The good stuff in many parenting books is very good indeed, especially in parenting books that advocate, as I do, for no punishment of children at all, and some of them are full of real evidence resulting from real scientific research. There is a lot of wonderful advice that I cannot make any complaint about except just that: it can appear to be a lot of information, a great deal of related but assorted ideas that can start to appear too numerous to remember or integrate into the busy lives of us parents. My advice in the face of this may sound too simple to be true, but it isn’t really.
Don’t punish. All the rest of the good stuff flows from that.
If we don’t punish, we can’t be “controlling.” We can’t be “chaotic,” we can’t even be “permissive.” These are all mistakes that don’t just happen, these are not erroneous situations that arise passively – they are forced. We don’t really need to do a lot to avoid these situations, we don’t even need to learn a lot of new methods; we just need to stop actively, forcibly creating these conditions, that is the key. If we do nothing else right but don’t punish and don’t force our will, our children will be better off than any of us ever were. That’s a big change, don’t get me wrong, but it is one single change, not some complicated new “system.”
If we start with that – no punishment – the rest inevitably and naturally follows. When we’ve decided that we’re not going to hurt our children to get our way, we’ll find that we need to befriend them, to bring them on-board with us, that to get cooperation we’ll have to cooperate with them. If we love them, they will love us and want to cooperate, and if we don’t hurt them, they’ll trust us and believe us when we talk. Of course babies and toddlers will make mistakes, but once they can understand what we’re saying and if we don’t terrorize and betray them with punishments, things will just get easier all the way through, as they grow in their ability to think and communicate. The opposite of that is why it’s more difficult when we punish, when make adversaries of our children: things get harder as our adversaries grow in their abilities. If we don’t hurt them, if we do the positive stuff that we need to do to make friends of them, even our teenagers won’t be the bitter monsters many of us have learned to assume they will be.