Discipline without rewards or punishments

Emotions with toddlers is such a big part of our lives. Our little people are trying to navigate this big world and don’t yet have all the tools to understand and process. This can lead to behaviours that can be challenging.

In our household we don’t do any rewards or punishments as a means of managing behaviour. This doesn’t mean we don’t use other discipline techniques. The key to making this work is empathy and effective communication and holding space for any emotions.


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Here’s examples of what we say and do in different situations:

  • Instead of saying good job or well done, I describe what Havvie has done e.g. I can see you put the clothes in the laundry basket. This way I’m highlighting what Havvie has done rather than my judgement of how Havvie has done it. This effectively builds intrinsic motivation and allows Havvie to understand what she’s achieved rather than waiting for external validation from me.
  • Instead of praising the work I highlight the effort that has gone into the work e.g. You worked really hard at getting your pants on and you got there in the end.  You must be proud! I am feeling happy at the fact that my daughter’s happy, again building intrinsic motivation.
  • I thank Havvie for her positive actions e.g. Thank you for your patience while I finished off my work call. Now I can read a book with you. Children are just as deserving of our appreciation as adults!
  • Instead of saying don’t do that, I describe what I want her to do e.g. let’s put the glass down on the table gently. Telling children what to do instead of what not to do is usually more effective.
  • If she’s feeling upset, instead of saying don’t cry or offering a distraction, I validate her feelings and hold space for her. Frustration, sadness and anger are just as valid as feelings of happiness. She needs time to process these feelings in order to be able to overcome them.
  • I try and redirect actions that are unacceptable by providing an acceptable outlet e.g. I think you’re frustrated. I won’t let you hit me but you can hit this pillow. In this situation Havvie doesn’t have all the tools yet to process these emotions in a mature way. That will come with time so until then I try and offer something that will still let her express those emotions.
  • Instead of offering threats I offer a hug. Sometimes Havvie just needs to feel like she’s been heard and seen. So if she’s having a hard time, I offer her a hug.

I’m still figuring out what works in what situation and sometimes I don’t get it right. But these words go a long way in helping me understand what she may be going through and in turn offering her a place of comfort to feel what she needs to feel.

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