shared with permission
Could the same be true of discipline? Yes. You can trust your heart on this one. If you let her, your child will always lead you to gentle ways. You can place compassion at the center of your parenting. As your baby grows into a toddler and beyond, gentle discipline is a path that will allow you to keep empathy and respect at the center of your parenting. Gentle discipline follows directly from the core ideas of attachment parenting. We seek to guide our children in a way that strengthens the parent-child bond, fostering connection rather than disconnection, relationship rather than opposition. We probe for the need that our child is trying to meet through the problematic behavior, and help him meet it in positive ways. We empathize with his feelings and respect his point of view, taking both into account as we look for a solution. Gentle discipline seeks to build a parent-child team for solving problems and moving forward together. Many parents start out excited about practicing gentle discipline. But by the five year mark, many say that it is not practical, that their child doesn’t fit, or that they are simply not cut out for it. What is sending these parents off the path of gentle discipline? I set myself the task of finding out two years ago, when I started writing Adventures in Gentle Discipline: A Parent-to-Parent Guide. I collected the stories of over 200 parents. I listened intently for two things:
- Detours: What threatens to send us off the path?
- Survival Skills: What key things help parents stay on the path?
- Detour 1: Think of Gentle Discipline in a Rigid Way
- Survival Skill: Define Gentle Discipline So There Is Room for You in It
And it’s not all-or-nothing. I propose that you are successful at gentle discipline if you are prepared to give as much empathy and respect as you can, and to come back to empathy and respect if you get off track. It’s a question of what are your most cherished parenting values, not a list of things to do or a standard to meet. It helps to have a realistic view of both parents and children. Gentle discipline is not going to eliminate conflicts, struggles, times of confusion. Parenting can be hard at times. People are complicated. Relationships are complex. So to be sustainable your idea of gentle discipline has to make room for all of that human richness. If you can define your commitment to gentle discipline in a way that has room for you in it, you can retain your connection to that commitment despite the bumps.
“It is a continuum, and children can benefit from each and every movement toward the gentler, more compassionate side, and away from the punitive, confrontational side. Frankly, I still don't know enough to make the best gentle discipline choices all of the time. As my daughter grows, new challenges constantly present themselves, and my parenting strategies have to adjust. So gentle discipline doesn't seem to me to be a bar that I rise above, but simply a philosophy I embrace.” Rebecca K.
- Detour 2: Focus on Reacting
- Survival Skill: Set Your Child Up for Success
- Well-being. Stay on top of your child’s physical and emotional needs. For instance, pack healthy snacks and water for every outing and help him take snack breaks as needed.
- Triggers. What situations set your child off: is it travel, lots of errands, family stress, a hot car? How can you work with, minimize, or avoid these harbingers of difficult behavior?
- Clear expectations. If your child is clear about what you expect of her, she is a lot more likely to be able to fulfill it than if the rules change day by day.
- Structural solutions. How can you arrange your child’s environment to help him stay within the boundaries? Child-proof your house as much as you can, and don’t leave folded laundry out if your child might jump on it!
- The root of the problem. If you can identify the need or the feeling that is creating the difficult behaviors, you can address it directly.
- Alternatives. How can your child meet the same need in more positive ways? Help him cultivate the new skills.
- Detour 3: Expect Immediate Results
- Survival Skill: Take the Long View
Keep your perspective: When a troubling behavior shows up again, say to yourself, “Looks like he’s still working on that.” Gentle discipline is process focused. In other words, how we discipline our children is more important than what kind of behavioral results we get on the short term. The way we treat our children tells them how to treat others, how to resolve conflicts, and how to problem-solve. In discipline the medium is the message. The effectiveness of gentle discipline can be measured more aptly by the quality of the relationship between the parent and child, than by how rapidly a behavior has been made to disappear. The developmental process of childhood does not lend itself to immediate results. It’s worth the wait. Supporting our children with empathy and respect helps them blossom into strong, resourceful children.
“When he was 18 months old, Gabriel went through a biting/hitting stage. He was hurting me and other children at playgroups. We avoided playgroups for a few months until Gabriel was old enough to understand that it hurts when we bite or hit. When we did resume seeing other children, I stayed right behind him the whole time, even when he climbed all over the jungle gym. If he went toward another child, I could prevent him from hurting them. I reminded him over and over for months that biting and hitting hurt, and he grew out of it. It was a really hard time for me and I got emotionally and physically exhausted, but it was so rewarding to see him stop and now he is so gentle and loving to other kids.” Beth C.
- Detour 4: Seek Cook-Book Answers
- Survival Skill: Be Innovative
- Observe your child
- Tune into yourself
- Adapt idea to work for you.
- Detour 5: Ignore Your Own Side of the Equation
- Survival Skill: Give Yourself Gentle Discipline
- Well-being: We need to see to our own emotional and physical needs so that we have what it takes to face the day. Self-care is a parenting issue we can’t afford to neglect.
- Anger: All humans get angry. We need to cultivate appropriate ways to deal with it. Few of us have been taught how to get our anger out without attacking or withdrawing. How can you express your anger honestly and respectfully?
- Triggers: It helps to notice that your triggers are about you, not your child. What situations set you off? Some parents find it’s time pressure, challenging behavior in public, seeing your child do something you were punished or shamed for as a child, or being told “no.” How can you avoid or work with your triggers in positive ways?
- Negative messages: We need to identify societal messages that interfere with our gentle discipline. “If a child doesn’t do what you say he’s being defiant.” “Control your child or he’ll control you.” “Nip it in the bud!” What messages set you up for a power struggle with your child?
- Mistakes: We all make them because we’re all learning. In order to stick with gentle discipline you will need to find a way to see mistakes as learning opportunities, forgive yourself, and move on.
“I still have room to grow. I get distracted by daily life, and lose the pattern, and have to start over. I end up yelling because I forgot to establish a pattern or rule. Or I let something slide a few times because I am busy or tired, without explaining that the situation was different in some way. I take forever to gain new habits, and take a long time to prune out old ones. It is like weeding a garden. Each year there are going to be weeds. But the longer you tend the same garden, the more you know where the weeds are likely to pop up, and the sooner you'll know to look for them so they can be uprooted.” Heather P.
- Detour 6: Go It Alone
- Survival skill: Build a Wonderful Support System
- Let your friends see that you are not perfect! It’s discouraging to think that we are the only ones who get confused, make mistakes, have weaknesses and limitations.
- Share with your friends a vision of gentle discipline that is flexible and realistic.
- When you are grappling with a difficult behavior or problem, brainstorm with your friends how to set your child up for success, and how to react in helpful ways.
- Tell your friends what inspires you about their parenting, what you see as their strengths as compassionate parents, and what you have learned from them. Ask them what positive things they see about your parenting. Boosts like this are of tremendous importance, and we too rarely give them or request them.
- Help each other see the humor in it all. Other parents can help us hang in there with our children while they’re growing up.
Gentle discipline: You Can Do It!
Let gentle discipline guide your family from infancy through the teen years.
“As my oldest son is now a teenager, I'm finding that my discipline is paying off. He often comes to negotiate with me about his work, his sleep schedule, his volunteer activities, and time with friends. We spend time talking about why I made my request, why he wants a change, and brainstorming for many possible alternatives. We usually come to an agreement that is different from my initial plan but that works just as well to meet our family’s needs. My son and I have a peaceful relationship and enjoy talking and doing things together.” Adria C.
Gentle discipline bears magnificent gifts for children, parents, and the world. Your child benefits because gentle discipline is a way of honoring his unique spirit. Gentle discipline opens your own heart to a whole new level of compassion for another human being. And gentle discipline spreads empathy and respect from your family outwards. What a great way to change the world.
Flower's book, Adventures in Gentle Discipline, found here on Amazon.