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3 Responses to Gentle Discipline and Setting Boundaries

  1. Meaghan Jackson

    This post came at the perfect time for me. I am struggling a lot with my 3year old and now my 18 month old. I want to be gentle but I get exsperated and worn down sometimes. I appreciate your honesty that it isn’t easy and is a journey.

  2. Karen

    Lately my 21 month old boy is hitting me in the face quite hard, grabbing my glasses and using them to hit my face, kicking me in the face throat and breasts when I am changing his diaper, etc. He does these things when I am paying attention to him and having positive interactions, so it isn’t like it’s anger he is having trouble controling. I’ve been using time outs but they do feel punative and aren’t helping to change the behavior much. I don’t yell, but by the end of the day it is more and more a struggle to stay completely calm. I do tell him it hurts and explain being gentle, etc. He is delayed in language development but I think he understands what I am saying. Once he starts with these behaviours he will continue until I put him in time out. Speaking to him calmly, politely, or firmly and sternly neither seem to have an effect at breaking the cycle once he starts. Any suggestions?

  3. Amy  

    Hi Karen 🙂

    Thank you for asking the question about aggressive behavior and alternatives to time outs. There are non-punitive ways to approach the need for space when parent or child has reached that point. Here are a couple of links that may help (I’ll elaborate a bit below also).

    Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman, parents and authors, offer how to use time out productively in Time Out for Time Out: http://www.uncommon-parenting.com/advice-articles/time-out-for-time-out/

    Dionna also offers some alternatives to the standard punitive time out in her article Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Time-Out: http://codenamemama.com/2011/03/08/mar-carnatpar/

    We have four children at our house and I’ve tried many different parenting styles. What I’ve noticed is that repetition is part of the process no matter what. I have also noticed that punitive measures do not result in the mutually respectful relationship I work to create; they actually work against it. Often punitive measures teach what we don’t want instead of what we do want. Our children often need a bit of direction toward what will work for the family instead of so many directives to what is *not* appropriate. In situations like the one you mentioned it would probably help to think of 20 alternatives to what he is doing that would work for you to connect with him in the moment (more on that below).

    What we find to work most consistently in challenging situations is first learning to stay calm in various circumstances. I do this through practice and simple meditation: http://peace4parents.com/simple-meditation/
    It may seem funny to incorporate meditation when we’re talking about aggression, but I find it helps in at least two ways – I teach myself how to maintain true calm and I model how to become calm when I may be upset initially through paying attention to my breath and body. It sets a powerful example for the children that rubs off when Mom can stay calm or come to calm quickly no matter what; even while communicating boundaries.

    Next, we get to decide what boundaries we set for ourselves and our family. I find that boundaries are more often respected when a focus is on what we do want rather than a long list of no’s. It’s also nice to include verbal children in the discussions about what works for the family; they often have some very valuable input (like no yelling from parents, etc.)

    With young children a boundary may be that we like to be touched gently so if a young one pulls hair, grabs, kicks, or otherwise harms then we gently direct them to what is okay with us. For example, Grace is 14 months old and will occasionally pat someone hard. We ask her to touch gently, while modeling to her what we mean in the moment. We gently touch her arm or gently place our hand over hers to show her what that feels like. She will transition her touch with that direction. With a little older child it may take a bit more repetition and communication of what will work for the child to transition because they are learning to transform a behavior that is a little more embedded, but with loving consistency and honoring the child while communicating it can change.

    I really feel that this starts with how we approach the situation from inside of ourselves in the ways we think and feel. If we feel that we must punish or implement a negative consequence to teach then that will be the end of the line (time out or something else). When our child reaches the line we implement said consequence.

    If we approach each situation with our child as an *opportunity* to teach and model and appropriate behavior (even when that includes some space and feeling through one’s emotions without harming) we don’t have to rely on punishment to teach. We can rely on our connection to our children and our own ability to be consistently directive and positive, when needed.

    So, since repetition is part of the process, what would it look like to direct him to something more appropriate when these situation arise? Could he give you a high five? Can he clap his hands, ask for a hug, wrestle, or something else? You could say something like, “It’s not okay to hit or it hurts when you hit, but you can give me a high five.” You can even leave out the “it’s not okay or it hurts part” because that usually conveys disapproval and often as parents, we get stuck there. When we can focus our attention on the desired alternative behavior we can collaborate with our child in bringing it about. It’s a true shift in perspective and attention.

    One exercise I use to help me focus on my children being able to do other things than those that I find annoying or troublesome is the whole body camera: http://peace4parents.com/the-whole-body-camera-experience-and-appreciate-parenting-with-all-of-your-senses/ This gives me a reality check on who my child really is so in the tough moments I can help him/her get back to balance.

    We are a picture of balance (or not) for our children. We can learn how to guide them modeling the behavior we want to see and deliberately through teaching the behavior we want to see. This sounds like one of those opportunities for you and your son. I hope what I’ve shared here helps a little bit; it’s a journey!