Wednesday, September 14


The lovely Jen asked on her blog...
I need to learn to teach/model behavior so that my child does not make decisions solely from a fear of disapproval. I have created that. I need help undoing it. Can you help me?

As my comment was becoming an essay, and it's a worthy topic for us all, I decided to respond here.

It's difficult to break patterns. My own mother was exceedingly impatient. I, with my Aries ascendant and upbringing, have a very impatient streak. I have to work hard at reining it in.

As far as discipline is concerned, there runs the spectrum from radical unschooling type let-them-run-wild-and-free to total authoritarian control. We have to choose what works for us and our family. I don't judge anyone their choice, we can find pros and cons in all approaches.

What interests me is finding a place where we personally, in our most honest moments, feel at peace with our choices.

For me, it's always about starting with myself first. Changing how I view certain things. In this instance asking oneself
what exactly does it mean to be well behaved and do I stand firm in those definitions?

For me personally, the term 'well-behaved' makes me prickle and feel very uneasy. Because what it usually means is a child behaving in a way that the adult deems unlikely to cause inconvenience to them (the adult).
It means a controlled child. An oppressed, repressed, and fearful child.

Desiring a well-behaved child is a 100% selfish goal.

What most authoritarian parents seem to expect, is being quiet, remaining still, not drawing attention to yourself, producing correct answers (please, thank you, yes Miss, no sir), doing what you're told, not questioning adults, not 'talking back', not acting your age....

This has nothing to do with learning to be responsible, respectful, or co-operative.

So this is one of the two main concerns for me - a child behaving in a way because it's what they are told to do is not the same as a child behaving in a way because they want to.

I am one of those people that feel that please and thank yous are good things to say. To me it shows respect and appreciation of others. However, I don't want my girl to say thank you as a mechanical response because I enforce it.

The Mr and I say please/thank you to her. In other words, we model what we wish to see. More accurately, we model what we wish to be, respectful. I don't teach her respect, I simply respect her.

The other concern is what we help them to believe about themselves. This is a biggie!

When a child drops what she is doing because you have commanded her to do something else, we teach her
- my needs/wants are inferior to other people's.
- what I do is not important.

When a child does not have the space to 'talk back', to argue a point, we teach him
- my voice is worthless
- I have no right to self-expression

The exact outcome depends on the child's innate personality. A child who is more sensitive or eager to please might internalise the above as
- I am worthless 
For a selective and particular child it might become
- I am worthless unless I am perfect
A spirited and strong-willed child might internalise it as
- I must push others down to feel better about myself

I don't view my child as an inferior being that I can control to my desires. I wouldn't demand compliance of a stranger, a friend, nor my husband. Why do we demand it of our children? Because they are smaller, more impressionable, weaker?

Love is a verb. It isn't enough that they hear that we love them. I want how I treat her to speak louder.


  1. I really love this. I actually just wrote on my blog about please and thank you. I think modeling is the best way to parent. I sometimes fine if I'm trying to be too controlling, it gets worse. My son wants to do more, for lack of something better to say, aggravate me or the situation. If there is something I with he wouldn't do- like something that is unsafe, it's best to explain or show what could happen instead of just shouting no. Or we've been trying to pick up toys every night. It didt really resonate until he saw the dog chewing on one of them. I explained that we pick up toys so that the dog won't chew them. It was like a light went off in his head, oh that's why. Now he picks them up with out asking. He knows why now.
    The more I think about this topic the more compassionate I am.

  2. Sorry about the typos. I'm sleep deprived and am laying in my bed with my iPhone and no glasses :)

  3. i'm queen of typos so no apologies necessary lol

    yes, if we ask an adult to do something with themselves they would appreciate an explanation. and it's just life too isn't it? we like things to make sense. we pick up toys because x, we wash our teeth because y.

  4. This is truly beautiful. I love it!

  5. I always love your posts on topics like this. This one is such an ongoing theme for me as well. As my kids get older it gets reinforced for me over and over that they see and model everything I do...I will hear things come out of my older daughter's mouth that are an exact mirror of me (sometimes this is quite appalling actually.) So it really forces me to walk my own walk - to say the pleases and thank yous, etc. And I think the 3 words you picked - responsible, respectful and co-operative - really get to the heart of what I would like to pass on to them.

    I am big into explaining the 'reasons' for things, I know you and I have discussed this before. I feel like framing things in that way shifts it from behaving such-and-such way for a reward - or to avoid punishment - to a broader awareness of how their words and actions fit into the broader picture. This is an important part of how I counter-balance the reward/punishment messages they inevitably get at school. I will try and talk about various 'rules' and why in a school environment a teacher feels they need to enforce them - for safety, health, a good environment for concentration, etc. - hoping that they will then think of 'following the rules' in terms of their impact on others rather than in terms of the reward they receive for being 'good', if that makes sense. But it is a hard message to counteract, and I lapse into myself also - when things are crazy, it is easiest to lapse into reward/punishment parenting, so it's an ongoing process for me...

  6. Thanks so much Mon for running with this. What I really like/need is to have some examples so thanks to you and Cassie and mommymystic. I have been doing a lot more "explaining" recently and it works well both because it makes me stop and think about why I am requesting a certain behaviour and how to achieve the desired outcome without commanding it. I think removing the term "well-behaved" from my vocabulary will also help loads but also words stemming from that like, "GOOD boy", etc. I will aim for a middle of the road where this issue is concerned. I will not be the mother who says, "Sorry ladies, but we can't get going because Billy is busy colouring." or "Well I'm sure she'll get tired of jumping on your new couch soon." And this is where the issue of children's friends becomes an issue. So many competing and sometimes conflicting parenting styles. How do we deal with Little Johnny the couch jumper when he's over visiting? I realize I'm all over the map here ladies. Thanks so much for this forum Mon. I have a lot to learn but I'm eager to learn it.

  7. OH, how happy I am to have found your beautiful blog! You speak from MY heart ;) Yes and yes to this post! I'm so grateful to find like-minded mamas. Our children are mirrors ~ they are a direct reflection of us. They have absorbent minds. Our practice is refinement of our Self so we can be a shining light of love for the world. I just posted a blog entry of inspiration for this process. ( It can be tough, but it doesn't have to be :) I LOVE knowing that mamas are out there dedicated to this journey! Keep on keepin' on ladies ~

  8. thank you for sharing your beautiful wisdom. you spoke from your heart, and it touched mine. i really needed to read this.

  9. wow! i love this post, Mon. it's so beautifully said. as a perfectionist/virgo who endeavors to unschool her highly spirited, highly energetic, highly creative little boys, i wrestle with how i want to be (unschool-y) with how i am (most of the time) a highly strung, perfectionist, virgo who was raised by a tyrant mother and invisible father. it's exhausting, but i'm slowly letting go of the idea of perfection, etc etc.... what IS perfect anyway? all this to say thank you for yet another honest, heartfelt, insightful look at parenting.

  10. Jenn,
    "Sorry ladies, but we can't get going because Billy is busy colouring."

    so this is a great one as an example of how it is US we change.
    how do we view what our children do? do we give value to their activities and therefore let them grow up when the belief that what they do has worth?

    how you view what he is doing is more important than how you handle it, as everyone will approach is in theor personal way. but if you view what they do as worthy, you will choose an approach that is loving and respectful to them.

    what i do is give my girl notice - we'll be leaving soon, so we'll need to finish up....
    or, when it's come suddenly, i at least tell her that i know she's having a wonderful time doing x, take a few seconds to crouch down and comment on her drawing or game, and then make a game of hurrying up.

  11. "If you view what they do as worthy, you will choose an approach that is loving and respectful to them." Can I get that printed on a bumper sticker please?

    Thanks again for the tactics Mon!

  12. Somehow you always write about stuff I'm thinking about, maybe because they are such common themes in parenting.

    I think as parents we are mostly trying to avoid total permissiveness and total authoritarian. Trying to find a good balance.

    Something I've done since Michael was a baby, is explain. "Please don't play with that, it can break." "Can you come over here, I think that person needs some space." "You need to sit in your car seat so you don't get hurt if we get in an accident." "Yelling hurts my ears. Please use your indoor voice." I feel giving him the reasons why empowers him to make these decisions on his own. He learns to be considerate and rational, rather than obeying blindly. I feel he is much safer, too, because he understands why I don't want him to do things such as playing in the street.

    Maybe I have an unusual child, but people are always commenting on how well-behaved he is. I never use that term myself, nor do I use the terms good/bad. As far as judging his behavior goes, I say it like it is: "You hit Mama. That hurt her and it is not okay to do that." When my husband said he was being bad, I corrected him by saying that he is NOT bad, but that his behavior was inappropriate.

    Teaching consideration is huge to me. But it's about instilling a desire to be kind and thoughtful, rather than making them feel required to please.

  13. Hi Mon, its a been a while!!!
    Great post, just what I needed to read.

  14. if you find the wand, pls let us know! ;)


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