How Secure Sibling Attachments Happen

The importance of a secure parent-child attachment is not a new revelation: This is what sets the foundation for all future relationships a child will have in his or her life. But there is also something to be said for security between siblings. A connected relationship between brothers and sisters also provides a foundational context: It is an opportunity to develop the groundwork for peer relationships in a child’s life.

Kelly BartlettAbout the Author

Kelly Bartlett, CPDE, lives in Portland, Oregon, USA, with her two children and husband, where she is an API Leader with Portland API.

She is also a Certified Positive Discipline Educator, a freelance parenting writer and the author of Encouraging Words for Kids.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, clinical psychologist and co-author of Hold On To Your Kids, has devoted his life’s work to studying attachment and to helping parents and children resolve relationship struggles. According to Dr. Neufeld, there are 6 Stages of Attachment:  six levels of development that a relationship must go through before the participants have reached secure attachment. These stages start simply and build consecutively to deepen the level of attachment over time. To successfully navigate all six stages is to develop a secure relationship. Just as parents and children go through these stages of attachment, so do siblings.

Helping children develop a security with each other goes beyond mediating arguments and preventing sibling rivalry. It’s about fostering security between your children and strengthening their relationship. It’s helping siblings find attachment with each other.

Here are Dr. Neufeld’s 6 Stages of Attachment as they apply to sibling relationships and some ways you can help children navigate each one:

1. Being With

The most basic level of attachment between siblings is simply about engaging positively together. Their relationship begins as soon as they meet one another other, and it continues every time they talk, laugh, play, smile, hug, swordfight, collaborate or put on plays in the living room.

These behaviors engage the senses and connect siblings on a basic level. When children are getting along and playing happily, it is important to let them continue for as long as possible. This means that parents shouldn’t interrupt, comment or join in, but just let them have that enjoyable time together for as long as it will last.

“I have delayed dinnertime, cancelled playdates, even occasionally rescheduled my daughter’s music lesson, because my kids were playing so well together, and I just wanted it to last!” said Amy Jackson, a mom of two in New York, USA. When you can, make sacrifices for the sake of sibling camaraderie to maximize those
opportunities for positive interaction. It is absolutely essential to their long-term relationship.

Though, as any parent of multiple children knows, sibling interactions are not always positive. Conflicts are still interactions that can help bring children closer together, and it’s not always
necessary for a parent to intervene. When kids resolve their own disagreements, their relationship becomes stronger, as they must learn to communicate with each other. As long as a conflict between children is minor, let them have the opportunity to work it out themselves. Don’t step in right away. This will give kids a chance to express themselves with each other and establish their baseline of communication.

Letting children resolve their own conflicts won’t be possible all of the time, especially in the early years. It’s always necessary to step in and mediate when conflicts escalate in intensity or physical or verbal violence is involved. Young children’s brains are immature, and they do not yet have the neural connections needed to effectively communicate when their emotions run strong. Kids’ lack of impulse control may lead to actions and interactions that aren’t conducive to sibling attachment.

Learn more about “What Happens to the Brain When We ‘Lose It'” by API Leader Kelly Bartlett and ideas to work through sibling conflict with “New Sibling, New Behavior! How to Respond When Children Act Out” by API Leader Kelly Bartlet, “The Dead Balloon: Resolving Sibling Rivalry” by parent educator Shoshana Hayman and “Sibling rivalry is natural” by API Reads coordinator and API Leader Stephanie Petters

Modeling Nonviolent Communication and facilitating their problem solving will teach children the communication skills they need solve difficulties with their brother or sister while still maintaining the relationship.

Learn more about Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in Attachment Parenting with “Practicing NVC” by API Leader Kelly Bartlett, “Using NVC in the Family” and “Speaking Peace” by API cofounder Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, or get in-depth with this $9 API Teleseminar with NVC instructor Ingrid Bauer, “API + NVC = Growing Your Peaceful Family.”

It is also important to ensure that family time is a priority. As often as you can, get the whole family together for meals, games, outings, bike rides or other activities that are fun for everyone. The support and companionship of everyone together will assist the development of children’s relationships: They’ll engage positively with each other within the context of the whole family and have shared enjoyable experiences together.

2. Being Like

The next level of attachment, beyond simply interacting together, is knowing how someone is the same. Realizing what you have in common with another person takes connection a step further.

They may not realize it, but siblings have commonalities. No matter how opposite your children may seem, they at least have you in common!

Beyond that, there are most likely other similarities they share, and it’s important for them to realize what they are. Are there hobbies they both enjoy? Characters they like? Interests they share? What do they both dislike? Find those things that they have in common and help your children bond over them. Have conversations over dinner about their favorite TV shows. Ask them questions, or have them teach you about the things they like to do together. Engage kids in their shared interests as often as possible.

3. Being Together

From regular, positive interactions and the realization of their similar interests, children start to develop a sense of loyalty toward each other and a feeling of belonging. With their siblings, kids feel a sense of “we’re a team, we work together, we’re in the same boat.”

This stage of attachment comes about naturally after years of living together, resolving disagreements, supporting one another, communicating regularly, enjoying each others’ company and working cooperatively, so it’s important to prioritize those first stages of attachment.

In addition to facilitating positive interactions and focusing on kids’ commonalities, you can also provide plenty of opportunities for your kids to work as a team.

Gina Osher, a mom of 5-year-old boy-girl twins in California, USA, said that she give her kids plenty of opportunities to communicate and work together through games: “We occasionally do ‘sibling
night’ in which the kids get to make all of the decisions for the evening. It’s good practice for them to have to work together, and it’s fun for them to tell Mommy what to do as a team.”

Regular games in which siblings work together like this are a great way to further their sense of fellowship toward each other, to feel that perspective of “we are together in this.”

4. Being Significant

At this level of attachment, a child feels significant to his sibling. There’s a sense between the two of them that, not only are they a team, but they also matter to one another. They’re significant in the family, they’re significant to their parents and they realize they’re significant to their siblings.

Significance develops when a child stands up for a sibling at school or when one shows a gesture of kindness to the other. It occurs when siblings support each other in their activities by attending each other’s basketball games or dance performances. It’s waving “hi” to a sister from across the cafeteria at school, helping to take care of a brother when he’s sick and it’s making sure a sibling is included in a game with peers. These kinds of gestures communicate “you matter to me.”

5. Being Loved

Though it doesn’t happen right away, with the development of a relationship over time comes the knowledge between siblings that they are loved by each other.

The bond between them deepens when they no longer need prompting to behave in loving ways but when gestures of affection come from the heart. These might be expressions of genuine apology, offering comfort during a hurtful moment, a hug during a joyous one or deep concern for the other’s emotions.

After years of growing into a connected relationship together, siblings’ gestures toward each other begin to show unprompted love, and they will move into the last stage of attachment.

6. Being Known

At this point in the relationship, a child feels trust, significance, love, commonality and a sense of belonging. They feel close enough to a sibling to divulge deeply personal information. They want to tell their sibling everything about themselves as they share their secrets, fears, emotions, hopes and dreams. At this stage of attachment, siblings are able to communicate intensely and find support in their love. They truly hear one another.

Genuine sibling attachment is more than just getting along, it is about being known to each other. It takes time, perhaps even into adulthood, to develop the deeper levels of attachment between
brothers and sisters. The most important thing to do to facilitate this relationship when children are young is to foster those beginning stages by:

  • Creating opportunities throughout childhood for siblings to relate and engage in a consistently positive way;
  • Helping them see what they have in common;
  • Creating opportunities for them to work together.

These kinds of interactions create a foundation for early attachment, and the deeper levels will naturally unfold with time.


Attachment Parenting Makes for Easy Sibling Relationships

Parenting can be a daunting and intimidating experience.  As one of life’s major transitions, it is a time when each parent moves from being fully responsible for his- or herself to a place where you are suddenly blessed with an infant who is completely dependent upon you. Often once we feel we finally have a grasp on the daily activities of caring for our firstborn, some of us find that we are suddenly preparing for a second child. Fear, terror, joy and pure bliss may be part of the feelings we have as we imagine what the household will look like with two or more children running around.

lisa fiertag 2About the Author

Lisa Feiertag, API Leader, lives in the USA with her two children. She serves as an API Leader Applicant Liaison for Attachment Parenting International (API). She is also among API’s resource providers on co-parenting support for single and divorced parents.

A few questions may come to mind:

  • How will I manage to get through the day with a baby and a toddler in my arms?
  • I love my relationship with my first baby, and I am worried about that changing. Can I love them both fully and unconditionally?
  • What about sibling rivalry or all the conflicts that may arise?
  • Will they like one another, or am I going to constantly be the mediator as they get older?

Many of these questions can be answered by more experienced parents, like-minded friends or well-intentioned family members, but it may not be until the moment each concern manifests in reality that a parent understands the answer that best fits within that specific family unit.

Parents of multiple children are often concerned about conflicts that may arise between siblings as well as more intense issues of rivalry. In my personal experience, I have found that forming attached bonds with each of my children from a very young age helped to lessen the amount of arguments that may have developed between my daughters. In fact, I have found that there is little competition between my girls, and I credit Attachment Parenting as one of the main reason this does not happen.

Attachment Parenting seeks to meet the needs of each person while encouraging respect and empathy as a lifelong skill. When we are able to practice this with each child we are building personal empowerment instead of creating issues that might lead to competition.

Learn more about Attachment Parenting on API’s website and through API’s Eight Principles of Parenting

From the beginning, an emphasis was placed on meeting everyone’s needs within my household. This meant that each of us valued the importance of listening and communicating in an open and respectful manner with one another as high on our action list. When one person felt misunderstood or ignored, it was encouraged that this be communicated — in a developmentally appropriate way — so that we could try to determine the unmet need and help to reframe a situation so that a positive outcome could occur. As a result, each person is seen, heard and fully supported while the individual needs are met — which minimized the desire to want to create conflict with someone else.

Learn more about API’s Third Principle of Parenting: Respond with Sensitivity

I quickly realized that I would need to cultivate my awareness around patience in such a way where I could immediately recognize when a break might be desired in order to take the time needed to be with intense feelings. My daughters know how to identify their feelings and voice when they need space or a break away from high-stimulating experiences or strong emotions.

Allowing the freedom and flexibility for each person to find an area within the home as a safe place to go and be alone in order to work through heavy emotions is imperative for us. This has to be honored by all family members, which helps to keep conflicts to a minimum. Sometimes having a few moments of silence can be the most valuable option in a household of many different people and personalities. This break away from others can help to strengthen the child’s intuition and ability to listen to what the body needs. Steps can then be taken to meet those unmet needs.

Positive discipline is a huge help in keeping healthy relationships between all family members. Creating a “yes” environment within the home encourages children to explore their own options, limits and boundaries in order to foster self-responsibility. Our home is our sanctuary where we each know that things can be changed when something is no longer working in meeting our individual and collective needs. My daughters and I constantly check in with one another and work on finding healthy solutions to issues in a collaborative way so that everyone is part of the process.

Learn more about API’s Seventh Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline

Another way rivalry and conflicts are minimized amongst my daughters is to make sure that they both feel loved and held. I find that using nurturing touch is an amazing way to transform any intense issue that comes up. It is truly amazing how fast a hug or a pat on the back can redirect any negative feeling. It is important to allow this time for each child. I make sure that I have individual time with each of my daughters in order to allow for undivided attention and openness to snuggle, embrace or just communicate with one another without interruption.

As they are growing older, I find that practicing nurturing touch is the one of the most valuable aspects of Attachment Parenting and keeping a solid connection. For me, it is imperative to find a way to incorporate nurturing touch even as my oldest is moving into an age where she may seem untouchable. I want her to know that I am always available for a hug.

Learn about API’s Fourth Principle of Parenting: Use Nurturing Touch

All of the above has helped to create warm connections, and this is obvious when I witness my daughters interacting with one another. Using an Attachment Parenting allows them both to fully express themselves in a non-competitive way, which empowers them to open up to what they want and need. My children are able to communicate when they need space or are overwhelmed, as well as share how much they admire and love each other. They feel secure, confident and supported, and if they do not at times, then we have the steps in place to address why and make any necessary changes. Attachment Parenting is the glue that keeps our family working together.

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Creating a Secure Attachment in the Adopted Child

Unlike a child one has given birth to, an adopted child arrives with additional distresses that few parents are prepared for, or even aware of. An adopted child comes to the family with latent memories of grief, a fear of attachment and emotional memories of inarticulate loss.

About the Author

Robert Allan Hafetz, MS, MFT, lives in Warrington, Pennsylvania, USA, where he is in private practice working with adoptive families.

A state representative of the American Adoption Congress, Robert has testified many times before the New Jersey Senate and Assembly on pending adoption legislation.

The first years often appear to be subdued, lulling the parents into a false sense of security. Then when the child reaches the age of approximately 6 years old, a more complex pattern of self-exploration begins. As the child matures, problematic behaviors may begin to intensify or a child may withdraw into isolation as the struggle to identify the emotions created by the adoption emerges into the child’s conscious mind. The attachment process is altered by the transfer of the child from one mother to another, which makes the creation of a secure attachment the central problem in the adoptive family system.


Profound emotions that recall the separation of the first mother rise to the surface, causing discomfort for the adopted child. Emotions, such as grief, shame, anger and a feeling of isolation, can be experienced together, without any distinction among them. Children have limited ability to cope with uncomfortable emotions and will employ one of two options:

  1. They can act out and misbehave, or
  2. They can repress their feelings and become distant and compliant.

This is the period when many problematic behaviors begin, and the parents are often confused and bewildered by their child’s reactions.

Read this father’s heartbreak of ignoring his adopted daughter’s attachment needs

Further complicating the adoptive family system is a memory process that is common among adoptees but little known by therapists, social workers, parents and the adoptees themselves.  There is a disconnection, in adoptees, between their emotions and their ability to identify them. This is the core issue in adoption, and it is the foundation of most of the problems that occur in adoptive parenting.

Read this adoptive mother’s story of awaiting the arrival of her daughter

Infants only a few days old can record long-term memories. Infants do not think, per se, but their brains do process emotions and long-term memories are stored as emotional models. An infant separated from his or her first mother will record a memory of that event. Memories of this nature are called preverbal memory representations, and they have a unique quality that must be understood by adoptive parents.

Infant memories are recalled in adulthood the same way they were recorded at the time they occurred. It is difficult, possibly impossible, for children to map newly acquired verbal skills onto existing preverbal memory representations. This means that an older adoptee who recalls an emotional memory will experience it the same way it was felt as an infant. Adoptees can have troubling memories that they cannot identify in words. Very essentially, children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language. This means that they cannot understand what they are feeling, and without a vocabulary, they cannot even ask for help. This leads to a cognitive-emotional disconnection.

Read more about the complex emotional wounds that come with adoption

An adopted child will learn from his family that he is wanted, loved, belongs with them and that they will never leave him. His emotional memories will trigger fears that are exactly the opposite. An adopted child can know he belongs but yet still feels isolated. He can know that he will never be abandoned but also simultaneously feel that he will. He can know that he is whole but feel that a part of him is missing.

This incongruence between thoughts and feelings becomes the foundation of an insecure attachment, problem behaviors, power struggles, poor academic performance and attachment-regulating behaviors parents can’t understand.  The struggle to bring thoughts and feelings into coherence can be a lifelong task for adopted children.

Read more about the diagnoses that can arise from unhealed attachment trauma in adopted children

It doesn’t have to be this way. Enlightened parents can create a nurturing healing environment within the family if they are aware of this process and are proficient in how to deal with it. Adoptive parenting is literally Attachment Parenting, and creating a secure attachment is the solution to healing an attachment-compromised child.

In my practice, I have created a parenting system based on Alfred Adler’s concept that all behavior is goal-directed. Parental responses are focused on the child’s emotional memories.

The Principles of Adoptive Parenting

The principles of adoptive parenting are adaptions of Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting:

  1. Parenting Preparation — In place of API’s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting, preparation in adoptive parenting is crucial in the form of education that develops the parenting skills needed to create a secure attachment with an adopted child.

  2. Nurturing Communication — Like API’s Third Principle of Parenting: Respond with Sensitivity, which weaves its way through all of the remaining of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, communication that nurtures secure attachment in adoptive parenting is occurring all the time during feeding, at bedtime and during conflicts. Nonverbal communication is crucial in the form of touch, eye contact, body language and vocal tone. This communication goes directly to the limbic system and reaches the child’s emotional mind in addition to the cognitive mind.

  3. Positive Discipline — As with API’s Seventh Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline, discipline in adoptive parenting is positive and never punitive, and the focus is always on strengths. Encouraging effort is far more powerful than praising success.


Misbehavior is a coping strategy. The behavior we see is not the problem. It is the solution to a problem. Children that get into trouble are employing a coping strategy to get something they want. On the surface, the child is annoying and nagging for attention, arguing or engaged in intense conflict. Motivating the behavior we see are the child’s mistaken goals, such as seeking undue attention, power, revenge or a demonstration of their sense of inadequacy.

An adopted child who is predisposed to feel disconnected and isolated will attempt to feel connected by seeking undue attention from the parent. Children who feel they don’t count may seek revenge to demonstrate that they want to be noticed. Inadequate children seek power struggles to show they have power. These are their mistaken goals created by their inexperience and incorporated into their style of life by being rewarded by parents who don’t know they are reinforcing the very behavior they seek to stop.

The actual goals children seek through their misbehaviors are four crucial needs identified by Dr. Betty Lou Bettner as the Crucial Cs:

  1. To feel connected to others
  2. To be capable of taking care of oneself
  3. To know that they count
  4. To have the courage to handle what comes.

When children misbehave, they are trying to acquire one or more of these Crucial Cs.

What often happens is that parents only react by setting limits or punishing the child. When parents are taught to see the behavior as communication from the child, they can then determine the child’s goals. Parents can use Attachment Parenting dynamics to align with the child and collaborate to solve the actual problem driving the behavior.

Read about how this adoptive family uses Attachment Parenting to connect with their children

A secure attachment in the family is the child’s pathway to acquire these crucial needs. The need to belong and to feel connected is the child’s strongest motivating force. When a child is attachment-disordered or compromised by emotional memories of the loss of the primal mother, love creates anxiety instead of security. The child is reacting to his prior experience of maternal loss, which is hard-wired into his brain’s limbic system. The natural drive to attach and connect is in conflict with the fear of loss that attachment has created in past experience.

The child copes by engaging in attachment-regulating behavior. The emotional boundaries are pushed farther away and then pulled back closer by the child with no clear relation to events. This constant changing of emotional boundaries by misbehavior can drive parents crazy.


Instead of asking the child to change his behavior, I have parents think of what they can change in themselves to help the child. Research shows that attachment-disordered children are most susceptible to healing when they are in the moment experiencing their fears. This is the hardest time for parents to be non-reactive and calm, but it’s crucial in creating a secure attachment.

Read this mother’s story of how nurturing touch helps in restoring security for adopted children

I created a basic model for helping an adopted child when they are misbehaving:

  1. Bring the fears to the surface by asking: “Are you afraid? Do you feel alone?”
  2. Validate the child’s emotions. Don’t judge them.
  3. Determine the child’s Crucial C goals: connection, count, courage and/or capable.
  4. Align with the child and help him reach that goal.
  5. Encourage his effort by saying, “I believe in you.”
  6. Connect emotionally with eye contact, touch and comforting body language .

There is no therapy, intervention or medication that can heal an attachment-disordered child. The child will heal only through the experience of a secure attachment created in the adoptive family system. The parents are the therapists, love is the medicine and the family attachment experience will enable the child to overcome his emotional fears.


Bettner, B,L, & Amy Lew, A. (1998). Raising kids who can series parent group study, Connexions Press, Newtown Center Ma.

Gaensbauer, T. (2002). Representations of trauma in infancy: Clinical and theoretical implications. 23(3), 259-277. doi:10.1002/imhj.10020.

Lierberman, & Pawl, (1988). Clinical applications of attachment theory. In J. Belsky & T. Nezworski, (Eds.), Clinical implications of attachment ( 327-351). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Richardson, R. & Hayne H. (2007). You Can’t Take It With You: The translation of memory across development. Current directions in, psychological science, 16, 223 – 227.

Simcock, G., Hayne, H. (2002). Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language. American Psychological Society 13(3), 225-231.

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Parenting Without Punishment in a Punishing World

I will admit it. I’m a bit of a control freak. Actually, I need a lot of control, because I am “Type-A,” “Judgement,” “Gold color” or whatever those personality tests use to describe me. I need people to do things when I ask them to do it, and I feel frustrated when they don’t listen to me. It’s often hard for me to remember that my partner and children are not trying to drive me crazy when they don’t listen to what I ask of them, that it’s simply that my needs are just not on their radar for that moment.

About the Author

Judy ArnallJudy Arnall, BA, CCFE, lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with her husband. She is the mother of 5 children and a cofounder of Attachment Parenting Canada (APCA).

A certified family life educator, Judy teaches Parent Effectiveness Training at The University of Calgary, leads parenting classes through APCA, and offers corporate and organizational trainings on family leadership and communication skills. She also co-developed the Terrific Toddlers course available through Alberta Health Services.

parenting with patienceShe is the author of the international bestseller Discipline Without Distress and her latest book, Parenting with Patience, which details child development, temperament characteristics and strategies to manage parental stress and children’s anger without the use of punishments. Read more about Parenting with Patience in this API Spotlight.

Both books fall squarely within Attachment Parenting International‘s Seventh Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline.

Like many others who grew up in the 1970s, my parents used bribery and punishment to control their children. In spite of changing societal views on spanking, they did what their parents did and hung a wooden board in the kitchen called “The Board of Education.” We were regularly spanked as small children.

As we grew older, we were given “lines to write” in a type of home detention. We were also grounded, and had important outings and possessions taken away from us. I still remember the Halloween that I was grounded and watched my siblings eating their stash, while I had none.

Punishment kept some of us in line, like me — but with the lifelong effect of being afraid of my parents. They were the last people on earth I would come to with a problem, or to share my feelings with. I could never relax or have fun with them, because they had an authority fueled by my anger and fear.

Read more about the effect that spanking can have on parent-child attachment

Punishment also served to egg on the more spirited children I knew, such as my brother. The challenge for him was to keep on doing what he wanted and just not get caught. It became a game. He had no fear of my parents, but he didn’t respect them either. He just didn’t care what they thought. No punishment was severe enough to deter his drive and persistence.

My parents’ goal was to raise obedient children, not to build relationships, and they halfway succeeded.

Read more about using positive discipline with spirited children

In the ’70s, the trend of spanking was decreasing. Physical punishment was considered not very “positive” in parenting. Parents became widely permissive until the 1980s when the pendulum swung back again. The move from authoritarian parenting to authoritative parenting really took hold in that decade with a plethora of parenting programs that told parents physical punishments were bad, but emotional punishments were “positive discipline.”

Read more about the 3 broad parenting styles, under which various parenting approaches are categorized

A total 75% of parents spanked in the ’80s. The non-spanking parents felt they really needed to do something when they were
angry, so the concept of timeout, or jail time, became immensely popular as the discipline tool of choice for young children. For older children, the biggest form of punishment was taking away privacy, telephone privileges and grounding — all issued under the guise of “logical consequences.”

Read more about determining whether a consequence is a teaching tool or really a punishment in disguise

Today, 85% of parents punish their children emotionally, while only 65% use physical punishments. And we wonder why teens dismiss their parents in the last years of childhood? The simple answer is: Because they can. They can withhold emotional involvement.


We don’t pick one style of parenting and stay there. We move toward our parenting goals in meandering ways.

In the 1990s, I had three children under the age of 4 and, like many parents, felt anger when they wouldn’t listen to me. But my parenting goal was to build strong relationships with my children. I vowed never to spank, and only did once — as I confessed in my first book, Discipline Without Distress. My 4-year-old son looked me in the eye and said with his saddest voice, “Mommy, you tell us that hitting hurts people. You hurt me.”  I never used physical punishment ever again.

Read about another mom’s decision to not spank

However, I did do the timeouts and logical consequences. Sticking a child in a room and telling them to “think about what they did” served one purpose: to give me enough space to calm down. This worked well with my two older boys, but then the spirited firecracker of a daughter came along and kicked, screamed and wrecked her room when I put her in timeout. I realized that timeout, as a “calming tool” was not really working for her or me. I was tired of holding the door closed and her throwing things at it from the other side, all the while no one was calming down.

Read more from Judy about why timeouts don’t work

I still believed in authoritative parenting, and still considered parents to be the “supreme rulers” of the family who would allow input from the children, but who still made all the rules. However, children have a way of challenging your assumptions and changing your parenting! I gave up the timeouts.

Read these 12 alternatives to spanking and timeout

When my children were 10, 9, 7, 4 and 1, I did it! I gave up the last
piece of punishment that I was holding on to from my authoritative parenting view: logical consequences.

Again, out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom. When I issued a consequence, my 9-year-old son said to me, “No, I’m not choosing this consequence! You are imposing it on me!” After much thought, I concluded he was correct. I already had decided the outcome to the situation, and it was painful in order to teach him a lesson. He would have chosen to fix the situation differently, had I let him.

Read more about logical consequences

I had been issuing logical consequences that I decided were “related,” “reasonable” or so I had thought and “respectful,” though it wasn’t respectful enough that I would do it to my partner, friend or neighbor. But my son felt that these logical consequences were definitely a punishment and stopped talking to me. I decided to never again use logical consequences on my loved ones. I didn’t take away cell phones, video games, bedroom doors or car privileges.

Read more about positive discipline vs. punishment-based discipline

In retrospect, I realized parents can’t give up some bad habits without filling the space with good habits. To tell parents not to do something, you have to give them something to do instead. At the same time that I let go of authoritative parenting, I took a communications skills course  and practiced the three “must have” relationship communication skills. I became very practiced in:

  1. Acknowledging people’s feelings
  2. Asserting my needs through I-statements
  3. Managing conflicts with win-win collaborative problem-solving.

Every person needs these skills for every relationship that they value. Married couples do it. Bosses and subordinates do it. Neighbors who want to stay amicable do it. Why not parents and their children?

Parents don’t have to choose between the three traditional parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. More and more, I believed that parents can choose a fourth style: collaborative parenting, under which Attachment Parenting falls. Problem-solving can replace punishment.

Read more about problem-solving with our children

After teaching years of classes, I’ve seen parents change over time in accordance with their goal of building a lifelong relationship. Current research indicates that children need nurturing and structure. They don’t need punishment.

Read more about spanking research


Many so-called “positive” discipline programs and books still incorporate emotional punishment such as timeouts, logical consequences and taking away possessions. For children, there is nothing positive about them. If these techniques are things you wouldn’t do to your partner, why would you do them to your kids? Many times, I would have liked to soak some towels and leave them on my partner’s side of the bed, for all the times he leaves his wet shower towel on my side. Hey, it’s reasonable and related, but is it respectful? Certainly not.

Most of what we do to kids in the form of punishment is not respectful. If we wouldn’t want it done to ourselves, why would we do it to them? As much as we like to tell ourselves that logical consequences are positive discipline, ultimately children will decide what kind of relationship they will have with you, and you can influence that by focusing on your goals in parenting: using truly positive discipline by teaching while respecting our children.

Read more about what respecting our children looks like in positive discipline

As a control freak, I still order my kids around. They now range in age from 13 to 23, and for the most part, they do what I say because our relationship is engulfed in mutual respect. The odd time they will push back, and that’s my clue to move into collaborative problem-solving with them. Does this make my authority weak? Not at all. In many ways, negotiation makes me human with real needs and the right to get my needs met, just as the kids have the right to get their needs met. We are very influential to each other.

Research shows that although punishment sometimes works in order to get obedience, it does nothing for the relationship. Fear and anger enter the parent-child relationship, and that affects communication, trust, respect and the simple joy of being together. So why do parents keep clinging to it in spite of the research? We do it to relieve our anger.

Read more about obedience

It takes practice, but when we separate our anger from our discipline, we make much better decisions.

Read more about managing your own anger as a parent

How can we tell if consequences are punitive or solving a problem? If there is only one solution and its coming just from you, it might be punitive. If you are soliciting ideas from your child and you both choose win-win solutions together, then it is problem-solving.

There is help. We are now seeing parenting programs teaching collaborative parenting such as Attachment Parenting, Terrific Toddlers, Nonviolent Communication and Parent Effectiveness


I have met with a lot of resistance about my non-punitive parenting throughout the years. Relatives questioned my stance. My parents felt I was judging their ways, and friends agreed that the topic was off the table if we wanted to remain friends. Now that my oldest children are young adults and pretty decent human beings, the comments have lessened.

Read more about what to do when relatives criticize your parenting approach

When I teach parents about dropping punishments, I can see the look of surprise and skepticism on their faces. No parent ever goes home after a class and drops all punishments. It is a process. We let go of punishments one at a time. We see how much harder they are to implement and how much effort it takes from us to continue them. We also see how much it affects our children’s relationship with us.

Read more about how a secure parent-child relationship makes positive discipline easy

A comment I hear often is, “The world is full of consequences. They have to learn them sometime!” My response is to let the rest of the world punish. You don’t have to. You are building a lifelong love relationship with your child — which the rest of the world is not doing — and don’t have to punish.

Just provide nurturing and love with structure and teaching. You will raise a caring, responsible and good citizen. No fear and no anger toward parents yields high communication, less rebellion, less stress and much less attitude. You can be close and trusted enough that they will come to you with their problems. You can enjoy activities with your teen, because they want to spend time with you.

Read a mother’s reflection on her 18-year-old’s childhood with Attachment Parenting

So every day, take a little baby step closer to nonpunitive parenting. Young children get better self-control with increased age.  It’s a brain development issue, not a discipline issue. You will have many, many, moments to teach your child in the school-aged years.  Don’t project ahead: A child who hits at 3 will not be hitting at 13. Even if your kids are teens, start today.

Read more about teaching self-control

First, work on trying to curb your anger. Go outside and take a few deep breaths, go yell in the toilet or drink a glass of water to calm down. Once everyone’s calm, then take action. If your child is under 3 years, teach and redirect. If your child is older than 3, help them to problem-solve possible outcomes with you.  Aim for win-win solutions that meet their needs and your needs.

You have my guarantee: With collaborative parenting, you will enjoy the teen years!

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