Alternative to Punishment #3: Ask a Question
It's critical to always ask questions to get clear on your child's motives.
I will use a real-life example to demonstrate.
But you want to frame your questions in the way that will help you provide
the solution to your child's problem.
So if your child is lacking affection - you can ask a question like:
"do you want mommy to just hold you?"
If your child responds positively, then this question addresses their true needs.
Here's a story where we can use a different type of question...
My son was scratching paint off the wall with a spoon and I asked the question:
"What are you doing?"
Instead of immediately jumping to a conclusion, I asked a question.
In this way I'm able to quickly discover why my son was doing that
in order to provide a better solution so as to prevent it from happening
By asking and listening I'm gaining vital information
about my son as well as myself.
So, after asking my son what he was doing
when he was scratching paint off the wall...
He looked at me as if he couldn't believe I
was asking such a ridiculous question, and said:
"I'm taking the snow off my spaceship."
Now my first thought was he was trying to drive me nuts.
But when I saw that he really truly believed with all his heart
in what he was doing, I understood him better. I was better able to
empathize and in turn not react in an "old way".
When I understood the situation I could then explain to him that I
don't want paint coming off the wall but would be happy to provide
something else to do of a similar nature.
Things that seem absurd to us can be perfectly normal to our
children. Their doing something that makes sense to them, but
it may not always make sense to us.
So instead of just assuming that your child is purposely making a
mess, or bothering you, stop and ask a question first.
You may be surprised at what they tell you and gain a better
understanding of their motives. Children have wild and vivid
imaginations. The more we understand and respect our child,
the more they will respect us, and in turn become more cooperative.
I've seen this work for countless of families who've used this approach.
The more children are given space and respect, the more they want to help out.
Here's another good example of when I asked a question....
We were at a restaurant with my son. And like most children,
he sometimes doesn't eat his vegetables. At the table he took the
soy sauce and poured some in his water..
"oh oh!" I thought "this could get messy..."
But before reacting, I evaluated the situation and observed...
Then I could see that he was going to pour his water in his
I was considering objecting and offering him an alternative,
but instead I asked him what he was doing...
He then told me he was enjoying his broccoli in a "certain way".
By dipping it in the soy sauce water and eating it. It wasn't an
appetizing recipe for myself...
But he was happy eating his vegetables that way
- so who am I to try and stop him?
Try it for yourself and see. If you start asking questions
instead of jumping to conclusions you will notice a
marked difference in your child.
Try this the next time your child does something that upsets you...
First empathize with your child and practice "non-reaction."
Then ask them what they're doing.
Once they tell you what they are up to,
try to understand what they are doing from their point of view.
From here you can offer them something else to do
(which we will talk about in great detail next week).
Also, pay close attention to see if they act differently.
What if my child is too young, or doesn't answer me?
If your child is four or under,
here's something handy to keep in mind...
Everything your child does is out of pure innocence and zest.
They are not doing it to upset you.
They may try to get your attention by defying you if
they need your attention,
but they are not deliberately trying to hurt you.
What if my child ignores me?
If your child blatantly ignores you
or doesn't want to speak with
you about what they are doing, that's ok.
Ask them again and explain to them what's going on for you.
"Mommy is wondering what you're doing,
and I'm concerned about the paint on the carpet.
Could you tell me what your idea is so
that I can better understand and help you."
You see, most children are used to being punished,
so they will hide what they are doing at all costs.
So if you have punished your child before, it may
take some time to get your child to openly communicate
with you without being afraid of the punishment.
If you want to have a cooperative and respectful relationship with
your child, you need to teach your child that it's safe for them to be
open and honest with you, even when they make mistakes.
This is covered more in detail in my 7 week program:
The Busy Moms Guide to Awesome Parenting
They need to know it's safe to trust you. So have patience
while you practice this with your child, and be persistent. Let
them know that they can trust you and that you want to
Remember, authoritarian punishment may make the child "behave"
in the short term, but the long term effects of this may backfire.
Here's what research has discovered:
"Children from Authoritarian parenting lack social competence as
the parent generally predicts what the child should do instead of
allowing the child to choose by him or herself. The children
also rarely take initiatives. They are socially withdrawn and look
to others to decide what's right. These children lack spontaneity
and lack curiosity."
"These children are often the most vulnerable to enter into
relationships with or marry equally abusive and controlling
partners or develop mental illness when they enter adulthood.
(Although arguably this may be genetic as mental illness sometimes
might be the reason behind some of the more extreme cases of
"On the opposite side of the spectrum some children might also
rebel by openly defying the parents by leaving home at a younger
age, partaking in drugs, alcohol, and sexual behavior at a much
younger age than some of their peers as well, dating and/or
marrying a partner whom they know their parents would disapprove
of, and often might be estranged from their parents during
I hope you found this alternative to punishment useful.