7 Tenets of Gentle Discipline

Gentle discipline is an approach to discipline that aims to treat a child with respect and integrity. The basic premise of it is that the intent of discipline is “to teach” versus the more traditional view that discipline is meant “to punish”. Gentle discipline also aims to maintain and strengthen the parent-child relationship. Not to be confused with permissive parenting, where very little guidance is given to a child regarding their behavior, gentle discipline views challenging behavior as an opportunity to learn and grow together. While “punishment” may be effective in the short term, “teaching” is likely to have greater long term benefits. Here are seven tenets to practicing gentle discipline:

1. Focus on Proactive Strategies – Proactive strategies are ones use to prevent challenging behavior from occurring in the first place. Obviously this varies per situation and child, but a few common examples might include giving a child a 5 minute warning before leaving the park, having multiples of an item to prevent fighting (ie- pack a few shovels when headed to the park), or removing breakable items from a child’s reach. Development of proactive strategies is especially helpful when you have an on-going issue such as getting out the door on time each morning or your child picking up after themselves. Rather than operating in reactive mode (by yelling, threatening, punishing, etc) expend your energy in a positive way BEFORE the challenging behavior occurs. This takes examining why the behavior is occurring and brainstorming solutions to reduce/eliminate/change the behavior. If your child is old enough, have them participate in this process.

2. Asses Basic Needs – Is your child hungry or tired? Is their clothing uncomfortable? Are they getting sick? All of these can adversely effect a child’s behavior and sometimes we fail to recognize that behavior is actually a form of communication. Young children are still developing their ability to identify and convey their needs. A quick assessment of their basic needs might offer an easy solution (snack, rest, change clothes, etc) to the problem.

3. Use humor/playfulness – Not all children respond well to humor. My oldest son has a more serious personality and gets mad when I try to use humor with him to curb challenging behavior. However my three year old is very responsive to playfulness/silliness. We play a “listening game” where I give him a bunch of random directions. It’s similar to Simon Says, but I work in things I actually want him to do such as put on his shoes or clear his plate. Interspersed into the “real directions” are fun directions such as spin around, hop on one foot, etc. Another example is that he often has a hard time leaving a fun place. So I sometimes turn it into a race to the door game or a game where we walk funny ways to the door (ie- stomp like a dinosaur, fly like a bird, etc). With this approach he is typically more willing to cooperate. This is far better than the alternative where I feel completely frazzled and frustrated from carrying him kicking and screaming to the car. Such negative interactions seem to filter into other parts of our day and cause more tension. On the other hand, using humor infuses a playfulness into the day and keeps our spirits lighter.

4. Be Flexible – While most literature on discipline states that “consistency is key”, I find being flexible to be as (if not more) important. I often joke that I am consistent with my kids…I am consistently flexible. 🙂 We have very few hard and fast rules in our home. Rather I try to be mindful of the natural ebb and flow of our family/home and adapt accordingly. The task of balancing the diverse and dynamic needs of multiple family members is a not always easy and I find approaching it with a humble flexibility works well for me.

5. Consider child’s age and ability level – Be sure the expectations you have in place for your child are developmentally appropriate. Just as you would not expect a four month old to walk or a two year old to solve algebraic equations, be sure that the social-emotional and behavioral expectations you have on your child are within their realm of ability both from a developmental and individual standpoint. Also knowing that there is a learning curve involved in the process can be helpful in letting go of the expectation of a child demonstrating 100% mastery level 100% of the time.

6. Breathe Before Reacting – Breathing has made a huge difference in how I parent. Simply taking a big deep breathe before reacting, can help you respond to a challenging situation with more clarity thus restoring peace faster and with more permanent effects.

7.  Create a YES Environment  – A yes environment is arranging your day and your physical space to maximize the YES in your family’s life. Read more on this here.

This is such an expansive topic that there is SO much more to discuss/share. What Gentle Discipline techniques work well for your children? Would love to hear YOUR ideas! 🙂

-Sarah

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