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?

In the Kitchen : Chocolate Mud Pudding

Spring is almost here…at least the very muddy signs of it! We haven’t seen the first buds appear where we are yet, but my children are certainly enjoying the spring thaw and all the mud pies that come with it.

In the Whole Family Rhythms Spring Guide I share a delicious and wholesome recipe for Avocado Chocolate Pudding. Today I thought I’d share it for you to enjoy with your little ones.

Chocolate Mud


3-4 ripe avocados

4 TBS cocoa OR cacao powder

6 TBS maple syrup OR honey

1 tsp vanilla OR a pinch of vanilla bean powder

Let’s Begin

Remove peels and pits from avocados

Place all ingredients in a food processor or high speed blender

Blend until smooth

Serve with berries or a few chocolate chips on top

Enjoy and Happy Springtime to you all!


Book Club : Simplicity Parenting Chapter One

Today I will be summarizing and discussing the first chapter of Kim John Payne’s book, Simplicity Parenting. In a world where childhood seems to be flooded with too much, too fast and too soon Payne helps parents clear the way to a simpler, more connected and whole-hearted family life. After reading this book parents will feel empowered and ready to declutter spaces, establish stronger home rhythms, cut down on screen-time and most of all to slow down and prioritize meaningful moments with their children. Most remarkably, the book is truly applicable for all families regardless of their diverse faiths, backgrounds and values. It is completely free from dogma and instead, offers practical and adaptable advice to all.

Chapter One: Why Simplify?

Payne starts the book with the story of an eight-year-old named James whose parents were both working professionals and very involved in world issues and politics. James was not sleeping well at night and he had stomach pains seemingly unrelated to his diet. James was described by his parents as cautious and mature. Payne advised his parents to completely eliminate James’ exposure to adult talk and media. “They aimed to keep their discussions of politics, their jobs, and their concerns to a time after James went to bed.” p.4 Over a period of a few months, James improved dramatically- he was more adventurous, his appetite increased and he was markedly more social, creative and courageous. But, as Payne asks, “Was all of this directly attributable to the changes James’ family made?”. His answer is no, and yes. The changes absolutely helped, but what’s more his parents brought an awareness to their parenting that they hadn’t in the past.

Quite Simply: By simplifying we protect the environment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of self. p.6

Payne then goes on to describe his working background- in his early twenties he was involved in social work at refugee camps in Jakarta and Cambodia. Later on he worked in the UK in a number of private schools as a counselor seeing children diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, OCD and ODD. It finally dawned on him in the early 90s that the treatment plans he was developing for these Western children was the same as the ones he had developed for children suffering from PTSD in Refugee Camps.

Quite Simply: Our society- with its pressures of “too much”- is waging an undeclared war on childhood. p.8

Payne called this new psychological imbalance “cumulative stress reaction” or CSR. The level of stress described by CSR is different from regular everyday stressors in a child’s life in that it is consistent and frequent. Constant CSR affects a child’s resiliency. CSR is caused by “a daily life submerged in the same media-rich, multi-tasking, complex, information-overloaded, time-pressured waters…”p.10

Payne calls for a reexamination of at what is stake- childhood and consequently our children’s well-being. He asks not that we as parents make changes out of fear, but because we have a vision for our family: a dream “of the comfort of a family where each member could be their authentic self, well known and well loved.” p.16 He believes making simple changes will provide our children with greater ease and well-being.

Payne often begins his “Simplification Regime” by decluttering children’s (and sometimes adults’) spaces around the home. He has found that by simplifying the environment a space is created in a family’s “habit life and intentions”. p.23

He points out that a child’s natural quirks can be turned into disorders when cumulative stress is too much. For example, a child has the endearing quirk of collecting things- with stress this can lead to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). A child who has a quirky fiery nature when faced with too much stress can be labelled as ODD (oppositional defiance disorder).

Quite Simply: Stress can push children along the behavioural spectrum. When you simplify a child’s life on a number of levels, back they come.  p.26

Payne embarked on his own study to prove the effectiveness of his simplicity regimes. He and his researchers took 55 children diagnosed with attention difficulties and devised a simplification plan with an emphasis on simplifying environment (including diet), screen media and schedules. They found the “68% of the children whose parents and teachers adhered to the protocol went from clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional in four months and a 36.8% increase in academic and cognitive ability.” p.28 These children were treated with no drugs whatsoever. They repeated the study again with very similar results. Payne speaks of the research done in the field of neurology and affirms that the evidence of our brain’s plasticity offers hope to parents who are tired of messages of genetic and chemical pre-determinism.

Quite Simply: Our children come to us with a deep destiny that needs to be honoured. p.33

What we bring to our attention, presence and focus to is what becomes our reality. With simplification we are realigning our daily lives with our family’s vision and values.

Finally, Payne shows us where to start. He advises we begin with imagination: imagining a life and home that moves slower, is less cluttered, and where we have more time and space to be together and honour one another.

What did you insights did you gain from this chapter? Could you relate to stress as a trigger for behavioural problems? Have you noticed when your children are overstimulated or over-scheduled that their behaviour changes? How?

Mindful Parenting : Gentle Discipline Part One

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… read more