What Is Non-Punitive Discipline?

Most of us were raised in a household where there were rules to be followed. Breaking those rules resulted in certain consequences – it might have involved being sent to your room, having extra chores to complete, being grounded, or losing out on pocket money.

In some households, you might have even received a smack. 

This familiar model of actions resulting in consequences which involve some form of punishment is called ‘punitive discipline’. Non-punitive parenting is a more modern way of raising children.

Many people think it involves enabling negative behaviour and letting your children be unruly, but this is not the case. It encourages inner motivation for behaviour rather than providing external motivation. 

What is Non-Punitive Discipline? 

Non-punitive discipline aims to avoid the ‘punishment vs reward’ cycle of traditional parenting by steering clear of any form of physical punishment, shouting, or shaming. The idea is to treat children with respect and build a strong relationship between the parent and the child. 

If you punish ‘bad’ behaviour and reward ‘good’ behaviour, then children only learn to behave out of fear of being punished. This can prevent them from learning the true meaning of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and developing their own sense of morality, as well as dampening their self-determination which is important in later life.

It can also result in your child refraining from the unwanted behaviour only in a situation when they know they will be punished. This can encourage sneaky behaviour and drive a wedge between parents and children. 

This doesn’t mean that there are no consequences in non-punitive discipline, it just means that these consequences are what naturally arises out of the situation rather than being imposed or forced. For example, if your child is not behaving appropriately with a toy, then you remove the toy until they are ready to be responsible.

If your child is being unkind to others, then you remove them from the situation until they can regain composure and behave appropriately.

By doing this, your child will learn to moderate their own behaviour and make good decisions in the future, but they will reach these decisions through independent thought rather than fear. They will develop the important skill of self-discipline. 

By building a relationship with your child based on respect, they will see that their needs are being met and they will want to return that respect. This means they will want to do the right thing without the need for bribery. 

Over-Rewarding Can Be Damaging

By repeatedly rewarding certain behaviour with sweet treats, presents, toys, your child may become driven by material possessions. They could become obsessed with getting new things, and may modify their behaviour for the sole purpose of receiving rewards.

Once they become used to one reward, it will lose its appeal and you may need to start getting more inventive and elaborate. You will also be instilling in your child the idea that their main focus should be on receiving, rather than giving or doing the right thing. 

Communication Is Key

In order for non-punitive discipline to work, you need to communicate with your child in a non-violent way to teach them how to recognize and effectively express their feelings. Once your child can recognize when they are feeling happy, sad, angry or confused, they will be able to communicate this rather than acting out.

As a parent, you are then in a better position to understand what is causing the issue, so you can figure out which of your child’s needs are not being met or if there is anything you can do to help. 

By building this foundation, you and your child can work together to be proactive and prevent issues before they occur, by getting to know each other better and understanding what you need from each other. 

How To Improve Communication With Your Child

Try to resolve disagreements and solve problems with calm and civil family discussions. Everyone should have a chance to share their opinion without being shamed. You can work together to brainstorm options and talk about solutions.

This will not only set a good example to your children about how to communicate effectively and resolve issues amicably, but it will also give them a sense of belonging and strengthen the bond between family members. 

Children are naturally curious and have a lot of questions about the world around them. Rather than telling them what to think, it is better to encourage them to think about things for themselves.

By encouraging independent thought and showing that there is usually more than one answer to any question, this will help them to understand more complex issues and will serve them well in later life. It also encourages your child to not be afraid to express themselves to you. 

When your children do begin to express their feelings and emotions to you, it is important that you empathize and validate their feelings. If you invalidate your children’s feelings, they may stop sharing and become closed off.

They may also begin to not value their own feelings, and not pay attention to them. This can cause issues with communication, emotions, and behaviour. 

As an alternative to a traditional ‘time-out’, create a safe space where your child can learn to self-soothe and to think about how they feel about what has happened. This will encourage them to think rationally about a situation.

If they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with you, then that is even better as you can understand your child better on a deeper level. 

Tips For Non-Punitive Discipline 

Now that you have a better understanding of what non-punitive discipline is, here are some tips for how to introduce it into your family. 

One of the most important things to do is to let go of your anger. It is normal to feel anger and frustration, but this should not come into your parenting and your method of discipline. You should aim to teach and nurture your child with love, communicating in a gentle and non-aggressive way.

If you feel too angry to do this, then try to remove yourself from the situation until you have calmed down. If you get angry and shout at your child, they will become fearful or resentful. Their behaviour will be geared towards ending the negative interaction rather than learning and growing as a person. 

Positive parenting works on the assumption that all children are good, but they need guidance and love to grow and reach their potential. It can be challenging sometimes, but try to see your child as a ‘good child’ who has some bad moments.

This will make it easier for you to stay calm and patient. If you label your child as bad or naughty, you will expect negative behaviour and will feel exasperated before it even happens. 

Let your child know that you have faith in them as a good person with phrases like ‘I know don’t usually behave this way’, ‘I don’t think you meant to do this’, followed by an explanation about why their actions were wrong.

Give them space to respond and react, then provide them with an example of positive behaviours to replace the negative action with. Such as, ‘next time, you could…’.