If I Don’t Punish or Give Consequences, What DO I Do?

New scenario:

Mum comforts Ian without mentioning Joseph. After all emotions have cooled (it’s pointless to use reason when emotions are flooding everyone) and the thinking brain is back online, Mum gets a quiet moment with Joseph and says, “I know you know it’s not okay to hit your brother, so when you did, it told me that you must have been so annoyed or angry with him that you couldn’t control yourself.” Pause. NO BUTS.

Joseph will likely agree and possibly explain what happened. Then Mum has more information. “I get it. You thought Ian was about to wreck your Lego ship. I certainly understand why that would make you crazy. You worked so hard on that ship.”
Now Joseph feels understood – connection.

Then problem solving: “Can you think of another way you could have handled the anger you felt without hitting him?” At this point, Joseph is calm, he feels understood, and his thinking brain can work. He might come up with ideas you don’t like and you can say, “I get why you might want to do that. I’m not OK with that one. More ideas?” Keep facilitating Joseph’s thinking process until he says something you can agree with. “That sounds like a great idea. Think you can try that next time?”

There’s no guarantee that Joseph will do this. Impulses take over in young children. But he has created the mental pathway and will get there sooner rather than later.

Problem solving teaches critical thinking

After connection has been made and the child feels understood, then thinking is called on. The parent or teacher facilitates the child’s thought process by asking questions, not by telling the child what to do. When the child thinks through the possibilities, it becomes a process he can do. It never works to expect him to do what you would do.

The #1 rule of problem solving: Everyone involved must agree on the solution. Don’t stop until agreement is reached. Therefore no ones loses, compromise is learned, everyone’s perspective is respected. Children engage in the process when they know they are not getting in trouble. No blame, no punishment, no misery. Cooperation is far more likely. Your role is facilitator and guide. You do NOT need to know the answer.

5 Steps to problem solving:
  1. Empathize, connect. Share power rather than impose it.
  2. Clarify your concern; own it. “I don’t like it when….”
  3. Guide child’s thought process with questions.
  4. Brainstorm solutions starting with child. How can we make this work for both of us. Can offer suggestions, choices, but don’t solve the problem or dictate what to do.
  5. Come to a mutually satisfactory solution to the problem.
Other uses of problem solving:
  • “Calling me names is not okay with me. Let me know when you can ask for what you want in a respectful way.”
  • “You want to watch your video and I want help with the dishes. How do we make it work so we both get what we want?”
  • “I’m worried about what will go on at the party. I know you aren’t. How can we work it out so I feel OK and you get what you want?”
  • “If you refuse to help then I am not going to feel so cooperative next time you want my help. How can we work this out so that doesn’t happen?”

It’s easy to punish – because it’s what was done to us.

It’s hard to problem solve – because no one ever did it with us. But there is no greater skill to teach your children.


Bonnie Harris is the director of Connective Parenting. She has been a parenting specialist for 30 years, is an international speaker, teacher and coach/counselor. Bonnie has written two books: “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons and What You Can Do About It” and “Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With“. Visit her website: www.bonnieharris.com and follow Connective Parenting on Facebook.

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