"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

DARE NOT TO DISCIPLINE: My conversation with Dr. Laura Markham

Dr. Laura Markham has a new book out: Peaceful Parents, HAPPY KIDS: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. It is practical. Easy to read. And very helpful.

I had the distinct pleasure of having a fairly in-depth and lively conversation with Dr. Laura on her book’s blog tour. You can also down-load the transcript of the conversation, here by scrolling down to GOOD JOB AND OTHER THINGS.

This is how it came about:

A few months ago, I emailed Dr. Laura:

Hi Dr. Laura,

(some pleasantries)

What is discipline, exactly? What would be another word to use instead of discipline? Is there another more accurate word to use?
The top google searches tell us that the most common understanding of the word is “training to obey rules through punishment to correct disobedience” and variations thereof. That being the case, I think saying “positive discipline” is like saying light black. It just doesn’t make any sense because black is always dark.
However, I know that you are against punishment. I also know that you have explained “discipline” to mean “to teach.” Not surprisingly the Webster’s dictionary says this is an obsolete definition. That rings true to me. At some point it meant to teach, but it now is synonymous with punishment.
You write “Here’s how to use discipline that works, so you can get out of the discipline business altogether.” 
You advocate for “alternatives to discipline” but if you believe it means to teach, you wouldn’t advocate for alternatives, no? Or for people to get out of the discipline business altogether, right? That’s the goal. And I agree. If you use the term “discipline” strategically, as in a way to capture the interest of those who do punish their kids, in an effort to reassure them that their kids will indeed still be disciplined, I can definitely understand that. But is that the case? It seems to me there can be another umbrella word to describe all of the alternatives you talk about. 

Alfie Kohn uses the term “work-with” parenting because he believes in working with children, not “doing to” them. And I think implicit in the word discipline, even when used as to teach, still is a form of doing to, instead of working with. I do know that you use the term POSITIVE PARENTING and likely that is your equivalent to his WORK-WITH PARENTING. Would you say the Positive Parenting approach is what you mean when you say “discipline”?

I’m curious about your thoughts on this. I believe it is more than semantic. I believe our language has real power. And I am so grateful for your work, agree with most everything you say and you have helped me so much, but when I see the word discipline, I cringe. 

Am I missing something? I am not a permissive parent. I set limits and enforce them. I talk with my children. I explain. I try to understand what drives their behavior. We work things out. But I never discipline them. I honestly don’t know what that means if we’re not talking about time outs, hitting, taking away privilege, consequences etc. 
Dr. Laura wrote back. And quickly! 

Thanks so much for writing. You are completely right. Discipline actually means to teach, but no one hears it that way. In my book I go into this in detail. The word I use these days is Loving Guidance….

(she goes on to talk about how she’s changed her language over the years)

I have an idea.  Why don’t you and I do an interview about this as part of my blog tour when my book comes out in November?  Would you like to be part of my blog tour?


Actually it is more a of a conversation. About  loving guidance. About setting limits with empathy. About the importance of connection. About how really discipline really becomes besides the point.

Take a listen! Would love to hear your thoughts!

And many many thanks to Dr. Laura for taking this time to talk with me about what I consider THE important topic of our time.







13 Responses to “DARE NOT TO DISCIPLINE: My conversation with Dr. Laura Markham”

  1. Hi, sometimes when I first check out this web page I get immediately redirected to some other page which seems very unexpected. You may well want to take a look at why this is going on! Thanks

  2. Kevin says:

    Are you going to be doing a podcast on a regular basis? Will it be on iTunes?

  3. azan says:

    Thanks Jen, Loooved the interview, especially “sitting on the floor” when things get too intense, now that the Holidays are upon us…this is so useful. :) Az

  4. Ted says:

    I’ll weigh in as a Dad and say that this was really nice to hear. 90% of the time parents read “tips” and listen to advice because we feel we need to do something better or because we feel we are doing it “wrong.” But I actually had the opposite experience reading about this and listening to your conversation with Dr. Laura. As a kid, I was always “disciplined” in the traditional sense, the 1970′s sense of the word. So as a rule, I started to use an empathetic approach with our daughter quite a few years ago, really as a sort of gut feeling as to what I would have wanted myself as a kid. And even though it can’t always fix the problem I can attest to the fact that it does have a positive impact and it does make your child feel like you are on their team, instead of against them. So this was a nice acknowledgement for me that I may have been actually doing something RIGHT as a parent for the last eight years. And that is an important feeling, because parents can use a little positive reinforcement every once in a while too.

    • Jennifer says:


      Thank you for weighing in. Listening and empathy are so powerful.

      And thank you for listening to the conversation and sharing your thoughts.

      You are right. It’s not about fixing the problem, it is so much more about listening, understanding, supporting and letting them develop some solutions.


  5. Heidi says:

    Thanks for this interview. I love Dr Laura Markham and you are one of my favorite bloggers. Thanks for all of the work that you do!!!
    I also believe it is important to shift away from the word discipline (as well as from discipline itself). Making a big shift in our parenting needs to be reflected in our language as well. Actions speak louder than words, but the words are important, too.
    Thank you for starting this conversation!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you Heidi!

      Yes I really would love to see the word discipline not used at all. That, essentially, was my initial point.

      I am frustrated that people whose pov i admire, like Janet Lansbury (do you follow her as well), remain firmly committed to the idea of discipline and the word. I really struggle with it because I think, and I’m not sure, but I think there is some shift in thinking that she, or people who think along those lines, are missing. Or perhaps it is just about semantics. I can’t figure it out. Janet has been very generous in her discussions with me about it but I am still left confused about where it is exactly that we differ. It’s a weird feeling. A puzzle I can’t put together! Anyway, thank you for your comments. I agree and love how you put it, actions do speak louder than words, but words are powerful.

      Were you able to hear the whole interview. People are having trouble with the audio?


  6. Michelle says:

    Dr. Laura,
    I just LOVE all your fabulous wisdom about positive discipline. More than anything else, I want to enjoy the journey of growth with my kids. Sadly, our parenting did not take this positive turn until we were 15 years and five kids into it. We have made many good changes, but still see the fall out of training and punishments/rewards with our oldest children. The youngest is very securely attached , but we still struggle with how the olders treat him (based on their memory of a harsher time). Should we just continue to talk about it and chug along? There is a lot of rivalry here.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Thank you for writing and sharing a bit of your family’s journey. I am actually not Dr. Laura and you can find her on her site ahaparenting.com.

      My recommenation would be yes! be honest. talk to your kids about your shift and how you couldn’t be where you are before you got there. Apologize deeply to the children you need to apologize to. Let them share their feelings about their upbringing as much as they need to. Perhaps ask them if they’d like to see a therapist. Great that it is out in the open. It’s hard to rush a healing process.

      All the best,


  7. Kim says:

    I try to not discipline. It is so hard though, both my husband and I were raised in a spanking household. So many people tell us “sometimes you just have to spank them [the kids] to get them to listen.” I remember listening to avoid spankings, not because I learned anything. My goal was not to get caught. I do understand why my parents spanked, but in my gut I know its not right for my family.

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