Being is not a Behavior

Previously, I posted about time-outs and the disservice I think they do to parent-child relations, and to children’s sense of security, as well as, the miserable failure of time-outs to effectively teach children anything about how we would prefer that they act, react, or consider others (when they act). I thought that this might cause a more noteworthy uproar than it actually did, but perhaps the relative reticence I met was more indicative of its effect than any particular argument would have been. The general silence notwithstanding, there were two comments I wanted to take some time to address today.

The first one comes from Michelle Purvey, Psy.D.. She writes:

Although I have recommended time-outs and used time-outs with my own children, I agree with your stance on time-outs. My time-outs (even for myself) are for break/rest/calm-down time, for a few minutes, on a chair/couch in the same room with me, with blanket/pacifier/stuffed animal, using firm and kind words (“You can’t hit bc it hurts and hurts feelings; I still love you a lot.”), I ask for an apology for the chance for both kids to experience forgiveness/ acceptance.

What do you think of this approach? What do you recommmend for discipline?

In addition, one of my consistently thought-provoking virtual village-mates, Kloppenmum, asked, “just out of curiosity Nathan…when one of your girls point blank refuses to do something that you or Natalie ask them to do (a reasonable and age appropriate task) what do you do?”

I’m going to respond mostly in order, but could condense the discussion into one basic assertion, that is: no matter what we choose to do in any particular situation with our kids, we resist turning it into an adversarial confrontation, and we supply copious amounts of empathy for all parties involved. That’s the basic structure of our response whether the scenario is one in which sisters are at each other in anger, or when one or more of them is simply not wanting to go along with a request we’ve made, or when we’re doing something they don’t want us to do and they’re upset about it. So if that’s enough information for you, you can stop here, otherwise, let me begin with Michelle’s query…

First, although I like the additions of the parent remaining in the room and allowing the child to still have “security items” with him during the time-out, it still strikes me as just a kinder, gentler punishment. That’s generally enough to dissuade me, because I don’t like the idea, nor do I believe in the efficacy, of doing something to the kids to convince or train them not to do certain actions (or to get them to do other actions). It’s not necessary, it doesn’t actually work, and it wreaks havoc on the bond that is so important between parent and child. The fact is that if we punish, even if its not as bad as other punishments, we are still treating our children as though they were dysfunctional and in need of correction. And generally, if that were the case, then we’d likely use a different, more appropriate approach, instead of punitive reinforcement.

On the other hand, as Michelle points out, there are some times when the parent actually feels like she needs a break from the intense emotions she is having about what the child is doing, and wants to give herself a time-out. Although, generally speaking, I think the parent is still at risk of sending the wrong kind of message to the kid (i.e., “I can’t be around you because of how you are behaving”), if the kid is really allowed to still be in the same room while the parent takes a moment, then I see no larger issue with that. And honestly, if you are really so worked up that you need a moment away from the kid to cool out, well then, you should probably take that, regardless of the potentially troubling message it carries, just to keep everyone safe.

That potential trouble is the same, though, in both versions of time-out, and again, enough to dissuade me. I don’t want to risk it — regardless of how mad I feel about it, or how much I really want them to stop doing the particular action(s), it isn’t worth it to me to abandon them (which is how they see it, regardless of the actual proximity), or to turn adversarial in approach, or to use pain (whether it’s physical, psychological, or emotional) to “teach” them something. And the bottom line for why I don’t want to risk any of the above is that they all damage the parent-child bond, which is, as it turns out, the primary line of defense against what parents usually call “misbehavior”. More on that in a minute…

The other thing I want to respond to in the scenario Michelle gives is the talking that she describes. I think it’s really helpful to remind our kids that we love them, even when we’re really not liking what they did or are doing. And I think it’s also really useful to give socializing information about how humans tend to interact — e.g. humans generally don’t like to be hit, or your sister doesn’t like it when you take the toy she’s using, or when we bonk into someone it’s appropriate to apologize, etc.. The trouble is, when we turn adversarial, and when we force them into some punishment for their actions, we lose the opportunity to communicate either of those things. Our professions of love are lost in the fact that we are seen to be hurting them — even though we may be being polite, and calm, they are still perceiving pain — making us seem as though we are lying about loving them. And any message we want to convey about “proper behavior” is likewise tossed out of the cognitive window, because of the amount of cortisol and other brain chemicals they have diffusing their ability to absorb our instruction or rationally apply it. In fact, if we are going to pull our children out of the situation and make them stay put for a few minutes (whether it’s to calm down, or feel punished), then we’d be better off not saying much of anything to them until we reconcile and they are calm. Otherwise we are just wasting words, or worse.

Also, when it comes to helping them “experience forgiveness [and] acceptance”, I think there are better ways to get our kids there than requesting or forcing them to apologize. A forced apology contains little or no empathy, and tends to provide only the most shallow experience of forgiveness or acceptance. This is where an education in emotions and empathizing with others comes in very handy. It’s also primarily the domain of my favorite parenting tactic — modeling. The best way to teach politenesses like asking “please”, saying “thank you”, and apologizing when you’ve made a mistake or hurt someone is by virtue of being flawless at modeling it. So every time we ask our kids to do something, we model the way it’s most generally appropriate to do so; when they help us, we model gratitude; when we accidentally bump into them or forget something we said we’d do, etc., we model apologizing. In our home, that is all we have ever done, and our girls are exceptionally polite. The only place they have had what an adult might call “trouble” in this area, is with disingenuous politeness, like pretending to like something that they don’t, but that’s mostly because they still think of it as not telling the truth…

Now, on to the second comment, for a moment. What we do instead of time-outs and other punishments actually begins well before any behavioral infraction. We started with ourselves, on this one, by reprogramming our focus and intention — away from behaviors that need encouragement, distraction, or dissuasion; and toward the humanness of our children, instead. When we see them as developing people, it’s easier to look at the situation as simply a transaction of feelings and needs, rather than bundles of desirable or nefarious behaviors to be weeded through. So if we don’t like what they are doing, we don’t have to jump up, catch them, and curb the behavior (in order to have the most behavioral success). We can approach them with a curiosity, an openness, and (again) empathy. We seek to discover what they are feeling and needing in the situation, instead of how to maximize their training. We ask them to think about what’s happening, rather than attempting to instill responses in them.

There are a host of reasons why that feels more appropriate to us, but the basic notion centers around two “poles”. The first pole is emotional intelligence. By helping them to direct their energy toward feelings and needs (both their own, as well as, those of others), we have created a culture of awareness about people’s feelings (including their own) and awareness of the needs that underpin and motivate people’s actions (including their own). This means that when they see someone else having feelings, they can identify those feelings, and are primed to consider the needs that might be leading to the feelings they are witnessing. They are then more likely to empathize with the other as well. Emotional intelligence and the ability to empathize with the person across from us is, in the end, what motivates and informs all politeness, kindness, fair play, compassion, and equality. Emotional intelligence is an understanding and a set of skills that we can actually impart to our children, and more importantly, that preclude the need for stricter rules, more effective training, and “teaching discipline”.

The other pole is the parent-child bond. As I’ve mentioned already, I don’t think punishments of any kind are good for the inestimably important love-trust-safety-link that is the relationship we build and share with our children from the moment they are conceived through every single interaction we have with them. And it is that same bond, and it’s integrity in particular, that informs the types and intensities of behaviors that any child exhibits, as well as, their health, general mood, motor and cognitive development, and willingness to oblige the many varied and bizarre requests of their parents, day in and day out… It’s the developmental and behavioral psychology version of “the chicken or the egg” — either we punish them, injure the relationship, and interrupt their natural tendency to take their cues from us, as well as, rerouting their natural drives to explore and connect into more problematic expressions, and thereby, necessitate and justify increased use of punishments; or we (beginning at the beginning) nurture that bond with all of our might, rely on it’s natural processes, trust our children, and give them every reason to trust us, and thereby facilitate a natural state of safety and security in them sufficient enough that when we model empathy, and politeness, and honesty, and compassion, they are able to absorb it and reciprocate in the precise manner in which nature intended. They are designed to take all of their cues from us, and they will if we support the natural design. And if we nurture the bonds we were given to share with our children, and lead them to a feeling of safety and connection with us and with the world, then they have no need to act out in ways that adults label as “defiant”, “naughty”, “attention-seeking”, and the like.

Those poles and the thoughts and concepts surrounding them are the brightest points in the constellation of reasons why we want to look toward treating our daughters’ feelings and needs rather than attempting to modify all of their less desirable behaviors via punishment. And frankly, it just feels better, and easier at this point in our paths as parents to steer passed behaviors and go straight for the feelings, then see if there is still a need beyond the feelings, and if so, help address that if possible.

SO, when one (or more) of the girls does something that we don’t like:

  • We first seek to empathize with her. We might ask or assess:What’s going on for you? What are you feeling, needing, showing us? What’s your point of view?
  • Then we extend empathy to her. Ask questions about her feelings, recognize them, identify with them, hear them out, let them be. Allow her to be with her own feelings in our safe space. We attempt to change nothing. We address nothing. We just remain with her while she has those tough feelings. Hold her if possible.
  •  If the feelings go on for a long time, or if she seems stuck in an emotion loop wherein she keeps stoking the emotion, we will switch to the Boring Cuddle. We bring our own energy levels down extremely low and calm. Then just hold her and hold her until she processes and shifts.
  • Once the feelings have shifted, we will see if we can figure out together what she was really needing in the first place. However, we often find that the initial need has also shifted — either into it’s more basic state or into nothing. The empathy-connection alone settles more “issues” than all the other things we do put together.
Say, for example, kid 1 grabs a toy that kid 2 is playing with and runs off. We’d let them try to work it out, but eventually intervene if necessary. Let’s say kid 1 gets upset. We’d address her feelings which may start off as being mad because she “really want[s] that toy”, but via our empathy that feeling would likely melt off into a feeling of sadness, and on further investigation, it might turn out to be a result not of the desire to play with the toy but a desire to play with kid 2, whose attentions were too heavily focused on the toy to afford any connection with kid 1. If we’d just grabbed the toy back from kid 1, said, “No stealing!” and put her in time-out, then we would have made the whole thing worse on so many levels, and still not gotten to the real need(s) underneath.                                                    
If, instead, what ensued was an attack on each other of some sort — let’s say, kid 1 looses it and hits kid 2 — then we’d approach the matter a little differently at first, but from there, pretty much the same. We would in this case go straight to kid 2 (the injured party), to offer her empathy, and let kid 1 see us doing that. As kid 2’s feelings about being hit are addressed, we’d move on to address the situation with kid 1 (the injurer). Then we’d seek to empathize with kid 1’s feelings as well, and seek to meet her needs, and so on.

Aside from the regular instance (until she was almost 4) of our youngest not staying at the dinner table, we really haven’t had trouble with our girls outright refusing to do as we have asked. They may forget and lapse, or need more information before they agree (to non-emergency requests), but they so rarely just “defy” us, that I couldn’t discuss, here, what we’d do in such a case without first mentioning that. Nevertheless, when one (or more) of the girls won’t do as we have asked them:
  • Then we repeat the request with more information and perhaps more emphasis. Again, we aren’t assuming that she is “defying” us, but rather that she needs more information, or that she didn’t get the original message clearly.
  • If she still doesn’t want to do whatever it is, we go back to empathy. For ourselves and for her. Why wouldn’t she want to comply with our request? Why do we want her to? What are the needs at stake? Who’s got wiggle room? Often, just our identifying with the fact that she “doesn’t wanna go to the store…” is enough to allow her to shift into a different perspective.
  • If she still won’t do what we ask, we try to see if there are some needs of hers that we are overlooking. If so, we attempt to create a mutually satisfying agreement about how to proceed so that her needs are met and our request is fulfilled.
  • If she still won’t go for it, we wait and discuss some more. Unless it’s an emergency or some actual (not just imagined, or pretend) time constraint exists, we will not force anything. And even if we have to resort to that (which is just so rare as to hardly require mentioning), we still refrain from punishment, and return immediately to empathizing.
So, with the same example as the initial one above, we won’t resort to taking the toy from kid 1 to give it back to kid 2, 99 times out 100. On that 100th time, when we really feel like we are being pressed to intervene in that manner, we will take the toy, give it back or put it aside during negotiations, and hold kid 1 while she wails in sadness about it. No time-out, no admonishment, no guilt trip, just empathy. Plain and simple. 
Well, I’ve prattled on enough for one day. It’s time I gave you and me a time-out!
Be well.

About Nathan M McTague, CPCC, CPDPE

I am a full-time parent of three, Writer, Life Coach, Lecturer, Parenting Mentor, and Shamanic Practitioner. In all of the above, I am seeking to assist my fellow humans in their processes of claiming and unleashing their highest potentials.
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25 Responses to Being is not a Behavior

  1. hakea says:

    Hi Nathan

    I love the photo. I think it was very empathic for the parent/carer to tape the soft toy to the wall as well. Aawww.

  2. “just out of curiosity Nathan…when one of your girls point blank refuses to do something that you or Natalie ask them to do (a reasonable and age appropriate task) what do you do?”

    When kids refuse point blank to cooperate with reasonable and age-appropriate requests, that’s not a discipline problem, it’s a relationship problem. So Nathan, I love your approach of focusing on the relationship rather than the refusal. Thanks!

    • Blammo, Dr. Laura!

      I agree totally. I appreciate you adding that, and the encouragement you gave me.

      Thanks for joining the discussion.

    • Amy says:

      I am in complete agreement with this! That being said, this is where we are currently struggling! What is age appropriate when it comes to the dinner table? My 16 month old son has a bench and table just his size and he understands that food and utensils are left at the table. Recently, he has started taking a bite and leaving. I encourage him to come back and eat with us (we eat on pillows around his table). I have felt that it might not be age appropriate to expect him to sit at the table throughout dinner but now I am beginning to question this. Dinner has become a struggle because if left on his own it will become bedtime and he is only half way through. I have begun using this script: “You can come back and eat with us or Mama can come and bring you back. I see you are having a hard time making the decision. I will have to bring you back to eat with us.” Wailing ensues. Am I pushing him beyond his abilities or is he trying to understand the boundaries?

      • Hi Amy,

        Our youngest didn’t consistently stay at the table until mid-3. That sounds absurd to some, and at times even felt absurd to us as we reminded her again and again that we wanted her to come to the table and join us and her elder sisters (who were squirming to also have the liberty to roam around at dinner!). We did great on the modeling being at the table, and got Bella and Xi to help us model appropriate dinner time rituals, etc.; but I think we did quite a bit less skilled of a job modeling that we trusted her to follow us. We kept up a fairly steady message that we doubted our leadership in this arena by focussing too much on it — obsessing really — and therefore “fuzzily” communicated with Echo, sending her mixed ideas of our expectations… That being said, we did just keep talking to her about it (rather than really drawing a line in the sand and then being forced to patrol it), and at times we let her know about the frustration we were having about her still. not. doing it., but we never wanted to make such a big deal out of it that we did a disservice to the relationship. We trusted her and we trusted the process; and in the end there was neither an issue remaining nor an injury to the bond…

        If I had it to do over again — and what you might consider — I would make a whole lot less of a production of the issue. You’ve done yourselves an excellent favor (I think) by having your dinner on pillows around the lower table; but it could turn into a short term solution that winds up going on longer than you’d like, so I’d really think about whether or not you want to be on the floor for dinner for the foreseeable future, and if not, then consider your exit strategy. Get your son used to seeing you doing dinner the way you want him to do it; and perform the dinner ritual(s) the way you want him to perform them. Over and over, this ritual builds up in his brain, forming a set of neural habits around it (just like with walking, talking, or sleeping, etc.). And if you don’t send him too many mixed messages about what you expect — that is, you do expect that he will (at least in the eventual…) join you, so you don’t have to continually try to manage his behavior around that subject — then he will more quickly get an appropriate sense of his role in the dinner process. You might still encourage him back to the table, remind him of the yummy food awaiting him, and tell him what you would like; but in all of these “coaxings” I would use only words that tell him what you want him to do, avoiding even mentioning what you don’t want. Instead of, “Don’t leave the table,” it’s, “I’d like you to stay at the table.” Instead of, “If you don’t come back, you won’t have time to eat enough before bedtime, and you won’t get to have stories…” it’s, “Come be with us and let’s finish up our food together so we have time to read before we snuggle up for bed…”. The subtleties can really make all the difference in the world…

        Regardless of your actual strategy(s) or how it plays out — I’d still underscore favoring the relationship over favoring compliance with dinner rules. Work with him, remind him, allow him to be “too young to get it”, and trust him to come along in due time. He wants to be with you, and wants to do what you’re doing, eventually he’ll get the routine and rules down. Find ways to make it fun, to enjoy it together, and to wait it out.

        Thanks for writing in, Amy.

        Be well.

  3. martha says:

    Thanks, Nathan. This was helpful to me. I have a couple of questions:
    1. Prompting “please”, “thank you”, “sorry”, etc. We do a lot of modeling of these, but I haven’t found that our 3 year old responds to that the way it sounds like your kids have. I realize he’s still really little. I don’t prompt him to “say please” or “say thank you” but sometimes I explain/remind him how those words can help another person feel. So if he’s received a gift or someone has handed him something he asked for, I sometimes say something like “I think it would probably help (I try not to use ‘make’) Zoey feel good if you thanked her or told her you were glad to have it. Do you feel like saying something to her?” Usually he’s all over that. It’s fine with me if he’s not a perfect please and thank you child, and I try to talk about it with him outside of specific scenarios so that I’m not triggering feelings in him of being put on the spot in front of others. I just wonder what you would say or suggest to someone who has a child who is unresponsive to the modeling.
    2. you wrote, “no matter what we choose to do in any particular situation with our kids, we resist turning it into an adversarial confrontation, and we supply copious amounts of empathy for all parties involved.” Of course, it’s when I don’t “resist” allowing a situation with my son to become adversarial that my true low-brain responses fire away, control impulses step in, and a certain emotional havoc ensues. Does that ever happen to you? Are you ever too exhausted, resentful, bored, distracted, frustrated, and/or ____, to deal, and a flailing, bungled response or move results? I know you’ve got a few years (and a few more children) as a parent, but I wonder, if you would be willing to share, what are your vulnerabilities as a parent? Or, and I realize this is a different question, what’s something you struggle with in terms of your kids’ behavior and your response?

    • Hey, Martha, glad to hear from you!

      There’s a lot I would say to what you’re asking, but let me see if I can get to the nuggets right now.

      1) You are both doing fine! Since, your little one has probably heard the lead up a number of times now, if you feel like just asking (quietly to him) “Hey, do you feel like telling Zoey how you feel about the gift?” that should be fine (but watch for his response). If he doesn’t want to say anything, then make nothing of it whatsoever. If you want to, then express the gratitude yourself — this models it again for him and answers your need to give gratitude-energy to the gift-giver. The bottom line is, it’s a very complex social mechanism, he will get it. And because you aren’t forcing him, he’ll get it for real, and he’ll learn to express real gratitude, not perform shallow, scripted responses. (Then it’s a whole other “ball of wax” when he receives something he doesn’t like. For a kid, being un-truthfully polite, is lying…).

      1.b) There might be two other things that would help. First, see if you can break up your thoughts about his “responsiveness to modeling”. There may just be a portion of this dynamic created by your belief regarding this. And certainly, if you change your belief about his responsiveness, his responsiveness will be different. Secondly, you might see if there are other ways for you to deepen your bond. Carry him some when you don’t need to; or make a practice of just sitting and hugging together, intentionally giving him your undivided attention and loving Mama energy; or create opportunities for kid-directed activities and let him guide you; play some more together; read more together; nap together; etc. Do whatever you can to strengthen the neuro-emotional connection that will drive his responsiveness to your modeling.

      2) The bottom line, here, Martha, is sure. I have crappy days occasionally. I blow it, even when my intentions are pretty good. But two things also happen. First, we always do a little clean up when we blow it. We apologize, we talk about what went wrong for us, and we attempt to realign with whichever girl we lost it with. We’re OK with them seeing us as humans, and with them learning from how we make amends, as well as, with them learning about how healthy humans pass through difficulties together and reconcile afterward. (Great stuff for bonding, too). Secondly, the more we work with ourselves to resist auto-responses that were trained into us, the more we establish new patterns of response that become automatic and thereby require less energy. And as we get more habitual in our “higher responses”, so we also continue to perceive the manner in which it is actually easier to respond in such ways. And when I see parents working so hard to maintain control, authority, and power over their children, and make every little infraction a battle, I think, “How exhausting!”

      2.b) My weaknesses are: when I perceive that any of the girls is trying to hurt the other; when I feel like one of them (usually Xi) is acting as if I’m not interested in helping, and therefore turns up the volume on her fear-based emotions; and when I perceive that Echo won’t let me help her (preferring only Natalie to do so). I struggle with these almost every time.

      Was any of that helpful?

      Thanks for writing in, Martha.

      Be well.

      • martha says:

        Thanks. Yes, helpful. 1b triggered some new ideas for me. I know what you’re saying about the so-called higher level responses feeling easier and the lower-level responses (i refer to it as ‘iguana brain’) feeling, being, and appearing much more exhausting and sort of numbing. Thanks for sharing what you experience as your struggles. In reading your blog, I often perceive your certainties, successes, confidence, but not as much your questions or frustrations. I am curious how your ‘clean up’ after ‘blowing it’ goes. Thanks as always.

      • Martha,

        I’m very glad to hear that you found something useful in my last response.

        “Clean up” post headed your way in the next couple days!

        Thanks so much for letting me know what your interests are. It makes it more fun to me to write to a specific inquiry.

        Be well.

  4. hakea says:

    Hi Nathan

    Are your kids homeschooled?

    The difference between your approach at home and the severe behaviourist approach at school would be difficult for kids to navigate I imagine.

    I’ve had a look at the Alfie Kohn website and I think schools are light years from what he is talking about. I am aware of a few schools here which use a restorative justice approach rather than behaviourist. Most of the teachers I speak with are not aware of attachment theory.

    • We homeschooled Bella half time until kindergarten, then she’s done Montessori. Xi was homeschooled until 7, then Montessori. Echo will be homeschooled until she demands otherwise. 😉

      And yes, even in those “enlightened” environs we have had plenty to process with the girls. But they are pretty amazing.

      Schools here are a ways off from what Alfie Kohn prescribes as well — perhaps even more so. It’s a sad state for the future.

      That’s why we have so much work to do!

      Be well.

      • hakea says:

        I really don’t think that this approach is workable with the parents I work with.

        There is a programme here called Tuning in To Kids which teaches the empathy approach to parents. I purchased the manual over a year ago, and I can’t teach it – uses skills that many don’t have the capacity for and in a way sets them up for failure.

        Another programme which teaches more relating skills and only uses time-out as a last resort is Triple P (Positive Parenting Programme) which was established in Australia. I also teach Triple P in the community, and I think it is a really solid programme, but I’m not certain it has a long lasting effect.

        If I was a family support worker going into people’s homes and coaching them on how to respond to their kids it would be more feasible. Or if the community I worked in was more dynamic instead of being so insular, I could set up a weekly support group where we could discuss situations, responses, etc.

        Thank you for writing at length about the empathy approach. You have given me a lot to think about.

      • Narelle,

        I’m certainly not going to argue your expertise with you, but I have done work with families where the parents have totally lost their children due to their choices and parenting approaches, and both the children and the parents are living almost totally outside “the continuum”, and I have seen empathy work. It is teachable, and it is effective in my experience.

        At the same time, I hear you, clearly, and if this isn’t an approach you find tenable for the families with whom you work, then obviously, you wouldn’t want to use it with them. My arguments are always aimed at a niche of the more general populace. You are the expert in your field, and I’ll rely on you to do what you think is best.

        But what about in your own home? Is there room to explore greater use of empathy with your family?

        Thanks for your thoughtful comments Narelle. Always a pleasure to read and think about your insights.

  5. Karyn @ kloppenmum says:

    I think I am cautiously agreeing with most of what you have to say here Nathan, and I don’t see all boundary setting as having to be adversorial (although I know plenty of parents who choose that path). We always seek to understand first and we use consequences that are appropriate for the boys’ level of comprehension. I have a post stewing around in my head, which will better explain why…I’ll have to find the time to bake it properly!

    • I think I agree with you, too, Karyn. Boundary setting doesn’t have to be adversarial. We are clear with our girls about what we prefer, and what others generally prefer (human nature stuff, social norms, etc.). And we are able to keep that information from being combative, authoritarian, and adversarial — except for occasional blunders on our parts.

      Can’t wait to see what delicious insights you come up with in that post you’re baking!

      Be well.

      • Karyn @ kloppenmum says:

        I think that’s the key difference with us, Nathan. While we often say what we prefer and we allow for emotion states and we listen to their thoughts, there are also definite times where we are the calm authority and our kids know there are some things which are non-negotiable.
        The post is a week or two away, I have a couple of others that I’m almost finished drafting to publish first, and I look forward to your comments. 🙂

      • I’ll agree somewhat, Karyn. But you’ve definitely gotten the wrong idea if you think our girls don’t know who “the leaders” are in our family. And they most certainly follow our lead, especially when it matters most.

        I am certain that I don’t want our girls to think that there are things that are “non-negotiable” with us. Except our love. I can’t see how that would serve them. And, conversely, I do see the merit in them feeling like we are approachable, flexibly-minded resources (when they are a bit older and making more important choices on their own) — something that is usually lost in more authoritative homes. I know when I was a teen, having the sense that my parents where mostly just “enforcers” of “the rules” put them completely outside the category of resource, in fact, I didn’t tell them anything that I thought would mean they’d censure me.

        But that doesn’t mean everything that happens in our home requires a lengthy debate. There are plenty of times when our answer starts as “no” and remains “no” regardless of our general openness to discussion.

        I’m so glad, Karyn, that we all get to share our specifics with each other. What a great gift we are giving each other, ourselves, and our kids.

        Be well.

  6. hakea says:

    Reply to Nathan’s comment April 27 – we’ve run out of “reply” tabs.

    I mentioned in my comments to your previous post about time-out, that I already use a similar approach in my professional and personal life. My work is grounded in attachment theory and also in person/child-centered theory (the work of Carl Rogers, Virginia Axline, and Garry Landreth).

    My very occasional use of time-out has not damaged my own kids. There is no physical abuse, emotional abuse or emotional neglect. I understand that you see that approach as abusive and neglectful of their being, but when my three boys are in turbo mode, counting them to three gives them the opportunity to come back down to idle.

    My use of time-out in the programmes I facilitate with children is also very occasional and only for extremely disruptive behaviour. In a system that is overwhelmingly behaviourist, my programmes offer a safe and nurturing haven in an often cruel and harsh landscape.

    • Thanks for the clarification, Narelle.

      I can’t remember if it was in one of our emails or in one of these previous comments but I asked if you could describe the 1-2-3 Magic technique. I’m still curious about how it works.

      Also, I remembered that you said you used the same technique in your home and professional life. I was asking if you thought there was room to bring more of what I was suggesting into your home?

      Again, thanks for the discussion, Narelle. I appreciate the differences and the manner in which we all approach connective, natural parenting.

      I think there’s likely a spectrum of “appropriate” choices that have more to do with how we parents work than how kids work (when you get down to the finer details). It reminds me of the section in Nature Shock about the use of corporal punishment, wherein the normalcy of corporal punitive techniques in some communities made them less likely to negatively effect the children (and their tendency toward aggression and violence in particular), whereas in communities where corporal punishment was used more rarely, the children took it as more jarring and were more negatively effected by it’s occasional use. There is a culture of process in every home that normalizes the particulars. Would you agree?

      Be well.

      • hakea says:


        In communities where the basic needs of adequate food and shelter (in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) are not being met, and where there is disadvantage at every level – social, political, cultural, financial, educational, familial, personal (Bronfenbrenner) the challenges are multi-layered and complex.

        As a practitioner I have to examine my white power and privilege on a daily basis. I am educated, I can feed my kids, I have the resources to provide medical and dental care.

        I have to use empathy in my helping relationship with the parents and children I work with, walk in their shoes so to speak. I have to come from where they are at, not from my personal agendas. If a parent is willing to learn to use techniques to keep their child physically safe instead of using harsh or coercive parenting (Patterson) I’ll be starting with harm minimisation.

        My funding body requires that I use evidence based practice. If I had the energy to do a PhD, I might be inclined to do a longitudinal study on the effectiveness and outcomes of empathic parenting in child protection cases and disadvantaged communities where there is a high rate of poverty, drug use, domestic violence, community violence, low levels of literacy and numeracy, mental illness, racial intolerance, etc.

        Although it makes sense, I’m not yet aware of a strong evidence base for the sustainability of empathic parenting, particularly where there are a multitude of pressures on the family.

        I emailed you with the basic details of 1-2-3 Magic. I can resend.

        Best Wishes

      • Narelle, thanks for the additional thoughts. I hope to fund your research idea some day!

        Please do resend the 1-2-3 Magic details. Thanks!

  7. Pingback: (Back to) the Basics V: Who’s the Boss | "A Beautiful Place of the World"

  8. Deja Harrison says:

    Beautiful! These words echo my heart and parental intuition (and as a classroom teacher) that it is all about relationships, emotional intelligence, acceptance, permission, humanness, modeling, etc. Thank you. Deja

    • Hooray Deja!

      I’m so glad that you found something in the post that spoke to you. It certainly sounds (from your comment) like we are in full agreement. Now we just have to keep spreading the word!

      Thanks for writing in!

      Be well.


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