AGES 9-12

Scenario 1.

Robert’s twelve-year-old, Michael, tells him they were going the neighbour’s, but he finds out that he went to a friend’s house that he doesn’t approve of. Michael knows that he is not allowed to go there.

Action 1. Robert is mad. He tells Michael, "You broke the rules and you’re a liar. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a liar!" He slaps Michael across the face. Thoughts on being present not punitive.

Action 2. Robert tells Michael, "You’re grounded for a month. Go to your room. Write out a hundred times: I will not break the rules. I will always tell the truth." Thoughts on punishment.
Action 3. Robert invites Michael to sit with him and says, "I’m very concerned that you went to see … Let’s talk about it. You know we were worried about you seeing them." Robert then asks Michael what they think could be done about this situation. He sits with him, and asks him to remind him what they have agreed to and why. He reminds Michael that the important thing is that they be safe. What would help them stick to the agreement next time? Chances to change.

Scenario 2.

Allen discovers his child Michaela using their phone after bedtime. This isn’t the first time it’s happened.

Action 1. Allen says, "I don’t have time to be checking up on you all the time! I thought I could trust you. Obviously not! No more Facebook for you! No Instagram! You’re off of all social media! That’s it for you and the computer!"
Action 2. Allen grabs the phone from his child. As he grabs it, it falls on the ground and cracks. He says, "Now look what you made do!"
Action 3. Allen says, "Okay. So, you know that you shouldn’t be using your phone now, right? Is there an emergency or something?” If there isn't, Allen asks if there is a legitimate reason to be using phone, as a first measure. There doesn’t seem to be and so he takes it away for the night, as had been discussed before. Calmly. Thoughts on discipline.

Scenario 3.

Frieda gets a call from their child Franny’s school, explaining that Franny has been bullying another student at school.

Action 1. Frieda is mad. She goes straight up to Franny and says, "You should know better. I’m so embarrassed that the school had to call. You’re in big trouble with me and with the school. You’re going to have to apologize." Thoughts on making kids say sorry.
Action 2. Frieda marches over to Franny when she comes home from school. Pulling her ear, she says, "We need to talk right now. You see how hurting someone feels. I guess this is what it’s like."
Action 3. Frieda takes a deep breath and thinks about what to do. When Franny finishes dinner, she asks to talk to her and starts the conversation by saying, "I just got a concerning call from the school about a problem. We need to sit and talk. I need to hear from you what’s happening with ... so that we can resolve this problem."

Thoughts on punishment.

At COPA we encourage those caring for children to leave the path of punishment and shame and blame, and move toward a focus on learning opportunities.

As our children’s guides, we hope to help children take advantage of life’s many challenges to learn more about themselves and others.

A two-year-old who grabs another’s shovel can learn about sharing, taking turns, and thus learns more about their own needs and their peers’ than if they were punished, developing important awareness and life skills. In fact, at that stage of life, punishment is only negative with learning attached to it.

When a ten-year-old is bullying another child in the playground, keeping them indoors for lunch for a week teaches them nothing about what is wrong with their behaviour. They may feel badly, and embarrassed, but what have they learned about bullying, about their classmates, about healthy relations, about respecting others?

What learning is taking place? This is the question that we encourage adults caring for young people to ask.

Punishing children for mistakes that they make or information they don’t have or even skills they should not have developed yet builds a negative and even hostile environment. While helping them build their problem-solving skills and their ability to recognize and handle difficult situations is essential to nurturing children in a healthy way. Not only for their future, but in their lives, as young people, too.

Thoughts on being present not punitive.

Most of us were raised to think of punishment as normal, natural and even logical.

At COPA, we encourage stepping away from punishment and see that by being present—just by paying attention, being available and listening carefully—we can even avoid many situations that end up in conflict, or become problems or steer us toward punishment.

Thoughts on chances to change.

Parenting is so hard. Caring for children is so difficult. COPA believes strongly in learning, not judging, blaming or shaming—not just of children but of adults too.

We can work at being better at caring for our children, our grandchildren and children in our care. We can make mistakes, we can react, over-react, be angry, impatient, frightened, respond in ways we don’t feel proud of and still take steps to change.

Here are some simple ideas for things that can change our lives with children we care for:

  • Slow down
  • Take a breath
  • Keep breathing
  • Admit you were wrong
  • Ask for ideas for how to deal with the situation
  • Provide choices (younger children)
  • Come up with ideas together (older children)
  • Say you are sorry (and mean it)
  • Listen and let your child express themselves
  • Keep breathing
  • Be available

Order Problem-Solving Together: COPA's Tool for Empowerment

Thoughts on discipline.

Definition / The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.

For example / She was too relaxed and didn’t discipline her children.

At COPA, we would like to think of parenting or caring for children as something different than training for obedience. In fact, a child who has been trained to obey authority is a child, and later an adult, that is more open to being abused.

People who abuse children—whether children or adults themselves—look for young people who are afraid of disobeying people in charge. Blind obedience can be dangerous.

At COPA, we would like to think of parenting as loving guidance. And this is often called "positive parenting". It involves aspects that are different from training, such as leaning in, listening, taking young peoples’ feelings seriously, modelling behaviour that we would like to see in them.

And helping our children develop tools for thinking about problems and finding positive and practical solutions is an essential skill in life, one that will be useful always, help them be more self-aware and build confidence.

Learning to work through difficult situations leaves children safer and better able to handle all kinds of challenges. Training them to do what we say because we say it, can mean the opposite.

We want to encourage our children to listen to and respect their own feelings—as we respect them and hope, too that others will respect ours.

In the moment: When facing a problem, leaning in to our children,and listening to empower can help them recognize and deal with situations that are difficult. The confidence they gain through this is character-building.

In general: Giving children time and space to express themselves, while learning how to problem-solve builds important life skills and builds a self-discipline that we all admire and is useful in life.

Thoughts on tantrums.

Definition / An uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration, usually associated with a young child.

Example / "His child has temper tantrums when he can't get his own way."

It’s hard to imagine that anyone that has taken care of children has not had to manage a child having a tantrum. And there are many articles on the internet for parents and caregivers for handling them. The language about them is fascinating, and worth reflecting on.

A favourite, for example, is the idea that we can try to tame children into not having tantrums. Clearly, the idea behind this is that we think of children as wild animals. One can even imagine being in the cage with them, with one hand holding a whip and the other a chair.

At COPA, we would like to think of young people as (whole) people too—with feelings of helplessness and frustration similar to our own. (It is unlikely to meet an adult that has not wanted to have a tantrum or cannot remember feeling ignored as a child.)

In addition to ignoring their feelings, seeing children as in need of taming can actually harm them, leaving them open to all kinds of abuse. We want to encourage our children to listen to and respect their own feelings—as we respect them too, and hope, too that others will respect ours. Children whose feelings are tamed—shut down, repressed, ignored or belittled—are children that are much more vulnerable.

Yes, tantrums are very hard to deal with. Even harder when people are watching us and often judging us for how we are managing them, but let’s think about tantrums as what they really are: the expression of someone who is feeling helpless and frustrated.

In the moment: Leaning in to our children and listening to empower can defuse a tantrum in moments.

In general: Giving children time and space to express themselves, while learning how to do so in a positive way builds important life skills and makes tantrums less likely.

Thoughts on making kids say sorry.

We often think that making young people apologize gets an important job done and is part of educating children to see the wrong in what they have done.

At COPA, we would like people to re-think the idea of making kids say they are sorry. Forcing someone to do so may mean that we hear the words we want to hear, but we don’t necessarily get at real feelings. We have all had the experience of getting an apology and knowing that the person doesn’t mean it. A forced apology is so different from a sincere one.

Also, making someone apologize for something can make for feelings of resentment—it can make the whole thing backfire. Making kids apologize to each other can even double backfire.

We need to keep in mind that kids, like adults, need to learn about regret, remorse, being sorry and saying so—it’s a skill that can be developed and sometimes the best way for young people to learn that skill is by watching the adults in their lives model it well.

Note of interest: Children and youth that talk to COPA about various issues have told us about their frustration about being made to say their sorry—and how rarely adults apologize to kids.