Why I Don’t Spank, Punish or Bribe My Kids

People are often surprised that I don’t spank my kids, even more so that I’ve never given a time-out or a punishment. I’ve never rewarded them with stickers or presents to get them to do what I want and yet, they still cooperate.  When this discussion comes up, people often ask why and I am usually tongue tied as to what to say. Some think I need to be more firm, more strict, that I am too nice to my kids – some think this means that I coddle and overindulge. I do not. Yet,  because I am nice to my children, people assume I’m a coddler – and plainly speaking – I don’t care. I don’t care because when treating people with decency is equated with coddling I think we have a problem.

It’s hard to explain the reasons I do not spank or punish my children without sounding self righteous or preachy, but the truth is – I don’t do it because I want them to know what it’s like to be treated right. Am I perfect at it? NO. Not in ANY way. Parenting is a practice, not a perfection so when I screw up I still show respect; I apologize and move on.  I want them to know respect so well that anything else will be unacceptable. I want them to live it, to breathe it and to feel it every day that I am with them. I want them to know it as much as humanly possible so that when they meet its enemy in the world –  they will know it by default. I want revenge, manipulation and insincerity to be foreign to them. They will know it when it finds them because it will hold a glaring discrepancy to what they know to be true.

They will know without a doubt that when someone that they love hits them it is unacceptable because it was never done “out of love” to them at home. When someone isolates them and leaves them out deliberately, they won’t think it is alright because we didn’t do it at home. We didn’t communicate to them that we only love them if they act a certain way.

When their first crush doesn’t take “NO” for an answer, they will say it AGAIN and AGAIN because their parents always valued their “No’s.” When someone tries to tell them they can’t  – they will listen to themselves instead because their mother always trusted their voices. They will decide what they are capable of on their own – even if it means bumps and bruises early on. TLR Kosthey will test their capabilities when they are young so they are secure in them when they meet pettiness and spite later on.

When they decide they can’t, they will know that voice too. They will know their limits and will feel secure in their “NO” even in the face of peer pressure. They will recognize ulterior motives because their parents never had any. They will know how to set boundaries because their mother set them – without using force or power. They will recognize teasing that is hurtful as such and stand up for their friends like their parents did for them.

When they fall to temptation in the late hours of the night, they will call their parents for help instead of listening to the half-baked ideas of someone who can’t. They will call us because they will trust us, they will call because they won’t fear the people who love them. They will call because they know they matter as people more than any bad decision they might make.

That is why I do what I do. That is why I teach them what it is like to be treated with respect as much as I can right now. That is why we practice safe boundaries so that when they get out into the world, the contradiction of hatred will be as easy to see as a flashing billboard and they will have no choice but to stand up to it.  They will have been conditioned against injustice not conditioned to accept it with complacency.  I do not want to raise my children to get used to a cruel world, I want to raise them to make it a kinder one.  It is a long battle and the world needs them strong.



I know some of you want the how to do all of this –  so here are some of  links on respectful limit setting:

A very helpful podcast by Janet Lansbury: Setting Limits with Respect – What It Sounds Like

Why Choosing Your Battles May Not Be an Effective Parenting Strategy

I Accept the Mess: What Setting Limits Looks Like

How Recognizing Limits Can Save Your Day


Other links I think you might like:

How to Raise Decent Children Without Spankings or Time Out – Emily Plank

TIME Magazine: Time Outs are Hurting Your Child – Dr. Dan Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson

It IS Possible to Discipline Children Effectively Without Shame -A Very Personal Post by Lisa Sunbury


25 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Spank, Punish or Bribe My Kids

  1. This is, without any doubt in my 63 year old mind, one of the best responses to why, as a parent, one chooses to use respect ,to teach their child how to think rather than tell them what to think, to set limits with empathy, and to use problem solving rather than punishment, to raise their children. I love the phrase that parenting is a practice – for indeed, it is. That’s because we can then show our children how to make amends, ask forgiveness and demonstrate restitution. We have to keep spreading the word for this can be a world changer!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, we keep trying and hoping people will see the future truly IS with the children!

  2. Powerful and well said. Respecting a child as opposed to shaming, manipulating, intimidating is powerful and it is hard work but definitely worth it. When we listen to and love our children exactly as they are they learn to trust, love and respect themselves, to listen to their inner voice, and to respect others. What gifts we give!

  3. Thank you for sharing this. As a parent of 4, ranging from 2 to 14, I agree with you 100% on all points. I would never strike or threaten another adult to get what I want, I believe we can *at least* treat our own children with the same respect we would treat other adults with.

  4. To coddle means to treat tenderly, nurse or tend indulgently. The only problem with coddling children in our society is that parents think they SHOULDN’T do it!

    Coddle your children, everyday!

  5. So, how do you teach your child to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions? Every child will do the wrong thing at some point Iit’s just part of normal development) and every child will need to learn the lesson of “cause and effect”. I’m interested in knowing how you’ve been teaching your child/children that.

    • That’s a good question that people ask quite often. People often think that because I don’t punish the alternative is to do “nothing.” That’s not true at all. I view behavior as communication and sometimes that communication says “I’ve had enough, I am too tired, hungry, overstimulated etc to handle this right now. Please help me.” So when a child loses control and hits or yells at a neighbor or starts pushing in a jumpy at a birthday party, I help them stop.

      My child, at 3 years old, once started yelling at a friend of mine in the driveway because he wanted my attention. This wasn’t ok, so I said “Ok buddy, I can see you can’t handle this right now. I still need to finish talking. I’m going to have you go inside with Dad and we can try again later.” He didn’t like this, and that’s ok. I still get to talk to people! He gets to be upset that I set a boundary but I don’t have to make a huge ordeal out of it. He knows it’s wrong he just can’t stop himself so I view it as helping him learn self control. When they can’t stop we help them. The same way you would stop a friend from driving drunk, you know it’s not ok, they have impaired judgement so you save them from themselves. My children are fighting – that tells me they are sick of each other and it’s time to play separately so they go in different rooms to play. They hit someone in a bouncy at a birthday party, its time to get out and play somewhere more calm. If it keeps happening then it’s time to go home – they can’t handle it. Not in a punitive way just – “ok, it’s time to go, everyone’s having a hard time.” and then go. It does not need to be said that they are acting poorly (they know and won’t want to admit it) so this is our role to guide and coach and stop behavior in a way that helps them do better next time. Each time we stop them is helping them learn to do it themselves. These two posts go into this in more detail

      • Sounds good (btw: there was no implied advocation of shaming, blaming or punishing in my question – they are destructive as you have said).

        I agree with your approach for children that young. They often cannot regulate their emotions and need to learn how. But, more importantly, they need an adult to validate their feelings (because they often cannot name them)…by doing so, the child “grows” a solid sense of self which is crucial for healthy ego development, and setting boundaries is also beneficial for both parties. However, once children reach the age of 5 or 6, the approach needs to change as they need to develop their own sense of right and wrong and be able to face the consequences of their actions. It’s a very important step and paves the way for the “authentic being” rather than a person who adopts denial as their main defense.

        • I think that the consequence that will work best will be the natural one. You lie to people, they no longer trust you. You are mean to people, they no longer want to be with you. You break your toys, you no longer have them. You choose not to eat dinner, you are hungry.

          I think that if you teach children with natural consequences and authenticity from the beginning they have a sense of “right” and “wrong” inherently, which, I think, is what self-imposed guilt is…you feel badly when you violate that inner code.

          My mom spanked me, yelled at me, grounded me and punished me in all ways that parents do and I never did the “right” thing because it was right…I did it because I was scared of her or the punishment. As a result, at 40 years old, I am still learning to do what is right and wrong based on my inner feelings, not fear of another person.

          I will not punish my child, I will not scream at her, I will not spank her and I will not do these things because I want her to learn right from wrong and not to behave how she thinks I want her to in order to avoid punishment.

          I will also say that I have yelled at her and smacked her hand before and IMMEDIATELY apologized to her because I WAS WRONG! You treat others how you wish to be treated.

    • A big part of this is trust that the child knows. You don’t have to lecture or blame. They know. They want to be well behaved – it’s their nature. So I look at it as how would I want my husband to handle it if I completely lost my cool in front of people – it would be embarrassing for everyone – even me so I would hope he’d escort me out. Children are the same.

      • No, don’t agree with your statement “children are the same”. By virtue of their immaturity they are not the same as adults. If a child has a melt-down, most adults would not be too bothered by it, yet if an adult had the same reaction, it would be quite confronting for all involved. Your intentions are good, but you might be heading for disappointment as no matter how good a parent you might think you are, your children will still manage to disappoint or even shock you (down the track). When I read your introduction, I got the feeling that you expect certain outcomes from your approach, yet that is not how life works. No matter what you do for your children, they have their own makeup and they will follow their own path and sometimes, you will just have to accept it. In the words of the great Donald Winnicott “Good enough mothering” is all that is required.

        • Oh I hope I didn’t imply that I think children are the same as adults! That’s not what I meant at all. I meant that if an adult lost control it would be kind to help them out of the situation and stop them from embarrassing themselves, getting in fight or even drunk driving. I would stop an adult in this situation. I agree that children’s infractions are more socially acceptable, but I would still read this as a sign that they had lost control and needed help stopping. So…a hitting child for example, I would read that they needed help and would remove them from the situation because they were either too tired, too hungry or too overstimulated to be successful in that situation. An older child calling names might have also lost control of the thinking part of his brain and is reacting on emotion only so removing them from the situation is a logical consequence to help them regain control. Sometimes they need a short break to regroup and other times it’s just time to go home. I believe that children don’t need to develop a sense of right and wrong – it is already there. They know from birth what kindness is – sometimes they need help with impulse control but they already know when they have done something wrong and are very willing to rectify it once emotions have been regulated and they are able.
          I do accept that my children are who they are and do not expect a certain outcome except for them to know I value them for who they are. I certainly hope that they WILL follow their own path. I’m not sure who else’s they should follow? I’ve had plenty of surprises from them already as they are not little toddlers anymore and we work through them all. If you are truly wondering how to set limits with kindness there are quite a few posts on here about that. Thank you.

          • Also to quickly note on your comment about consequences – doesn’t everything have a consequence? I think life has enough of them without doling them out to teach them consequences. I think an important distinction to make here is that we often spend a lot of time rescuing children from themselves instead of letting them live with the consequence – the forgotten lunch doesn’t get taken to school, the permission slip that doesn’t get brought home for signing has disappointing results, the friend that won’t play with you anymore because you said something unkind – these are all consequences if we don’t rescue but instead support through the hurt, we don’t need to impose more on top of them. Those are where the real lessons are learned.

  6. And what if there is indifference to natural consequences? Forgotten lunch? They just get a hot lunch and the school calls you to tell you that money is now owed on your account (they will never let a child go hungry)… they say mean things and have to play without that friend? Oh well they play with a different one and cycle through them all until the first one offended has forgotten or they don’t care and play happily by themselves…. you have made boundaries alright but you haven’t shaped desired behaviors. I have no problems with choosing appropriate punishments beyond timeouts or spankings which all these articles you linked showed inappropriate ways to do both of these things. This does not invalidate the punishment, just the way they did them. You are depending on them figuring out the stove is hot and they shouldn’t touch it, but the reality is many children (metaphorically speaking) have forms of sensory deprivation and need us to inflict a type of pain (not literal physical pain) to bring the hot stove to their attention that are at times incapable of sensing and thus not realizing the damage they are doing to themselves.

    • Then I would say something else is going on that needs to be looked at more closely. I am not an expert in special needs but I do know there is a way to handle the limits in a way they can understand.

      • Mental health disorders aside, I think there is a reason why we use token economies, shaping punishments, and more at almost every long term inpatient psychiatric facility in the world including Children Study Treatment Center in Lakewood, WA where I spent many months in clinical residency.

        As a parent my son does not want to do his math homework. Appeals to logic and natural consequences is laughable to him. He thinks he will never need math and therefore will never need to do it, if I let him fail he would not care, if he learned that he might get held back from the 4th grade, he would try just enough get a D or C. I can say, It really hurts my feelings to have you not listen to my advice because I want you to be succusseful in life, but he would not care. The behavior would be rationalized, you worry too much, I will be fine, you will see that i won’t need math. Rewards alone he won’t care for either, oh I get new game if I get an A or a B? Meh, too much work, I’m happy with the games I have or I will use allowance or do extra jobs in neighborhood to earn money to buy games instead. No, I figure out a balance of punishments and rewards to motivate and engage behavior…” if you don’t do your math homework you will not be allowed to play video games of any sort because to have the privilege of video games you have to do the homework your teachers require, as and as you do your homework every night you get a sticker and once you get 20 stickers you get a prize. If you get an “A” or a B on a test you get prizes. My daughter, does not need these incentives, but she gets them to be fair.

        I agree with a previous poster that real world example is replete with rewards and consequences. It is why I don’t speed in my car and I show up on time for work every day. Paychecks, bonuses, and praise from peers and administration is a reward I get for my hardwork.

        • It sounds like you are really having a hard time with your son. I’m sorry for that. Parenting is not easy if you need resources for parent coaching I can give you some great referrals. I’m not sure if you are looking for advice or you just disagree with me, which is fine also. I would say that telling him it makes you sad that he won’t listen to you may come across as manipulation or a guilt trip to him. Does it really make you sad or is it frustrating that we won’t do as he is told? Does it worry you that he won’t be successful in the world? These are all valid concerns as parents and I do know people that can help you if you are looking for it.

        • But it really doesn’t matter if he does a maths homework, if he doesn’t want to pursue that sort of career. It didn’t matter to me, I and my parents focused on the areas I was good at and enjoyed and that’s what I’m doing in life. If he does enough to get the rewards that are important to him (moving up a class with his peers) – that would be enough for me. Nobody gives me stickers or prizes for completing my work – I do as much as is required not to get replaced and to receive my wages every month.

  7. “I want revenge, manipulation and insincerity to be foreign to them. ” Yet you manipulate them with I statements, telling them how their behavior affecting you, etc… which is kind of ironic if you think about it… This form of manipulation can definitely work, but it also often fails to change behavior. I work with a lot of foster care children in group homes and even occasionally see strong willed children in ‘normal’ homes who would never blink an eye towards this appeal to their ‘inner morality’ on how their behavior affects others. Nor does it prepare them for the real world… my boss doesn’t give two poops why, who, or how if I arrive to work late, or how it makes him feel bad, I got a verbal warning, a written warning, suspension, and then termination. Boundaries and limits are consequences and children often must have external controls set on them to make up for their occasional deficit of internal controls.

    • I’m curious why you think I manipulate then with statements of how their behavior is affecting me? I model authentic behavior with them and they do have consequences. It is interesting to me that people are thinking respect means no consequences as that is not the case.

    • It’s not manipulative to tell someone “Hey, you’re doing X, and I can’t do Y with that going on. Can you stop on your own, or will you need help?”

  8. Oh my goodness,…..stop overthinking every detail of every moment…
    You are way too intense and reflective….How about trusting common sense emotion and spontaneity?
    Your poor child will enter a world expecting constant thoughtful reflection ..that is not realistic….Why not a little incentive (bribe?) Now and then to reward extra effort?
    Why not a simple ” No” sometimes because he has done some thing dangerous or thoughtless or mean? It sounds like you are afraid to rely on the simple premise that unconditional love is conveyed without over thinking ….Seems instinctive to me..far simpler than a thesis on ever day interaction

    • Thanks for the comment. This is intended to be a thoughtful piece. I have plenty of other articles that explain how we discipline. I am not afraid of discipline I am explaining why we prefer intrinsic motivation. Every day interaction is not a thesis, we just do it how we do it and while it may feel like that to you, because it is so different to us it is just a common as the things you value in your life. Our habits are different. That doesn’t mean we don’t discipline, it means we do it differently, but it doesn’t require a lot of thought once its as much of a habit as a morning cup of coffee. If you are still curious about how I discipline here is an example.

  9. Interesting read. I think that this approach may work for some children and parents but not others.
    And those who do chose to give time outs, or the occasional “swat on the seat” should not feel guilty. My daughter has fond memories of her “time out” spot where she could sit for a few moments, look out the window, and regroup. While I was a few feet a way in the kitchen in my time out spot regrouping. She turned out just fine. And so did I.

    I’m curious to know how well your approach will go over in the teenage years. (I’m guessing from your post your kids are still young) Speaking as a mother with kids from 19 – 34, what works for the toddler is typically not going to fly with a hormone-raging teenager.
    But, I wish you luck!

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