Podcast: Rethinking kid discipline with Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Discipline is many people’s least favorite part of parenting. Along with being the least favorite part, it’s possibly the least examined. When a child misbehaves, and you react to that, what are you ultimately hoping to accomplish?

Broadly, the goal is that children will become self-disciplined. Ultimately you won’t have to tell the child not to bite his sister; he will choose not to bite. Self-discipline is what enables us, as adults, not to bite people, to eat our vegetables, and pay our taxes (did you get to the post office yet?).

There’s pretty good evidence that a lot of punishment — whether meted out at school or at home — does not assist in the goal of teaching self-regulation. And so, according to Sarah and my podcast guest this week, we should rethink how discipline is done.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis is the author of The Good News About Bad Behavior, which is out today. In the podcast, she says that modern children are experiencing a crisis of self-regulation. While certain behavioral statistics look more positive (lower violence rates), a lot of this has been turned inward, with escalating numbers of children experiencing mood disorders and mental illness. There are many reasons children are less able to regulate themselves, she says. They have less unstructured play, and less adult/community interaction. In these interactions, children learn to regulate their emotions.

Taking away recess? Not so much.

Anyway, lots of food for thought. Please give it a listen, and then check out Katherine’s book. This is a particularly exciting book launch for me because I was there at the beginning! Katherine and I have been accountability partners for the past 5 years. We email each Friday about what we’ve done that week, and what we intend to do in the next week. Many years ago, our emails involved her pitching the idea of kid discipline to Mother Jones magazine. She did it, and wrote the piece, and it became the most read article in Mother Jones’ history (6 million views strong!). She got a book deal out of it — and this is the book.

So check it out, and then let us know what discipline looks like in your house. The 3-year-old in particular is quite the work in progress, though we’ve found that natural consequences are some of the best. When you bite your siblings, they stop playing with you. And that’s no fun at all!

In other news: We start with a discussion of…hair. Japanese straightening, curling, dying hair with L’Oreal Preference 9.5 A, etc. This is a teaser for our upcoming Superficial Things episode, which will air in June. Stay tuned.

17 thoughts on “Podcast: Rethinking kid discipline with Katherine Reynolds Lewis

  1. Looking forward to it!

    Re: Superficial Things, I got a ‘Brazilian Blowout’ to make my wavy/curly/frizzy hair calmer. I’m conflicted on whether I’d do it again. It did what was advertised, but it’s not like it has made it take dramatically less time or effort to style it. It is less frizzy, but still requires work to make it look decent. I guess feeling ‘meh’ about it is my answer right there. I’d rather spend that $$ on getting a few professional blowouts when I need them for events or photos. It’s much cheaper in the long run, I think.

    1. this is why I refuse to switch from my beloved Japanese straightening. It is DRASTIC change in hair texture/styling requirements. However, don’t do it if you don’t like stick straight hair (I do 🙂 )

  2. Approaching discipline gets easier with experience…I think. Now that my oldest (of 5)is 19, and has turned into a wonderful young man, I am a little more relaxed with the younger kids. I think that having a solid attachment to your children and spending time listening to them really helps. My husband and I have always tried to limit our discipline to really big things, such as being disrespectful to grown-ups and/or safety issues. I’ve found for the rest, it’s okay to have a “trial and error” approach. I totally agree with the discussion point that each child is different, and that parenting has to be tailored to each child’s innate personality. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel!

      1. I certainly agree with that. As the oldest of 6 (with a 15 year spread), I hated seeing my parents endorsing/facilitating things with my younger siblings that were strictly forbidden for me. Now as a parent myself, I can see how some relaxation is expected, but be careful of 180s, they create a lot of resentment in older children.

  3. I really enjoyed this episode. So much that I grabbed the book in my way home and am currently on page 84.

  4. I read Positive Discipline for Preschoolers while on maternity leave. I am a teensy bit reactive….couple that with sleep deprivation and post-C section pain and we were having a tough time. My daughter has really responded to:
    1) Counting: I’m not sure what threat she thinks is coming when I hit 3 but somehow it works.
    2) Problem solving: When fussing that she didn’t get to put the grocery bag in the trunk, I tried instead of yelling at her to ask her how we could make the situation better. She came up with an answer that worked!
    3) Hugs instead of time out. Time outs backfired.
    4) Strict boundaries, with freedom within the boundary.
    5) Following through on our stated consequences.

    I definitely agree with letting kids work things out themselves as much as possible. I find it very difficult not to nag/correct/remind, especially with time sensitive things like leaving the house for school.

  5. On the topic of Superficial Things, Sarah, who is your stylist? I live in Boca. I had a Keratin but it didn’t hold like it should so I’m looking for a new stylist who is an expert in hair straightening.

    Suggestion for future guest: Gina Harney (www.fitnessista.com) – she’s a working mom, she’s really into fitness (and mom fitness – she created a postpartum workout), and the family often moves because of her husband’s job.

  6. I enjoyed this guest and her perspective! In theory I agreed with a lot of her philosophy but would like to know more about when “safety” is being compromised to the point parents need to step in. Is it like, the kid is going to get a broken bone? Only if a life threatening injury could occur? My daughter is totally crazy and I feel like we are mostly trying to keep her safe but maybe it’s over board. How do you draw the line? Your 3 year old also sounds a little rambunctious like my kiddo 🙂

    1. @Irene – I agree that the safety issue is a big gray area, and I also think that this is a difference between kids too, and we have to be cognizant of it. Somewhat akin to kid nutrition advice from people whose kids are naturally willing to eat things like kale or even multi-ingredient foods. Many feel they’ve found the right approach, when the reality is that their kids are certain ways.

      My 3-year-old has to be watched like a hawk. And while we are certainly having him learn some things on his own, he’s a kid who seeks out dangerous situations. He is going to hear yelling a lot more than a kid who doesn’t see a wall and immediately wonder how he can climb it and leap off.

  7. Still new at this parenting game- my oldest is about to be 3- but I loved a tip I read somewhere that you should really use the word no for things that are morally reprehensible or physically dangerous. The rest you can have a little more leeway for. I don’t think I’m good at only doing that but this podcast made me wonder if I should stick by that more!

    1. @Riley – I think the idea is that kids hear “no” all the time, and it loses its power. And sometimes when we’re saying no, it could be phrased in a “yes” format. Like “can I have ice cream?” “No, not until after dinner” — when it could be “yes, right after dinner!”

  8. I really enjoyed this episode and plan to check out the book.

    This is the second time one of my questions has been used in the Q&A and I always get a little thrill when that happens. 🙂

  9. For Sarah – and I”m not even sure this is the right episode – on workouts, I like Mommastrong too, but for yoga I like yogatx on youtube. It’s free and pretty high quality – good instructions so you get the most benefit out of your practice. They have everything from full hour practices to 10 minute ones, so you can pick according to how much time you have, and they post new ones frequently.

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