Non-punitive child raising (raising children without punishment) is a wonderful way to care for children. But it’s not always easy. As a childcare worker, I have been taught how to care for children without punishing them (since we are not allowed to punish children); I have also spent time raising children of many different temperaments, needs, wants, personalities etc. As such, I am well aware of how difficult non-punitive child raising can be, but also how satisfying.
I would like to explain to you a little bit about what non-punitive child raising is and isn’t. You’re probably familiar with the quote “feminism is the radical notion that women are people” (Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler). Non-punitive child raising is similar, it stems from the radical notion that children are people. Individual people with individual needs, individual desires, individual developmental levels.
Non-punitive child raising is about teaching children the tools they need to live in this world, how to relate to themselves and others. It is about finding out what children need in each individual situation, and providing for those needs. It is about treating children as people who are learning about the world, not as animals that need to be contained and controlled.
But non-punitive child raising is NOT about giving children “whatever they want”, no limits, no boundaries. Boundaries are actually really, really important for children’s development. They will push and push to discover those limits, to feel secure. Just because you’re not punishing, doesn’t mean you’re not giving a child discipline.
By now you may be wondering “how can I discipline a child without punishment?”. The answer lies in the meaning of discipline. To discipline is not to punish or control, but to teach. Children are not born with an in-built knowledge of social convention. They need to be taught. This means that we, the caregivers, need to find ways to appropriately teach children how to live in this world.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about:
Child A (3years) has been at Long Day Care for two years. Zie is normally bright and happy, and gets along well with the other children. One day, you notice that Child A is having a hard time integrating into play. While the other children are building, Child A knocks their tower over, then starts to hit the other children. Now you basically have three choices:
1. Punitive; tell the child that hitting is wrong, and zie’ll have to sit in the corner until zie is ready to play with zir friends.
2. Redirect; find a book or a toy you know the child likes, and take zim to a separate area to play.
3. Find out what’s wrong: talk to the child, see what the problem is, and teach zim a more effective way to deal with zir problems/emotions.
If you try number one, the child is likely to get frustrated and angry, and just act out again.
If you try number two, redirect, this could work, depending on the situation. If a child is bored and frustrated, zie might need another outlet, different to the one you were providing.
Number three is what you need if the child is acting out because of stress; eg. zie’s tired, hungry, angry, sad etc. You show the child you care, and teach zim a more effective way to handle zir emotions. It’s a skill zie will be able to utilise again and again.
Underlying all of this is one simple thought: children are people.
- Pharaoh Signing Off