Seeking Gentle Discipline

Written by NPN Guest on February 20th, 2012

Balance, Gentle Discipline

Reader Question: Yikes, do I have one for you! Here’s the deal. I’m a small child. I am not a “mini-adult,” but my parents think I am sometimes. I do things they say are “bad” when I’m frustrated and when I can’t figure out how to deal with my emotions. And I have big emotions! Sometimes I get so overwhelmed! And it’s worse when I can’t express how I feel. Today I threw myself on the floor and cried when I couldn’t get my shoes to feel right when we were going out to do errands. My mom got really mad. I saw it in her eyes and it made me feel worse. She yelled. And I yelled more. I think all we both needed was a hug. Instead we both felt crummy, misunderstood and disconnected. Is there anything we can do to help!?

Seeking Gentle Discipline, 3 years old

Our Expert’s Answer: You’ve identified the problem right on: you are not a mini-adult, you are a child, and you have a lot of growing and learning to do. But your parents also have a lot of growing and learning to do. The first thing to do is to figure out how to help your mother understand that so she can change the way she’s interacting with you.

So first things first. Tell your parents that there seems to be consensus in the “science” world that children who are nurtured, who feel loved, special and worthy, grow up to be happy and healthy adults.1 To help them understand this more and to find ways of interacting with you to accomplish that, suggest that they read one (or all) of these books:

The Discipline Book by Dr. Sears

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber

The No Cry Discipline Book by Elizabeth Pantley

And if you think your parents are up for a true and deep change, these are also helpful:

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

Scott Noelle’s Daily Groove parenting wisdom emails

Next, it will be important for your parents to begin connecting with you and understanding you more. Children who grow up in a Democratic home (also known as Authoritative2), fare better than their peers who were raised with Authoritarian,3 Ambivalent,4 or Permissive5 approaches.6 This will be challenging for them, especially if they are set in their ways or have not been shown or taught alternative ways of disciplining.

But change is possible! Many parents today feel that they need to enforce rules (instead of working together with their children), even when doing so goes against their inner wisdom and doesn’t “feel” right. Many parents feel that their children are naturally cooperative, but they don’t know they are. Does that make sense? It’s like they have a sense of it, but when it comes to the practicality of life in a rat-race world, they forget it and get exasperated when children behave, well, like children.

Children live in the moment. There is no time pressure, there are no deadlines. There is only that very moment, full of joy and fun. But us adults, well we hover over children’s natural rhythms and try our darnedest o make them do what we want, when we want it. Not to be mean, necessarily, but because adults do have time pressure and deadlines and they have forgotten or don’t know how to live in the moment anymore. So how can the two be blended peacefully? How can we help adults take the child’s perspective into account?

Well, this brings me to my next suggestion: Connection. Children and their parents fare better in interactions and form strong, healthy relationships when they allow themselves to truly connect. It all begins in infancy. A baby naturally seeks to connect with his mother and, eventually, with his other caregivers. If this need is met, the foundation is set for the next layer of connection, and so forth. During early childhood, children experience and change so much. They are often overwhelmed with emotions, yet, they do not have the maturity to deal with them. But even so, they are wise. They know that to help themselves through overwhelming feelings — they can cry to release them. Often parents don’t see it that way though, and they continue to bring resistance into the interaction, making it more difficult.

See if your parents can connect with you during an emotional moment. Help them understand that they need to come down to your level, to look you in the eyes and tell you that yes, it is hard, that it’s OK to cry, that you will feel better soon. This approach will result in better cooperation on your part, because you feel understood, your feelings were validated, and you were given the space to express your emotions. Your parents will see first-hand the drastic change in your behavior resulting from you feeling understood. This practice can be referred to as a Time-In (rather than a Time-Out). The Hand in Hand Parenting Organization has a similar tool they call Staylistening. Whatever the term used, the idea is to connect, empathize and build self-esteem while still setting limits, rather than punishing and creating shame.

Being a parent is hard because there are so many unknowns. There are so many expectations we let society and others put on us, and because we often forget about our own self-care. Remind your parents to take care of themselves too. They need to find some time to relax, even if it’s just a few minutes a day; they need to do something they really enjoy. This will renew and refresh their spirits and make them feel the positive energy that comes from living in the moment. The more they do this, the easier it will be for them to understand and connect with their children.

And let your parents know that if they do get stuck or need help finding clarity, asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure. There are many resources out there for parents. Here are just a few:

Natural Parents Network

Hand in Hand Parenting Organization

Enjoy Parenting

Ask Dr. Sears

Often, the first step to finding a solution to a tricky problem can be as easy as talking to another parent or asking a parenting coach or any one of the many people out there who want to help parents and children live in harmony.

And last but not least, remind your parents that it’s so very important that they allow their inner wisdom to guide their decisions and actions. Just as children innately know and do what feels good, adults also have that power, but they have forgotten how to sense it and have been made to believe that feeling good isn’t always acceptable. But why not? Who says that we have to live in misery, going against our inner wisdom?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about doing things at the cost of other’s feelings or simply because you want something right then and there. No, that’s different. That is being selfish. I am talking about trusting your “gut”, tapping into your inner guide and making decisions from that place. It feels good, it feels right to do that. For example, when you are having a tantrum your mother probably feels a deep urge to reach out to you and hold you close. But instead, society has made her think that this is “giving into you” and that she needs to punish you so you learn to behave. Instead, she doesn’t listen to her inner wisdom and does something that doesn’t feel right, that doesn’t feel good, and in the end results in more disconnection and resistance. The joy and reassurance that results from parenting from that place of inner wisdom is sure to deepen and strengthen the parent’s relationship with their child(ren).

It is my hope that parents learn the joy of living from their children. Finding ways to live in today’s world while still living with joy can be tricky, but when we allow ourselves the time and space to figure things out, the solutions do come.

Good luck Seeking Gentle Discipline!


Kat is and loves many things. Mostly she loves her husband and being a mommy to her three kiddos. Her background in Psychology and Health Promotion has her always asking questions and wondering what she can do to make her kiddos’ world a better, healthier place. During her “free” time she works as a Life Coach, focusing on Parent Coaching, and and is pursuing her Birth Doula certification. On the side she enjoys writing, photography, reading, yoga and chatting about anything and everything. You can find her blogging at Loving {Almost} Every Moment, where she writes mostly about life with kiddos and all that comes along the parenting journey!

  1. G. E. Miller, M. E. Lachman, et al. (2011). Pathways to Resilience: Maternal Nurturance as a Buffer Against the Effects of Childhood Poverty on Metabolic Syndrome at Midlife. Psychological Science (12), 22
  2. In an authoritative home, parents consider children’s point of view when making decisions and setting limits and rules, and discipline is about teaching and learning. Parents also have realistic expectations of their children and treat them fairly and with respect.
  3. In an authoritarian home, parents are in control and do not see or consider a child’s point of view; they also have unrealistic expectations of their children, discipline is harsh and often punitive and physical.
  4. In an ambivalent home, parents are inconsistent and uninvolved with their parenting, and there is little to no communication.
  5. In permissive homes, parents avoid or give in to conflict, there is very little communication, and parents have unclear expectations.
  6. Baumrind, D. (1967). Child-care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75, 43-88.
    Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.
    Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent–child interaction. In P. H. Mussen & E. M. Hetherington, Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, personality, and social development (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.
    Maccoby, E.E. (1992). The role of parents in the socialization of children: An historical overview. Developmental Psychology, 28, 1006-1017.

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