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As a therapist specializing in the treatment of trauma and PTSD, I have worked with a number of clients who come to therapy wanting more information about healthy parenting. Often people parent the way they were parented but if someone grew up in a violent household, they may not know how to discipline or create structure. When someone has been abused, they can learn to avoid conflict and the very idea of setting a boundary can create great fear or even a panic attack. Learning proper non-violent parenting techniques can make the difference between a child feeling appropriately supported and a child feeling uncontained or unable to cope.

Discipline vs. Punishment

One important concept we want to differentiate when we talk about nonviolent parenting is the difference between discipline and punishment. While they may sounds similar, they are actually quite different. Discipline is about training someone to produce a specific pattern of behaviors or behave in a manner that fits a code of conduct. Punishment is about inflicting suffering for a past behavior. While discipline is important to help children develop into productive citizens and adults, punishment can create an environment of fear where someone is acting in accordance to avoid a negative consequence. Discipline is about correcting a child and teaching them limit setting.

When a child grows up in a violent environment, they may do things to avoid being hurt or abused rather than because they feel good about making positive choices. When children see violence, it activates their nervous system and all sorts of changes happen in their body. This can lead to problems in attentiveness, learning, and forming healthy relationships. Sometimes children will learn that violence is the only way to get their needs met and they will take on the role of trying to exhibit power and control over others.

There are many reasons children may misbehave including lack of supervision, family instability, peer pressure, or inconsistency of rule expectations. It is important to assess the reason the child is acting out and address the issues through disciplinary methods rather than punishment. Examples of discipline include the following…

  • Educating the child on how to improve problem behaviors
  • Being clear about expectations
  • Make sure expectations are age appropriate
  • Giving children age appropriate choices
  • Using time outs as a tool to learn to self sooth and regain control rather than as a punishment
  • Let child earn incentives for positive behaviors
  • Increasing supervision

Other Tips on Nonviolent Parenting

  1. Using positive reinforcement- this involves adding a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur in the future. For example, if a child is praised for being patient or listening well, this may contribute to them wanting to continue this behavior in the future.
  2. Token Economy- This is when a child received some kind of token for performing a desired behavior. An example would be earning stars on a chart for completing a chore.
  3. Restitution- This involves having a child fix or repair something that they damaged.
  4. Remain calm- When a child becomes elevated or disruptive, it can be tempting to respond in a loud tone in order to get that child’s attention. Children learn to regulate themselves through modeling and seeing others do it. Lowering your voice and remaining calm is much more effective at helping children regulate than yelling or screaming.  
  5. Remain Consistent- It is so important that everyone be on the same page around expectations in the household. It is important to allow children input so they feel invested in the rules. Providing choices can be a great way to guide children in the right direction but allow them some autonomy.   

If you are struggling with parenting, it can be helpful to work with a therapist who can help you understand and work through your childhood and make conscious decisions around making changes.If you would like to know more about Shannon’s services, contact her today for a free consultation.



Bio: Shannon McHenry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty focus in childhood trauma, rape and battering, and PTSD. She is a trauma therapist in Los Angeles and works with clients in her offices in Los Feliz and Torrance. Combining clinical experience with a passion to support women in repairing their relationships with themselves and others, she has supported many to create a long-lasting recovery from destructive behaviors. Call Shannon today to book your first appointment.

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