Like many young mothers thirty – plus years ago, I thought that disciplining my sons meant spanking. My parents spanked my sister and I as a child, but spanking my children just did not feel right to me. I vividly remember walking in to my two-year-old son’s bedroom for the millionth time, angry because he was waking up his baby brother instead of sleeping. As I approached him, he cowered into the corner, terrified of me.

I saw the look in his face and stopped. I did not want to have that kind of relationship with my children – one of fear. I wanted them to feel loved and safe. I wanted them to know I believed in them, and that they could do anything. I did not spank my son that night, or ever again.

Instead, I started reading and learning. My husband and I decided to break the cycle of fear, and adopted a responsive guidance approach.

Responsive guidance teaches a young child how to behave, rather than expecting that he can behave just because you told him to.  After all, when we want a child to walk, we teach him and give him many opportunities to learn. When a child learns how to write her name, we teach how to hold the pencil, how to write a line, and each letter, celebrating each step of the way. When he learns how to throw a ball or ride a bike, we also teach. Why, then, when a child does not yet have the skills, maturity and self-control to behave as we want, do we punish instead of teach?

How do you do this? From the time your child is born, get to know your child. Be a good observer, and learn what her behaviors might mean. Respond to her cries quickly, to teach her that you are there to support her. Love your child, and yourself. Instead of getting angry when a child has not fully learned appropriate behaviors, have faith in yourself and your child that in time, he will be successful. And finally, teach your child. See behaviors as just another area of growth that you will gradually teach your child with patience, understanding, and appreciation for the complex world about which your child is learning. For more information about being a responsive parent, visit

I look forward to sharing more with you about the early years in the coming months. In the meantime, love the babies in your life. Talk, sing and read to them. Hold them as long as they will let you. You will be making brain connections that will last a lifetime.

Dr. Annette Searfoss is the President & CEO at First Start Partnerships for Children and Families (formerly Franklin County Head Start). First Start Partnerships currently provides early education for 671 children and their families across Franklin County.


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