Gentle Discipline By Age–Part Three


Gentle discipline is the mainstay of parenting life, because it encompasses guiding and validating the authentic spiritual being that is every human being and child.  It is a mindset to live by and parent by, and if you can master some of these techniques, you will find yourself even having more positive communication and conflict resolution with other adults.

I have wanted to do a round-up of techniques by age, and here it finally is beginning.  I hope it will be helpful to you, and do please feel free to add your own thoughts or experiences to this list.

In Part Two,  we focused on birth through age 4.  Today we are going to look at ages five and six.    The mainstay of gentle discipline for these years begins with our own inner work and development, as discussed in Part One of this series.

Birth through age  four encompasses a time of protection, physical movement, warmth and trust and love in a caregiver and in a good world.  The ending of this stage sees the use of the words “I” and “no” not as an act of defiance or disobedience, but as growth into individuality.  Ages five and six also sees the same  importance of protection, physical movement, warmth, and love and trust in a caregiver continue.  However, play and social experiences now expands during these years, (although some children will not blossom into truly enjoying other children until the six/seven year transformation).  Play is the main theme for these years, and also a  look at the willing gesture involved in roles, power, and control.

Many five and six year olds are trying to figure out roles within their world.  This is the time of play with roles and in being archetypal characters.   There is  often is a fluidity in these roles in play, and the play can also can have a bit of an authority/submissive quality to it – you be the dog and I will be the owner, you be the child and I will be the daddy, etc.  It can also, in the realm of guiding within the home or classroom, be a time of pushing against the typical rhythm and boundaries.   You can see more about  five year old development at “The Fabulous Five Year Old” and the six year old here at “The Snazzy Six Year Old.”

Get your ho-hum on.  From the height of sex play at age six to late potty training to picky eating to a children testing boundaries verbally, there always seems like there is something to either worry about or get upset about.  Get your ho-hum on.  This too shall pass.

Rhythm and outside play are at a high importance.  Rhythm also includes the “preparation” and  “picking up” part of  daily life or inside play.  This is very important to not skip, and to set time aside to do it together with you modeling the way.  Get organized so things have a place!

Connect and look for the positive.  Look for the good qualities that make up the message of your life and notice when your children are taking part in the message, the values of your family.  Give a smile or a pat.  Five and six year olds still need to be tucked in at night, hugged and held and enjoyed.   Tell them you love them and that they are wonderful!  Because they are!

Watch your language.   Keep your words calm and short.  One or two sentences are enough.  If you get to the point where you want to rant, call a friend and rant to him or her instead.  Take a break and go outside or go lay down and come back.  If you want to make announcements and threats, go in your room and make them to the mirror.  Make sure your language reflects your love.

Know your boundaries and developmentally appropriate expectations.  Be ready with restitution and follow through.  Know that helping a five and six year with boundaries takes time and consistency.   Make sure you are not expecting twelve or thirteen year old things out of a tiny five or six year old.

Slow down.   Five and six year olds are still little, and home should be more than just a “home base” to check in upon here and there.   Activities outside the home are not truly necessary for five and six year olds.   Home really still really needs to be the focus of the day, week and year.  Nature is still a powerful, soothing force for five and six year olds and for parents, too, so see what you can nurture around your own home – even if it is just a potted herb garden on the patio and a birdfeeder.

Give time to yourself, so you can be at the top of your game.

‘What are your best tips for guiding five and six year olds?


17 thoughts on “Gentle Discipline By Age–Part Three

    • Elizabeth – Violence in what way? Weapon play in play? Or do you mean hitting or biting or something like that?

  1. Hi Carrie,
    Thanks for reminding me that 6 yr Olds still need us! Mine is my oldest & I’ve noticed that naturally I’m just not giving her as much physical attention but i need too! Such a sweetness comes fromthat noticed hug. We’ve just discovered little house on the prairie audio tape for the car & I’ve noticed that inadvertently she’s becoming more concerned & interested in our home. It’s the little things! Thanks again.

  2. Pingback: Gentle Discipline By Age–Part Four | The Parenting Passageway

  3. I am struggling with not throwing a bunch of threats at my 5 year old. I do pause and think, how can I get this child to move on this (chore, or what have you) or what can I say/do to get her to stop teasing her younger sister to death, and pushing her older sisters buttons. I feel like when I make a threat of losing a play-date or something fun, or a threat to spend time alone, or something else…and sometimes I am just making a stretch to find what I can threaten her with, she snaps out of it…temporarily. I feel really unauthentic because most of the threats are empty and I don’t want to or plan to follow through with them. I just feel like I’ve forgotten or have become too exhausted to reach for other tools, and she responds to the threats.

    Any tools you can suggest for a middle child of this age who consistently teases her siblings??? I’ve read that you don’t take the ugly out. So if they are unkind to each other they don’t get time with friends. I just don’t know how to practically work that out, except with threatening. It also would usually mean everyone is punished because most of our outings to meet up with friends we do as a family.

    Also tools to get this age moving with a chore or getting out the door, or ready for bed, etc. that I’ve gathered from reading your posts all of these years: Do it with them. Talk in pictures. Rhythm. I need to post these on my fridge so I don’t revert to yelling/threatening.

    • Ramona,
      For that little 5 year old, the middle child, I think family dynamics of being the middle child often comes into play. I would try to ignore some and see what happens, because sometimes children do that sort of thing for attention, even if it is negative attention. Most of the middle children I have met when they are young, feel like they get the short end of the stick not being oldest and not being the baby. Set aside 15 minutes a day to be just with her, either to read to her, draw together or just listen. If you notice them fighting in the afternoons or whenever, get them outside. It is harder (but not impossible) to fight outside. Outside time during sibling fighting stages is vital. A good hike or swim takes the fight out of everyone!
      I hope that helps. Not taking the ugly out works when one will follow through. It is never made as an announcement or threat. It just is everyone must be super tired. The most effective way to do anything is not to announce. Seriously. It just happens. There is a story on this blog somewhere of one of my friends (whose children are now grown) and they were spitting in her car whilst they were in line to go and get some kind of fast food treat and she just carefully eased out of line and went home. She didn’t say a word until they got home and they asked, why did you go home? and she just said she didn’t get treats for little people who spit in her car. However, in the case of our sweet middle children, I think sometimes a different tactic is needed.
      Great question, and I look forward to seeing you try this combination for two weeks and reporting back.
      Lastly, don’t forget to get your ho hum on. Try not to give it so much attention, and praise the great things your five year old is doing.

  4. Thanks Carrie. We had a very difficult day today which spiraled out of control through our bedtime routine and getting everyone down. I am going to work on making more connections with her throughout the day, getting them outside (though 9 months pregnant and lacking some energy at the moment) and ho-hum.

    She had a chocolate brownie for “tea-time” today, and I am wondering how much that played into her malicious and aggressive tendencies towards her sisters and her in-your-face disobedience to us. Might try to keep chocolate off the radar for a while and see if that helps in the least.

    So…here is an interesting story for you. We have been trying to call her behavior what it is and help her identify her feelings. Mainly jealousy (towards sisters which leads to her teasing and such). Today we were invited to play at a friends house for the first time. As we pulled up to their very old, large, historic, beautiful home in the loveliest of areas, my 5 year old let out a cry. When I asked her what was going on she said “Sophie has a beautiful home, and I don’t like that! I am jealous of her home. I want to have a beautiful home!” I was stunned, one that she looked at the outside of a house and noticed/felt that, before even stepping foot inside, and two that she named what she was feeling. Tonight we talked a bit about jealous feelings and how we can deal with them. This was at dinner. We tried to keep it simple, and at bedtime prayed about it a bit. But this was all kind of scattered throughout a tumultuous evening revolving around her out-of-control-ness…if I may put it that way.

    Maybe it was the play-date, or maybe the chocolate, or maybe she is just looking for some attention.

    Thanks for all of your support and encouragement. Your blog has been a friend and help to me for the past 5 years.

    • Ramona,
      You left out a very important piece originally! 9 months pregnant!! That is a lot for a five year old to deal with, even though she already has a younger sibling. I think that could be a huge piece of it.
      In regards to your story about your little one, I feel sort of two ways about this. Knowing we have feelings is important. I know almost every article talks about naming feelings, and you know your child best, but I will be honest and say that I am for not really specifically naming feelings until closer to nine. Feelings are largely undifferentiated at this age (ie, “bad” “sad” if you ask a little person how they are feeling when something is wrong)….But I am all for all feelings are okay, but all actions are not. The feeling is not what matters, it matters what you do with it (or don’t do with it). A young child is still in her will forces, so sometimes the less said the better and the more willing and doing you can help her come up with that could be appropriate is what is important when you can see these negative feelings starting. I think this is where we start hearing about calm hands, gentle hands, calm voice little snail, etc. If you decide to think and meditate on that and see what you come up with. Simplicity Parenting has a good deal to say about this, if you are looking for a source. Hope that helps. I think also going back to basics – as you mentioned – whole foods, sleep, rhythm, outside play, work with you in the home. Less is more, less is more, less is more, especially if you do have a sweet little one that is more sensitive to everything (more sensitive to change in the environment, sensitive to food, sensitive to playing one on one, etc). Since you are pregnant and low on energy, keeping things as simple and easy as possible, with early dinners, calm afternoons, early bedtimes, may be your best bet right now. :)
      Lots of love and you are doing a great job!

  5. Thanks Carrie! More to think about for sure! I read simplicity parenting…probably too fast to really process most of it. I found it helpful in a lot of ways…and yet, most ideas and thoughts I read in that book, I’ve already read here! ;)

    “A young child is still in her will forces, so sometimes the less said the better and the more willing and doing you can help her come up with that could be appropriate is what is important when you can see these negative feelings starting. I think this is where we start hearing about calm hands, gentle hands, calm voice little snail, etc.”

    do you have a back post, or book, or article that gives more suggestions for how to talk to the young child in this way? I feel like I could use some concrete specific ideas/examples to help me with this! Thanks!

  6. Thanks Carrie! I’ve been reading for five years now, and still need to be reminded time and time again of these things! This is a great back post, I forwarded the link to my husband as well. Blessings!

  7. Hi!

    I have been reading your site for about a month now after I stumbled across it one day and I absolutely love it. Literally everything about It!

    I have 3 children and 1 on the way and I became aware of Waldorf about a month and a half ago when I was told that there was a 1 day a week waldorf kindergarten in my area. I met with the teacher, took a look inside her “different to me at the time” classroom, pondered for a bit and then got my nose right into researching what Waldorf was. Ever since then I have been completely addicted to learning more about it. I got rid of all ofor my kids’ non sense toys and replaced them with natural ones and cut out TV for good. Even though we only watched it about once a week. But the more I learned about the effects of media on young developing minds the more strongly I felt that it had caused some of the problems we have been having.

    Anyways I am kind of rambling. My children are ages 6 (soon to be 7) 5 (soon to be 6) and 16 months. I am currently 5 months pregnant with number 4. I have been reading and learning more and more about how important it is to work on yourself in order to do all if this properly and I am trying so hard. But I still lose my temper often. Mostly it is when they have pushed my buttons and tested my patience just a little too far and I just fall apart.

    I know this post is for ages 5 and 6, but I have a question about my 16 months old right now who has been walking since 10 months and already has quite a large vocabulary of about 30 words and knows what action/food/item/feeling (hot, cold) fits to which word.

    The problem I have been having Is him hitting, throwing things, starting to bite and hitting with other items. What I have been working on is trying to say or show him what I would like to see him doing instead. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the most trouble I have is that he does it so much and I get si exhausted getting up/stopping what I am doing so many timeso a day while being pregnant. Some days it seems like he is doing and looking at me just so that I will come and stop him from what he is doing. He also kicks, hard, during diaper changes and I have no idea how to stop this. He has hit me in the belly a few times and it hurts. But I don’t know how to stop it.

    Thanks for reading my novel!

    • Hi Crystal!
      I think I have back posts that could be helpful. I will try to round them up and post them to you a little later.
      I am so glad you are here reading…remember he is doing just what he is developmentally normal for 16 months, whether he has a big vocabulary or not. He lives in his body and his will and sort of what he wants when he wants or try this mode (but not cause and effect at all! Cause and effect doesn’t come in until around age 12). So, indeed it will be the physical work of guiding him away, holding his hand, blocking what he is doing. At 16 months old, I would change his diaper standing up as much as possible rather than laying down so he can kick you. Being kicked is no fun at all!
      More to come and blessings for being here and being one of my very special readers…

  8. Thank you Carrie!

    I am having a difficult time today, I’m feeling like I may be confused with what tools to do at certain times or else that I didn’t think of them until after the fact. My older children need to be outside more, I know this and it shows up with how wild they get in the house. But I don’t like them being together outside unsupervised. The shaping of media on their little brains has them playing extremely rough and loud etc. If there is nobody there to redirect them. But I have a 16 month old who can’t handle being out for as long as they can. In our rhythm (We are still tweaking it) we go outside twice a day and try for at least an hour each time depending on how the toddler is doing. This is enough for him and he has been throwing less. I have noticed that he does it mostly if he gets wound up by his siblings or if he is bored… So I have difficulty when my older children start to get wound up in the house during free play or even just between activities that we are doing. I have tried to just take my toddler out of the scene and give him calming toys to play with. I have tried taking my 5 year old (she is almost always the one that is the most wound up of all three) and sitting her down with some paper to cut up or some crayons and paper… This usually works, but sometimes I didn’t think of doing it until after. Or I am just tired of it happening over and over again and I get frustrated. I have also told her to go get dressed and play outside. But then she doesn’t do anything out there and then comes in and gets wound up again. I still have these problems sometimes with my 6 yo but not nearly as often as I do with my daughter.

    Today I lost my cool while we were all having lunch. And I feel like I need help knowing what are mountains and what are mole hills. She kept giggling at not so pleasant things that my toddler was doing at the table which I feel reinforces the unwanted behavior because he then thinks it is funny. So I asked her to leave the table and go sit in her room for a bit. So she did and then once again started to bounce on her bed. (We don’t allow this) so after we finished lunch I called her back out and told her to go get dressed and go out and don’t come in for a long time.

    I just feel lost with some things and it’s hard to think of what they all are at the moment. But I know that if I just knew what tools to do or what to back up on when a certain tool didn’t work, then I probably wouldn’t yell so much.

    • Crystal,
      This might be too long for here but just thinking out loud. Some of it is to know developmental your 5 year old your second child? I ask because I see a lot of “second in order” children who really like to push buttons. Does she have sensory issues and do you feel as if she needs to be outside longer and you cannot do that because of the 16 month old? If so, then I would suggest a lot of meaningful work. She should be helping you prep lunch, clean up, wash dishes, etc. I know it takes longer and can also be hard if the 16 month old is toddling off and needs supervision, but you could try a sling, a high chair, or having your 6 year old entertain the baby where you could keep an eye on both of them!
      Also, do go back to normal developmental behavior. I think there was a reason in the olden days that smaller children were fed earlier for dinner especially. Most children will blow through eating at that age and want to snack more, so having the idea that she may actually be done and ready to do something else (maybe have the paper and scissors ready then! while everyone else, and especially you, actually gets a chance to eat!) It is important too, I think to find some mother friends with children the same age if you can – so you can see what really are the mountains and the molehills. It could be the outside piece is getting in, now to bring in the meaningful work and the expectation for inside/outside behavior, reverence – do you say a verse at the beginning of the meal? Blow out a candle at the end? I am not saying you should, but just food for thought and you will be the architect as to what will work for your family!
      Feel free to email me privately if you want to brainstorm more.
      And lastly,because you probably don’t hear it enough, you are a good mom and you are working hard! Be proud of yourself and your children! Love them and give them a hug…
      Blessings and love,

  9. How do I get a hold of your email? I am on my phone and cannot seem to find any contact info.

    I try to give her meaningful work whenever I have any to give. I do for all 3 of them. For example, after meal times I wash the dishes while the toddler “helps” standing in his chair next to me, my 6 yo dries the dishes, and my 5 yo puts them away. Also for meals I always ask them to grab me the needed items and also to put them back away. I may get one to stir if something needs stirring. On our pizza day they get to roll out their own pizza dough for a mini pizza and put on all of the toppings. Stuff like that.

    For meals and also for putting the dishes away my 6 yo is super speedy where as my 5 yo takes foooooor eeeeever. It only bothers me because after meal times and after we tidy up we all get dressed and go outside. But we are always stuck waiting until she ishe finished because she is always goofing off and getting distracted by watching me get the 16 month old ready to go out for example. Oh and yes she is my second child. I am not sure what to look for for sensory issues and such. But she does get over the top very often. On play dates, she almost always ends up hurting someone, not in a mean way, but simply because she plays too rough. I always feel so bad, for both, because she also feels bad that she hurt her friend. But it still happens all the time no matter how bad it seems like she feels.

    We also had to put a boundary in place for no talking at the table because it is just an other thing that keeps her from eating and taking an extremely long time. We also have 2 snacks through the day, not sure if that has any relevance, but one is in the morning after breakfast, after we play outside, and the other is when the toddler wakes from his nap, before we go outside for a second time.

    Thanks again for all your help and for your amazing blog! <3

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