Huffpost Parents
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Ashley Ryan Headshot

4 Powerful and Effective Alternatives to Punishment

Posted: Updated:

I don't believe in punishment.

For those of you gasping, take a deep breath.

I believe in loving limits.

I believe in discipline without punishments and rewards, and setting boundaries without insults, yelling, bribing and manipulation.

More research and science is bringing forth compelling evidence that proves punishment can have a severely negative impact on our children's emotional health.

I'm not saying this to make you feel guilty, as we've all employed certain parenting techniques in the heat of the moment we're not proud of.

But with some practice and patience, these effective alternatives will become second nature and you'll have a much more confident, happy and resilient child.

Here are a few effective and healthy alternatives to punishment every parent can use to build their child's self esteem.

Prevention

As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

That's why child-proofing your life is as important as baby-proofing your space.

As a parent, I'm sure you've had moments when you foresaw a disaster that was about to occur. And if we take a moment to think about it, we can usually foresee other recipes for disasters.

Taking proactive steps to prevent these unnecessary stresses in your life and the life of your child will make a big difference in reducing the upsets in your family.

If you know your child is going to get into the cookies, put them where he can't reach or find them. If giving your child a sweet dessert at night makes him stay up too late, then change your desserts habits. If you don't want your child getting onto your computer, then don't make your computer so accessible for them; shut the door to your home office, or put the computer out of sight.

Planning ahead will save you so much time and energy. You'll avoid cleaning up unnecessary messes. And you'll avoid unnecessary upsets and needless stressing out.

Offer An Alternative

One very effective alternative that helps boost your child's self-esteem in the process, is to offer an alternative. It's important to remember that your child wants to explore the world, and they need space in order to do that. But at the same time you don't want a mess everywhere, so here's a great way to create a "win-win" situation for you and your child...

If your toddler is exploring the effects of gravity by pouring milk on the floor, before you react like a house on fire, first, take a moment. Evaluate the situation and think about offering your child an alternative.

Water in the sink would be one alternative, playing outside with the hose would be another.

There's no point in reprimanding with harsh words, which only fosters low self-esteem. Instead, there are alternatives.

Use A Physical Example

Children learn well with physical examples instead of always using words. So, if your 3-year-old is dumping sugar on the table. First, find out what their legitimate need is by asking a question, then offer an alternative with words as well as a physical demonstration.

Here's a real-life example of how we used this once with our son, when he started dumping sugar on the table...

Oh, what a great idea, I see that you're interested in the sugar. Here's some flour that we can use in the sink.

I then scooped up my son and carried him to the sink to continue with flour. By lifting him lovingly and carrying him to the sink, I'm showing him at the same time as using words.

Another example...

Your child's tracking their muddy boots on the floor. You can assess the situation and express your feelings about it:

Oh my goodness, I just cleaned the floor and I don't want mud on it, why don't we take off your boots together.

Then you would warmly scoop your child into your arms and bring them to the door in your arms.
You can even run quickly, and bounce them on the way, to make it fun.

Self Reflection

Parenting is a journey of endless learning.

In order to learn, we need to take a fresh look at many of the outdated parenting tactics and methods that we may have been raised with.

As parents who are learning to raise healthier and happier kids, we also need to reflect on our actions in order to clearly see the effectiveness of our own parenting approach. We must do this to gain perspective on how these tactics are affecting our child's emotional, mental and physical health, for good and bad.

Ask yourself:

Is what I'm doing now based on what is actually happening in this moment or am I reacting to a memory from my own childhood; or something that more recently happened?

Or ask yourself...

Is it really necessary for me to respond this way?
Will what I'm doing effect my child positively or negatively?

The aim of this alternative is to first put things in perspective. After all, we can't expect to make clear and just decisions when we're reacting impulsively from things that happened in our past.

That's why it's critical to take a moment and ask ourselves important clarifying questions.

Let's face it, when we're parenting on auto-pilot (without self-reflection) we tend to treat our kids the same way we were treated by our own parents. We often use parenting practices without questioning them.

While these parenting tips and tricks may have been necessary for our parents to cope with all the demands in their lives, if you're reading this, then you now have a chance to assess whether or not there may be a healthier way to raise your own child.

By knowing and applying these principles you'll be way ahead of the game, stressing less, and enjoying the little moments more.

I hope you've enjoyed these tips and suggestions.

Here's to your parenting success!