Archive for punishment

Renaming Discipline

Dear Parent,

I wonder how I would view disciplining children if it were called shaping children or growing children or supporting children?  Would you see discipline differently if it were called something else?

I know the word discipline derives from the Greek word to follow or follower of a teacher (like Jesus). In the truest sense of the word, it follows that children are the disciples of parents (who often are not at all like Jesus); however, it does not follow that discipline means “to teach,” but rather it means “to learn.”  To teach is a misnomer.

In popular culture, discipline has come to mean something more authoritarian, power over, and punitive.  To discipline a child is to create learning through some form of pain–isolation from the family, restriction from play, loss of beloved things, slaps, spanks, verbal lashing, humiliation, and other unspeakable forms of torture in the name of discipline.  Pain of some kind is de rigueur,  as though pain infliction is the only way to get a child to learn.  Isn’t that odd?  Even a little counterintuitive from where I stand.

I wonder if I would have learned Spanish if every time I conjugated a verb incorrectly the teacher inflicted pain so I would learn.  I am actually having a hard time even imagining that scenario.  Of course, we all know pain is not necessary to learn Spanish or any other academic subject.  I think we all know that, except a lot of knock-down drag-out fights over homework might be evidence to the contrary.

Actually, to really learn Spanish (for native English speakers) there needs to be 1) a desire on the disciple’s part to learn, and 2) there may or may not be another reward involved, such as a passing grade, the ability to speak with someone in Spanish, the internal feeling of pride and accomplishment, or college entrance and employment advances.  Come to think of it: I’m pretty sure had pain been part of the equation, I would have elected not to learn Spanish.  I would have given up on my desire to learn it, and any of the possible rewards that would have accompanied acquiring Spanish speaking skills.  I never would have made it to college, because a language is required.  I would not have become a teacher or therapist.  Likely, I would not be able to afford the luxuries my professional career brings me.  I might have ended up living below the poverty line:  Perhaps even lose my will to accomplish anything in life at all.  I might have started hating Spanish, and learning, and teachers all together. I might have dropped out of school, given up on myself and my goals, and perhaps pursued a less than savory lifestyle to get by.

If I had to choose between painful success and painless survival, I’m not sure I would have had enough pre-frontal cortex developed in my high school years to make a decision that ultimately would have given me life advantages.  To clarify, the decision that would have given me life advantages would have been to continue on learning Spanish, while hating learning, hating teachers, and despite the pain inflicted when I made mistakes–despite the pain, not because of the pain.  (I thought about inserting an old Nun quip here, but I’m too serious about the topic to make it funny.)

What do you say we collectively stop painfully disciplining our children to teach them to learn and start supporting them, growing them, shaping them to learn instead?  Just a thought on this fabulous Friday.  Go have some fun with your precious traumatized, attachment challenged babies.  Playful engagement is the best teacher of children and it is  in their native language.

The Attach Place

The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships

Love matters,


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Codependence in Parent/Child Relationships

Relationships between parents and their traumatized children often resemble terribly destructive codependent relationships. Here are some tenets of codependence I want to share that may give you some insight into how YOU may be making your parenting situation worse.
  • Personalizing your child’s behavior, good or bad
  • Taking on a victim mentality by thinking your child owes you good behavior or your child’s behavior is about you
  • Using guilt or shame to get the behavior you want
  • Needing to be right
  • Only pretending or rarely listening to your child’s point of view
  • Dismissing as ridiculous or irrelevant your child’s feelings, thoughts and beliefs
  • Turning emotions into an art form through withdrawing, angry yelling, crying, or other dramatic emotional in or out bursts
  • Mocking your child by parroting back at your child an accusation or nasty tone of voice they have just slung at you
  • Crazy making communication–I am SO INCREDIBLY ANGRY you didn’t call when you got there like I told you to do! Nevermind, I don’t care.
  • Subtle and covert manipulations that can not easily be called out but are definitely felt by your child–passive aggressive statements, withholding eye contact or affection, giving the silent treatment, denial of wrong-doing, making all things seem like the child’s fault
  • Controlling, controlling, controlling is name of the daily game
Most of us have done some of these things once in a while because they are human behaviors.  If you are stuck in one or many, you need to take a long look at yourself. YOU may be making the situation in your home worse. Your behavior is not because of your child’s behavior.  Your behavior is your healthy or unhealthy reaction to it.
I think most of you know I learned all of this about 5 years into raising my attachment challenged, severely traumatized children.  I can’t believe I didn’t get my part for that long, but I just didn’t.  I can beat myself for what I didn’t know or I can applaud myself for finally seeing it.  Honestly, I vacillate.  
If you see yourself stuck in a codependent dance with your attachment challenged child, you will probably need some help climbing out. It’s okay. You are worth it. No shame.
Love Matters,
Ce Eshelman, LMFT
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Shame keeps us in the dark.  Where there is light, there is healing.

Favorite Sentence

One of my favorite parenting sentences (I think I stole from PCIT, but who can remember such details at my age?) to get the kids moving.  I don’t know why this works so frequently, but it does.  It’s sharing power, so it makes sense that it works, now that I think about it.

Okay, time to go to bed.
Noooooooo!!! I’m not done!
How much more time do you think you need? [That was the favorite sentence, though I see now that it is really a question, my favorite parenting question.]
10 minutes.
Let’s compromise–5 more minutes.
Awwwa, okay.
Two minutes later, he is done and down the hall to the bedroom.

I know you don’t believe me, so start small and build up to bedtime.

cartoon momMy son has been home “sick” in bed for two days.
I asked him, How much more time do you think you need?
Uhh, I’m pretty sick.  My stomach really has been hurting.  Uh, a week?
Let’s compromise–you’re getting your butt to school to-mor-row.
It was worth a try, Mom.
We giggled.  He’s going to school tomorrow.

Wow, crazy as it seems, I have raised a seriously reasonable kid.  I worried that would never happen.  I often had so little faith in the face of so much fear.

Good thing I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Just like YOU.

Keep the faith. Keep walking forward.
The Attach Place Logo

Love Matters,

Ce Eshelman, LMFT 

  • Count down to the next Trust-based Relational Parent TrainingMay 10th and 17th.  Very excited. Really enjoy being with parents for these extended time periods.  Love it.
  • Next Hold Me Tight Couples Weekend Workshop for Therapists and Their Partners presented by Jennifer Olden, LMFT and Ce Eshelman, LMFT is scheduled for June 20, 21, 22, 2014.  If you are a therapist and interested in attending, sign up here.
  • The Attach Place is embarking on our second round of scholarships for families with adopted children who need services but have no funding to get them. We used up the last of our scholarship money last summer and are ready to start fundraising again. This time we have a pie-in-the-sky, big, hairy, audacious goal of $25,000. If you have a dollar you can afford to contribute, that is how we will pave the way–one dollar at a time. Go to: Love Matters Scholarship Fund.

Thoughts on When Love Is Not Enough

I received an email today from another therapist and adoptive mother asking me to clarify some things, and I thought it would be helpful to put some thoughts down for all of YOU at the same time.

Many of you are using the techniques of Nancy Thomas from her book entitled, When Love Is Not Enough. What I am about to write is not criticism of your choice to do so; however, I have some observations and experience about the methods I want to share.

When I write about how I deal with my kids, you may hear things that are Nancy Thomas-like. In my opinion some of the methods are helpful with very disorganized attachment challenged children. These are the most severely impacted children with the most disturbed attachment reactions–the ones that would be given a Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis. One of my children is clearly diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and continues to behave in adulthood the way she did in childhood–reactively. My other child is anxiously attached with PTSD, pervasive developmental delay, severe ADHD and learning disabilities. Together these two were tornados in our home.

At the time, the only attachment help I could find was based on Nancy Thomas’ work that involved holding children against their will, in effect, forcing them to submit to parental authority with physical restraint. I did that to them. I thought I had to. They were so incredibly self-destructive and reactive. I was desperate to gain control and Nancy Thomas’ approach gave me direction on how to do that. The only attachment therapist I could find back then followed the Thomas methods. So, I held my children against their will for hours on end, day after day, for several years when they were between 2-years-old and 5-years-old. I shut them down, powered over them, and used techniques that were somewhat humiliating and definitely emotionally confusing to them. I was not safe. They did not feel good about themselves or safe around me.

That somewhat stopped their intense, self-destructive behavior (until the teen years when it all resurfaced X10); however, that also caused them both to have posttraumatic stress from the trauma that forcefully holding them caused. They learned to fear me and when upset they would cower or rage at me. Since that time, 15 years ago, so much research, training, and information has surfaced about a better way, a loving way of creating attachment bonds that does not include authoritarian, physically abusive methods that create more trauma. I have read everything available on attachment and I have attended hundreds of hours of training over the years. I have made myself into an attachment therapist for others, so people can find help that is truly helpful and not abusive.

handsIf I had it to do all over again, I would NOT hold my children except for safety. I would do therapeutic, attachment parenting. I would up the sensory stimulation. I would focus on their felt safety and our relationship. I would play more, control less. I would smile and give up the mommy stink-eye. I would coach instead of lecture. I would never use coercive, degrading interventions like forced sit-ups and hard labor. Most importantly, I would get help for myself to regulate and deal with my own childhood trauma. I wish I had known what I know now.

I truly believe that much of what my children dished out in their teen years was a direct result of what I did to them in their early years. I was ill-informed and poorly supported by therapists then. I have had to forgive myself. I have had to ask my children for their forgiveness, but the damage to our relationship was honed in their early years. I have been trying to undo those early interventions for the last 10 years.

I know YOU wonder sometimes…if Ce has so much difficulty with her own children, then why would what she says be helpful to me and my children? The answer is that I did not do trust-based relational parenting early enough, and what I did do caused more harm. Ultimately, that is the sole reason why I have decided to devote my career to helping attachment challenged children and their parents. I am trying to give to YOU what I couldn’t get when I needed it most.

Attachment Help

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Love Matters,
Ce Eshelman, LMFT

Caution Advised

It is human nature to judge what we experience through our own personal lenses. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you open your monthly therapy bill from me and see that I have charged you for a session you did not have. What you automatically think about this is dependent on your lens. Here are some possible lenses: It's Okay1. She made a mistake. It’s okay. I trust she will fix it. 2. She made a mistake. I better show her proof that I wasn’t there because she might not believe me and make me pay for something I didn’t get.1. She made a mistake. I’ll let her know and she will easily correct it. 3. She overcharged me probably hoping that I wouldn’t notice. People are always trying to get over on me. angry woman4. She overcharged me because she is squeezing me every chance she gets. This stuff is too expensive anyway and it doesn’t help. I’m not going back. 5. How dare she overcharge me! This stuff doesn’t work anyway. I’m not paying this bill and I’m not going back. There are a zillion more lenses I could guess at, but YOU get my point. Your lens is based on your upbringing, your learning, your experience, your biases, your beliefs, your emotional state, your situation, and your internal compass. Everyone has a unique lens. Beware the lens through which YOU see your child’s behavior. For example, if you see your child’s chronic lying as immoral, manipulative, hateful, offensive, soulless or criminal, then YOU might react personally with anger, hopelessness, harshness, punishment, or cruelty. If you see your child’s chronic lying as the outcome of a hardwired brain reaction to fear of being “in trouble,” caught, exposed, rejected, seen as bad, or unloveable, then you are more likely to respond with empathy, understanding, careful correction, and comforting. There is a huge difference between the first and second response. One will ultimately create “felt safety” in your parent/child relationship, while the other will contribute to maintaining the cycle of fear and more lying.

Attachment Help

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Love Matters, Ce Eshelman, LMFT

UPCOMING SPECIAL EVENTS: Get more information and reserve your spot here for our upcoming Hold Me Tight Couples Workshop for Parents of Adopted, Attachment Challenged, and/or Special Needs Children in Sacramento, CA on April 25th, 26th and 27th.

May I Have A Compromise?

This is written by Kayla North from

When people hear our kids ask, “May I have a compromise?” they tend to look at us a bit funny. They seem completely confused when we respond to our kids as if their request for a compromise is normal. But at our house it is normal. In fact, it’s a request we hear no less than a dozen times each day.
We began teaching our kids to ask for compromises when our now five-year old daughter was only two. We figured that she was old enough to have a conversation with us, so she was old enough to begin learning how to compromise.
One thing we’ve noticed over the years among kids who are adopted or in foster care is that they tend to have control issues — sometimes really BIG control issues. Many kids (and parents) struggle with control issues, but this especially true for adopted and foster kids that come from homes or situations where most, if not all, of their world was out of control. Sometimes these kids had to raise younger siblings, or had to fend for themselves to find their next meal. Sometimes these kids had to use control and manipulation to stay safe, both physically and emotionally. And some of these kids resorted to control as an attempt to mask their lack of trust and feed their desire to avoid being hurt, neglected, or abandoned ever again. Control is often an “all or nothing” proposition for these kids, and when they come to our homes they aren’t willing to easily give up the control they’ve worked so hard to get.

Power Sharing
In our home we’ve decided we are going to help our kids deal with their control issues not by taking control away from them, but by sharing control with them. Share control with our kids? Sounds crazy. After all, we are the parents so we need to show our kids that we are in control, right? The thinking goes that they need to respect our authority or everything will devolve into chaos. We followed this way of thinking for a while, but showing our kids that we were in control was NOT working. As we tried to suddenly take all the control away from them what we got in return were power struggles and the very chaos we were trying to avoid. What worked, however, was a very simple solution…compromise.
The insight that helped us grasp this approach was actually something that Dr. Karyn Purvis said – “If you as a parent share power with your children, you have proven that it’s your power to share.” This helped me understand that I get to decide when and how much power to share when I offer my kids a compromise. And offering compromises doesn’t mean that I lose control or give my kids all of the control. It means that I teach them how to share power and control appropriately and by doing so, I teach them an essential skill for healthy relationships.
Here’s how a compromise works at our house:
Me: Son, please go clean your room.
Son: (who is playing a video game) Sure mom. May I have a compromise?
Me: What’s your compromise?
Son: May I finish this level on my game and then go do it?
Since that is an acceptable middle ground I will typically say sure and let him finish the level before going to clean his room. Of course this is an ideal conversation. Often times it goes more like this:
Me: Son, please go get your room cleaned up.
Son: (who is playing a video game) Ugh!! Can’t I just finish this level first?
Me: Whoa! I don’t like that tone. Are you asking for a compromise?
Son: Yes.
Me: I’m listening.
Son: May I have a compromise?
Me: What’s your compromise?
Son: May I finish this level on my game and then go do it?
Me: Sure! That’s a good job asking for a compromise!
Learning compromises takes practice for both kids and parents. As they learn this skill, it’s important to praise your kids when they ask for a compromise correctly (even if you have to prompt them). Still the risk remains that your child might not hold up his end of the deal. So, as you start using compromises it’s important to remind your kids that if they don’t hold up their end of the compromise, then you won’t be able to offer as many compromises in the future. Contrary to what I thought would happen, my kids have always held up their end of the compromise. As a result, we have had far fewer control battles.
By using compromises our kids have learned that they have a voice. They know that I can’t always give them or agree to a compromise, but they also know that I will as often as I can. And the funny thing is that they now are able to accept ‘no’ much better than in the past.
Remember – compromising is NOT about allowing our kids to argue or debate with us, nor is it about losing our control or giving them all of the control. It is about sharing power – our power. Compromises give our kids a voice and allow them to RESPECTFULLY ask for what they want and need. And compromises give us as parents the opportunity to teach our kids an important way of relating that builds trust and connection.

Punishment vs. Consequences

Most traditional parenting strategies will not work longterm with an attachment challenged child. However, it is important to allow natural and logical consequences to persist in your child’s life because it is the way of the world and children need to understand that over time. Still natural and logical consequences will likely not create huge behavior change.

A natural and logical consequence becomes punishment when you deliver it by withholding love and giving anger, disapproval, rage, put downs, rejection, hopelessness, and dismissiveness.

Negative emotional “consequencing” is punishment. It doesn’t work longterm to change behavior and it slices gashes on the heart of your relationship with your child. That punishment lasts a lifetime.Scared child

A loving, short talk is a logical consequence. That will change behavior faster than your expressed rage, disappointment, disgust, anger, frustration, rejection or dismissal.


Because a loving relationship changes the heart (otherwise known as the brain) of your child. Win-win.