The scene: A drop-in Baby Gym class at a community center in North Portland. The dramatis personae: Me (eavesdropping shamelessly), two nannies and their toddler charges.
The parents don’t want me to use the word ‘no’ with Annie,” one explained to the other, as a gleeful Annie, who couldn’t have been more than 16 months, proceeded to make a break for the exit. The nanny jumped up and gently grabbed Annie’s hand. “We stay in the gym, Annie,” she explained patiently, as the girl cheerfully toddled off to investigate some blocks.
I was amazed. Being a first-time mom to a preternaturally strong-willed little boy, “no” was practically a mantra in our house. How on earth does one parent and maintain their sanity without using the word “no,” I wondered?
Clearly, I had a lot to learn. Given that Portland is practically ground zero for lifestyle philosophies in general (goat yoga, anyone?), it’s no surprise nontraditional discipline methods — and by nontraditional, we mean just about anything outside 1970s-style Go Play Outside — have considerable traction here.
From national movements like Love and Logic to local gurus like JoAnne Nordling and her Caring Discipline program, there is no shortage of classes, workshops and seminars here in the Portland metro area for those who either want to come up with a cohesive, shared parenting strategy, or just raise their kids in a way they themselves wish they had been disciplined. (Plus, most methods allow use of the word “no!”) Read on for the lowdown on some of the more popular local techniques, whom they might be best for, and what you’re most likely doing wrong right now.
Method No. 1: Love and Logic
At once controversial (“highly manipulative,” “coercive” and “disrespectful to a child’s autonomy,” detractors say) and wildly beloved, Love and Logic has been around in both homes and classrooms since the 1970s. The main premise is that kids should be allowed to take responsibility for their own choices and then let the resulting consequences be the teachers, so the parent doesn’t have to be the bad guy. When painful consequences result from a poor choice, parents should show empathy so they come across as compassionate allies, not the enemy.
Method No. 2: Positive Discipline
Developed by a San Diego, Calif.-based psychologist and mother of seven,
Dr. Jane Nelsen, the main premise of Positive Discipline is that children require a sense of “belonging and significance” in life in order to become respectful and responsible members of the community.
Method No. 3: Caring Discipline
Caring Discipline was developed nearly 30 years ago by Beaverton teacher, parent and school counselor JoAnne Nordling. It provides tools to “help adults feel in control of the adult-child relationship so both adult and child will feel respected, secure and loved,” says Kim Larson, associate director of the Nordling-founded Parent Support Center, which facilitates low-cost parenting classes around the metro area based on Caring Discipline. The method focuses specifically on “how not to sabotage your discipline efforts … and how to tell the difference between a misbehavior and those times a child is trying to solve a personal problem.”
Method No. 4: Simplicity Parenting
Developed by international family counselor Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting focuses primarily on balancing “the four realms” at home — environment, rhythm, scheduling and unplugging.
“Simplicity Parenting focuses on relationship rather than behavior, eschews formulas for ‘what to do when’ and emphasizes the role of parents as benevolent leaders of the family,” says Lisa Weiner, certified Simplicity Parenting counselor, nurse practitioner and Portland-based mother of two.
Who is it good for?
Love and Logic
Teachers, parents who believe strongly in personal responsibility and learning through consequences.
Parents who want to see parenting as a family-wide, democratic process.
Parents who feel they’re having the same arguments with their child over and over again.
Parents with more of an alternative, Waldorfian bent who may chafe at anything even remotely resembling hard-line discipline.
What are you probably doing wrong right now?
Love and Logic
Not giving your child enough responsibilities at home, suggests Kate Kelleher, a retired teacher who facilitates Love and Logic classes all over the metro area and through her Lake Oswego practice, Kate’s Consulting for Kids. Giving even very young kids chores allows them to make meaningful contributions to the family and feel valued.
Offering bribes for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior; losing your cool.
“I teach people how to not use punishment or rewards, and how to help problem solve with their children,” says Julia Tomes, a Portland-based Positive Discipline instructor and mother of two. “Rather than everybody losing their dignity for punishing kids, or rewarding kids for their behavior, Positive Discipline is about looking for solutions for problems.”
As per the democratic family model, Positive Discipline advocates for kids to be involved and included in creating house rules and routines, and when they break those agreements, it’s imperative for parents not to lose their temper.
“We focus a lot on if you’re going to say ‘don’t,’ turn it around and try and say what you want them to do instead,” says Tomes. “Really notice being a mindful parent; notice what you’re modeling. Are you modeling the qualities you want your kids to have when they’re adults?”
Nagging, being inconsistent with consequences.
Keeping a cluttered home, being distracted, not hewing to a consistent dinner schedule.
“Simplicity Parenting encourages parents to identify and live out their core values,” Weiner explains. “Encouraging time spent in nature, mindful scheduling, the cultivation of home rhythms and lots of family time … in these regards, Simplicity Parenting often runs counter to prevailing cultural norms.”
My child is having a massive tantrum because he does not want to go to school, but we’re about to be late. How would I address this situation using:
Love and Logic
Says Kelleher: “I would get myself as calm as I possibly could, look at my child and say, ‘Wow, this is really a bummer.’ Sometimes it helps to have an alarm on my phone or some other sound so that it’s not the ‘Mommy alarm’ that says it’s time to leave for school. I’ve found with an external device, sometimes the surprise of it will shift a child — they hear that sound, ‘What’s that?’ ‘Hey, that’s my phone telling us it’s time to get to school. I’m ready to head out the door. Are you going to carry your shoes? Do you want your shoes in a bag? Are you going to wear them?’ Right away look at some choices you can give the child in that moment that allow them to have some power back. Ask a question: ‘I’m heading out to the car, I’m going to put my coat on, how about you?’ If you just send a statement, like: ‘Hey, grab your coat and your shoes and meet me in the car, you’ve got two minutes,’ that tone and delivery could incite a power struggle. Love and Logic also believes in delaying consequences. Maybe you’re serving dessert after dinner, and the kid who was late doesn’t get one. You say, ‘Kids that were on time get dessert tonight; don’t worry, tomorrow you’ll have another chance to be on time.’ Then move past it.”
Says Tomes: “Recognize what’s going on within the brain when somebody’s having a tantrum. The thinking brain is totally offline — they’re coming from their primitive brain. The goal is to get the kid to calm down. We call it ‘Connect Before Correct’ — kids are not open to correction or learning if they’re in flight-or-fight mode, so it’s all about helping them calm down and really hearing what it is they’re upset about so they feel heard and validated. Also notice what led up to it: What kind of routines do you have in place? Did your child have a say in what the routine would be, or what kind of choices there were? Did the child sleep well? Does the child have sensory issues? So many things go into that, the moment where things are totally out of control. The time for prevention is over, so we suggest ‘Energetic Encouragement’ — just be with them in the moment. Model the calming down.”
Says Larson: “This tantrum falls under the category of a self-indulgent behavior and needs to be ignored, without sabotaging yourself. The resistance to going to school needs to be explored by the parent and the teacher to find out whether or not there is something going on at, or on the way to, school … If the adult is satisfied that the avoidance of going to school is just a routine, not-minding behavior, it’s time to make a plan to carry out a logical consequence for the child, one that causes some discomfort for the child, but not for the adult. A logical consequence is not a loss of a privilege, it’s a consequence that arises directly out of the situation and the choices made by the child. An example might be that the child did not grab her coat on the way out of the door due to the tantrum. The parent would not get it for her, so the child would realize there are consequences to her actions throughout the day. A logical consequence is successful because the parent does not sabotage him/herself by reminding and scolding but instead acts as a quiet force of nature.”
Says Weiner: “From a Simplicity Parenting perspective, we would look at the situation with a wide-angle lens and, rather than focusing on what to do next, we’d think about what preceded the ‘massive tantrum’ to inform both our response and what we might do differently in the future. Things like, how did the morning go up until that point? How is our child’s relationship with their teacher? Did they get enough sleep? Are they alarmed about separating from us for the day? [These] are the types of questions that will help guide our actions and bring us into closer relationship with our child.”
Want to take a class?
See loveandlogic.com for local groups and workshops; Kelleher also offers 2-hour private and semi-private consultations for as little as $75. See katesconsultingforkids.com for info.
Tomes offers 8-week courses three times a year for parents of younger kids and, starting in 2018, will be offering a new workshop specifically for teens; check juliatomes.com for specific times and locations.
Parent Support Center offers Caring Discipline courses in all areas of the city, from OHSU and Buckman to St. Johns and Vancouver, Wash. See parentsupportcenter.org for specific locations, days and times.
See simplicityparenting.com for info. Weiner offers private Simplicity Parenting-based coaching and consultations via phone, Skype or in her Milwaukie office; see handmadeparenting.com for details.
Bonus! Method No. 5: You Kids Watch TV While I Drink Wine
Pioneered probably back in paleolithic times by cave moms whose kids left some berries in a rock cavity for too long, today this method requires little more than a screen, a drinking vessel and a trip to the store.
Who is it good for?
Anyone who has a child residing at — or even near — their residence.
What are you probably doing wrong right now?
Not drinking wine.
My child is having a massive tantrum because he does not want to go to school, but we’re about to be late. How would I address this situation using You Kids Watch TV While I Drink Wine?
Take a deep breath and make a mental note to stop at the store on the way home for more wine.
Want to take a class?
Come to any parent’s house at 5 pm.
Kat Merck is a Portland-based freelance writer and mother of a 5-year-old who would sooner eat broccoli than leave the house on time for school.
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