The imposing wooden spoon always hung ominously above the kitchen sink, a constant reminder of the consequences of stepping out of line. To my 4-year-old eyes, it resembled a banjo in size and seemed as menacing as the unseen monster lurking beneath my bed on dark nights. While I had never personally felt its sting, my older siblings regaled me with tales of its use, emphasizing our mother's willingness to wield it and its capacity to redden and sore wayward bottoms. According to their stories, it had been passed down through generations to instill in children the importance of distinguishing right from wrong and the repercussions of the latter. The wooden spoon symbolized the punitive approach to social discipline, effectively tapping into my fear of undesirable consequences, but it fell short of teaching me the reasons behind our family rules, how these rules contributed to our family dynamics, or how my actions could make me a valuable member of our household. In essence, it didn't empower me in any meaningful way.
When I became a parent, I felt a strong conviction that there had to be a more constructive method of influencing my children's behavior – one that fostered personal responsibility and autonomy while simultaneously instilling respect and empathy toward others. Enter restorative parenting practices!
Restorative Practices (as a social science) employs the "social discipline window" to illustrate four distinct models of social and behavior management. As depicted in the figure below, the restorative approach is characterized by both high control and high support, emphasizing collaboration rather than coercion or indifference. This approach was a far cry from the way I was raised.
To understand the 4 quadrants, let's explore them.
1. The Punitive Window: This quadrant is exemplified by the use of fear and authoritarian measures to control a child's behavior. It's akin to the era of the wooden spoon in my own childhood. Parents in the punitive window may resort to threats, harsh punishments, or even physical discipline. For instance, a parent employing this approach might frequently use time-outs, spankings, or loss of privileges as means of control. The focus is often on maintaining authority and control over the child, using the fear of consequences as a deterrent.
2. The Permissive Window: In this quadrant, parents are lenient and often overly indulgent. They may avoid setting clear boundaries or consequences for actions. Children raised in this environment might receive minimal guidance, and parents may prioritize their child's desires above all else. This form of parenting has become known as "Helicopter" parenting. For example, a parent in the permissive window might allow their child to have unrestricted screen time, skip chores, do their kids homework (remember grade school science fairs) or avoid facing the consequences of their actions. The emphasis here is on avoiding conflict and ensuring the child's immediate happiness.
3. The Neglect Window: The neglectful window, as the name suggests, involves a lack of involvement or attention from parents. This quadrant can result in children feeling invisible or unimportant. In such cases, parents may be emotionally distant, disengaged, or overwhelmed by other life circumstances. For instance, a parent might consistently fail to notice or address their child's needs, both emotional and physical. Children raised in this environment often struggle to find their voice and may feel disconnected from their caregivers.
4. The Restorative Window: This quadrant embodies the principles of restorative practices. It focuses on maintaining a balance between high control and high support. Restorative parenting involves active engagement with the child, encouraging them to express their needs, understand the impact of their actions on others, and take responsibility for their behavior. When conflicts or undesirable behavior arises, parents in the restorative window engage in dialogue, asking questions like, 'What were you thinking?' 'Who did it affect and how?' and 'What can be done to make things right?' It's about fostering a sense of significance in the child, empowering them to participate in repairing and healing relationships with others.
Which of these models best aligns with your upbringing? Perhaps one parent favored a punitive approach while the other leaned toward permissiveness. How you were parented will shape how you parent now.In my own childhood, my mother often threatened me with the ominous phrase, "wait until your father comes home," yet it was she who administered the harshest punishments. I distinctly recall my father taking me aside once, assigning me the task of self-inflicting a whipping, and instructing me to cry out in pain as he mimicked the act with a belt striking his own thigh. Ultimately, my parents' approach to disciplining me largely fell within the neglectful window, punctuated by occasional punitive power struggles. I remember one particular standoff with my mother over a plate of beef tongue, during which I defiantly stared at the dish for hours, throughout multiple meals, locked in a power struggle which lasted 24 hours (and resulted in a very hungry me).
At the age of seven, my parents divorced, our family home was sold, my siblings moved away, and I found myself shuttled between friends and relatives well into my teenage years. During this period, my behavior often went unnoticed, unjudged, and with few predictable consequences. Oddly enough, a part of me began to yearn for that fearsome wooden spoon. While it induced fear, at least it signified that I was visible, and my actions held some level of significance. It took nearly half a lifetime for me to grapple with questions about my own significance to others and how to meet my own needs while maintaining personal power and connection. In both punitive and neglectful parenting approaches, children are taught that their voices won't be heard.
As a parent myself, I believe I erred on the side of permissiveness, eschewing the use of power over my children in favor of allowing them to have a voice. Yet, I struggled to wield control in a constructive manner.
How we discipline our children conveys a powerful message about their place in the world and the dynamics of power within society. It shapes their future relationships, self-identity, and understanding of power structures. The punitive model trains children to wield power over others, fostering a world of haves and have-nots. Its underlying message is that one can only meet their needs by being physically stronger, controlling resources, or manipulating others through power. While this approach may empower, it does so through domination. It often leads to either complacency, as individuals feel powerless, or bullying, as they seek to exert control over others. The neglectful model, on the other hand, conveys a sense of hopelessness, teaching children that they are alone, voiceless, and without value or power. It, too, can result in complacency or bullying, as individuals either surrender to their powerlessness or strive to take what they desire. The permissive approach fosters complete dependence, as children never learn to solve their own problems, leaving them powerless in the face of challenges. This can also lead to complacency or bullying, as individuals either wait for others to act on their behalf or attempt to coerce compliance through emotional manipulation.
In contrast, the restorative approach empowers children, affirming their significance by giving them a voice, assigning personal responsibility, and allowing them to experience the natural consequences of their actions. In this model, children are encouraged to express their needs, listen to the needs of others, and collaborate with others to meet their own needs while also caring for the needs of those around them. When undesirable behavior occurs, children are prompted to reflect on questions like, "What were you thinking?" "Who was affected and how?" and "What can be done to make things right?" The child is tasked with listening to the perspective of those harmed by their actions and working together to restore balance. Through this process, the child comes to view themselves as valued contributors to the family unit, understanding the impact of their actions on others and recognizing their own ability to repair and heal alongside others. Restorative parenting nurtures children who are unafraid to speak their truth and to listen to the truths of others.
Let me offer a concrete example of restorative parenting. Imagine a situation where two siblings have a disagreement over a shared toy. In the restorative window, the parent would engage both children in a conversation, asking them to express their feelings and needs. They would facilitate a discussion where the siblings listen to each other, understand the impact of their actions, and work together to find a resolution that satisfies both parties. This approach not only teaches conflict resolution but also empowers the children to take responsibility for their behavior and fosters a sense of belonging and significance within the family.
My parents neither erred nor excelled in their parenting practices; they did the best they knew, following patterns learned from their own parents. Perhaps they never questioned the methods passed down through generations. However, as I recall the tears in my father's eyes during the one instance he resorted to corporal punishment, it's evident that he, too, yearned for a different approach. As I embarked on my own journey of parenthood, I wished for experience with alternative parenting methods. I refused to wield a wooden spoon, instead grappling to support my children's autonomy while establishing a secure and dependable framework that encouraged them to take responsibility for their actions, be mindful of others' needs, adhere to societal norms, and embrace their individuality. I have always believed that there must be a better way than the wooden spoon or battles over a plate of beef tongue, though it took years to fully comprehend and implement it.
In conclusion, the impact of our parenting approach resonates far beyond our immediate family dynamics. It reverberates through our children's perceptions of themselves, their relationships, and their understanding of power structures within society. Each model of parenting sends a profound message, shaping the way our children navigate the world around them.
As parents, we bear the responsibility of consciously choosing our approach, of raising our children with intention and purpose. The wooden spoon, once a symbol of fear, could be replaced by a symbol of restorative parenting . By embracing this approach, we empower our children to voice their needs, take responsibility for their actions, and experience the natural consequences of their choices. It fosters a sense of significance, as they understand their impact on others and their ability to mend and heal alongside their peers.
My own journey through different parenting styles has led me to this conviction: with clear intention and the conscious application of our parenting practices, we hold the power to shape not only the future of our children but also the future of our world. Let us seize this power as parents, not to lord it over our children or control them, but to bring it to them and use it alongside them in creating a brighter, more empathetic, and more harmonious future for all.
So, as you embark on your parenting journey or reflect on your current practices, remember that your choices matter. They shape not only your child's world but also the world they will help build. With love, intention, and a commitment to restorative parenting, we can raise a generation that values empathy, accountability, and connection, ultimately contributing to a more compassionate and understanding society.
If you are wanting to explore this topic further, could benefit for one-on-one coaching or would like to receive updates about learning and support opportunities please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.