Gentle Parenting Tools: Mutual Respect

The following excerpts are taken from my favourite sourcebook for parenting to date. I cannot recommend “Discipline without Distress” highly enough. Judy Arnall addresses dilemma’s in parenting and then gives you the tools to deal with them. This book has had such an impact on me that I have already mentioned it on this blog twice before. I was desperate to find help for how to parent without spanking (which felt like such an impossible task for long months after I quit!) and this book is the one that I went on to purchase, and continue to re-read when I run into new questions or problems. I love that she does not dictate a formula for raising kids, and she does not aruge that there is only one way to discipline, she simply talks about the day to day challenges of parenting, and gives ideas for how to be the parent you want to be.


I lost it today

I feel bad for losing it today. She was just so naughty. I had to spank her.
I remember the day she came to live with us. So small, so fragile, and so very feisty.
Dressed in a little pink dress, with her wispy, curly blond hair.

It was a bad week, this week. She took her diaper off and peed all over herself.
One more mess for me to clean up.

She tried to pour a drink and spilled it all over the floor.
Another mess to clean up.
Broken glass and milky liquid, pooling on the floor, mixed in with my tears of exhaustion.
Trying to run a home, work a job, pay the bills, and take care of her.

I feel guilty for spanking her again. She is so demanding of my time.
She won’t eat, she won’t sleep, and she won’t listen.
She does the same misbehaviours over and over again. Will she remember my words this time?
I have to be concerned for her safety. I have to spank her for her own good.

Sometimes I think she is purposefully trying to annoy me. When I yell at her, she just shows her defiance. She looks at me with that attitude in her eyes. She is often a cranky, little lady.
Sometimes she even spits are me! After all I have done for her. I can’t let her get spoiled.

It’s the endless destruction of our home and things that bother me the most.
She can’t be that clumsy all the time. Surely she could take more care where she goes. I feel helpless for spanking her. I don’t know what else to do. She is so helpless. She can’t call anyone for help, and she can’t escape the house. She is so dependent on me.

I shouldn’t hit her. She’s 89. She’s my mother, but she drives me to it. Why should I feel so guilty? After all, she did it to me.

When she was more powerful, and I was the helpless one…


When I first read this over a year ago. I was so angry! How dare this author compare spanking a toddler to Elder Abuse? There was a huge difference between spanking a naughty toddler and hitting a helpless older person! An old person hadn’t done anything wrong, they were just losing their capacity for self control and ability to fully function!

But wait… Had a toddler really done something deserving punishment? Weren’t they just gaining capacity for self control and ability to fully function?

The author went on to talk about the difference in the ways we talk about children vs. adults.

Conversations about a young child’s behaviour may include words like: naughty, spank, demanding, defiance, cranky, spoiled, clumsy.

Adult versions of those words are: negative, hit, persistent, inappropriate behaviour, assertiveness, tired, out of sync.

Somehow the adult terms are more tolerant and understanding, simply because of the age difference.

It begs the question, when are people suddenly considered deserving of respect? When they are the same age as you? When they are the same size as you? When they have the same mental and functional capacity as you? When they believe the same things as you do?
Obviously people have differing levels of maturity and function. But the fact remains,if we want to be treated with respect, then we treat others with respect.

I love the way she summarizes this idea of mutual respect as the foundation of parenting:

Mutual Respect between parent and child is basically about the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So don’t do anything to your children that you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Many parents object. Since when do we start treating children as grown-ups? Don’t we know better than they? They are children, we are the parent, and yes we should treat them differently. Or should we? Yes and no.

Children are equal to parents in some ways. Their feelings, dignity, and sense of self worth are equally important to them as adults. In the workplace- just because the boo have more knowledge and experience doesn’t mean she can call you names, berate you in front of a client, or hit you for not getting your work out on time, nor can she wash out your mouth with soap if you swear on the job. Your feelings, dignity, and sense of self worth as an employee are equally as valuable as hers and must be mutually respected. Therefore, children have the right to feel all their feelings, to have their bodies’ dignity respected, and are entitled to expect to be treated worthily.

I was blown away by this concept that my children were people too, just as deserving of respect and dignity as anyone else.

But I was worried.

Did this mean that my children would end up doing whatever they wanted while I stood by helplessly? I’ve come to realize that the answer is no. Obviously in a workplace, the boss has to be able to enforce rules and boundaries to get specific progress and projects to happen. And as a parent I can do it too. Being a gentle positive parent does not mean I am doomed to be permissive and passive while my children run wild.

I have had countless days where I’ve wondered what the heck I was doing, and as far as I’ve come, I still have (and will continue to have!) those moments, hours, and days where I fall short of my own ideals. But just lately I’ve come to realize that positive gentle discipline works, and I now fully believe that it is worth the effort.

I was asked again for specific ideas and scenarios illustrating gentle discipline techniques, so this is the beginning of a series where I will try to do just that. Stick around to hear about my process of trial and error as I continue to figure out what it means to be a gentle positive leader, and be sure to share your own breakthroughs and ideas and questions!

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