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!

  • Sarah@EmergingMummy

    Good on you, luv! So glad that you're doing this series. Very, very needed.

  • Rebecca @ The Road Home

    I truly hope you someday write your own book and give presentations on this topic.

    You are amazing – please don't doubt the value in how you've changed your approach to your kids, you've blessed their lives (and your own) in a way that can't be measured in anything but love and respect. And really, what else is there?

  • smoore2213

    I love to hear you talk about this. I too fall firmly into the no spanking camp, but a lot of what I read on that also disavows any punitive discipline at all. I would love more book recommendations if you have any! Keep talking about this subject; especially in the christian world we are looked at as permissive parents who will just spoil our children. However I firmly believe that spanking is NOT scriptural at all. I enjoy your posts very much.

  • dulce de leche

    Yay! Thank you so much for sharing this! Reposting on FB. :)

  • Young Mom

    Sarah- Thank you! I was so overwhelmed when I quit spanking, but I would never go back, the difference has been that incredible. If this series can enourage someone to keep at it, then it is well worth it. :)

    Rebecca- Thanks! I have this new level of confidence that I am doing the right thing, it's very exciting. :) I LOVE researching this topic, maybe I will write more about it someday.

    Smoore- It's rough feeling like the only christian parent who doesn't spank! I felt so overwhelmed at first, and it's still a journey.

    Dulce- Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Leigh Ann

    Have to check out the book. Thanks so much.

  • Anne Bazin

    Would you recommend the book for teachers as well?

  • Young Mom

    Anne- I would definitely recommend it for teachers as well. She goes through each age groups and details the challenges of each age (as well as personality and learning styles) and what ideas work the best for each age group. Another book that I think would be an amazing help for teachers, is "A very practical guide to discipline with young children" written by a  Day care professional, she outlines a good respectful approach to discipline of other people's children.

  • Leah

    Thanks for the recommendation. I struggle with discipline myself. I bought the book "Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids" about two years ago and have yet to sit down and read it. :-( Sometimes it's so hard in the all-consuming task of parenting to find the time to learn how to do your job!

  • Common Household Mom

    My kids are older now (17, 15, and 11). When my oldest was about 3 years old, I spanked her. Once. I felt so horrible about it I vowed to find another way to discipline my children. I adopted an attitude of respecting my children as much as possible (without forgetting that I'm the parent and the one in charge!) I think treating them with respect has made them more respectful of me and other people. Having a non-spanking philosophy about discipline will really help you as your kids get older, and spanking becomes impractical and, really, impossible.

  • Rebecca

    Would love to hear tips about positive discipline with a toddler. We have never spanked our daughter, even though I was spanked a little as a child. We just didn't feel right about it. We use time outs. But she's getting bigger and stronger. And holding her on my lap for a time out is getting tougher. Redirecting bad behavior is getting tougher. Please post on toddlers!

  • Young Mom

    Leah- I know what you mean! When you are on the trenches it is hard! Especially when some parenting books seem to be out to make you feel like a bad parent for not being perfect. : ( One thing I like about this book is that I can read a snatch here and there and still be encouraged and learn a ton without having to read the entire book.

    Common- I agree! I was spanked all the way into my teens, and it was never helpful or respectful. I was determined to have my kids trained to perfection so I could quit spanking much earlier than my family did, but even spanking my toddlers did not seem to teach them anything. I am so glad to have changed the way I think about discipline, I would never go back.

    Rebecca- I am planning on doing one post a week on this topic, and since all my children are aged 4 and under, I hope that a lot of my trial and error will be useful to you. This book is full of help for handling toddlers as well, so for more depth than I could get into in my posts, be sure to check it out. : )

  • Peter and Nancy

    I am a formerly spanked child who is also finding gentler ways with my kids. One book I've learned a lot from is Love & Logic (I read the pre-schooler book). I like their emphasis on having empathy for your child as they learn difficult lessons . . . and their focus on discipline and the life-long learning we're building at young ages. There are a few things I don't agree with/follow, but I like their approach.

  • Young Mom

    Nancy- Thanks for sharing, I haven't read that one myself.

  • Sandra

    "Children are people, too" pretty much sums up my parenting philosophy. I don't understand this insistence in Christian circles that corporal punishments, whippings (alias spankings), and bullying are the only way to produce graceful and courteous children. I was a preschool teacher before I was a parent. I managed 10-30 under-six-year-olds, often single-handedly, sometimes with 1 other adult, for up to 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, with no physical punishments. Had we spanked, even swatted a behind, the least of our problems would be loss of licensure and losing the business. Sure, classroom teaching isn't the same as parenting–sometimes it's harder! But teachers in thousands of classrooms the world over manage the same thing–courteous, obedient, on-task children–without recourse to whipping.

    What works is treating a child with the same manners you expect them to exhibit to you. There was a Problem Child in my class–a 3 yr old with diagnosed speech delays, sensory integration disorder, and I don't even remember what else–he was always running, jumping, screeching, biting, and hitting. He was my favorite. The other teachers resented the challenges he posed and resented the fact that he was so much better behaved for me. I even babysat for him often in the evenings because hie parents couldn't find anyone else who could "handle" him.

    My secret? Assuming that he was always trying to do the best he could with the resources as his command and expecting him to take responsibility when his best wasn't very good. And I demanded the same of myself.

    One night as I babysat him, he and his sister were goofing around behind the couch where I was watching television and they kept kicking the couch. I told him to quit. The kicking stopped. A few minutes later, the couch was shaking and jerking again. I chewed him out, ruder than I needed to be. Driving home that night, I heard on the radio that there had been an earthquake just at the same time as I had been blaming him for continuing to kick the couch.

    The next morning, as soon as he came to school, I took him aside and apologized for unfairly blaming him when it had been the earthquake at fault. The rest of the day, that little guy stood up straight, walked tall, and told everyone he saw, "Miss Sandra said 'sorry' to me for yelling at me, when it was the earthquake!" I don't think a grown-up had ever apologized to him before. From that moment on, he redoubled his efforts to control his wild impulsive self.

    People give back what they get. Treat them with grace and courtesy and generally they'll be gracious and courteous. Children are people, too.

  • Young Mom

    Sandra- Thanks for sharing! I LOVE the story of you apologizing.

  • Anonymous


    I've been reading Alice Miller lately, and she makes a compelling argument for child abuse, including spanking, being at the root of most of the world's problems. If only everyone thought their children deserved respect. Thank you for what you are doing.

  • Young Mom

    I have got to read Alice Miller, I keep hearing such great things about her!