Gentle discipline

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Here are some ideas for gentle discipline for your little person.  Take what works for you and ignore what doesn’t - you know best what works in your family.  Discipline can be a tricky thing for parents to navigate, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what works for you :)  


Supporting ‘you’

Look after yourself.  Fill up your tank with whatever you need on a regular basis.  Take some time for yourself when you need it and your family will be happier for it.


Chat with other like-minded parents to debrief or get advice.  You’re not on your own and no one ever said that raising children was easy.


Breathe! When stressed, we need more oxygen, but tend to take shallow breaths. Even a few deep breaths can help us to calm down and think more clearly.


Be realistic about what your child can manage for their age, stage, and time of day, day of the week or season.  Provide a safe, child-friendly environment. Create a routine that considers your needs and your child’s needs and is gentle on you both.


Whenever possible, find a "win-win" solution that meets everyone's needs.  Like TLC Music JPlaygroups are fantastic and coffee shops with play corners are heavenly.


Consider your child’s perspective

Think about how you would like to be treated if you were to find yourself in the same circumstances as your child.


Show empathy for your child's feelings. Even if a child's behavior seems illogical, his underlying feelings and needs are real to him. A statement like "You seem really unhappy" is a good way to show that you are on your child's side.


Validate your child's feelings so she knows that you understand and care, and that she will never be rejected for having any particular kinds of feelings. For example, "That scared me too when I was little."


Be sure that you and your child have had nutritious food throughout the day so your blood sugar levels stay high. Frequent, small meals are great at preventing a ‘hangry’ child or parent.


We don't expect a car to start unless the gas tank is filled, and we shouldn't expect a child to function at her best if her "emotional tank" is running low. Give the three things that fill a child's emotional tank: eye contact, gentle touch, and undivided attention.


Be aware of the impact certain foods and diet have on your child and their behaviour.  We’ve all suffered through a child’s sugar rush at some point.



Positive behaviour

Allow extra time when you can and give your child time to do as you ask. A statement like "Let me know when you're ready to share the toy / climb into the car seat / put on your jacket" will give the child a sense of autonomy and make it easier for him to cooperate.


Acknowledge and praise your child when they successfully navigate a tricky social experience such as sharing, turn taking, eye contact or positive communication.  These things can be very hard for little people to do.


Shift the focus away from a situation that has become too stressful to resolve at that moment: "Let's take a break. What would you like to do instead?"


Offer a massage or positive touch. A cuddle or bedtime massage can help a child feel grounded and secure and help them sleep more soundly.  Maybe go and get one for yourself too J 


Prevent unwanted behavior by meeting your child's needs when they are first expressed. With her current needs met, she is free to move on to the next stage of learning.


Take a time out - with your child. A change of scenery - even if it's just a short time outdoors, can make a real difference for both parent and child.


So-called "bad" behavior is often the child's attempt to express his need for love and attention.  Meet the underlying need that led to the behavior. Questions such as "Are you angry because I've been on the phone so much today? Would you like to go for a walk together?" can help a child feel loved and understood.



Getting things done

Consider how much stimulation your child is dealing with or has dealt with during the day.  There should be time to breathe in (being active, interacting, physical challenges, watching TV, doing) and time to breathe out (quiet uninterrupted play, connecting, reading, drawing, stories, cuddles, just being) each day.


Give choices. Children need to feel they have a voice. Offering choices, even if they seem unimportant to you ("Do you want the red cup or the blue one?") will help a child feel that he has some say over his life, and gives him practice making his own decisions.


Try whispering. When tensions are high, whispering can help to get a child's attention and also help to calm the parent. 


Be mindful that children need time to transition between activities and like to know what is about to happen (before it happens).  Communicating routines and transitions in plenty of time helps children predict what is happening and feel safe in the world. 


Singing works better than speaking to engage children’s attention.  It can be helpful to sing transitions and instructions to encourage children’s cooperation i.e., pack up song, brushing teeth song, getting in the car song.


Give yourself time. Count to ten (silently) or ask for time ("I'm not sure what to say. Please give me a moment while I think this over." Sometimes we just need a bit of time to think more clearly and to see things more objectively.


How we say things can be important.  "Slow down" or ‘walking feet’ is more effective than "Stop running!” The first statement creates an image of slowing down, while the second creates a picture of someone running (the word "don't" is too abstract to overcome the more concrete and compelling image of running). Similarly, a specific request is more effective than a general one: "Please put down the glass" instead of "Be careful". 


‘I need you to ______ so that ______’ helps children see why you are asking and encourages cooperation.  Framing requests as a question ‘Can you please…’ may get a negative answer which is tricky if it’s not really a choice, so ‘I need/we need…’ can be more successful. 


Reframing what a child can do rather than what they can’t is useful.  ‘You can take that ice-cream outside’ rather than ‘Don’t eat that ice-cream in here’ is a more positive way of directing your child.


Ask yourself "Will I look back at this later and laugh?" If so, why not laugh now? Create the kind of memory you would like to have when you look back on this day.


And lastly, forgive yourself when everything goes out the window.  You’re not perfect.  You’ll never be perfect.   But you’re trying and you’re doing a great job anyway :)



Adapted from naturalchild.org with bits from me thrown in :)


Extra info

Some good books on gentle discipline include Soulful Discipline by Kim John Payne, Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille and Peaceful Parent – Happy Kids by Laura Markham.