should I carry you?” If he doesn’t choose, you make a choice, and act.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful to you! Let me know?

Sarah August 31, 2011

Thanks, Lisa! I appreciate the tips, especially on tarry time. Overall, my son is really flexible and cooperative, which I attribute to having established routines. When I have trouble getting him to look me in the eye is often when he’s bitten me or his father. And I’m speaking about when he bites for sport / play, not when he’s tired, overstimulated, etc. Traditionally, when he’s bitten us, I simply and neutrally state “no bite” or “I don’t want you to bite” and then move on so I don’t fuel the fire with attention. But over the past few months, this has stopped working. So, I’ve instead started kneeling at his level and tellling him gently that I don’t want him to bite me. It’s at these times that he’s squirmy, looks away, and deliberately avoids eye contact. Any ideas? Or is this the wrong technique? He’s 23 months, by the way.

janetlansbury August 29, 2011

Oh, my gosh, this is so sad… I couldn’t watch it all and I’m in tears.

Thank you, Lisa, for bringing up this hugely important subject. You’ve nailed the answer… If parents believed that they could have well-behaved, well-adjusted, safe, successful and happy children without spanking, torturing (like the parent in the video) and other punishments, would they still choose to do those things? They wouldn’t, would they? We’ve got to keep convincing and proving to parents that these disciplinary practices are not only totally counterproductive and unnecessary, but also harmful to our children and to our relationship with them.

Whatever our background has been, we can heal ourselves through the sensitive, compassionate care we give children. Lisa, I’m so sorry to hear about the tragedies in your family. <3

Bence August 29, 2011

The goal of discipline should be to help guide children to independence, self confidence and a fulfilling emotional, intellectual and healthy life. While most definitions of discipline start with punishment, see Digging deeper one can find the root of the word, from Latin “disciplina”: teaching, learning, and from “discipulus”: pupil.

Lisa, as you know so well, discipline is a result of careful, deliberate modeling and the biggest challenge is to exercise discipline as a parent, to continue to set meaningful guidelines and limits, and if at all possible not “lose it” and say or do something that will be harmful to a child.

Bence August 30, 2011

There seems to be no end to examples of parents losing their temper with young children, witness yesterdays news about a father whose ability to model for his son was reduced by alcohol. After beating his son, he threw his 7 year old out of a boat into the water. See:

Conny Jensen August 30, 2011

That is absolutely horrible! My reaction is that the boy needs to be in his mom’s custody, but she may not be a suitable parent either. It goes to show that many people simply are not, and perhaps never will be, mature enough to be parents!

Lisa August 30, 2011


Yes it’s true, there are many examples in the news of parents “losing it” with their young children…. It’s sad, and it just underscores my belief that many parents are in desperate need of education and support…

Conny Jensen August 30, 2011

This is something you all may appreciate. It is from a column I once wrote:

“Yet, it is often very young and still uninformed people who willingly and unwillingly become parents. If they do not know how important constant and loving interaction with their infant is, neglect and abuse in some families will not stop.

If certain brain connections are not formed in the first year, they will never have another chance to do so. The brain develops only when its parts are activated and used. If we do not talk to a child, it will not learn to speak. If we do not lovingly connect with it, it will not be able to love itself or others and show compassion.

“Neglect, chaos and trauma can create impulsive, aggressive, remorseless and anti-social individuals. Almost without fail, most individuals in prison today have suffered some kind of abuse or neglect as children,” [Dr. Bruce] Perry said.”

Teacher Tom August 30, 2011

Excellent! More talking about this topic. I’m totally on your bandwagon. Can’t wait to read more. And to contribute to your follow up posts: I think the goal of all of our interactions with children is to help them become adults who are capable of forming many productive, inspiring, and loving relationships with the other people.

Lisa August 30, 2011


Thank you so much for stopping by to say hello, and comment. I am such an admirer, and so inspired by you, the ways in which you see, understand, work with, and write about your work with children. I welcome your contributions and share your vision that all of our interactions with children will serve to support them “in becoming adults who are capable of forming many productive, inspiring, and loving relationships with other people.” My greatest wish is that through our dedication to this vision, our sharing, and conversations, together, we will create a more positive world for children and families everywhere.

clara August 30, 2011

The goal of discipline for me is to help my children grow up to be people I would want to know. I want them to have respect for others — all others, not just people who are like them — to behave compassionately, and to be happy.

Taking the long view, as I do, I let a lot of things ‘go’ … like table manners and saying ‘butt’ and …I mean they’re only 3 and 5. Early days, right? What’s important right now is that we don’t call names, we don’t belittle or bully, we don’t destroy property for the sake of it. We treat each other with respect.

I was raised by an authoritarian and I have to check that tendency, to dig my heels in and say BECAUSE I AM YOUR MOTHER. Especially as my kids push boundaries and buttons. I yell way more than my father ever did, and I also apologize for my behavior way more than he ever did. So I think I’m doing OK. I also use social media like twitter to get out the sarcasm and the irritation so that I can turn away from the computer and be honestly happy to interact with my kids again.

Lisa thank you for sharing your personal perspective with us. It is always helpful and sheds a lot of light to hear about peoples’ experiences. You are doing such good work…being a supportive voice for all of us walking through the wilderness. Thank you 🙂

Jack August 31, 2011

Come on. Every time I read a post from this site they tell us how bad us parents are for trying to keep our kids from doing wrong. You literally said no to every technique that is available. Really, do not take away sweets if they are bad? I am far from one who makes these bad mistakes but if you are going to try and teach people how to be better parents, you HAVE to give them examples that WORK. Just saying do not do it to the parents does not work, but I am sure this is the same manner in which you want these parents to discipline their children.

Lisa August 31, 2011


Thanks for your comment. You bring up a good point, which is this: adults learn best (not unlike children) when they are given information about what they CAN do, instead of just being told what not to do. If you look at the links I provided in this post, you’ll find a link to a series of fifteen posts I wrote giving specific advice about ways parents can discipline their children that DO work, and don’t involve shame, spanking, time outs, or bribery.

I’m not sure what site you’re referring to when you say: “Every time I read a post from this site they tell us how bad us parents are for trying to keep our kids from doing wrong.” I certainly don’t tell parents they are bad for disciplining their children, and I strive to give examples of positive ways for parents to address common questions and areas of concern.

I know that positive, respectful guidance DOES work, because this is the way I care for and teach children, and as a long time teacher and nanny, I’ve had the opportunity to witness quite a number of the children I cared for as babies and toddlers grow into young adulthood. Without fail, the children who were raised with positive discipline techniques like the ones I practice and teach, are kind, happy, healthy, socially adept leaders, and contributing members of society.

If you have specific questions I can answer for you, I urge you to ask them. I’ll be writing more, and I’m also working to bring together a whole assortment of resources on this site, to help parents answer the question of what to do instead of punishing children. I’d like to end with a question to you, When you take sweets away from a child for being “bad” what does this teach a child, and how does this help him to learn to do anything in a different way? What is the “bad” behavior you are trying to correct?

asrai February 15, 2012

Children are not bad in the first place. There are certain behaviours that should not be rewarded of course. In these cases the child needs to be taught what to do instead. Punishment only makes them feel bad about themselves, what have they learned? What did Hot Sauce Mom teach her child when she made him jump in a cold shower and drink hot sauce? TO BE VERY AFRAID OF MOM and don’t get caught lying again. Eventually, she’ll teach him to be a very good liar so he can avoid her wrath (I learned to lie at a young age so as to avoid verbal wrath, which doesn’t sting the skin, but hurts just as much).

All behaviour is in order to get a need met. If I’m lonely or upset I call a friend. If I am hungry I go get something to eat. If I’m angry, I lock myself in my room and cry… (huh, sounds like a tantrum) or rant and rave (another tantrum).

Children are not as good at expressing themselves as adults. The yougner they are the harder it is for them to know their feelings are hunger, tired, angry, sad. They just feel CRAPPY. If you take away their candy, send to them to their room and slap their hands, they just feel worse.

Defiance is a relationship problem. A child who feels safe with their parent doesn’t _often_ lie or run away when it’s time for bed (past a certain age).

How this is done, depends on the age. At age 2, I can’t tell my child “Let’s discuss not running into the street.” The limit is “stay on the sidewalk” if you choose not to, then you come up in my arms or hold my hand. At age 6, the child realizes the danger of running into the street and it’s no longer an issue.

At age 2, the limit is no hitting others. If you do try to hit, I will restrain your hand. At 6, lashing out to a peer requires some problem solving discussions about what occured and how the situation will be handled in the future. Here’s a link about why imposed consequences don’t work.

Lisa February 16, 2012

Thanks for your contribution to the discussion, Asri, and for the link to Doctor Laura Markham’s site. I’m a great admirer of hers, and highly recommend her site to those looking for tools and guidance on gentle, effective ways to teach discipline.

Sunra August 31, 2011

the goal of discipline is to teach self discipline… discipline is not punishment, nor does it have anything to do with making someone do something… it’s tough in the current model of society having vastly different approaches and most of them not so peaceful… i’ve read that the native americans took note of what kind of people the ‘white men’ were simply by noticing they hit their kids… apparently physical punishment was not a part of native american child rearing and i believe research into their pre-columbian ways of raising children would lend much enlightenment on how to properly instill discipline in a child…

Gina @TheTwinCoach September 1, 2011

Lisa, I am late in joining this conversation (forgive me, I am vacation) but I wanted to say how thankful I am that I met you, that you have opened yourself up so much to share and teach so many of us a better way to parent. As I grow into being a better parent myself, and learn ways in which to connect, communicate and empathize with my children as opposed to simply trying to get them to do what I want, I see how much easier things flow. My children are much more apt to cooperate when I consider their feelings and needs. This doesn’t mean I don’t lose my temper now & then or that I always am the best I can be, but I do know how to make repairs with my kids when I lose it. And I know how to recognize when I am not parenting in the way I want to parent. It’s been such a learning process. As one of my blog readers commented to me today: “I am discovering that this parenting journey is like lifting up a rock. It relieves some of the heaviness I have been carrying in my heart my entire life, yet I keep finding icky bugs!!” 🙂

And thank you for mentioning me at the beginning of your post as one of the “wonderful people” you have met through social media. You certainly are top of my list, too.

Alice Callahan (@scienceofmom) September 4, 2011

Hi Lisa,
I just started following your blog, and am finding it full of good info. This post in particular really made me think about my discipline strategy, something that I’ve just started thinking about for my 9-month-old. Your post and this discussion were part of the inspiration for my own post on discipline and my baby, which I just posted on my blog.
I’m wondering if you have any advice about setting limits for babies her age. What can I expect out of a baby this age?
Thanks again! I’m looking forward to reading more!

kayleigh September 6, 2011

I am really interested in this subject and how to effectively disipline in a respectful way. I have 3 boys aged 5 and under and I try my hardest. I try to understand especially with the younger ones that “tantrums” are not because they are naughty but are oer whelmed by their emotions, heck I know sometimes I just want to cry when I have too many different things going on inside of me. I know when my 18 month old repeatedly climbs on the table and laughs when I get him down his not being naughty, he genuinely thinks its a fun game. But I struggle, I read a lot of blogs on things I can do instead of spanking (something I never do anyway) removal of toys or time outs, but in the moment, when they refuse to listen or just will not stop throwing things at the pictures on the wall I dont know what to do to make them stop before something gets broken or someone gets hurt.

I guess my ultimate goal of disipline is to help my children learn to be respectful of the people and things around them, and to understand that some times no really does have to mean no. I dont expect obediance, but it would be nice if when it really mattered they took notice.

My children are not overly “naughty” I think they are probably pretty average, I know that the majority of my 3 year olds undesirable behaviour happens when he gets tired, I know my 5 year olds attitude comes from a busy day when he feels he hasnt had as much attention as he would like, I know all siblings will fight. I do worry that if I dont have an effective form of disipline in place when it is called for that there will come a time when they are older where I will “lose” and they will be “out of control”, thats probably a poor choice of words as I dont wish to control them but I think you get the idea. My other concern is that my husband and I have different opinions on disipline, he was spanked and threatened that he would “go to naughty boy school and only be allowed home at weekends” and in his view his “fine” and we should do the same, but he has handed the reins over to me and asks what he should do, but if my ways dont work he wants to do things his way.
As a child I was occassionally spanked, timed out and had things removed, but the worst of it all for me was when my mother would say “you have ruined christmas” or any other holiday or occassion.

Cynthia September 9, 2011

The goal of my discipline is to remove the offending child from the situation (I have a 3 year old and a 9 month old, so usually the 3 year old has hurt her little sister in some way) and give her space to calm down and reflect on how she wants to proceed. But I admit that sometimes without really thinking I will take away priviledges or pleasures just to give consequences for her misbehaviour, which, unfortunately, reminds me of the Hot Sauce mom, although much, much less severe… But the motives behind her discipline seem all too familiar to me, even if I would never go as far as physical punishment, I’m still forcing an unpleasant consequence on my child simply because she is not meeting my standards…

My greatest fear is that my children will be scarred by my discipline and will fear or resent me. I, too, was spanked as a kid and still remember it. I remember feeling betrayed especially. I very much want my kids to trust in my love for them and feel safe with me. Sometimes I wonder if I apologize too much; I often return after an intial outburst with an apology… But maybe I don’t apologize enough? So, here’s my question: Is it better to model thoughtful but conflicted actions or to be an unapologetic and consistent authoritative figure?

Lisa September 12, 2011


Thank you for your comment! I appreciate how difficult it can be to remain calm and supportive when your three year old has hurt her little sister in some way. You want your three year old to learn to be gentle with, and kind to her sister, but it takes time, and the best way for your three year old to learn kindness and compassion is by experiencing your compassion- especially when she’s struggling. It may seem to you that she “should know better,”- but she doesn’t (yet), or if she does, she doesn’t (yet) have the ability to stop herself from acting on her impulses.

There are two common reasons an older sibling might be rough with a younger sibling: 1) She may be feeling jealous or frustrated- “Mama pays more attention to the baby,” or “That baby is always crying and noisy,” or ” That baby is always taking my toys.” 2) Your older girl may actually be trying to connect with her sister, but doesn’t understand how or what to do. She may find it interesting when she takes a toy from the baby and the baby cries. Three year old children still don’t have an easy time understanding or taking the perspective of another. They are exploring relationships and how to be in relationship. So she may be questioning (through her actions) “What will happen when I hit my little sister?” “How does baby respond?” “How does Mama respond?” “Is it the same every time?” Your three year old has already learned that she will get a reaction, and it may not matter if it’s a positive or a negative reaction- it is satisfying to her to be able to get your attention.

So what are you supposed to do? You can’t let your older child hurt your little one, yet, if you get angry and punish your three year old, you are not modeling the behavior you want her to learn, and you are creating a rift in your relationship with her. Some quick suggestions (I’m working on a sibling post!): Create a safe, gated play area for your nine month old. This allows both children some space, and provides a physical barrier between the children for times when you can’t be right there to quickly intervene ( like when you’re making lunch). If at all possible, help your three year old to get her need for one on one connected time through focused “special time” alone with you each day- even if it’s only half an hour while the baby naps. Let her know “this is our special time to be together, and we can do what you want to do.”

If you and your little girl enjoy reading stories together here is a link to suggested books suitable for her age that gently explore common feelings older siblings sometimes struggle with:

The book I most suggest for you to read: Siblings Without Rivalry

In the moment, try to stay close, and at eye level when your girls are playing together. Say what you see and hear happening. Let your three year old know what she can do to connect with her sister (roll a ball to her, sing a song, etc.)and point out how the baby responds: “Look at how the baby is smiling.She loves when you are so gentle with her.” Include your big girl in things you do with the baby, by asking her to help in some small way- by bringing a diaper, or toy for the baby. If your little girl likes to play with dolls, you can give her her own special baby doll, and let her bathe and change and feed her doll. Also, let your three year old know acceptable ways to express her anger or frustration. Allow the feelings, and help her to learn appropriate ways to express upset. “You are very angry. I don’t want you to hit your sister. It hurts her.” “If you want to hit, hit these pillows.” “If you want to kick, kick this big ball.” “If you want to throw something, throw this doll.”

As for your question about modeling thoughtful but conflicted actions vs. being an unapologetic and consistent authoritative figure: I think you are doing the best you can do, which is what we all do, and you are human and learning. This is a wonderful model for your children! You will not be perfect, and you shouldn’t aim to be. There will be times you lose it, and times you realize you are falling into old patterns.When that happens, try not to feel guilty, or blame yourself, because guilt and blame doesn’t serve you or your children well. It’s a wonderful model to apologize, acknowledge that you are trying to do better, and then move on. It’s always up to the adult in the relationship to repair and build a bridge back to the child when a rift has occurred. Your goal is to be more consistent in your own behavior as you guide your children to develop self discipline, but when you slip up ( which you will, as they will) the right thing to do is to apologize, be willing to listen to your child’s feelings, repair the rift , and move on. This is a learning/growing model of relationships, and what a great model for your children. “Even adults aren’t always their best selves, but we can learn from our mistakes and move on. We can learn and grow together.”

Kristen February 15, 2012

My mother whipped me, locked me out of the house during my teen when she’s annoyed by my excessive talk on the phone even though I was a very good girl, never lied, never smoked, never drank alcohol and I excelled in class. I was confused, lonely and very upset for the first year, then I became extremely angry for treating me like that, I thought about suicide, sitting on my bedroom window wanting to throw myself down the building, a year later we grew apart, we never talked for months. She withheld my allowance and did not prepare food for me anymore since we don’t talk. A few years later I ran away from home. I was away for a few months, and my dad took me back. My mother and I still didn’t talk. I vacate so hateful to my mom that I wanted to kill her. I plot it in my head everyday. By nature, I’m a very caring, polite, and loving person, but the way I was treated by my mom, made me want to see her dead. Her ways of parenting left me thinking she did not love me one bit. I got into my country’s top university, but hated home, so ran away from home again, this time across the globe to a different country and I never talked to them again. I carried the pain for almost ten years and still cried when thinking about what happened to me during that time and for causing me to leave my friends, lover and everything I know behind. I still blame them for my unhappy life today. I have a 3 year old son, and I’m trying my best to raise him with positive and gentle discipline. My goal is for him to grow with confident, happy and have a strong connection with my husband and I.

Lisa February 16, 2012


Thank you for sharing your story with me. I’m sorry for the pain you endured growing up. Today, you have an opportunity and the possibility of choosing to leave the past behind, through creating a life of peace, safety, and happiness for yourself and the family you have created. By giving your child the love, support, and gentle guidance you didn’t receive as a child, you will be breaking a cycle of abuse, and healing yourself at the same time. I wish you many blessings and all good things on your journey.

Hillary February 16, 2012

Thank you for such an honest and compassionate post! Big love and hugs to you.

For me Discipline is about helping my child to be indepenedent, safe, sociablly integrated, well mannered and yes to fit in in general with family life so that we as a family can progress (getting out the door in the morning is our current challenge)

My biggest anxiety-being to firm or being to soft. Being a harsh over bearing bully or being a weak pushover that does not give her secure boundaries. Inconsistency between my husband and I……

I really am looking forward to your coming posts.

Thanks for being here. x x x

Bianca February 16, 2012

This is wonderful. The only question that I am wondering about (and have for some time) is What is the best alternative to telling your child that they cannot have dessert unless they eat some dinner?) My son wants cookies before eating and I generally say “you can have a cookie if you eat something helpful for your body and energy first.” Do you think this is an unhelpful strategy? I do not want to cause him to feel unloved in any way.

Tina February 16, 2012

Hello everyone,
We have an almost 2 year old son, turning 2 next month. I am a very tired, self criticizing, and worried mom. My son has a lot of food allergies and eczema and I am trying my best to be a good mother but disciplining is not working for me. I don’t know how or what to do. Even when I call him to come to me for a diaper change or tell him not to do something, he never listens to me. I have to say it more than 3 times and my voice gets louder and starts to get angry. It’s so frustrating! I have tried telling him in a calm manner but I get frustrated too quickly. How do you all do it? Is it that only seasoned moms know how to discipline the right way?
I would love any suggestions or advice, thank you.

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