Tag Archives: caregiver’s meditations

Mindful Parenting : Gentle Discipline Part Two

Today, I wanted to look more closely into the concept of “Gentle Disciple“, “Simple Discipline“, “Loving Authority” or “Respectful Discipline“. I think this subject is often a sticky web of mixed concepts and expectations, including strands from our own childhood, inconsistent societal expectations, cultural overlays and personal expectations. Through this three-part series I will attempt to piece together what Gentle Discipline is, how it’s different from traditional punitive models of discipline, and most importantly how we can strive to consistently use it in our homes. A lot of my research on this subject is inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, Kim John Payne, Magda Gerber, Janet Lansbury, Joseph Chilton Pearce, John Holt, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Alfie Kohn, to name a few.

How is Gentle Discipline different than the traditional Punitive Models of Discipline?

Alfie Kohn lists the way punishment fails in his article Punitive Damages:

  1. It makes people mad.  As a form of control punishment enrages and disempowers the receiver and even worse, the victims may eventually become victimizers.
  2. It teaches power.  Punishment provides the child with a model for expressing power over another.
  3. It eventually loses its effectiveness.   As children become more and more desensitized to punishments they become less and less effective.
  4. It erodes our relationships with our kids.  When we punish we become power enforcers instead of carers who lovingly connect and guide our children.
  5. It distracts kids from the important issues.  Punishment doesn’t lead to children reflecting on their wrongs- instead it turns their anger (and distracts from the original issue) towards the punisher.
  6. It makes kids more self-centered.   A child’s focuses on how h/’she is personally affected by the punishment (or potential punishment) instead of exploring why there is a boundary that needs to be met in the first place.

So now that we know that punishments and rewards are not helpful, what is the difference between a punishment and a boundary?

For me, Gentle Discipline infers remaining connected to your child while simultaneously setting and holding boundaries. As an ever-evolving parent with ever-evolving children the boundaries I set are also constantly evolving. But I am getting more and more clear about how to set them and how to hold them.

In Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, Barbara J Patterson writes about “being a calming force in the midst of chaos”. Meghan Leahy describes boundary setting as the parent being the beautiful garden wall (boundary) that is neither punitive nor judgemental- just loving, firm and unwavering. Carrie Dendtler describes holding boundaries as remaining “Ho Hum“. When we reflect on our own children it quickly becomes clear that they are more responsive to loving guidance when we empathize with them and resist the temptation to be punitive.

As a parent it’s important to remember that you can move and shift boundaries if you feel the need. They are not set in stone. Of course consistency is important, but often when we’re not holding a boundary it’s because we as the parent do not have clarity about why we are holding it in the first place. When you feel that there is a specific boundary that your child is constantly pushing and which you are not holding well, re-connect with your WHY. Ask yourself, Why am I holding this boundary in the first place? Why is it important? Simply answering this question clearly is enough to resolve the issue one way or the other.

Boundaries have a myriad of purposes- boundaries keep children physically and emotionally safe, healthy and happy. Boundaries inform older children about group dynamics and foster empathy for others.

The final part of this Gentle Discipline series will delve into how we can create and hold boundaries in our home depending on our children’s ages and developmental stages.

For me personally, not allowing anyone to snack before dinner is a very easy boundary to set and hold (even if it means a lot of emotional upset from hungry children), limiting screen use is another very easy boundary for me to set because I feel it is a strong family value for us. Boundaries I have trouble with are things like limiting my eldest’s bedtime (he just loves reading- “one more page”, he begs! “And reading is so good for him”, I think…). I also have trouble preventing little ones from toddling into our bed in the middle of the night (my need for a proper night’s sleep clashes with the empathy and attachment I feel my three-year-old needs at night sometimes, plus I know she will eventually grow out of it). For me, the boundaries I struggle to hold are clearly the boundaries I feel wishy-washy about myself. When the conviction is there, I hold them. When I do not feel clarity about why I am holding a boundary, I simply don’t hold it. And in these cases I need to re-assess why and if I want the boundary to be continued to be held.

Do you struggle with setting and holding some boundaries in your home? Which are easy for you to hold and which are more difficult?

Connection does not Always Equate to Happiness

connectionI’m focusing on the word Connection today. I speak a lot here about doing inner work, finding moments of connectedness with your children and trying to remain present and in the moment. And I really wanted to clarify something:


Having a connected moment with your child does not always mean that in that moment you are both experiencing calm, happiness or joy.


It can, but not always.


  • Sometimes being connected means sitting close to your toddler while she cries and thrashes on the floor because you poured her milk in the wrong coloured cup.
  • Sometimes being connected means listening to your baby cry in your arms without shushing or bouncing or patting her, but simply allowing her to release some of the stress and overstimulation from her day.
  • Sometimes being connected means listening to your child express her fear, pain and anger- not replying quickly with a “You’re OK” or “Your sister didn’t mean to…” or a “That’s not fair, I wasn’t…” or “Don’t be scared.” Being connected means simply listening, acknowledging and being present with her suffering.
  • Sometimes being connected means taking a few minutes to truly observe your child’s fear, frustration, anger, boredom and to let it be without acting on the urge to want to change or fix the problem.


Dr Aletha Solter is a developmental psychologist who studied under the inspirational Jean Piaget and is the founder The Aware Parenting Movement. From her article, Understanding Tears and Tantrums:


“Crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt. A child’s tears or tantrums are not an indication of an incompetent parent. On the contrary, crying indicates that the child feels safe enough to bring up painful feelings, and is not afraid of being rejected.”


When we were children many of us were either distracted from crying (“Here, watch this TV show” or “Here, take this candy”) or ridiculed for crying (“Big boys don’t cry”) or punished for crying (“If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give your something to cry about”) or dictated to (“Stop your crying!” or “Don’t cry…”). Expressing anger, upset and sadness is not readily accepted in Western culture. We were taught from a young age that these feelings are negative, uncomfortable, undesirable and embarrassing. It is no wonder then that when our own children express suffering, our knee-jerk reaction is to stop it as quickly as possible.

A strong Daily Rhythm decreases the number of frustrations, stresses and disappointments in a child’s day. The sense of predictability and flow provided by a strong rhythm gives a child a sense of confidence that the world is safe and good, but it does not create a utopian bubble that shields your child from all stress and pain (thank goodness- for this is a rich and beautiful part of our diverse human experience!). Natural stressors are a part of everyday life- things such as separation anxiety, accidents, conflict between friends and even happy but overstimulating occasions such as birthday parties, playdates or going to the shops.

Crying and being able to express the entire range of our feelings releases built-up stress from a child’s (and parents’!) body. We listen in loving sympathy and reflect our child’s feelings back to her (“You really wanted the red cup today. Are you feeling disappointed I gave you the blue one?“). We are not giving her the red cup. We are acknowledging that sometimes things happen in life that are not what we wanted and it’s OK to feel disappointed when this happens. As Solther points out, “Children do not cry indefinitely. They stop of their own accord when they are finished. After crying, there is a usually a feeling of relief and wellbeing. The incident that triggered the crying is no longer an issue, and the child usually becomes happy and cooperative.”

With your acknowledgement your child will feel understood and heard. And for me, that is the root of the word connection: con from the latin for ‘together’ and nectere from the latin “to bind”.

Connection: A sense of deep understanding that binds family members together as human beings.

Storytelling : The Four Candles

Today I would like to share with you a simple and beautiful story from the Whole Family Rhythms Winter Guide. I told this to the three girls last week and they quite loved its simplicity and watching the flickering flames of the candles. This is slightly more serious or literal than most other stories in the Guides, however because the wording is so simple it can be adapted to younger children. I would recommend refraining from putting too much emotion in your voice when you tell it. Do not get carried away with the sadness or despair the first three candles might feel in your interpretation. Just keep your voice calm and steady. You could tell the story repeatedly over a few days and let the themes and ideas some up naturally in your everyday life, but I would not recommend lecturing or prothletizing immediately after the story.


The Four Candles

The Four Candles burned slowly.

They shone so softly you could hear them speak.

The first candle said, “I Am Peace, but these days, nobody wants to keep me lit.”
Then Peace’s flame slowly diminished and went out completely. (gently, blow out this candle).

The second candle said, “I Am Faith, but these days, people believe they no longer need me.”
Then Faith’s flame slowly diminished and went out completely. (gently, blow out this candle)

Sadly the third candle spoke, “I Am Love and I haven’t the strength to stay lit any longer. People put me aside and don’t understand my importance. Sometimes they even forget to love those who are nearest to them.” And waiting no longer, Love went out completely. (gently, blow out this candle)

A child entered the room and saw the three candles no longer burning.
The child asked softly,

“Why are you not burning? You are supposed to stay lit forever and ever”

Then the Fourth Candle spoke gently to the little boy, “Don’t be afraid, for I Am Hope, and while I still burn, we can re-light the other candles.”

With shining eyes, the child took the Candle of Hope and lit the other three candles. (slowly light the other three candles with the fourth)

And so we never let the Flame of Hope go out.

With Hope in our lives, Peace, Faith and Love may shine brightly once again.

Author Unknown

Simple Preparations for Advent

The first light of Advent is the light of stone–.

Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of the plants–

Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts–

All await the birth, from the greatest and the least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind–

The light of love, hope and thought

To give and understand. ~ Rudolf Steiner read more