Ep 44: Non-Punitive Parenting Strategies

Episode Summary

Judy Arnall, the author of four parenting books including Discipline without Distress and Parenting with Patience, explains how to stop teenage rebellion and attitude problems instantly using non-punitive parenting strategies. Your teens will surely respond to these counter-intuitive approaches.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsWorkbook ExercisesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Parenting with patience can be hard when your teen has a snarky, dismissive, or otherwise negative attitude. As teens grow, they don’t want to be babied or feel like they’re being controlled, so they may act out against you to create a sense of distance or even dominance. 

It’s certainly not out of the ordinary for teens to have hard days and to be in a bad mood. It becomes a bigger problem when this behavior turns into a habit of breaking rules and violating boundaries. Teens who regularly rebel against your authority could be on the path to a difficult young adulthood where all they know is conflict and hard feelings. 

Parenting with patience is a skill that you will learn through practice. If you parent with an iron fist, it probably won’t go well and it may even encourage your teen to rebel even more than they already were. It’s easy to fall into a parenting trap of feeling like you want to punish your teen severely in order to prove a point, but punishments out of spite only start a vicious cycle of resentment and continued bad behavior. 

But on the other hand, if you let bad behavior continue, you could hurt both your family life and your teen’s personal life. There needs to be a way to keep peace in your house in a way that doesn’t make your teen feel like they’re being controlled or that you’re being overbearing. Parenting with patience and understanding is probably the best way to both maintain order and also set an amicable atmosphere in the house. This week, I spoke with a mother of 5 who managed to do just that. 

Judy Arnall, the author of four parenting books including Discipline without Distress and Parenting with Patience, explains how to stop teenage rebellion and attitude problems instantly using non-punitive parenting strategies. Your teens will surely respond to these counter-intuitive approaches because they aren’t based on punishment, rather, collaboration in order to fix a problem. 

Judy explains the psychology behind why teens rebel and she shows you exactly what you can do to stop the process. After 27 years of being a parent to loving children, her expertise is truly valuable. Come along with me as I learn about non-punitive parenting strategies and gain a better understanding of parenting with a deeper sense of patience. 

Using the Right Language to Diffuse Tension

Teenagers often don’t know how to communicate fully. They are still learning how to use their language to express themselves to others. Judy says you should model a more grown up language for a while until your teen gets the hang of it for themselves. When parenting with patience, it’s your job to be the bigger person and set an example for your teen, no matter how badly they behaved. 

Think about a time that you had a disagreement that turned into a bigger fight. Write down examples of things your teen says when they are mad that really bother you. Next, write down what your teen should say instead, phrased as an “I-statement.”

To create an “I-statement,” alter the language so that it’s all said in terms of your teenager and how they feel. 

For instance, “You’re always nagging me about my chores” might become “I’m unhappy because I have a full schedule and I feel chores are being laid on me.” “You’re so unfair” might be better phrased as “I’m frustrated because I feel the rules are being made without my input.” 

An “I-statement” like this is a much more respectful way of expressing your emotions and needs. But your teen is going to need some guidance from you before they master this. Don’t get discouraged! Mistakes are just a part of parenting with patience. Ask your teens to collaborate with you and have them create their own “I-statements.” 

Understanding Why Teens Rebel

The rebellious nature of teens can provide a barrier to parenting with patience. Where are some areas in which your teenager is rebelling? Write down as many of the rebellious things your teen is doing as you can think of. Judy told me that rebellion always happens around an issue where the parent has drawn a “line in the sand,” or has made a very firm rule that something will “not be tolerated.” When teens don’t have anything to rebel against, she says, they don’t rebel at all. 

Now, spend a few minutes thinking about how your own teens rebel. Write how you could change each item so it expresses what you believe without limiting your teen’s autonomy. For instance, “Drugs will not be tolerated” could be changed to something like, “In my life, I’ve found that drugs do more harm than good, but you are free to live your own life however you choose.” When it comes to dealing with teenage rebels, parenting with patience is about focusing on what you believe, not on what you will or won’t “allow” your teen to do. By putting the ball in their court, you give them a sense of autonomy and responsibility rather than a sense of prohibition. 

Practicing Patience in Times of Conflict

Judy told me that parenting with patience requires you to cool off before talking to your teenager about something that’s making them mad. If you find yourself getting angry during any conversation with your teenager, excuse yourself from the talk and go cool off. Coming into an argument with a confrontational and emotional attitude won’t solve any problems. Patient parenting calls for a calm and collected demeanor. 

Judy recommends keeping a specific place that is dedicated to cooling off. Yours could be a meditation cushion, or a yoga mat, or a certain corner of your room. Sometimes, you might even need to get out of the house. Going out for a walk could be a helpful respite from an emotional or volatile conversation. Cooling down is an important part of parenting with patience because it sets an example for your teen that emotions are completely valid, yet, need to be managed in a way that is healthy so that you can manifest positive actions. 

Take a moment and plan what your cool-off routine will be. Where will you go? What will you do? What will you say? What will you think about? Studies show that you’ll cool off more efficiently if you have a dedicated space and pre-set routine. The dedicated space and routine will condition you to come to a more still and mindful place that’s more conducive to parenting with patience. 

In this episode, Judy was able to share a few insightful anecdotes from her personal life and taught me some awesome non-punitive parenting strategies from her book Discipline without Distress and Parenting with Patience. You’ll learn to:

  • Reduce the reasons for rebelling
  • Teach your teen to express their emotions calmly
  • Manage your own anger at your teen
  • Express your needs to your teenager more clearly
  • Respond to swearing and foul language
  • Use “I-statements” effectively
  • Comfort your teen during emotional times

When your teens grow into being their own person, they will have thoughts and feelings that will be so much more different from your own. As a parent going through life, you’ll most certainly have your own feelings about the way that they choose to live their life. And that is okay. Even in times of conflict, parenting with patience rather than unhinged emotions will always be the better option. After all, if you’ve been punishing your teen and have seen no change in their behavior or attitude, then a non-punitive parenting strategy is absolutely worth trying!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1.  When your teen swears at you, use an I-statement to express how you feel:

“I’m upset that I get sweared at because it doesn’t feel respectful.”

-Judy Arnall

2.  When your teen leaves a mess in the kitchen, use an I-statement so express how you feel:When your teen leaves a mess in the kitchen, use an I-statement so express how you feel:

(Members Only)

3.  How to respond when your teen is highly emotional or stressed out:

(Members Only)

Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1.  Teach Your Teen to Express their Emotions:

Teenagers are still learning how to use their language to express themselves to others. Judy says you should model the proper language for a while until your teen gets the hang of it for themselves. Below, on the left, write down examples of things your teen says when they are mad that really bother you. Next, on the right, write down what your teen should say instead, phrased as an I-statement. To create an I-statement, alter the language so that it’s all said in terms of your teenager and how they feel. For instance, “You’re always nagging me about my chores” might become, “I’m unhappy because I have a full schedule and I feel chores are being laid on me” or “You’re so unfair” might be better phrased as, “I’m frustrated because I feel the rules are being made without my input”. An I-statement like this is a much more respectful way of expressing your emotions and needs. But your teen is going to need some guidance from you before they master this. Don’t get discouraged! Just correct them whenever they get it wrong and eventually they will learn how to do it right. Use your list to correct your teenager when they say hurtful things in anger.

2.  Reducing the Reasons for Rebellion:

(Members Only)

3.  Cool Off Quickly When Your Teen Makes You Mad:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: I read two of your books here, Parenting With Patience and Discipline Without Distress. I’m getting deep into your methods here and really liking what I found. So I thought it would be cool to start out with little bit of your story and how you got started in this whole parenting thing. I mean, you’ve now written how many books? It’s a ton of books at this point, it’s hard to keep track, and to have built this whole empire with these workshops and webinars that you do, what kicked it off?

Judy: Well, thank you first for having this interview. How I first got into parenting was: I grew up with a few, what we call ACEs, so adverse childhood experiences. So when I had my first child, I didn’t really have any good models in which to learn parenting. So I decided to read a lot of books, attended a lot of courses and I had it all figured out. And then by the time my second son came along, as you know, all kids are different and what was working for first child didn’t work for second child. So I tried other tips and tricks. And by the time I had five kids, I had a whole variety of temperament, personalities, but I found out that non-punitive parenting worked for every child, no matter what their personality or background.

Judy: So then I raised five teenagers. My youngest right now is 17 and I have never punished them, never taken their phone away, never taken the door off the room. And we have a really great relationship. And I thought, I got to write a book on this because there are other parents out there. A lot of my friends, parents too, raise their kids with no punishment and their kids turned out fine. And there’s this myth out there that teens naturally rebel, the teen years are really hard. And it’s not true. If you build a good, non-punitive, respectful, caring relationship with kids, you’re going to reap the benefits in the teen years. And that’s why I’ve written four books.

Andy: Oh, so four. Okay. I thought that was cool. You mentioned that in one of your books that when your first two kids were around nine years old, or something like that, you then had this epiphany moment of realizing that punishments don’t work and that you didn’t want to ever punish your kids again. And then your younger kids were completely raised without ever having any kind of punishments at all. So what was the epiphany moment that propelled you into realizing that?

Judy: Well, in a lot of the books I read, there’s very few books that advocate non-punishment. So a lot of books say, “Oh, we do positive parenting,” and then they tell you how to do timeouts and how to issue consequences. And, like a lot of parents, I was confused and I thought, “Ooh, consequences are okay; that’s positive discipline,” but they’re not. And the epiphany moment was when my child was eight and I issued a consequence and he said, “Mom, it’s you imposing it on me. I’m not choosing the consequence.” And I also realized that it impacted our communication because he felt really disrespected. He felt that I was being too hard and he wasn’t having input into problem solving. So then at that moment I decided I’m giving everything up: timeouts, consequences. I’m going to treat my kids like I treat my partner and we’re just going to problem solve everything. And the funny thing is that it works really well if people trust the process. Kids love the process and it does work.

Andy: Sure. So you talk about problem solve everything, but then it’s a little more complicated than that because, as you have in this book: Parenting With Patience, a three-step method and you start out with taking a timeout from whatever’s going on and that’s the period where you calm down, I think, and then you take like a time-in where you really connect and active listener, empathize I think, with what is going on with the kid. And then you have the problem solve, is more like step three, from the way I read this, where then that’s when you do collaborative problem solving with the kid and figure out what the solution is going to be.

Judy: That’s right, yeah. I think, in all kinds of families, feeling angry is normal. It’s normal for kids. It’s normal for parents. And if there’s one tip I can tell parents, in looking back over my 27 years of parenting, it’s that we have the executive function skills. We need to get a grip of our anger first.

Andy: The kid is not going to do it.

Judy: Yeah. You can’t expect kids to do it. Somebody has to be calm. So take time out, take a half an hour, take 20 minutes to just calm down before you say or do anything. Put the kids in a safe place if they’re little. If they’re older kids, just tell them you’re going to take a timeout for yourself and calm down and come back and deal with this. And then everybody’s calm. You can put your heads together and fix things together. Now, for little kids, after the parent’s calm, which is step one, step two is: you have to help them calm down because they don’t have that self-control ability yet to self-regulate and they need an adult’s help. So get yourself calm, get your child calm, solve the problem. It’s easy three steps.

Andy: It’s funny that you jump right to talking about anger because that’s what I noticed was really a theme in a lot of the book. And I think you’re so right. What parents have problems with is discipline. But step one is getting control of your own anger because the discipline is related to, a lot of times, is punitive. You are mad at the kid and you want to punish them or get back at them a little bit. When we’re angry and our amygdala is going crazy, it’s really hard to think rationally and sit there and come to a rational agreement with the kid. And I noticed that so much of your book was about managing your own anger as a parent and then helping your kid to manage and deal with their anger and helping them to learn strategies for how to communicate about it using these I-statements. But I wonder if you could talk just a little bit more deeply about: as a parent, what do you do in that situation to start getting control of your anger?

Judy: For a parent, I think getting control is, at first, accepting that you are angry, that you feel angry and that’s okay. Feelings are okay. We have limits on behavior. So I list about 70 ways to neutralize your anger in the moment, which is the next step. And one of my favorites right now is to go in the bathroom and yell in the toilet and flush it. And that way I’m not yelling at my child. I am feeling my anger, but I am dealing with it in a way that doesn’t scare anyone. And I get a very clean toilet too. And then sometimes I just need time to get away and think about what I’m going to say, what I’m going to do.

Judy: And then I can come back to the person and resolve it. So for example, if my son just swore at me, I would walk away and get a grip of my anger, formulate what I’m going to say, come back and use my I-statement. I would say, “I’m upset that I get sweared at because it doesn’t feel respectful,” And then resolve it with them. But anger is normal. Every parent feels anger. And I think our first instinct is we want to hurt back, and that’s when we say, “You’re grounded for the next 30 years.” And then we’re never going to follow through on it because when we’re not angry anymore we [crosstalk 00:08:38].

Andy: And you feel bad.

Judy: Right? We look like we don’t have any integrity.

Andy: Yeah. We’re not consistent with ourselves anymore. Totally.

Judy: Yes.

Andy: So the solution is not to have made the threat that you don’t want to keep in the first place, which means that we really need to get good at this anger management strategies. I like that you start out with accepting it because I think a lot of times we feel like we shouldn’t be feeling that way and that just makes it impossible to deal with it if you’re not accepting it. But a lot of times we try to tell ourselves like, “Oh, I’m not. No, I’m not. I’m not mad,” but it’s not really productive, right?

Judy: No. It’s okay to say, “I’m angry. I’m feeling really angry right now,” and we own it. When we say I’m angry, we own it. And then it’s up to us.

Andy: “I’m not angry. I’m not. I’m not that. No, it’s okay.” I feel like that’s the instinct a lot of times though, for some reason, is to just try and think if we just don’t talk about it it’ll just go away.

Andy: You have a lot of sections in both of your books that specifically talk about teenagers, which I thought was so cool. And one of them is about how the teenage version of anger, a lot of times, is attitude. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.

Judy: Yes. Anger in little kids tend to come out in different ways than teenagers and anger in teenagers can be silence, it can be behaviors like door slamming or backpack throwing or attitudes: snarkiness. And I think it’s important for parents to just, again, take a timeout, sit and think about giving the teen some space. A lot of times it’s not about us. Maybe it’s something that’s happened at school, something that’s happened with her friends, something online that’s maybe they’ve been trumped in a video game and they’re angry about that. And then we come and say, “Hey, how come you didn’t take out the garbage?” Now they’re doubly angry.

Judy: And of course, we’re handy targets because we love them and they know that. So first of all, just don’t take it personally, give them some space to calm down. By the teenagehood they shouldn’t be hitting or throwing things anymore. Although I have had teens that have pushed down their chair after a bad video game. But give them some space. For example, my kids, when they’re mad, they will stomp up to their rooms, close the door loudly and have a good cry, or whatever, and I need to give them some space. You have to respect that, but they also want you to come up and talk to them. They do. Anyone who is angry wants people to notice and they want people to care.

Andy: Especially if that’s why you’re making noise up there.

Judy: Yes!

Andy: And shutting the door noisily to remind that, “I’m up here, please come up.”

Judy: “Hey, I’m angry.”

Andy: Yeah, right.

Judy: And they don’t want parents to come up and lecture them. They want parents to come out and say, “Hey, I know you’re angry. What’s going on?” And listen.

Andy: So when you hear the attitude, that is such a trigger, I think, for parents a lot of times. And so I see with this method, I guess you got to recognize that it pisses you off and then find a more healthy way to deal with your reaction to it, so that you can then recognize that that attitude of your teenager probably means that there’s something else going on with them that maybe they need your help a little bit to deal with it.

Judy: Yes. Attitude is definitely: they’re not happy about something but they can’t really say it in a respectful way that adults learn to say.

Andy: Yeah. They don’t have those tools yet, or those skills.

Judy: Right. They’re learning the language and they learn the language from you. So when we use our I-statements, that’s the respectful way to let someone know you’re unhappy about something. They need to learn that language. So rather than saying, “You always make me do chores,” or, “You’re the worst parent,” they need to say, “I’m unhappy because I have a full schedule and I feel chores are being laid on me.” So we need to teach them the respectful language and not get angry at their practicing, how it comes out in snarky [crosstalk 00:13:36].

Andy: The thing is, you write about this in these books how kids need to learn these skills and I’m like: wow, a lot of adults I know need to learn these skills of being able to communicate your needs and be assertive about your needs in a nice way to people, in a way that is respectful and maintains the relationship. I think it’s a skill that everybody needs, not just teenagers, but especially they’re really getting these skills of relationships during that time in life. So it’s just, I think, something that’s so important. So I felt like I learned a lot about how I should communicate with people in my life from reading this section on I-statements, your collaborative problem solving. Could you just walk us through a little bit how that work? You mentioned an example of it earlier, but how do you do that and come up with the right formula for those I-statements.

Judy: Okay. So an I-statement, generally a confrontive one, is usually three parts and it conveys a feeling, a description of what the behavior is and the effect on a person. So when I say to my teenager, “I’m feeling annoyed because I would like to make dinner, but there are dishes all over the counter that are not put away yet.” So my teenager then knows how I’m feeling. So they either do it or not. So if they don’t do it, then we go into problem solving. And if you don’t punish kids, teens especially, they’re willing to problem solve with you because they have some skin in the game.

Judy: So then we go into problem solving mode. Let’s say that they can’t do it right now, they’re in the middle of a game. So I look at their needs. Their needs is: they’ve committed to a game for the next 20 minutes, but my needs are: I need to make dinner and I need a clean counter. So then we brainstorm together some options really quickly, just standing up quickly brainstorming. And then we figure out which one works for both of us and we do it. It’s very simple, but you’re right. It gives them skills for future relationships when they have problems with their bosses, their friends, their future mother-in-law. These are all good people skills.

Andy: Because you have even an example in your book where two kids are in a conflict, you sit them down. First, you do the calming and then sitting them down and figuring out what the situation is between them and then giving them each the words to use an I-statement to communicate to the other one what they’re feeling. In that situation with the teenager, with the dishes out on the counter and you’re going up and then the video game, would you then give the teenager the words to then communicate? “Okay, so could you tell me that you’re in the middle of a video game and you’re feeling…” Or would you elicit that information and then deal with the situation or is younger ages the ages for actually giving them the words and by the time it’s a teenager you do it more in a collaborative way, or would you continue to do that in the teenage years? The way you did in that story in the book?

Judy: I would do both actually. I mean, if you’re raising kids with I-statements, you teach them as young as two.

Andy: Wow.

Judy: And then you keep going, but you can start at any time. We do classes for parents of teens and, over a month, when the parents are starting to use I-statements, and they teach the teens how to use the words and they can get it at any time, absolutely. But it helps when it becomes their native language and you start earlier, but there’s no perfect time to do it. But yes, you have to teach kids the language, the words, especially the ‘I’ part, not the ‘you’ part, because when you say, “You make me feel,” it puts the other person on the defensive and you don’t get very far. But if you say, “Oh, I feel this way,” no one can argue with that. That’s how you feel. You own it. So maybe sit everyone down on a Sunday afternoon and have a training session. You can teach everyone in the family how to use I-statements and be more respectful to each other.

Andy: Yeah, that’s cool and I like it. Yeah, making it about yourself too. I want to get good at this so I feel it’s something we all could work on because it just seems like such a valuable skill, if everyone in your family is able to communicate their needs to each other and what they’re feeling. We’re not mind readers. Right?

Judy: Exactly, we’re not mind readers. And I think the more people tell each other, “Wait,” we also do preventative I-statements and positive I-statements too but the more we’ve talked to each other, the more we can resolve things respectfully.

Andy: Yeah. You point out that parents have to be like detectives, trying to figure out what a lot of times that the kid is trying to get some need met and there’s an underlying need behind the behavior. And they’re just don’t know the right way to do it yet. And so they just need a little help maybe.

Judy: I think teens also need help in wondering what to do when they deliver an I-statement, for example, to a teacher. And the teacher doesn’t handle it very well. And then we can teach kids how to active listen back to that teacher’s resistance. And that’s a really good relationship skill. It’s very hard to do, but it is so helpful in their way to get along with authority figures and other people in their lives.

Andy: Yeah. And it’s that getting to the point where they’ll talk to you about those kinds of things and let you help them with those kinds of situations is, I think ,what you accomplish with not punishing them for everything. Because you talk about how, when you stop punishing them, it seems like there’s this double thing going on where parents want their kids to be able to talk to them about everything but then the kid just knows that if they tell their parents certain things they’re going to get punished. So when you stop punishing them, it seems like it just frees them up to feel more like you’re on their side and that they could just talk to you about anything. That’s really cool.

Judy: It’s such a paradox. Parents think, “Oh, I want to talk to my teens. Why doesn’t my teen open up to me?” And my first question is, “Well, do you punish them?” Because it’s a simple, psychological fact that if people don’t feel safe, they don’t open to those painful…

Andy: Right.

Judy: And parents are no different. You don’t get a free communication card just because you’re a parent. Relationships are relationships and you build those, the trust and the respect, by not hurting other people. And it’s a hard concept for parents to get, but it’s so true. Kids will come to parents with any problem they have, any concern, if they know that their parents are on their side and will be their advocate and their help for fixing things.

About Judy Arnall

The mother of five children, Judy Arnall is Canada’s leading expert on parenting without punishment.  She is a parenting speaker and trainer at the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services.  She is also the author of four books on parenting:

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