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The Big Answer


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The Power of Loving Discipline

a book by Karen Miles

(our site's book review)

She rightly points out that punitive discipline is a parenting mistake, and research has shown it doesn’t work.

Kids misbehave when they don’t feel connected to their parents, according to the author.

Miles asserts that “The children who fare best are raised by parents who listen to them and care about their feelings and needs, who are not interested in controlling or punishing them, but always have their best interests in mind, and who have faith in their innate goodness.”

How we see babies: born good
How we see babies: born good


How right-wing regressive Christians see babies: born sinful
How right-wing regressive Christians see babies: born sinful

She advises that we listen to the instincts we have that tell us to be kind and loving, but don’t listen to the ones that say to punish your kids.

Miles thinks of parenting as respectful teaching and guidance, as empowering.

She likes to think of our inner parents as always with us telling us how to parent. Our good and bad inner parents tell us both good and bad parenting strategies. The way to be influenced less by inner parents is, of course, to become more CONSCIOUS of them. This will allow us to be more conscious, aware parents. We were spanked when we were kids. We have a strong “instinct” (courtesy of our bad inner parent) to spank our kids when they “misbehave,” even though these tactics do not work, and research has shown this conclusively. So conscious parenting, then, is having the self-control to ignore the bad inner parent and choose to respond to the unwanted behavior by doing calm, cool, problem-solving with our child.

She mentions the research-validated point that a parent will parent better if s/he has a “supportive social network.”

Miles says that “Loving discipline's major critics, it seems, would be those who still advocate strict, authoritarian discipline, such as James Dobson, a popular right-wing Christian minister . . . ”

Loving discipline's major critics are those who still advocate strict, authoritarian discipline, like James Dobson
Loving discipline's major critics are those who still advocate strict, authoritarian discipline, like James Dobson

In our opinion, it’s really too bad that anyone is naïve enough to listen to these types of spanking-loving fanatics. But many do. Happily, they're mostly ignorant people who would probably have blown the parenting task anyway. If someone would do a research study on the people who use Aware Parenting, Connection Parenting, Discipline Without Distress, Nonviolent Communication (N.V.C.), and Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, and P.E.T. and compare them with those listening to Dobson, we predict they'd find a big gap in their education levels, and probably their IQs as well! One thing is certain: the research about authoritarian discipline is clear: this type of discipline is bad for both children and parents and it works very badly compared to any of the authoritative parenting methods! When did right-wing ministers quit believing in science, anyway? One wonders if they’ve heard about the Enlightenment?!

She quotes Marianne Williamson: "There is no single effort more radical in its potential for saving the world than a transformation of the way we raise children." What a wonderful, and true, quote! (Think MC [microcommunity]. See Why Register for an MC?, MCs—Frequently Asked Questions, and The Forest Through The Trees. You'll be very surprised!)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

She rightly notes that experts don’t agree on the definition of “authoritative.” But today a large majority of parenting experts, with decades of solid research to back them up, agree that an authoritative approach is the most successful discipline style for raising children. For a definitive handling of the matter, see Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs.

There are many characteristics of authoritative parenting, such as “Authoritative parents listen to their children empathetically, sharing reasons and eliciting input. They encourage their children to acknowledge and express their feelings, and they consider their point of view when making decisions. At the same time, authoritative parents express their own point of view, too. They use open communication, rather than lectures, directives, and punitive measures, to discipline . . . ”.

We really like the way Miles grabs some of the best quotes from some of the best parenting books ever written, and offers them to her readers so they get a real feel for what good parenting is all about.

The Discipline Book by William Sears devotes a whole section of the book to telling people how to spank better (i.e. do less damage). He also says he is against spanking. Sounds like he's ambivalent! Sears coined the term Attachment Parenting, which is a very effective parenting method. He's the only Attachment Parenting expert anywhere (except Brazelton) that offers spanking advice. All the rest shun the idea.

Maybe Miles should warn people about Sears, who uses praise*, time-outs, rewards (lots of different kinds) and punishments (like withdrawing privileges, removing the bedroom door from the child’s room, etc.)—all of which are bad ideas. Sears is not like most Attachment Parenting experts. The better ones are like Aletha J. Solter who is head of Aware Parenting (the best Attachment Parenting method) and Pam Leo who heads Connection Parenting.

Praise is a bad way of instilling self-esteem—it  produces not self-esteem but dependency; verbally encouraging is bad for kids if it is done with You statements but good for kids if it is done with I statements ('I'm wondering how you felt when you drew that' or 'I appreciate it when you help with dishes')
*Praise is a bad way of instilling self-esteem—it produces not self-esteem but dependency; verbally encouraging is bad for kids if it is done with You statements but good for kids if it is done with I statements ("I'm wondering how you felt when you drew that" or "I appreciate it when you help with dishes")

Miles notes there’s a controversy about logical consequences. All parenting methods use natural consequences, since they happen to kids whether one believes in them or not, and it is up to parents to ensure they protect them from dangerous consequences. But only some parenting methods believe in avoiding using logical consequences—these methods we call Authoritative Lite:P.E.T., Aware Parenting, Connection Parenting, Discipline Without Distress, Nonviolent Communication (N.V.C.), and Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting.

The parenting methods we call just plain Authoritative DO believe in using logical consequences: STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting), Active Parenting, Winning Family Lifeskills, Positive Discipline, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, and Positive Parenting.

Miles says that using logical consequences is okay if you are empathetic, ensure that the kid sees a clear, reasonable link between his behavior and the consequence, and supply choices about the consequence so the kid feels in charge and less defensive.

Making choices is critical for a child’s development, so it’s important to give kids lots of decision-making opportunities, regardless of whether consequences are involved. Asking a kid whether she wants a story before or after teeth brushing tends to head off confrontations before they occur, for example. Autonomy is important for a child’s development, so parents should refrain from controlling behavior whenever possible. Letting kids have choices will teach them to be and feel responsible for their actions.

Asking a kid whether he wants a story before or after teeth brushing heads off confrontations before they occur
Asking a kid whether he wants a story before or after teeth brushing heads off confrontations before they occur

Miles never says it, but we believe that giving kids choices about their caregivers is very important for autonomy development and happiness. All parents get tired, unresponsive, crabby, or too busy to pay attention to their kids sometimes. Normally, kids act up when they feel this closed mood in their caregivers. Of course, this occurs when the parents are least able to respond appropriately, so they often do not. This is normal in parenting and the child is the loser. Kids will find out in their neighborhoods and their schools and on playdates that others will sometimes be crabby and unresponsive—or worse. Do they need to experience that some of the time with their caregivers as well? We don’t think so. Let the caregiver find a different person to nurture the kid when they aren’t into it. This would be impractical much of the time with normal parenting realities. But with MCs (microcommunities), it’s easy and natural, since they are set up to handle precisely this situation.

She believes that time-outs are punitive, so she recommends against them. They are authoritarian discipline tools, not authoritative parenting tools. Parents often use time-outs when they themselves are overstressed. But they should use them on themselves at such times—not on their kids.

Miles rejects time-outs, since they're experienced as punitive by kids—much like the dunce chair of old
Miles rejects time-outs, since they're experienced as punitive by kids—much like the dunce chair of old

Miles wisely quotes Peter Ernest Haiman: "It is not true that you will spoil your young child if you constantly fulfill her needs. In fact, the opposite is supported by the research; you will spoil your child and make child rearing difficult if you regularly fail to satisfy your child's needs. Cooperative independence, achievement, emotional well-being and good behavior patterns develop if you fulfill the needs of your young child." This is why MCs are set up as optimal need filling environments. Normal parenting environments cannot be even close to optimal need filling environments—they don’t have sufficient resources.