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Breaking The Cycle: A Shift from Punitive to Positive Parenting

Relying on fear to achieve obedience had both physical and emotional effects.

I doodled as I daydreamed about it in class. I bragged about it to my friends on the playground. My eight-year-old self was over the moon about our upcoming family trip to Grant’s Farm that weekend. I had never yet been there, and I was excited. Like really excited.

Saturday morning finally came, and I was ready. Perfect outfit, check. A quick bowl of Frosted Flakes, check. The first one in the car, beating my brother, check. 

But then the morning took a terrible turn. The twenty-minute car ride was a disaster. Arguing with my brother had inspired an even bigger, messier argument between my mom and dad. By the time we parked, everyone was in mood and I was crying.

“Quit crying or we will leave,” my dad said. 

My dad's threat brought on more, not less, of my waterworks followed by a dash of hysteria at the thought of leaving before we even got there.

“That’s it. We are leaving!” 

And after a swat to my backside, we left. Bruised emotions and a sore tush were the only trip tokens that came home with us that day. 

I remember feeling small. So small that I could fit inside my own pocket.

Shifting From Punitive To Positive Parenting

My parents were of a generation that frequented corporal punishment. It was the way they were raised, and their parents before them too. 

So it’s of little surprise that when I became a parent myself, my impulse was to spank, yell or lecture. Not knowing the long-term effects of this type of punishment, I repeated the experiences of my past, perpetuating the cycle.

Then one day, after an encounter with my own son that resulted in a swat to his backside, I stood there looking at him and I saw instead the reflection of my eight-year-old self. This shook me to the core.

I started studying all things positive parenting, and soon learned that unknowingly, with a swat of my hand, I was actually affecting my child’s brain; both neurologically and developmentally. His brain had eyes and those eyes saw me as a threat! 

And although I could achieve the short-term goal of getting my child to obey in that moment, I realized that I was not nurturing the lifelong skills of managing emotions and connecting with others.

Relying on fear to achieve obedience had both physical and emotional effects. I had never been taught how to manage my big emotions, and I noticed that my children were lacking the skills to manage theirs too.

It’s difficult to teach what you were never taught and do not know yourself. 

As I began to re-parent myself, I realized that “educational violence” was not a family tradition that I wanted to continue. I wanted to break the cycle of generations past.

“I love you but I hit you” was not the message I wanted to send my children.

This is when I found Generation Mindful.

Generation Mindful planted seeds for me to water and cultivate. I started to focus on connection to better regulate myself and to co-regulate with my child. As I gained more emotional freedom, I broke down personal barriers and repaired relationships.

We are not the sum of our behaviors; a message often sent to my younger self with corporal punishment. I now see that when misbehavior rears its ugly (but inevitable) head, there is an unmet need lurking nearby. Misbehavior is an unmet need and instead of removing our love and attention, we can choose to connect.

One heart. One moment. One home at a time. We are the change.

** This article was written by a Generation Mindful mom member who wishes to remain anonymous. Do you have a story about mindfulness and/or connection to tell? Visit here for details and submit an article to our editor for consideration.


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Ashley Patek is the Content Director for Generation Mindful. Ashley is an occupational therapist, certified lifestyle/parenting coach, and mama to four children; two boys and two daughters born to Heaven. She believes that parenting starts with us as parents and focuses on the whole-parent, whole-child, and whole-family dynamic.