Raising Children without Violence: Part 3 by Joan Durrant

October 31, 2016

In this series of feature articles, we are presenting the principles of positive discipline for parents, future parents, and those who work with children.  These principles are taken from the parenting manual “Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting”, published by Save the Children Sweden and the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children and authored by Joan Durrant PhD of the University of Manitoba in Canada.

This week’s feature:  Understanding How Children Think and Feel

This week’s article is about the development of children’s thinking.  Seeing the world through the child’s eyes increases understanding and improves teaching.


Young babies don’t know what causes their hunger or what ends it – or that when you leave, you will return.  They communicate through crying, sometimes for long periods.  Often, we can end their crying by feeding, changing or rocking them.  But sometimes, they just need to cry.   They need you to respond with cuddling, rocking, and carrying.   The two of you will form an attachment – the foundation of your relationship for years to come.

Gradually, your baby will begin to babble – the beginning of language.  When you respond, she learns that that you will respect her attempts to communicate with you, an important building block in your relationship.

As he grows, your baby will touch everything and put it in his mouth.  This is his instinctive way of learning about objects – whether they are soft or hard, noisy or silent.   He is not being “bad”; he is learning about his world.  Be sure to remove anything harmful or breakable from his reach.

The Preschool Years

Your child will learn to walk – and run, jump, and slide.  She is incredibly energetic and active.   She learns by moving, touching and experimenting.  Walking gives her independence; it also makes danger more of a concern.  Keep dangerous items out of reach.

Your child will want to do more by herself.  She might try to express her feelings by saying “NO!”  She might be trying to say, “I don’t like that,” or “I’m frustrated.”  She is not being defiant or disobedient, but trying to tell you how she feels.

Your child will want to know what everything is called and will ask many questions.  By talking and reading to him, and answering his questions, you can develop his vocabulary.  By listening to him, you show that your respect his efforts to communicate.  You can begin to teach him how to express his feelings in words.

Because young children are highly active, independent, and limited in their understanding, parents often say “NO!” to them to keep them safe.  But after hearing “NO!” many times, your child can get frustrated.  She might have tantrums.  The way that you respond will show her how to resolve conflict.

Many children develop fears at this age.  They might become shy around strangers.  Their imaginations are growing and they understand more about pain.  They don’t understand the difference between “real” and “pretend”.  Your child needs reassurance and support, and trust that you will keep him safe.

Young children are just beginning to understand their own feelings; they are not yet able to understand others’ feelings.  By respecting their feelings, we can teach them how to treat others.  This means not shaming or embarrassing them – and not punishing them for being afraid.

The School Years

Your child’s response to school can depend on her unique, inborn temperament.   For example, some of us are very active, while others prefer quiet activities.  Some of us enjoy meeting new people and eating new foods, while others hesitate to try new things.  Some of us are easily distracted, while others can focus on one activity for a long time.

Often, conflict results from a mismatch between the child’s temperament and that of the parent or teacher.  If the child is highly active, but the parent expects him to sit quietly – or if the child is highly distracted, but the teacher expects her to stay focused – conflict can result.  When we understand the reasons for conflict, we can find constructive solutions.

As your child reaches puberty, conflict can increase again.  Hormonal changes can lead to moodiness.  Social development can lead to greater peer influence.  At this stage, parents need to keep their children safe while respecting their growing need for independence.


Your child has been practicing for this stage since birth.  If he has learned how to respect himself and others, resolve conflict non-violently and communicate constructively, he will put those skills to use as he discovers his own identity.  He might suddenly change his hairstyle, friends, interests, beliefs and plans for the future.  He will try on adult roles, experimenting with things that were forbidden when he was younger.  Although he might not say it, he needs you to support him now, providing honest information, clear expectations, and a safe environment.

The most important things that parents can do in this stage are:  strengthening the parent-child connection by providing a warm, loving, stable home; monitoring the child’s activities in a way that respects her privacy; and nurturing the child’s independence by encouraging her to make decisions and negotiating solutions to disagreements.

The manual can be downloaded for free from this site.

Next week:  Problem-solving in specific situations



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.