Command, Don’t Demand

If you are a parent who is trying to orient your compass to more gentle points than hitting your child or yelling at him or her, this is the post for you!  We are going to take the time to talk about why hitting a child  or yelling at him or her does not solve the problem of unwanted behavior. 

Children are immature and not fully developed, and yet we expect them to control their impulses.  It takes lots of time  (years, decades!) to learn self-restraint, and many of us would admit we are still working on impulse control ourselves in different areas.   However, hitting and yelling for conflict resolution is not a skill you can bring to work with you or use with your spouse, and many parents would like to work toward having different tools to use as they guide their children. 

There are excellent reasons for wanting to leave spanking, hitting and yelling behind.  Eda LeShan, in her wonderful article. “Please Don’t Hit Your Kids”, published in Mothering Magazine ( in Spring 1996, outlines seven points regarding why hitting or spanking a child is not the way to attempt to manage behavior.  Her thoughts include these:

  • We should not hit a child because it leads to the belief of a child that hitting is a decent, ethical and moral thing to do and it is not.
  • Any time we hit or spank a child they believe they are bad and unlovable.
  • When children are spanked, they feel their behavior is something they could have controlled, which is not always the case.  She writes, “It is the nature of childhood to be immature and unable to control one’s impulses.  That’s what adults are for: to help children deal with impulses they will eventually learn to control themselves.”
  • Being hit is demeaning.
  • Nobody learns anything of value by being hit.  “All spankings and beatings do is prove that as soon as one is big enough and strong enough there can be retribution by hurting others.  Hitting produces fear, anger, feelings of rejection, and perhaps most of all, confusion.”
  • The way children learn civility is to have it modeled for them by the adults in their world.
  • There are many other ways to handle the misbehavior of a child.


THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, page 259, says the following regarding spanking, “Spanking does not help a child learn self-discipline…….Of course, there are other things parents do that can be harmful to a child. Physical punishment is only one aspect. Parents can undermine a child’s self-esteem in other ways, too. Nancy Samalin, author of Loving Your Child Is Not Enough, explains: “Children take criticism from a parent very personally. They feel attacked by someone whose admiration they crave…Children need appreciation and praise, not indifference and punishment.”

A Word About Yelling:

“Yelling frightens children. Being yelled at is an attack that triggers the fight or flight response. Some children defend by fighting- yelling back at us. Some children defend by fleeing – trying to escape either physically or emotionally….Intentionally yelling at children to get them to do what we want is bullying. It teaches children to yell at people to get them to do what you want. Unintentionally yelling at children is the loss of control. It teaches children that yelling at people is an acceptable way of dealing with frustration.” (Connection Parenting, pages 104-105). 

Some parents are truly baffled at this point.  I have actually had parents say to me, “Well, if I can’t hit my child and I can’t yell at my child, what do I do?  How do you punish your children if you don’t hit and you don’t yell?”

Again, there is that word:  punishment.  Marshall Rosenberg, author and founder of NonViolent Communication says this regarding parenting,

“Somehow I had gotten it into my head that, as a parent, my job was to make demands. I learned, however, that I could make all the demands in the world but still couldn’t make the children do anything.”

Guiding your child does not mean your child gets to do whatever he or she wants.  However, how you view the process of  teaching your child the skills needed to grow into a mature adult makes all the difference.

Alfie Kohn, in his book Unconditional Parenting, discusses a view of conditional parenting.  This is a view in which the child is looked at in terms of his behavior, the overall view of human nature seen by the parent is negative, the view of parental love is that it needs to be earned and that the strategy involves “doing something to” a child.  This is in direct contrast to unconditional parenting, which focuses on the whole child including thoughts, reasons, feelings,  the view of human nature by the parent that human nature is good, the view of the parent regarding parental love is that it is an unconditional gift and that the strategy used involves working with the child..

He goes on to point out a study done on more than a hundred mothers of grown children: “Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations now felt less worthy as adults.  Remarkably, though, they tended to use the identical approach once they became parents.  The mothers used conditional affection “with their own children in spite of the strategy (ies) having had negative effects on them.”  He comments that parenting styles can be passed on to one’s children.  My personal  thought is that how you teach and guide your children is planting the seed for the next generations. Therefore, it is important to stop and think about what discipline is for you.

DISCIPLINE MEANS TO GUIDE.  Discipline does not equate to punishment.  As parents, we are to guide our children…They are in some ways, like a foreigner showing up in a brand new country or culture without understanding the language, the rules, what is accepted and what not is accepted.  It is our job to guide them, and show them lovingly what it acceptable.

However, using gentle methods to guide behaviors does not mean we let behaviors slide; it does mean that we keep working on what we are modeling for our children,  that we understand the developmental stages and that we have the tools to deal with common developmental challenges.  It means that we understand our own temperament and that of our child.  It means that we teach our children and that we guide our children’s behavior.  It means moving past fear-based tactics and being a truly Authentic Leader within your own home. 

I implore you to keep going back to the framework of being an Authentic Leader for your child.  If this framework is new to you, expect that you will have to keep repeatedly aligning your compass to this new point .  Parenting can be wonderful, but also challenging and frustrating.  It is wonderful to read about being a gentle parent in books and quite another thing to pull it out of your tool box when everyone in your house is crying, screaming or yelling over something, the dog is barking, the phone is ringing, the toilet is overflowing and you are at your wit’s end.  I have seen parents who have walked into the backyard or the bathroom and pulled the door shut for a few moments just so they could calm down enough to not spank or hit their child.   I applaud them.   It can take a long time to change your own behavior.  You are worth it to learn how to change and acquire new tools for your parenting.

Parenting requires a great deal of inner work, and some of the qualities that parenting best develops within ourselves seems to take a long time to mature.  But, as Becky Bailey writes in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, “Once you model self-control for your children, they will show better self-control than you have ever imagined they could achieve.” 

Keep your compass on that guiding star of alternatives to punishment,  and keep reminding yourself that gentle discipline is worth it as you strive to keep not only a peaceful home, a home where you set the tone, but to teach your children skills they can use for their whole life.

Our next post in this series will take a look at how some parents have fallen into the hole of permissive parenting and reasoning with small children and then we will finally look at creating a roadmap for gentle discipline within your own home.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

15 thoughts on “Command, Don’t Demand

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  4. I must admit I was able to relate to a lot of the statements in this superbly well-written article. Every night I look at my lovely sleeping kids and review the day with utter regret and shame over my uncontrollable tendency to shout, rant and criticise (yep guess where I got that habit from!). I absolutely swear to myself that I will not repeat this awful behaviour the following day, only for this resolution to crumble the moment they awake and start dawdling apparently incapable of remembering a single thing about the morning/school routine.

    YES I am all too aware of how my 5 year-old’s self-esteem especially is suffering from the negative effects of this tendency. YES I know she yells unfairly at her younger brother/playmates because her mother yells at her. YES I know it is particularly unforgiveable as she is in fact a jolly, affectionate, loving and polite child whose only crimes are forgetfulness, daydreaming and inability to concentrate (just like me when I was a kid). YES I know it is essential to parent in a calm mature manner without constantly punishing. YES I know they are only 5 and 3 years old!

    However what I don’t know is HOW on earth I get a child to brush her teeth without being reminded to do so every time. HOW do I get her to put her coat on without being asked 4 times? HOW do I get a kid to eat a meal without endlessly singing…of course I could add another 50 things to that list… None of these things constitutes ‘bad’ behaviour but all of these things drive you crazy when you have to repeat yourself all day long.

    I love my kids and am desperate they grow up in a warm loving environment with a calm non-authoritarian mother but the plain sad awful truth is that stickers/reward charts/special treats/promise of favourite dvds on the weekend and plentiful hugs and kisses don’t get me very far when it comes to them listening to me!


    • Hi Prabs, You are on the right track, so congratulate yourself. You have already figured out that asking a child over and over to do something does not get it done! This is because a child is in their body, and at this point you have to be there every step of the way. You have to have a strong rhythm – this is when we brush our teeth, this is how we put the toothpast on, this is the part you brush and I brush, this is the song we sing, this is when we put the cap back on, etc. The rhythm, the handing the child her toothbrush (NO WORDS!) is all part of it. Helping a child on with their coat WHILST you are singing a song that you always sing when you get ready to go out…No words! The rhythm of when you need to put the coat on is in place…Waiting a minute if you do something and just looking at them. Not yelling something from the other room, but walking in and finding the child. Whispering instead of yelling. ….You are getting there, you can do this! Keep looking at the posts under no spanking, I think they will help you gather tools!

  5. I just found your web site – and wow, is it enlightening. I’ve been thinking about the concepts of gentle parenting and parental anger for days. Your thoughts on gaining appropriate expectations through understanding of developmental stages have been a huge lightbulb for me – very exciting.

    The place where I’m stuck is this: while I’m understanding some of the principles of gentle discipline, I haven’t yet translated them to handling specific situations with my kids. I’m a very visual learner, so I love to learn by reading examples.

    Some (very, very common) specific examples in my home are: when my 4 year old son aggressively takes something from my 2 year old daughter, how do I intercede (or not)? When my 4 year old son goes into “bad guy” mode, with the harsh voice/language, and the tendency to physically lash out – how do I handle? When my 2 year old daughter has fistfuls of her brothers’ hair – how do I unclench her hands, and then “discipline” her?

    I sometimes feel like my children are going 100 miles an hour, and I’m sitting by the side of the road with my mouth open – wondering what I’m supposed to do, what the “right” way to handle the situation is. When I get frustrated with my hesitation or inaction, I revert to that old stand-by – yelling, and outbursts of anger.

    Can you point me to posts on your blog, or other books that deal with your approach in specific situations?

    I’m so eager to learn new skills. I’m very grateful for this resource. Thank you!

    • Kitter,
      I would start with the posts on the four year old….out of bounds behavior and aggressiveness is totally common in four year olds, and a harder age for most parents to handle..I have lots of posts about the four year old! Also, did you see the pretty new (this week) post on how to “do” gentle discipline?
      I love your description about sitting on the side of the road, that is what it can feel like sometimes!
      I will see if I can dig up some specific posts and email them to you, also please subscribe to this blog so they come to your inbox as well…but use the search engine and start with the four year old posts. Rhythm and outside time is KEY, key, key with a four year old and RESTITUTION. Keeping those hands busy. ANd your tone must be as neutral as please pass the salt or hand me that book. Please touch your sister gently, I think those hands forgot what they were supposed to be doing, come and help me peel these carrots for dinner and take him by the hand and off you go. That is about the level a four year old can understand. A two year old grabbing fistfuls of hair just needs to be removed and you can say, Owie! Touch brother gently. and carry her off to get engaged in something else.
      Hope that is helpful, glad you are here!

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  8. Carrie, did you ever write the post with a roadmap for gentle discipline? I would love to read the rest in your series. As our 2-year old becomes more willful, I find I NEED that roadmap. I know that hitting and yelling aren’t for us, but am afraid I am heading down the path or becoming permissive. I’m looking for more tools!

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I shared it on Facebook!

  9. Man, did i need this post!!! I have always been a gentle and kind person…until i had kids!!! I didn’t know i had that kind of beast in me. I feel so ashamed by the end of the day and i know i am losing control but don’t know what else to do. For a little background: My husband and i adopted a baby at 9 months old from Asia and found out i was pregnant as soon as we got home from picking him up. So 8 months later i had two kids!!! My adopted son was an almost perfect kid. He adapted to everything so easily and immediately bonded with us. When his brother showed up 8 months later, he turned into a super jealous kid and has had it out for his brother ever since. They are now 3.5 and 2. I understand the jealousy, i do, but i would have thought it would be over by now. I know that siblings will fight and that’s all part of being a kid, but these are extreme situations in my mind. The oldest wants whatever the youngest has ALL the time. Whether he was playing with it or not, wearing it or not, using it or not…he wants it!!! He is relentless and will whine about it for hours!!! We tell him to stop and say that we are done talking about it and that he can have it later when his brother is done with it. Or we use a timer and tell them to share. But he keeps whining for it and won’t stop. So we put him in timeout, where he continues to whine from his chair. We then resort to spanking because we can’t take it anymore. I mean, what do you do when they won’t stop no matter what you do? After a few timeouts/spankings, he stops. But sometimes he starts up again 30 mins later. It’s exhausting and mentally draining and i find myself snapping and losing control. He won’t reason, and he doesn’t seem to care about alternative choices or redirection. When he has his mind set on something, he is relentless until he gets it. But we don’t give in and we don’t put up with his behavior. He’s actually a very sweet, charming, affectionate, funny and incredibly smart little boy. It’s just this one area where he refuses to listen and has zero attention span and you have to tell him 50 times to do or not to do something. What should we do in this case? Because we’ve tried gently talking to him and tried to redirect or change the subject, but he won’t listen.

    Any advice would be so appreciated!!!

    From an exhausted parent

    • Kristee,
      First of all, big hugs. Parenting is a really hard job. I know, on the surface, this seems like jealousy. However, children that little don’t really have a conscious ability to think of themselves separately and really think to themselves all the things that jealousy really implies at the adult level. Your children are really, really little. So, here are some things that I hope will be helpful:
      First of all, look closely at diet – whole, unprocessed foods — good sleep and naps, lots of time outside playing, lots of physical activity, a strong rhythm of “this is when we eat, this is when we get up, this is when we play outside”. This is what you build, and you hold. I would not expect children so tiny to play together well inside without an adult there to lead it so they have something to supervise. I would think more about outside play – water, sand, sticks, rocks, walks! And no screens, no screens! The screens make it really tough to make good behavior happen at those ages! Three and a half actually is a challenging age, look at the header labeled DEVELOPMENT at the top of this blog and from the drop down menu pick three year old and read all those posts regarding three year old development — it is a huge milestone and shift. He is not being bad, he is being three. And your two year old, even though they are close in age, is not there yet.

      Second, children of that age are primarily imitators, so if you think about it, one may be “playing” and the other wants to “imitate” – by taking the toys! Or one primarily may be what I call a “tosser” where the main object of play is to toss, destroy another child’s little block house, etc. You really have to be around to watch all the time. You can teach the idea of trading toys, ie, if you take one away, you have to offer another toy to your brother first. It takes a lot of repetition and you have to be there all the time. You can also try to be very ho hum. Look the castle was knocked down so we get to build another castle! So, I think if you are trying to “get something done’ perhaps involving them in your work in some way will be easier. What could they do? Could one scoop laundry out into the basket? Could your little three and a half year old fold washcloths? Could they sweep? When they bake, can they take turns with you helping them to take turns to put things in the bowl and turns for sharing? Sometimes by starting the day with a structured activity, it can set up to have a better time in free play. Each day, have a little activity planned in the morning where they are with you before you allow any free play..and make sure they get some energy out before they free play.

      If your older one is talking, whining, etc, I think this is because it gets attention…try humming, singing a little song and see if he will sing with you, tell a little story whilst you are doing your work about Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but I wouldn’t directly address it anymore when it is done and over. Sometimes if objects are fought over in my house, they )the object) needs to rest. Oh dear, look , the little toy needs a nap! Silly toy! Try to be relaxed and ho hum as you can because right now it sounds like a big button pushing experience for all of you, and creating this vicious cycle of negativity in your home. So change the scenery and get outside if you must, put the toy up, hum and sing and smile. 🙂 This sweet little three and half year old wants you, your attention, your love. Give him that by not focusing on this…focus on your own work in your home and how they can be with you in that.

      Third, separation…could your little two year old go in a sling on your back at all so your three year old can help unhindered with your work? Could your two year old go in a stroller for the walk or would both want to be in the stroller? Are their naps staggered at all so your three and a half year old can get some time with just you? How do you put them to bed at night? Is there any separation for them at that point? Sometimes, I think we have to stop and look at the bigger picture of connection to our children in the midst of all of this…I often stop and think, does my child feel loved, how do they need to be loved so THEY feel loved, what would that look like for them? Do they need positive words, hugs, some alone time with me, to be able to complete something?

      You are a good mother..take the reigns in your home. Rhythm, your own work, starting the day with something structured, getting outside a lot (three hours a day or more is definitely not too much!), using your own ho hum attitude, knowing child development — the talking about sharing, the timer, the time outs (I would use time in instead with older children but at this age try just changing the scenery and going outside, or a distraction like blowing bubbles or them helping you with your work)…You have got this!

      Blessings, hugs,

  10. Thanks Carrie! Here are some answers to your questions:
    – Both boys nap at the same time. My 3 year old has actually just starting weening from naps altogether so i just make him have some quiet time in his room so i can get some down time. But i eventually go in and get him and we play together before little brother gets up.
    – We live in a condo on the 3rd floor, so outside time is tricky. The grassy areas around our condos are not the best. They are basically a litter tray for all the dogs and i won’t let them play there. I take them out a lot. Sometimes up to 3 times a day, to run errands, eat lunch, or go to a playground. So we get out a lot. On days where it is not too hot, i take them for a walk to the park and they ride in a Red Flyer wagon.
    – I have involved the boys in cooking. I let them help me with things that aren’t dangerous and they like that. I let them help me make smoothies, cookies, dinner etc.
    – We’ve had a pretty structured day plan since they were babies. We get up and eat breakfast, then play, then usually go to a therapy session for the youngest (i get to spend a lot of time with the oldest then), or we go do something fun together, then it’s home for lunch and a nap, then they get up and have a snack and we play some more, then maybe run an errand, have dinner, play with daddy when he gets home from work, have a bath, milk and a little kids show, brush teeth and then bedtime. I put the youngest down (he goes down really easily), then go and sing a few song for the oldest and give hugs and kisses and say goodnight.
    – We wrestle a lot on the bed, do tickle fights, read books, do puzzles, play with cars and trains, make forts, color, do sticker books, chase each other round the house etc… So there’s plenty of activity going on. But i get exhausted some days and just don’t have the energy.
    – They eat the following foods: Banana, Apple, Yoghurt, Chicken nuggets, Teriyaki chicken, Rice, Noodles, Raisins, Cheese, Grilled Cheese, Milk, Smoothies, Pediasure, Fruit Pouches, Apple Juice, Cheerios, Cereal, Toast, Eggs, Carrots, Corn, Peas, Broccoli, (Chips, Cookies, Ice Cream on special occasions), and Fish. I think they eat pretty healthy.
    – The 2 Year old is too big for a sling and he never really liked being in a carrier. He would protest that big time.
    – They sleep in separate rooms. My youngest actually sleeps in my closet because we don’t have a room for him. He is so used to sleeping in there that he cries if the environment changes (ie. going on vacation or trying to put the boys in the same room).
    – I know my boys feel loved. I spend all my time with them. They are inundated with hugs and kisses and kissed boo boos and get lots of encouragement.

    I think more than anything I’m burnt out. I hardly ever get time to myself and haven’t had a break in 3 years. The boys will start Mother’s Day Out in Sept. so that will free me up at least 2 days a week. But the therapy sessions are 3 days a week so it’s exhausting. We make it work though and i enjoy spending mommy and son time with my oldest. I want to pursue so many things, but can’t right now while the boys are this little. I know that will change soon, but i am in the thick of it right now and it’s hard. I want to show my boys what it means to give, and be charitable, and strive for your dreams and have a great attitude about everything. To be honest and kind to others. To never give up. To be responsible and so much more. And i am showing them many of those things already. But i’m itching to get to practical stuff (the hands on stuff) so they can really experience it for themselves. That’ll come, i know 🙂 We also need a house with a backyard so the boys can play outside more. That’s next on our list of priorities!

    Wow this was a long post, sorry!!!! Thanks so much for your advice. I really appreciate you taking the time out to answer me 🙂

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