Mum Diary: Why I Don’t Discipline My Children

Our mum blogger explains why she’s shown the naughty step the red card…

Naughty step, toy confiscation, red cards, time out… There are a hundred different ways to discipline toddlers, and a thousand different books explaining exactly how to do it.

There are ‘techniques’ where stern nanny figures go on about the importance of following each exact step and claiming that you risk raising a generation of selfish little brats if you don’t do so.

No matter how naughty my child is, I won't discipline him [Rex]
No matter how naughty my child is, I won't discipline him [Rex]

Before I had children myself I used to watch all those TV shows; Nanny 911, Supernanny, House of Tiny Tearaways (we call it ‘judgement TV’). I promised myself that I would raise polite, compassionate children and not the screaming brats in the programmes, or on the bus and in the supermarket.

Of course, since then I have had children and learned a lot of things. I have learned that every child – every – single - child – has meltdowns and tantrums occasionally.

If any preschooler was filmed for an entire day and then edited down to a 30-second montage you could make them look like the spawn of a particularly grumpy Satan.

And now, just a few years into my Great Parenting Adventure, I have decided to give up on punishing my boys for bad behaviour.

There are no red cards in my parenting book [Rex]
There are no red cards in my parenting book [Rex]

Crime And Punishment
I have bought almost every child-rearing book published in the last four years. In a vague belief that I could study myself into better parenting, I have bought books on disciplining toddlers, encouraging sibling harmony, learning through play, eating to grow… And then I carefully put these techniques into practice.

First up, the naughty step. Normal toddler stubbornness and independence was punished with a spell on the bottom of the stairs but it just didn’t work. It meant that punishing a child for low-level naughtiness escalated the argument into a mega screaming row that took all morning and left us all exhausted.

Maybe you think I should have persevered, but I don’t want my children to be ground down into good behaviour. I don’t want them to know that my will is the only way. I certainly don’t want them thinking that I win just because I am big enough to drag them back to the naughty step 18 times.

Then we moved onto toy confiscation but again I just wasn’t comfortable with the message. Taking toys for bad behaviour seemed to deny that my boys owned anything and once again proved that my might made me right. It also meant that we couldn’t forgive and forget poor behaviour, because for the rest of the day Harry would ask for his toy back and I would keep reminding him why I had taken it away.

Eventually, we gave up. And you know what? Their behaviour improved.

The naughty step didn't work out for us when we tried it [Rex]
The naughty step didn't work out for us when we tried it [Rex]

So What Do I Do?
I should point out that, just because we don’t ‘do’ discipline, it doesn’t mean we don’t have discipline. My husband and I may not punish our children but that doesn’t mean they are free to do whatever they want.

Screaming, fighting, hitting, whining, nagging, refusing to help – all these things are not allowed, but we have totally changed how we deal with poor behaviour.

Now, we try to respond lovingly. We don’t try to reason with them when they are mid-meltdown because they really can’t take any information in at that point. We separate them if they are fighting and comfort whichever has been hurt or upset.

Then, we cuddle whichever was in the wrong (or both if they have been winding each other up). We calm them down and quietly discuss why their behaviour was wrong, and why they shouldn’t do it again.

My husband and I respond to bad behaviour with love and cuddles [Rex]
My husband and I respond to bad behaviour with love and cuddles [Rex]

And you know what? My boys are no worse behaved than anyone else’s children; in fact we often get comments about how polite they are. They are certainly no worse behaved than back when we did all the ‘punishments’ and techniques, yet the time spent arguing about poor behaviour is much shorter and there are far fewer tears (for them and me).

In a way, I am treating them in the way I want to be treated. If I offend my husband or he upsets me then we have a calm discussion about it and agree to make changes. No one’s partner should respond to an argument by shouting, isolating their other half or hiding their things; there should be more respect. And I want my children to feel respected too.

Not A Parenting Expert
I am not a perfect parent by any stretch. I can’t claim I always succeed at this compassionate response to poor behaviour. Sometimes my temper is short and I unthinkingly shout at them, but I always apologise once I have calmed down. After all, if I want to teach my two young boys to control their own tempers, I have to acknowledge when I have lost mine.

And I’m not saying I have got it right. If the naughty step or whatever works for you then that’s great; I am sick of parents smugly declaring that they have 'the answer' and that everyone else is doing it wrong.

But I wrote this for those parents who don’t feel the discipline techniques work for them but feel they have to do them or they are failing.

If those discipline techniques seem too harsh for you, if they don’t work with your sensitive child, if they simply escalate the tantrum until the whole house is filled with bile and fury then it is okay to ditch them.

You’re not failing your child; you’re not risking raising a monster. Having discipline is not the same as ‘doing’ discipline.

Do you think children need punishment to learn good behaviour or is our blogger right to respond with a cuddle? Have your say using the comments below.

[Mum Diary: My Worst Day As A Parent]

[Child Discipline Tactics: 8 Ideas That Really Work – Smacking Not Included]