One Mom's Experiment: Parenting Without Punishment

To begin, I should probably be totally transparent.

I have heard of people parenting without punishments. I always rolled my eyes. I don't think I even tried to hide my disgust. I'm honest like that. It's one of my more enduring character traits.

I was pretty sure that no punishment= horrible brat, parent on medication so they could stand to be around said horrible brat, and eventually...a psychopath.


I'll skip that.

So, when I was pitched the idea to write about Alan Kazdin and his "no punishment" childrearing idea, (talked about in this article here where Dr Kazdin is interviewed) I was fully prepared to make fun of his ideas.

It was going to be awesome.

I read the article and I watched some footage of Dr Kazdin talking about what he does and how it works.

I checked out his website…

I watched this video…


I watched this video too, which is an interview with Dr Kazdin.


Then I decided I needed to find out if this actually worked. I even talked to my husband about it and we both decided to try this out, in our own way. The concept of parenting without punishment freaked me out. Honestly, I have seen kids that were raised this way and they behave in a deplorable manner. But something in what he said rang true with me.

Our kids are pretty decently behaved. They are good kids, get along with their friends, and get along well with one another reasonably well too.

But we have, probably like any families, issues. Getting everyone off to school is a pain in the butt. Getting kids to help with chores equals bribes, threats, or frustration. Homework...ugh. I want things to go my way, but admittedly, it isn't always working.

Starting out, I was reasonably sure that Dr Kazdin's ideas were junk, but research is research, and it didn't seem fair to trash him without trying it out.

Next morning:

This was probably the smoothest school morning we have had in a long time. I have to admit, some of the stuff I said was hilariously stupid, "I am so glad you didn't hit your sister! Nice job!" (Insert hand on the shoulder, loving touch, etc.) This is after child one just yelled at his sister in a rude way.


It felt like a giant joke.

A really bad joke in which my kids grow up thinking they did an awesome job my not slamming someone's head through a glass window and everyone goes to jail and it's all my fault because they didn't get punished.

Then something happened.

It was a smooth morning.

One Mom's Experiment: Parenting Without Punishment

People got ready.

When I saw them doing something they were supposed to do like brushing their teeth, making their breakfast, packing their lunch, or getting dressed, I noticed, touched them, and said something acknowledging the good behavior.

Everyone had smiles. Everyone got ready.

It was insane.

We got in the car and my son said, "I like it when you compliment me."

Umm ... thanks? What was I doing before?!

When I thought about it, I wasn't acknowledging good behavior very often. I was only noticing the bad. Children want attention and acknowledgement. If they don't get it in a positive way, they will find a way to get it, even if it is negative.

This method doesn't work immediately.

Yelling at kids or punishing them does sometimes work immediately.

But it doesn't seem to work in the long run. If it did, the countless lectures I have given about getting shoes on and brushing teeth would have only needed to happen once rather than weekly or daily.

This did seem to work.

I even noticed the kids employing these techniques with each other! And me!

My 8-year-old climbed up next to me on the couch and said, "I love it when you read me Nancy Drew," as she handed me a book.

(One thing I had been doing to encourage good behavior was clearly stating what I liked them to do, even if they hadn't done it yet. "I love it and appreciate it when you put your clothes in the hamper!" Oddly, they usually scurried to do just that. Wha?!)

Fast forward to yesterday. I needed to do some yard work. My yard is gross. It's embarrassing. So I headed out there to pull weeds.

The kids found me (you know how they do that.)

Kid: "What are you doing, mom?"

Mom: "Oh, I'm just pulling weeds by myself."

Kid: "Oh. Can I help?"

Mom: "Yeah. I love it when you help."

Kid: "OK!"

Kid helps pull weeds…

One Mom's Experiment: Parenting Without Punishment

Mom: "Wow- you are such a good helper. This is really going faster."

Other kids who were not helping because, well, yard work sucks and everyone knows this, actually begin helping.

Turns out they want to get lots of compliments too.

We pulled weeds until the green bin was overflowing.


It was like the twilight zone only in a good way.

The kids did yard work with smiles! And I didn't even ask them too.


Dr Kazdin might have voodoo powers or something. I don't know what is really going on.

Yes, I am still a big fan of natural consequences for screwing up and I still participate in some yelling and clashing of egos, but this seems to actually work.

My fear of having nasty kids who don't bathe and punch their friends and still think they are awesome when they are actually big jerks, has yet to be realized.

One Mom's Experiment: Parenting Without Punishment

Back to the subject.

It really may be worth your time to check out Dr Kazdin's method of child rearing.

So far, no ax murderers and happier kids and happier parents. And less weeds in the yard.

I have to say, this has been amazing.

Try it. But don't take it so far that they are ax murderers.

Just saying. I'm still a little worried.

Photo credits: David Salafia via / CC BY-ND, MJM Photographie via / CC BY-ND, AmberStrocel via / CC BY-ND, amira_a via / CC BY