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Don't Punish Behavior You Want

The Background

One of the purposes of ‘parenting’ is to promote better behavior, right? Children then learn what is appropriate, build brain muscles to help them repeat it in the future, and our lives will be ever-so-slightly more calm because our children are cooperating.

It's very natural to believe that disciplining and teaching would require punishment and consequences.

But, stay with me here...we want to promote better behavior, right? That means we need to educate our children on what is appropriate and acceptable. Well, the root of the word education is derived from Latin words including educere meaning to draw forth and educare which means to nourish or bring up.

Ergo, we need to encourage, not punish, the behavior we want to see.

Huh, it seems pretty obvious when I put it like that.

What is it?

Inadvertently parents can backhandedly punish a child’s ‘success’ with an attempt to compliment them on something they’re not so good at doing, An example is easier to grasp:

Your teen, or introverted child, sits down with the family in the tv room. We’re so focused on (and maybe hurt by) the teen holed up in her room or the child’s inability to socialize, that we blurt out, “So, you’ve decided to join us?” Snarky or not, it’s going to feel that way.

Let’s think about what just happened. The child made a step, maybe even a small step, in a direction that we like. And we’ve punished him by effectively saying 'sure, you’ve made an effort but, frankly, it’s just not enough'.

We think (actually we probably aren’t thinking - we're knee-jerking) our response will get him to do better next time.

How motivation-crushing to try to do something right and find out that right or wrong doesn’t matter: either way, it’s not good enough.

How to Address It?

When children do what you’ve asked: chores, putting down the phone to listen to you, bringing down their laundry etc., try not to complain about it not being good enough or about the past failures. Simply encourage it.

"Thanks for joining us."

Your Script in Action

Instead of: Thanks for unloading the dishwasher. Why can’t you just do that everyday without me asking?

Try: Thanks so much for sticking to the chore plan.

Instead of: Doesn’t it feel good to finally clean your room?

Try: Your room looks great.

(In fact, take ‘finally’ out of anything you say…)

Instead of: Why can’t you always put in a great effort on the field like you did today?

Try: I loved watching you play today - you work so hard!


The next time your child does something you've asked or the way you would like them to, simply notice it. When it works and you feel good, your brain starts wiring in the habit of connecting first.

Remember, it’s not easy. If you need coaching in this area, or any other area of parenting, I still have some slots available for private appointments in my summer calendar. To grab a spot, reply to this email and we'll get you set up.

Mary Smith Parent Coach is passionate about sharing practical, powerful habits that take one minute with parents to simply and quickly sow the roots of connection and engagement with their children while creating calm in the household.

I've Been There! Sincerely, Mary


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