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Using restorative practices in parenting

In an age of public disdain, using restorative practices at home can help teach children that respecting others and being respectful are the most effective ways to relate.

Restorative practices are used in many settings, including the justice system, schools, communities and families. The basic premise of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative and productive — and more likely to make positive changes — when those in authority do things with them, rather than to or for them.

This approach combines high expectations for appropriate behavior with high levels of warmth and holds people accountable for their behaviors. In a supportive and caring community, children can learn to consider how their behaviors impact or harm the others in the group. There are firm limits and clear boundaries for everyone, and these are enforced with compassion and care.

Some examples of interactions that fit this style follow:

Spend time together: Ten minutes, twice each day with each child makes a difference. Be fully present and focus on what interests the child. One dad, upon arrival home from work, chose to trade jokes with his kids for a short time rather than immediately sitting down with the newspaper.

Respectful tone: When stressed, we can become more demanding and loud. Consciously adopting a respectful tone of voice and choosing polite requests invites cooperation. “Could you please help me with these groceries?”

Teach children how to do age-appropriate tasks: Taking time to show kids skills and behaviors that will help them be successful housemates. State desired behaviors in a positive way (for example, “Take your shoes off inside the door,” rather than, “Don’t wear your shoes in the house.”)

Encourage with effective praise: Focus on a specific positive behavior or observation when praising your child. (Examples: “That ‘A’ represents a lot of hard work!” “Thanks for helping. It made this easier.”)

Decide what you will do: We can’t control our children’s actions, but we can control our own. Decide what action you will take in response to misbehaviors. Consequences should be logical or natural. Responsibility is on the child to choose the appropriate action. (Examples: if a child whines, you can choose not to listen; if you have a rule that laundry that is in the hamper will be washed and your child leaves his clothes on the floor, you can choose not to wash them.)

Show your child how to make amends: Help children to see how they can make things right after they have done something wrong. To the child who wrote on the wall, we might say, “Here is a cloth. You can help me wipe this off.” Or we can ask, “What can you do to make this better or right?”

For more ideas, the techniques in the classic “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen” books by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish provide great examples of parent-child interactions for all age levels.

Connie Schulz is a family outreach specialist with State College Area School District. You can reach her at