Three More Bites or No Dessert: Learning to Parent Respectfully

I threatened and punished my children for too long.  Now, I am learning to parent respectfully.

Learning to Parent Respectfully“Three more bites or no dessert”.  “Do what I say, or I will take away your favorite toy.”  I said these things for too long.  It was stressful.  It was tense.  It created anxiety and confusion.  Not just for me, but for my children.

I was introduced to another way; an alternative view of my children.  It encourages me to listen to my kids and learn about what they like and what makes them comfortable.  It reminds me to see life through their eyes, just as I try to do with my husband and sisters and friends.

The struggle for power between my children and I is eliminated when I think this way, along with arbitrary responses and the need to remember which step in a discipline plan comes next.  Now when I am in a challenging moment with my children, I am thinking about what makes sense for my child, what will alleviate their discomfort, what will make them feel better.

“How will they learn how to act?” many ask.  “You put them in a bubble” others remind me.

It is not my experience that my children act inappropriately or unkindly, or that they cannot handle disappointment or change.  Instead, I see that they are adjusting more easily and hearing what is said. I see that their trust toward me is increasing and I witness all of the good thing that come from this.

Life is simpler, and time with my children is more authentic.  Rather than the space between us being filled with demands and punishment, it is being taken up with attempts to understand and improve.  What am I doing that is different?  Instead of threatening time-outs and banning favorite toys, I try to understand what is causing such big emotion.  Rather than forcing another bite and not allowing dessert, I realize that sometimes people are not hungry.

I am learning to see my children as people, with feelings and thoughts and emotions, just like anyone else.  I am trying harder to listen to them and consider what they are sharing.  I am getting rid of arbitrary rules and regulations.  This does not mean that our existence is defined by chaos and bedlam.  In our experience it has been quite the opposite.  We are calmer, more understanding and compassionate.  We have more consideration for each other and the world around us.

Now, we are simply living.  Just as I do with everyone else who resides in the world.  I no longer accept that my children need to be trained.  Rather, I understand that they are deserving of love, compassion, understanding and acceptance- just as they are.  I treat them as I would want to be treated.  Except with more love and affection.

Click here for Gentle Parenting Resources, and here to read 5 Changes I Have Made For My Children.

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13 Replies to “Three More Bites or No Dessert: Learning to Parent Respectfully”

  1. Lovely post. Things I remind myself of everyday when I’m hearing the same comments about being “too gentle” with my “training.” Your perspective is very clear and honest. It just seems so practical to try and understand what’s troubling our children instead of disciplining them for acting on their emotions.

    • Margaux,

      It is still hard for me to comprehend how we became so backwards in our approach to children. The more deeply I understand it, the more troubling it is.

      I am so grateful for being introduced to another way of doing things, and it sounds like you are too <3

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

  2. This is very similar to our journey, just took us much longer to get there and had to make the changes with teens and little ones, but it’s been so worth it. So much of the ‘conflict’ we had has disappeared, we still have some struggles but much less then we had before we changed our parenting approach to more respectful parenting.

    • Wow, Michelle! What practical support you could offer us. Making the changes with older children must have been intense. And I do not wonder that it was worth it. It is hard to describe how much things change when our houses live this way. The best I can do is to say “I would never choose another way”.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

  3. Pingback: 5 Posts About Improving My Parenting

  4. Well said! Thank you for making me think outside of what I have always seen as “parenting”.

  5. This might sound silly, but I’m so glad to hear this actually happening in the real world! I’ve just finished reading Parent Effectiveness Training, and boy oh boy, those aren’t the principles that I learned growing up. Love reading your blog to see how real parents are living out truly peaceful relationships in the family.

  6. I was this way with my son. It was awesome. And then (re-introducing one of your earlier posts) boy #2 came along. He’s 10 months now (big one is 5) and I am so struggling. I spent my pregnancy in guilt for having another baby, and I see my bad thoughts becoming reality. I have no idea how to manage both of them. I am so tired and hurting and depressed and Ahhhh! that most of the time the only option I feel like I have is to threaten to take something away in order to get a desired behavior. No yelling or screaming or mean voice – I can stay calm, but I still do it. And boy, has he suffered too. I feel the strain, I see more undesirable behavior. And I cry at night about my degrading relationship with him, only to wake exhausted the next morning with seemingly no recourse but to repeat my behavior. I am crying as I write this. It is not what I want for my son. I know better. i LIVED better with him. But I don’t know how to do it with two of them. I am sorry to vent. I love your site and your encouragement. I have to go blow my nose now (lol).

  7. And I mean, COME ON. Who on this planet has not wanted to eat dessert first a time or two in their lives?! Amirite?

  8. I too try to gently discipline and so far I feel. I’ve been pretty successful especially thanks to blogs like yours. I have a specific issue I’d like advice on though : I’m currently pregnant, due in a month and I have a 20 mo old daughter. When we to outside to play she will sometimes take off down the driveway towards the street knowing she is not allowed. I know it is just a fun game to her to be chased and all kids test boundaries but I’m concerned because I literally cannot chase her at this point. I hate keeping her indoors and I hate feeling the need to say “if you run towards the street we’ll have to go inside ” because it breaks her heart when we do go inside but to me its a question of safety. How can gently discipline her in this situation without putting her safety at risk?

    • Alison,
      You’re right, sometimes safety is an issue. Being 8 months pregnant and physically unable to chase her, the best option is to remind her when you go outside that if she runs, you will need to go inside. This is a logical consequence, given your current condition! If/when carrying her inside, you can validate her feelings with calm words. “You are feeling frustrated and sad. I can’t chase you down the driveway with my big belly. We can try again next time.” Disappointment and frustration are big feelings when you’re a toddler!

  9. Are there classes people could take in order to learn how to parent peacefully? I grew up with parents who did the threatening and punishing and that is what happens with me and my kid and I hate it and I want to be a peaceful parent. I will admit that I am finding it difficult to do so but I keep on trying. I just feel so frustrated 🙁 that I can’t seem to break out of the cycle and then I get depressed because my relationship with my child isn’t what I planned and hoped it to be.

  10. My husband and I were alao raised with the traditional threats and punishments. He is also a police officer and their way of dealing with people acting out is the same. I struggle with helping him understand this style of parenting. His one question he always asks, “How will they learn to respect our limits when they’re 12,14, 16 if they don’t now?” i.e. He is speaking of those arbitrary limits like eating the meal in prepared. He says he is behind me with this change but just has more difficulty validating it. How do I respond?