My husband and I strive to parent peacefully. I say ‘strive’ because we aren’t perfect. Sometimes we find ourselves threatening punishment over infractions, or pushing our own will over the will of our children. Nevertheless, much of the time we do live up to our ideals, and so we are grateful for our successes when we have them.
Still, some may wonder why we strive for such a path in the first place. How can children grow up to be responsible adults in a home without punishment? In a home where they are not taught to obey adults? For me, the ‘why’ of peaceful parenting is simple: because my children have dignity and so I must honor it. Furthermore, I feel it is perhaps my primary duty as their parent to teach them that they have dignity, and how else can one teach someone such a thing except by showing them?
Thus all of my parenting choices are guided by my desire to help my kids understand the great and irrevocable dignity that is theirs. They do not have less dignity than adults have; they have the same amount, and I want my kids to know it. I want this fact to be a part of their schema, their mental structures of how the world works. I want them to know it, not like they know the earth is round, but like they know that they are human — because they live it; they experience it; because they cannot imagine life being another way. I want it to be so much a part of their identity that they would not think of living a life contrary to this basic fact of their personhood: They matter.
My oldest is 11 now, and we began to parent peacefully when she was 3. Back then some warned that a failure to punish children and to assert one’s authority over them would result in entitled, spoiled little monsters. My children are not grown yet, so perhaps their predictions will yet come true, but I don’t think so. In the eight years that we have been striving for peace rather than control, I have observed that the more peaceful, respectful, and kind the adults are able to be, the more respectful, peaceful, and kind our children become. I have seen it often enough to be convinced that children do not learn good behavior by threats of violence or punishment, but they learn it through the good example of others and by the gentle coaching of a trusted person who can give them encouragement when they fail.
“Children who are trusted, will trust others. Children who are given all the time they need, will be free to share that time with others. Children who are given all the freedom they need, will not begrudge freedom in others.” – Sandra Dodd, Unschooler
“Power struggles can disappear when the person with power stops struggling.” – Deb Lewis, Unschooler
This post has been updated, and appeared originally on a old blog of mine called Mothering Gently.