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Gentle Discipline 101

This post is written for inclusion in the Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted by Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries. All week, April 26-30, we will be featuring essays about non-punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.

Discipline is one of the parenting biggies, those huge issues that every parent comes up against at one point or another.  Like sleep issues, discipline pushes parents’ buttons.  We feel out of control when our children have temper tantrums, are disobedient or do things that hurt others.  Today’s parents are expected to be in control of their children, to make them mind and to keep them quiet in public.  However, the truth of parenting is that the control we have over our children is tenuous at best.  Children are their own people and want to take charge of their own lives.  Even infants attempt to control their world by crying to bring a parent back to their side at night.  Coming to terms with our lack of control as parents can help us improve our relationship with our children, which will inspire better behaviour from them.

What is Gentle Discipline?

Gentle Discipline is a style of discipline based on mutual respect.  Parents who use gentle discipline avoid punishments such as spankings, slapping, time-outs and shame.  Instead, gentle discipline focuses on helping children work through difficult emotions and frustration in a supportive and empathetic environment and using discipline as a method of teaching children instead of simply punishing them for misbehaviour and rewarding them for good behaviour.  Gentle discipline does not primarily aim to control children through external motivators such as rewards, praise or punishment, but rather aims to teach children how to control their own behaviour based on their own judgment and motivation.  This intrinsic motivation has been shown to be more rewarding and satisfying than external motivators. See Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards for more on how praise and punishments affect behaviour.  Gentle discipline aims to raise children who are able to make decisions about the right thing to do by themselves instead of being told what to do by someone else.

Gentle Discipline Resources

Learning how to practice gentle discipline in your own family can mean challenging many of the assumptions and experiences that have shaped your beliefs about how adults and children should interact.  In fact, learning about gentle discipline is likely to change the way you look at much of the world of paid employment, meaning and purpose in life when you start to see the way external motivation is used to control behaviour in adults and children alike.  Here are several great resources to help you challenge your beliefs and learn new ways to interact with your child.

Alfie Kohn - Unconditional Parenting, Punished by Rewards
Barbara Coloroso - Kids are worth it!
Dr Harvey KarpThe Happiest Toddler on the Block
Naomi AldortRaising Our Children, Raising Ourselves

Beatrice Balancing

In a world that seems like everyone is out to coerce somebody else into doing something, being a parent who attempts to discipline without punishment or reward can feel like being a fluorcescent yellow fish swimming upstream over rapids and whirlpools.  For me, practicing gentle discipline feels like walking across a balance beam – in order to do it successfully I need to concentrate on the connection between myself and my child.  Our connection is the beam my feet are walking along, the fiber that joins us together and supports us both.  I also need to keep my eye fixed on my destination; I want my children to grow up feeling respected and loved, to have confidence to try things and learn from their mistakes.  These are the things that keep us balanced, the things that make gentle discipline work.  Without that connection or an eye on my goals and destination as a parent, I slip up and discipline with shouts, bribes, punishments and impatience.  Everybody makes mistakes, even parents committed to using gentle discipline techniques make mistakes sometimes.  We all fall off the balance beam.  What matters is getting back up there, trying again, and learning how to keep your balance in many different situations.

If you’re looking for more insight on what Gentle Discipline is and how to parent a young child from that perspective, check out my ebook, The Parenting Primer: A guide to positive parenting in the first six years.


Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/Welcome to the Carnival of Gentle Discipline

Please join us all week, April 26-30, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the USA and April 30th is Spank Out Day USA. In honor of this we have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives.

Are you a Gentle Parent? Put the Badge on your blog or website to spread the word that gentle love works!

Links will become available on the specified day of the Carnival.

Day 1 – What Is Gentle Discipline

Day 2 – False Expectations, Positive Intentions, and Choosing Joy (coming Tuesday, April 27)

Day 3 – Choosing Not To Spank (coming Wednesday, April 28)

Day 4 – Creating a “Yes” Environment (coming Thursday, April 29)

Day 5 – Terrific Toddlers; Tantrums and All (coming Friday, April 30)

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{ 15 comments… add one }

  • Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries April 26, 2010, 7:51 am

    Excellent post! You summarized the concept nicely and as soon as I read it I knew this would be a day 1 post. I think the Alfie Kohn book is really the bible of gentle parenting. I keep borrowing it from the library – i think it might be time to get my own copy.

    Thanks so much for participating in the carnival! What a great week we have in store.
    .-= Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries´s last blog ..Welcome to the Carnival! What is Gentle Discipline? =-.

    • michelle April 27, 2010, 6:44 am

      Thanks Paige. I read Alfie Kohn’s book a couple of years ago, and it was one of those life-changing lightbulb going off kind of moments. To realize that punishments and rewards were NOT helpful or necessary for kids was really eye opening. I should really re-read his book too.

      I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the entries this week. :) Thanks for organizing the carnival!

  • Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com April 26, 2010, 8:03 am

    Great post summarising the main concept of gentle parenting. Thanks so much for putting everything so eloquently! I loved this line “Children are their own people and want to take charge of their own lives. ” Oh that is so true and as it should be.

    And this spoke to me too: “For me, practicing gentle discipline feels like walking across a balance beam – in order to do it successfully I need to concentrate on the connection between myself and my child.”
    I can really relate to that feeling. And even though it sucks for you, it’s good for me to hear that you fall off your balancing beam too – sometimes we can feel we are the only ones making mistakes…
    .-= Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com´s last blog ..Life coaching with Michelle Zelli. =-.

    • michelle April 27, 2010, 6:58 am

      Thanks for your comment. :) Learning about (and sometimes failing at) Gentle Discipline has really been a learning experience for me. But – the mistakes show me where I need to work at being aware and in control of my own emotions/reactions. Not easy, but worth the effort!

  • Alison Strobel Morrow April 26, 2010, 9:56 pm

    Great intro to the concept of gentle discipline! Thanks so much for posting. <3

  • Lauren @ Hobo Mama April 27, 2010, 1:46 am

    I love your call to concentrate on the connection between myself and my child. That is the crux. Thank you!

    I also like your neon fish analogy. I definitely feel like I stand out when I’m near other parents who are parenting punitively — I know they can see I’m choosing something different, and I can only hope the proof is in the pudding. (I think it is.)
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last blog ..Assuming the best intentions =-.

    • michelle April 27, 2010, 7:10 am

      I really believe that kids raised with gentle discipline will turn out differently than kids raised with harsh punishments. Maybe both turn out to be functional adults who can hold down productive jobs, etc, but I think the kids raised with GD will be more likely to feel a sense of responsibility and control over how they feel vs having the attitude of being a victim or needing to control others. I believe it’s possible for everyone to come to a sense of personal responsibility in their lives, but it can be a long road for some.

      Thanks for your comment :)

  • Lisa C April 27, 2010, 8:47 pm

    Thanks for the list of resources. I, too, have to try and remember my “destination,” what I want for my child, not what I want for me in that moment.
    .-= Lisa C´s last blog ..A Positive View on Tantrums =-.

  • Alexandra April 28, 2010, 12:25 pm

    thanks so much for this post and the resources listed. I am heading the the library this afternoon! :)
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Mistakes =-.

  • Mom April 28, 2010, 4:17 pm

    I love the “beam is the connection and the fiber that joins us”. Great Post!

  • Dionna @ Code Name: Mama May 3, 2010, 6:48 pm

    What an excellent summary post! Thank you for the resource list – I’ve never heard of Coloroso, I will check her out.
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last blog ..Disposable Diapers? Those are so last decade . . . =-.

  • Julie November 5, 2010, 4:52 am

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Excellent post! I love the balance beam analogy. It’s spot on! I will definitely check out the book.

  • Kory September 2, 2011, 2:45 am

    Is the Alfie Kohn book where you would suggest one start with this?

    I have worked with children for years and have seen over and over that they respond best to respect and understanding and I really want to parent my children that way but unfortunately it’s so opposite of how I was raised (Um, how about time outs where you lean against a wall with only your nose touching for 20 minutes? Or multiple belts for different spanking occasions? Yeah…) that I don’t really know what to do or how to handle things like when she hits her sister, or has a full tantrum over something I can’t change, which means we end up without any sort of consistency when it comes to discipline which is even more awful because my poor girl doesn’t know what to expect… ugh. (as a side note we have never hit or spanked her, but she has had time outs -that never work- up to three minutes long -she’s 2.5yrs)

    Anyway I guess I’m just overwhelmed by discipline, I can’t seem to figure out the right way to do it or how to stick to anything… help?
    Kory´s last [type] ..Green goals – Sept 2011

    • michelle September 4, 2011, 10:10 pm

      Well, I often recommend the Happiest Toddler on the Block for parents who are new to the idea or practice of Gentle Discipline, and especially those parents who have toddlers because his book is totally aimed at helping parents deal with the kind of behaviours and responses that toddlers have. The Happiest Toddler is also pretty hands-on and less philosophical, which can be easier to deal with when you’re just getting started.

      Discipline is hard because so much of our own childhoods come back to us when we’re raising our own kids. And also because every kid and every parent is different, and every parent has to pretty much work out the details of how and when they will respond to things as they go along with each child. I’ve found it easier to discipline my kids after focusing on my own self-discipline for several months. Looking closely at how I’m consistent, respectful, playful, etc, with myself has been useful, because however I am with myself will spill over into how I discipline my kids.

  • Kory September 5, 2011, 2:35 am

    Thank you for the response, I’ll check that one out.

    It’s true, there are things about my childhood I hadn’t consciously remembered until having my own children. I like what you said about self discipline too, I could see how it would be very difficult to be consistent with your children if you’re not consistent with yourself. Looks like I have a lot of work ahead of me, but then isn’t that one of the wonders of parenting? We go in to it thinking we will teach our children so much when really we are the students more often than not.
    Kory´s last [type] ..Green goals – Sept 2011

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