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Conventional Discipline Doesn't Align With Child Development. Here's What To Do Instead.

 The Trap of Conventional Discipline

Aren’t you so sick of people telling you how to raise your kid? 

As I describe in my book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, when my kids were little I realized I had fallen into a rut. Trying so hard to meet societal expectations of what it means to be a “good” parent, I had silenced my inner voice and gut instincts. As I was constantly trying to do the “right” things, the joy of parenting was draining away.

Often, we are misguided by well-intentioned doctors, family members, friends, experts, and others who claim to know what is right when it comes to our children. Like many new parents, I was advised to feed my child on a schedule and warned not to pick him up every time he cried or I would spoil him. I was in a vulnerable position, newly responsible for a human being whom I loved with my whole heart. I desperately wanted to do what was right, but what did I know? Surely the experts and the mothers who’d done this before had the answers. As I tried to follow this advice, however, my inner voice was screaming. My gut instinct won out in the end, but this was just the beginning of my struggles with modern parenting methods.

As my boy grew, so did the expectations. Society told me the following: Toddlers shouldn’t be too rowdy, especially in public! They should be considerate of others, share, and sit quietly, whether in a restaurant or on a plane. Aggressiveness is a sure sign of a mean, undisciplined child. Tantrums need to be ignored or he’ll learn to manipulate me with them. Poor behavior must be corrected swiftly, because if you “give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

The trouble with all these common expectations is that they don’t align at all with a toddler’s development. 

  • Toddlers are, by their very nature, rowdy. 
  • They are driven to explore, to move, to wiggle! 
  • Sharing isn’t a concept they can grasp quite yet as, developmentally, they are still very much focused on the self. 
  • Tantrums are the immature brain’s way of handling overwhelming emotions, and aggression is its reaction to frustration.

It’s all quite normal, yet as a young parent, I felt the pressure to fight against it so as to raise a “good” kid and be a “good” mom; thus, I had fallen into the trap of conventional parenting.

I’ve come to believe that many of us stumble into this trap - well-meaning parents second-guessing ourselves instead of trusting the inner whispers that nudge us toward emotional connection. Our inner voices run counter to the conventional wisdom that holding a child too much will spoil her, soothing a crying infant at night will prevent him from learning to self-soothe, a tantruming toddler needs to be ignored, anxious or sad children need to develop resilience by learning to “get over it,” and teenagers should show respect before they deserve to receive it. Listening to these messages, it’s as though our kids don’t have the right to be respected or treated like whole human beings until at least age eighteen, often older. Perhaps by the end of college? 

In our super-informed, always connected world, parenting advice comes at us from all directions, and while the messages swirling around us might be well-meaning, they don’t always steer us in the right direction in terms of what’s truly best for our children - and for us. In fact, if you pay attention to the conventional wisdom of child-rearing, you’ll learn to believe that children are out to push our buttons, overthrow our authority, and take over our homes. If left out from under strict rule, they will surely run amok. Anything less than the good ole iron fist is seen as wishy-washy permissiveness.

Do you know how I broke free from all those ridiculous expectations and escaped the trap of traditional discipline? I tuned into MY kid. I started asking myself:

  • What might he be feeling right now?
  • What is his behavior bringing up in me and why? 
  • What are his actions telling me?
  • What does he need?
  • What do I need?
  • How can I help him in this moment?
  • What can I teach him that will help solve this?
  • What need is he expressing?

I learned that the reality was that no one knew my child the way I did. Not his doctor. Not my mom. Not the expert on the internet. No one knew his temperament, his personality, his story, his environment, or his needs the way I did, and that put me in the best position to know what was right for him. That made me the expert. And when I tuned out all the societal noise, and tuned into him and our relationship, parenting and discipline got a lot easier and a lot more joyful again. 

***This post has been adapted from The Positive Parenting Workbook: An Interactive Guide for Strengthening Emotional Connection. 

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