New-Age Child Rearing and the 'S' Word New-Age Child Rearing and the 'S' Word
By Link Nicoll
All Things Considered, National Public Radio (NPR) August 24, 2004

Many parents use a new-age approach to set boundaries for children, "redirecting" bad behavior instead of saying no. And spanking is right out. But on a hot, 1,200-mile road trip with her three-year-old son, commentator Link Nicoll and her husband were forced to rethink their approach.

Hear Link Nicoll's complete commentary at

Read listeners' responses

Please send your response to NPR at
Dear ATC,

I was stunned and sickened tonight as I listened to your show. Your choice of commentary by Link Nicoll "New Age Child-rearing and the "S" word" was a smug, self righteous attempt to justify physical abuse of a child. To glorify a sad moment of parenting and encourage others to choose hitting as an appropriate means of parent/child interaction is irresponsible at best.

The damage has been done by airing such a piece. The producer that screened and approved it did an enormous disservice to all those trying daily to help prevent child abuse. It is well documented that the most common trajectory of serious physical child abuse begins with the acceptance of spanking as a means of discipline. Not only is it dangerous, as most spanking occurs when a parent is angry, it teaches violence as a means of coping with frustration. This in not "New Age" jibberish. It is common sense. I have never understood why adults think they can hit a child when they can go to jail for hitting another adult.

Speaking as a parent, the first problem was taking a 3 year old on a 1200 mile car trip. The second was not stopping the car and playing with the boy to balance out his excess energy. The third was not stopping the car to take a break to refuel the parents.

I am so saddened that I had to write this letter to NPR... of all places. For those in the trenches working to prevent child abuse, you just made their jobs that much harder.

Cathie Clifford

Dear Editors,

I was so saddened to hear Link Nicoll's commentary about spanking. The silence she heard after her husband hit their child four times on his buttocks was a relief to her, but at what cost in trust did she and her husband purchase that relief, and what does it bode for the future?

I want to tell her and other parents that reading parenting books cannot substitute for taking a class with other parents on how to practice non-violent parenting. The interpersonal interaction can enable you to internalize the parenting techniques that make it possible to live up to your aspirations as parents. Why give up on your ideals because of one moment of great frustration in a hot car?

As the father of a 4 year old and 7 year old, I know that nonviolent parenting is both possible and rewarding. In our family, the ethic we aspire to, the motto that applies between sisters and brothers, and between parents and children is, "we are not a hitting family." I recommend it with all my heart. If you need help in making it happen, turn to real people, to classes and to mentors - books alone aren't enough.

Miles Hochstein

re: New-Age Child Rearing and the 'S' Word

Dear Sir/Madam:

When I hear violence-free parenting dismissed as "new-age," I can't help wondering just what age the copywriter is living in. Hitting a child is easy if it's anything. It doesn't require thinking, training or intelligence, just superior size. It does for a child's development exactly what wife beating does for a marriage. It's an abuse of power that compromises the relationship at least or poisons it at worst. Spanking mainly sets the stage for more spanking. It teaches little boys that once they are big enough and strong enough, they can dish it out to others. It teaches little girls that the people who care about them can slap them around. Informed parents surely have better lessons to offer.

Jordan Riak
Exec. Dir.
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)

Dear Editors,

As a parent and an early childhood educator, I was deeply saddened to hear Link Nicoll's commentary about spanking yesterday, in fact I was tossing and turning much of the night thinking about that small three year old boy getting hurt by the very folks he depends on to keep him safe and secure.

What Link and her husband need are some real parenting skills, not that "new age" stuff about offering choices, etc. but skills that involve setting limits firmly and with respect. It is not a choice between either permissive or authoritarian parenting, there is something else, called positive (or respectful) discipline that does not involve hitting or shaming and that keeps the parent in charge without damaging the connection between parent and child. Of course discipline also involves knowing something about child development, I don't understand why Link Nicoll took her young son on such a long road trip in the first place if she had previously read about child development, and why she didn't stop and let the child run around in a park when it got so bad for him that he started to get out of his car seat?

Her descriptions of choices offered, pleading, etc. were examples of very weak parenting, and completely misunderstood techniques. I'm sure parenting in that way would lead me to the brink as well, and I can imagine a low point like she describes where I was unable to control my self, but I would never feel "okay" about hitting a child. Link seriously needs to take a parenting class if she cannot manage to control a small child without physical abuse, and she needs to research other ways of parenting and get help and support.

Here's a link with many resources and articles, please pass this on the Link Nicoll...

And, here are a few resources about parenting a child with respectful discipline and firm limits (without resorting to physical or emotional punishment)... Here are some great books:

Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon P.E.T. advocates a win/win approach which takes everyone's needs into account and seeks to find solutions where everyone's needs get met (parents and children). PET uses communication that is non-blameful and non-judgmental.

Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka This book is extremely helpful to understand your child's temperament and what they may be experiencing. Huge variety of excellent ways to avoid, calmly handle, and diffuse power struggles. Also by the same author is Raising Your Spirited Child.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and for those with 2 or more children; Siblings Without Rivalry by the same authors


Emily Troper

To whom it may concern:

I was very distressed to hear Link Nicoll’s commentary on “New Age Child Rearing” and spanking Her commentary made me so mad I felt like hitting someone. But of course if I hit an adult because of my frustration with their actions I would probably spend some time in jail. Rightfully so, because all adults have the right to be protected from violence. Why is it that no sane adult would refute that all adults have the right to be protected from violence and yet some would argue that the weakest and most vulnerable members of our community not only do not have the right to be protected from violence but rather violence should be used as a tool to control them?

The author says that the spanking "worked" however I question what exactly this means. If she is referring to the child's silence and compliance to his parents wishes over the remainder of the trip then I suppose it did work. Probably the poor kid was so shocked and distressed by the violence that came his way from the people who are supposed to nurture and protect him he sat there in stunned silence. However if one thinks less like a child and more like an adult, by this I mean consider the future and not just the needs of the adult, then I would say that the spanking most certainly didn't work. She maintains that the spanking did not harm her son. How in the hell did she ascertain that? Did she ask him if he felt better now that he was silenced by daddy’s violence? Or did she just feel better now that she got her way?

The author says that they hadn't spanked because from what she'd read not spanking “allowed him to get in touch with his true self.” There are so many other more important, concrete and much less ethereal sounding reasons not to spank;

  • Everyone especially children have the right to be safe from violence.
  • Even if the only goal of the parent is to have compliance from their children, over the long term spanking does not work. The child will find ways to work around the spanking such as lying, sneaking, and manipulating. The parent is cut out of the loop.
  • Spanking quickly erodes the trust and the bond between parent and child.
  • Spanking takes away the inherent desire to do what is right and to be connected with our family and our community and replaces that desire with mistrust, fear, separation, and a desire to get your needs met by any means possible as long as you don't get caught.
The problem with the whole scenario she gives is that a three year old child is not developmentally ready to sit in a car for hours on end through a 1200 mile trip. To meet a child’s exuberance for life (he wanted to get out of the car and play) with violence is really twisted. It is not that I don't understand the parent’s frustration in that situation. I have three children of my own. I understand that even an adult can lose their patience in certain situations and may even feel the need to resort to violence. However while losing control of yourself at times is understandably human, later justifying it as the right course of action because you got your way is at best childish. There were other more creative and less violent solutions to taking a three year old across 1200 miles on vacation and then offering the “choice” of sitting in a car seat endlessly or sitting in a boiling car by the side of the highway;
  • Fly or take a train.
  • Take frequent breaks and provide the child with many activities, food, play and nourishment.
  • Drive at night and naptime only.
  • One parent flies with the child, the other drives.
  • Put off the trip until the child is older.
  • Rent a motorhome.
  • Plan a trip that is appropriate for both the parents and the developmental stage of the youngest child.
  • Don't have children until you are ready to accept their developmental abilities and not respond to your frustration with where they're at with violence to get what you want.
Thanks for listening,

Michael Troper


May I just say that I am appalled that NPR ran this story, especially with NO follow up from a teacher of non-violent discipline to balance its extreme view! I've been listening to NPR for 7 years, and while I've heard stories I may not have agreed with or liked, I've never heard a story as poorly justified as this one. You've just given many many parents with otherwise good intentions permission to start ABUSING their children.

I'm sure many other listeners will write in with wonderful book reccomendations (Kids Parents and Power Struggles, Kids are Worth It, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk) and parenting resources (Parent Effectiveness Training etc).

But what *I* want to hear is NPR running an INFORMED RESEARCHED story talking to educators in Positive Discipline.

My son has borderline aspergers, sensory integration disorder and multiple severe food allergies. These often cause him to fly into rages where he cannot control himself, give him problems with impulse control and severely hamper his ability to learn social rules without a lot of explicit instruction. I'm a mom with a hot temper and a history of abuse from my own childhood.

If *I* can parent my son without ever resorting to violence, shaming or manipulation, surely the parent in the story can do the same!

Any parent thinking the quick solution of breaking their child's trust by hitting is going to work well in the long run, is kidding themselves. What will they do when hitting stopps working (cause it always does...or you'd only ever need to hit once & it'd be over!)? Hit harder? Hit with a paddle? What will they do when the child is 16? Beat him?

The *only* power we have in the lives of our children to influence and teach is OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THAT CHILD.

Hitting the child BREAKS the relationship.

Rosie Wilde
Positive Discipline teacher

Return to this Newsroom date
Select other Newsroom date range
Return to Project NoSpank Table of Contents at