We don’t do discipline

This post was written for inclusion in the Gentle Discipline blog carnival.


When I first saw the theme for this carnival I thought,”I can’t participate, we don’t do discipline around here”.

My children are 3 and 5 years old. More often than not they do what we ask them to do, take care of each other and are considerate of other people. It doesn’t cross my mind to use time-outs (or time-ins for that matter). If they do something ‘wrong’ all we need to do is talk about it, find out the reason behind it and explain what else they can do in a similar situation.  Then we can trust that next time they will do their best to make better choices.

Walking together

I remember having a conversation with my husband. He was wondering, “Shouldn’t we be doing what other people are doing – discipline out children, set consequences and use time-outs?”

My answer to that was, “We don’t need to”

I wouldn’t call what we do discipline, but maybe this is what gentle discipline is all about? Here is what our way of peaceful parenting includes:

1) Respect for our children

They are not little, insignificant people who know nothing about the world and need our constant control. They are prefect human beings with their own personalities, preferences and paths that may be different from what we’d like them to be. Our job is to nurture, not change who they are.

Our children are given the opportunity to make their own decisions and I’m not talking about pseudo-decisions like, “Do you want to wear the red or the green shirt?” When I ask them what they would like to do today, it’s an open-ended question. I’m prepared to listen to what they have to say and unless they come up with something totally outrageous and unrealistic (like “let’s go visit Grandma in Bulgaria”), I will accept their choice.

My son usually wears a T-shirt and shorts in winter, even when I’m wearing two long-sleeve shirts and a jacket. I accept that he is different and on the rare occasions when he asks for my opinion on what to wear, I will always take into consideration that he never gets as cold as I do.

 2) Respect for ourselves

My own personal boundaries are firmly in place. I may ask my children what they want for dinner, but if they can’t agree on the same dish, it doesn’t mean that I will two different things; it is too much work for me. I will choose one of the suggestions and then give the other child a choice another time. If I want to leave the playground, because I’m cold or tired, then this is a perfectly valid reason, just as valid as when it is coming from one of my children. If my daughter is tired and doesn’t want to walk anymore, we’ll slow down, we’ll take a break and I’ll give her a cuddle, but I won’t carry her because she is heavy and it hurts my back.

This’s how my children learn that other people have needs that are just as important as their own.

 3) Be predictable

Children don’t like to do things at a minute notice. As much as possible, they need to know in advance what is going to happen and have enough time to prepare for it. If I told my daughter, “I’m going to the gym now and I’ll leave you at the crèche”, she’d chuck a tantrum (quite understandably). If I talk to her the day before and explain in detail what exactly we’ll be doing, she’ll be perfectly ok with it.

 4) Slow down

Often we lead rushed lives and expect our children to keep up. But things can happen effortlessly if we just allow a little bit more time. If I want my children to do something, I will ask them ask and then give them enough time to finish whatever they are doing and get mentally prepared for the next task. I might need to repeat myself, and that’s ok. A child’s world is a lot slower than ours. They live in the moment and are fully present in whatever they are doing (something we can all try to learn from them). We can’t expect them to switch gears instantanly.

5) Look for the reason within ourselves

I won’t lie (and you won’t believe me anyway), my life is not always a bliss. Sometimes my children and I scream at each other. When it happens, it’s not because my children are bad or they want to drive me crazy. It is because I haven’t slept, or I feel overwhelmed, or I haven’t spent any time by myself. At those times my children will reflect my mood back to me and they will push my buttons a lot easier. It doesn’t mean that I have to discipline them. It means that it’s time to look within and ask myself, “What am I lacking? How can I give it to myself?”

6) Use reminders

When I find myself struggling a few days in a row, there are some resources that I use to remind myself of the parent and the person I want to be. Here are my favourite ones: Kahlil Gibran’s poem Children and Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting.

How do you make gentle discipline happen?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. says

    Great post, Tat! At this stage, I’m starting by talking as much as I can to the boys. Trying to explain why it was naughty when they threw a milk bottle on the floor, or grabbed a toy from their brother.
    What you’ve listed here are all great tips.
    Grace recently posted..The imperfect underwater family

  2. Shanon says

    “They are not little, insignificant people who know little about the world and need our constant guidance. They are prefect human beings with their own personalities, preferences and paths that may be different from what we’d like them to be. Our job is to nurture, not change who they are.”

    I love this. It’s so true. And, sadly, I see it pretty frequently where kids aren’t treated as though they are whole people. Being young doesn’t mean you don’t deserve respect. People sure expect a lot out of little kids. They aren’t adults and that’s okay. They’re still PEOPLE.

  3. says

    Sounds like you are doing something right with your little ones. I think you have a great approach and I will try to take some of your advice… especially the slowing down part. I feel like I am always rushing my kids along…. Great post! :)
    Vanessa recently posted..New Blog

  4. says

    I think each family needs to find what works for them and their kids. The key, I believe, is to intentionally parent in the chosen matter – meaning to choose how you want to raise your kids and do it.

    I really appreciate how you have really thought through your style and you follow through with it. I applaud you for doing so. I also appreciate your view of children and their uniqueness.

    Thank you for sharing.
    T Rex Mom recently posted..Two Peas…

    • mum in search says

      To be honest, we fell into this style of parenting intuitively rather than intentionally. It was much later that I started reading books and blogs on the topic, and that’s when I felt validated about my choices and also found some of the pieces I was missing.

  5. says

    Yes! This is one of the best articulations of my own approach I’ve ever read. =) Like you, I fell into it intuitively and have always been somewhat confused by people asking me for tips on discipline because I’d never done anything with my child that I would call “discipline.” Thank you.
    Teacher Tom recently posted..Perfect In Their Cruelty

  6. says

    Such a lovely post. There are many times that I think my daughter responds best when I explain reasoning or ask her how she’s feeling. And I stand behind the idea that 90% of misbehavior from a child is because they are tired and/or hungry. :) That’s when my misbehavior is the worst, too. :)
    The Iowa Farmer’s Wife recently posted..The Grouchy Ladybug Activities

    • mum in search says

      Even if they seem too young to understand, when you explain something enough times and in many different ways, children get it in the end. And then they will choose to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do and not because they are afraid of punishment.

  7. FarmSchooler says

    My husband said the same sort of thing back in “the day of many small children”. He MEANT punishment at the time. We fleshed out the difference together over the years. It took LOTS of talking though. Oh and our children are now 32, 25, 23, 21, 20, 18, 17 & 14…and we have grand-babies that are 1 & 2 yrs :o)

    Discipline happens in early training. PARENTS need this lesson more than any other…I believe its the purpose we are given children for. Whild children are wonderful and can bring much happiness, I dont believe they are blessings as many would suggest ;o) Children benefit from the lessons WE take to heart :o) Its our training (studying to shew ourselves approved, workmen that need not be ashamed…becoming ensamples ourselves), that ultimately allows us to TRULY love our children in a manner they can receive.

    Discipline can come later if we werent in tuned enough in our own obedience early on. Its what happens BEFORE punishments are ever needed. Our heavenly Father is perfect, holding us accountable to only what He has taught us…meeting us right where we are at.

    • mum in search says

      So true, I have learned so much through my children already – about myself and about acceptance and about modelling what I want them to learn.

      It must be amazing to have such a big family like yours!

  8. Barb Grooms says

    I think that “gentle guidance” essentially is discipline. Don’t forget… the root definition of discipline means “to teach”. Over time, the word itself has taken on an alternative meaning…. and I’m glad to see so many families taking this method so seriously. As a preschool teacher and teacher educator, this is the best way to guide children… through respect, developmentally appropriate expectations, and thoughtful compassionate actions.

    • mum in search says

      Thanks for sharing this, I didn’t know about the root definition. And speaking of teachers, my son has a lovely teacher in kindergarten. She’s the kindest, most gentle lady and the kids would do anything for her. Sometimes she doesn’t even have to open her mouth, she does these signs with her hands and the kids do what they need to do, it’s like conducting an orchestra. It shows just how much you can achieve with gentleness.

  9. says

    Beautiful post. I have the same strategy so far (I’ve usually assumed it helps that my son (2.5) is pretty easy going anyway) – and have been wondering if I should start time-outs and stuff just because everybody else does – but I feel justified in not doing so after reading this – thank you!
    Amanda Kendle recently posted..Review: Rough Guide to Germany

  10. says

    This is really, really, an excellent and helpful post. I like the idea of gentle discipline. I am starting to take baby steps in that direction. Yes, my daughter seems to mirror my anger and frustration, so now I realize I must keep my moods in check. I also like what you said about respecting ourselves. I often find my personal boundaries crashing to the floor whenever I give in to my daughter’s every whim.
    The Pepperrific Life recently posted..Fine Linens are a Girl’s Best Friend

  11. Dina says

    I agree with so many points in this article, especially at those young ages. With our 2nd child we have never had to do it, speaking with him about his actions always seemed to work.

    The only point I would disagree with is the struggle parents have asking their children too many questions. And if it is wintertime, children look to us for guidance they cannot possibly want to choose winter boots over flip flops. So, it is unnecessary to ask when you are the adult and know to simply say “boots are needed today” or “another day when it is warm out you can wear shorts”. They rely on us for guidance.
    Thanks for a great article.

    • mum in search says

      You’re right, too many choices too soon can be confusing. It’s important that the choices we give are tailored to the child’s personality and competence levels (my daughter doesn’t get to choose the clothes she wears independently just yet).

  12. Veronica @ Mixed Gems says

    What a fascinating post, Tat. It’s made me quite thoughtful about what we do. I wouldn’t say we “do discipline” as it is known today but it’s more because the girls are young enough not to relly misbehave much. We talk to my eldest and guess we do dish out consequences at times eg: no tv but again it’s more in the context about setting boundaries and limits most of the time rather than as punishment. This is something we probably need to consider more concretely though as the girls get older.
    Veronica @ Mixed Gems recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – June Snapshot

    • mum in search says

      I’ve found that children are a lot easier to reason with once they turn three, so if you haven’t found much use for punishment and timeouts yet, you might not need it in future, either :)

  13. says

    This is so wonderful Tat. I completely relate to how you are with your children. We instinctively parent in this way too. Discipline is just not needed. My daughter is so cooperative and generous to others generally, and when she does something “cheeky”, or “not socially acceptable” we just talk about it with her, like a little person. She responds. I think trust and respect are the most vital ingredients raising children. It becomes mutual.
    Life isn’t always perfect, but we have a pretty happy time most of the time.
    I enjoyed the Gentle Parenting Carnival and was so glad to read some like-minded articles about discipling children.
    Zanni, Heart Mama recently posted..On Father’s Day

  14. says

    “If I want my children to do something, I will ask them ask and then give them enough time to finish whatever they are doing and get mentally prepared for the next task.”

    This is so true, my daughter is 3 and if I tell her what we’re going to do throughout the morning and into the afternoon, we get through the day much better. She loves it when I’m putting her to bed and I tell her what’s happening tomorrow, she wakes up with that goal in mind and we work towards it together! It doesn’t always work like that, you can’t plan everything, but I’ve noticed that when I announce something is happening that she wasn’t expecting, that’s when she has the biggest meltdowns.

    I’m learning not to rush about so much. It is the single biggest thing I need to work on, because it has a negative impact on my daughter…

    Plus I completely agree with your explanation of why I sometimes lose my temper:
    “It is because I haven’t slept, or I feel overwhelmed, or I haven’t spent any time by myself.”
    Lack of time by myself is the biggest trigger to me becoming a snappy, grumpy mum & I’ve only got one daughter! Although I have no support network & I don’t go out to work, so we spend lots & lots of time together. Plus hunger always makes me a bit of a monster, low blood sugar is my biggest trigger for bad temper. Definitely being aware of these things, can help alot.
    pouch recently posted..Review: Contemporary Craft Festival, Bovey Tracey

    • Tat says

      I am relearning my lesson about rushing again and again, I find that it really is something i need to constantly work on, as opposed to learn it once and then it turns into a habit.

      Hunger used to be one of my biggest triggers, but I don’t even seem to notice it anymore. Which is not a great thing either, because it’s one more thing I have to remember – that I need to eat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge