Raising Children without Violence: Part 1 by Joan Durrant

October 8, 2016

Are you frustrated when your child isn’t dressed and ready for school on time?  Do you wonder how to stop your toddler from grabbing and playing with dangerous things?  Do you want your teenager to talk to you more often? You want all these, but you’re also thinking of stopping to spank your child as well?

There’s a better alternative.

A manual for parents, expectant parents and those who work with children jointly published by international NGO Save the Children Sweden and the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children entitled “Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting” provides a calmer and more loving way of disciplining children.  Its author, Joan E. Durrant, Ph.D., a child-clinical psychologist and an associate professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. She authored parenting materials for the Canadian government, delivered talks, and led workshops in many countries about the topic of physical punishment and positive parenting.

What is different about this manual?  It’s an easy to use manual that gives parents plenty of opportunities to practice their skills that can be applied to rearing children from infancy to adolescence.

The manual brings together findings of research on effective parenting, knowledge about child development, and principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which the Philippines ratified in 1990.  It shows parents how to discipline their children without resorting to spanking or yelling, and how to help them to build mutually respectful relationships. It also recognizes the parents’ rights to information and support in carrying out this important role.

Why should parents be interested in this manual?  There are a multitude of reasons parents resort to spanking or yelling: they don’t know what else to do; they don’t understand why their child is behaving that way; they are under stress; it is what their own parents did so they are not questioning it.  To some parents, there are only two options: hitting them or doing nothing.

Today, research overwhelmingly shows that negative responses, such as spanking, criticizing and yelling, do not get parents where they want to go.  These actions can damage the parent-child relationship; build up anger, resentment and aggression in the child; crush the child’s self-confidence; erode trust and communication; and create fear, anxiety and even depression in children.

Positive discipline, on the other hand, teaches children the things that parents really want them to learn and remember – respect for others, self-confidence, trust, communication, and problem-solving.  Positive discipline is active and preventive.  It is definitely not permissive. It is respectful of the child as a person who is learning many new things every day.

Positive discipline is built on four basic principles– identifying your long-term goals, providing warmth and structure, understanding how children think and feel, and problem-solving. These principles will be discussed in a series of articles starting with “Identifying Your Long-Term Goals”.

Identifying Your Long-Term Goals

Imagine that you have planned a trip overseas for a holiday in your dream destination.  You have imagined this trip for a long time and it means the world to you that you will finally have a chance to get there.  You get on the plane in Manila for the one-hour flight to another city to catch your connecting flight. At first, you are excited and happy but then the flight attendant trips and spills a drink on you.  You are so upset at the flight attendant that you yell at her. When you get off the plane for the stop-over, you were still so angry and upset by your experience that you forget all about getting on your flight to your dream destination.

What happened?  You were so focused on the short-term situation that you lost sight of why you were on that plane in the first place – to reach your long-term destination.  You lost an opportunity to get to where you really wanted to go.  You ended up in an entirely different place – one that was only supposed to be a brief stop-over on a much longer trip.  Why?  Because you reacted to a short-term situation in a way that wasn’t constructive and it took you off-course.

As parents, we often get off the plane in our stop-over and forget that we really wanted to go to our dream destination.  In other words, we become so focused on our short-term frustrations that we forget about where it is that we really want to go in the end.

Much of a parent’s day is filled with responding to short-term situations – stopping a child from running into traffic, getting a child dressed and ready for school, reacting to a teenager’s constant use of social media  . . . the list is endless.  Often, we get caught up in responding to the immediate moment and acting on our feelings of frustration or fear.  Our responses to these short-term situations are often poorly thought-out and can result in anger, criticism, hitting or yelling.  These responses might come from our “gut” or our emotions or they might come from what our own parents did when we were children.  Wherever they come from, negative responses to short-term situations often backfire.

To understand why negative responses such as hitting and yelling are counter-productive, think about this: what do you want your child to be like when he or she grows up?  Really think about it.  Do you want him to be patient and kind?  Do you want her to be confident and a good communicator?  Do you want him to be honest and able to solve problems well?  Do you want her to be respectful of herself and other people?

Now think about what your child is learning when you spank or yell.  Is your child learning patience and kindness?  Are you building your child’s confidence and communication skills?  Are you encouraging honesty and teaching problem-solving?  Are you demonstrating respectful behavior?

The problem is that our responses to short-term situations can easily defeat us in reaching our long-term goals. Positive discipline is an approach that is based on figuring out what your long-term goals are and finding ways of working toward them, even in frustrating or frightening short-term situations.  In fact, your child will learn the most from you in the most challenging situations.  Short-term challenges are opportunities to work toward your long-term goals.

When your child won’t get dressed, when he touches dangerous objects, when she has a tantrum, you have an opportunity to teach your child something very important. By coping well in these situations, you can show your child how to cope with his or her own frustrations.

Identifying your long-term parenting goals is the first step in learning the positive discipline approach.  Once you know where you want to end up, you can begin to figure out the best way to get there.  Take some time this week to think about the person you want your child to be at age 20.

The manual can be downloaded for free from this this site.

Next week:  we will look at the two most powerful tools that you can use to reach your long-term goals – warmth and structure.


About Joan Durrant

Joan E. Durrant, Ph.D. is a child-clinical psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.  She conducts research on the factors that lead parents to strike their children, as well as on the impact of laws that prohibit physical punishment.  She was the principal researcher and co-author of the Canadian Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth; a member of the Research Advisory Committee of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children; and a co-editor of Eliminating Corporal Punishment: The Way Forward to Constructive Discipline (UNESCO).  She has written parenting materials for the Canadian government, and has given speeches and workshops in many countries on the topics of physical punishment and positive parenting.