Back to Basics: The Framework for Gentle Discipline

This month we are headed “Back to Basics” in honor of The Parenting Passageway’s birthday.  We will be taking a look at the hallmarks of peaceful family life:  ourselves and our framework toward the family, children and gentle discipline, the environment in which we live, rhythm and moving into looking at the holistic child and education.  This promises to be a renewing month!

So, to kick us off, here is one of the first posts I ever wrote on gentle discipline (October 2008), updated for today!


From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.”  THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, published by La Leche League International.


“In practice, gentle discipline means making mistakes, working with your own anger, and growing as a person.”  (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, pageXXii).

“We would like to think that children learn the civilizing virtues- caring, compassion, consideration- simply by our good example, but most children need a little more than that. A clear definition of acceptable behavior, our expectation that they can meet the standard, and periodic guidance when they stray- all of these are necessary…..Guiding our children-lovingly-is an important part of caring for them and helping them to be loving and lovable to people within our families and beyond.” (THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, page 256-7, Seventh Revised Edition).

“Gentle discipline means, quite simply, placing empathy and respect at the very center of your parenting.”  (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, page 3).

Okay, quick!  When I say the phrase, “Gentle Discipline” what comes into your mind – the first thing? No censoring!  For many of us, gentle discipline equates with permissiveness and the thought of a Kids Gone Wild Video!  For others of us, gentle discipline equates with being the parent, who, for lack of better phrasing, is the “valium parent” –you know, the parent who never raises their voice, the parent who is always calm and composed.  “Okay, you just pierced your little brother’s nose with a screwdriver in the garage?  Okaaaay, maybe next time you should ask before you do that!”

Maybe some of us are sad when we hear this phrase, because we would like to not be yelling at our children, or hitting our children, but we are not sure what other tools we have in our toolbox to use.

What if I told you I see gentle discipline in a completely different light?

Many parents equate discipline to punishment.  My Webster’s Dictionary defines discipline some other ways, including as “instruction”; “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character”.  I love the idea of discipline being a way to guide or lead a child. There are consequences to the behaviors we choose as individuals, but many times we punish children for being in a developmentally normal state.

Eda LeShan, in her wonderful article, “Please Don’t Hit Your Kids”, published in Mothering Magazine in Spring of 1996, writes:  “We actually tend to hit children who are behaving normally.  A two year old bites because he doesn’t yet know better ways to deal with problems.  A five year old steals crayons at school because five is too young to control the impulse to take what she wants when she wants it.  A 10 year old lies about having joined some friends in teasing a newcomer at school, since at this age it’s normal to want social approval more than fairness.  It takes many years to learn self-restraint.  This is not a crime.  And making children feel guilty and bad doesn’t solve the problem.  What is called for is help in making retribution, having adults explain why such behavior must be overcome.”

Guiding with loving firmness.  THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, page 257 states: “Discipline is a much maligned word, often associated with punishment and deprivation. Yet discipline actually refers to the guidance which we as parents lovingly give our children to help them do the right things for the right reasons- to help them grow into secure, happy, and loving persons able to step out in to the world with confidence in their own ability to succeed in whatever they set out to do.”

“Bear in mind that to say children are equally deserving of dignity and respect does not have to mean that the relationship itself is of equal power. As a parent, you have a broader view and more life experience to draw from, and these are assets you bring to the child as his adult caretaker. You also bear more responsibility for choices surrounding your child than he does.” (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, page 11).

So, there is another oft-maligned word that  I believe needs to be attached to the idea of discipline as a way to guide a child – and that word is AUTHORITY.  Authority is a word that leaves a bad taste in many parents’ mouths.  “Authority?  We don’t need any of that here!  Our home is not a police state!”

Well, when I looked up authority in my Webster’s Dictionary, it said that authority is “a citation from a book or file used in defense or support”, “a decision taken as a precedent”, or finally, “power to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior.”   Influencing my child’s behavior is part of my job as a parent, but I felt it did not get across everything I wanted to say in this situation.  Then I noticed that authority and the word a few entries above, authentic, share the same root.  The dictionary says that authentic is “authoritative” and “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to fact of reality:TRUSTWORTHY.”

So, perhaps you could view your path in gentle discipline as a way to authentically guide your child.  You, as a trustworthy, authoritative guide. You, providing loving boundaries that will guide your child toward being a healthy adult.


How can you be an authentic parent today, building connection and warmth with your child to guide them effectively into the adult you would like them to be?  What kind of adult do you want them to be?  What values does your family hold most dear and how do you SHOW that in action to your children?

Many blessings,


7 thoughts on “Back to Basics: The Framework for Gentle Discipline

  1. I have been thinking about this a lot recently. My soon to be three year old (and soon to become an older brother) has been testing my patience on a variety of occasions. And I have been thumbing my way through Adventures in Gentle Discipline many times.

    My intention is so important. That is more than half the battle. If I am clear and not dithering about boundaries, it flows so much more smoothly. Of course this demands that I am fully present, and is not always possible. But I do try, and do know that keeping it simple ‘works’ most times.

    I have an image in my mind of Gentle Discipline being a triangle. The base is a rhythm at home around meal times and sleep, feeling safe and having emotional needs met as regularly as possible. As you go up, you add skills like redirecting, removing child or object, etc and at the very top is the word No. Firmly said and followed up each and every time with consequences. If the base is strong, discipline is less of an issue in our family. And I do not need to resort to attempts at controlling my sons behavior. (I am not sure about ‘no’ being at the apex of the triangle, I need to think about it some more – but the base is definitely regular meals and sleeps, interspersed with indoor and outdoor activities.)

  2. its a lovely post and I am happy you are going back to basics 🙂 its good to remind ourselves of these wonderful thoughts. Had a few days were I lost it and hit my son it felt terrible and been trying hsrder but i know that with patience i will get there

  3. The very best thing I have taken from your blog over these past several months has been this part about restitution. We all make mistakes, loose it, handle things badly. It’s about getting back on track and making amends – such a powerful tool. Recently my 81/2 old son told a lie and stuck to it for 3 days!!! My husband and I were both so hurt and angry and upset. But we also took an evening to discuss how to handle it with him. We ended up letting him know how we felt and that lying hurts the trust and connection in our family and that now he needed to spend time for the next 3 days working in the garden to help our family. It wasn’t a punishment, it was a chance for him to do something to make things right. He worked for about 30 minutes each of those days. He weeded, turned the soil, planted seeds, and hand-trimmed the grass around the edge with scissors. He worked hard to make things right and he felt right inside again. His apology to us was spontaneous and totally sincere. Thank you for bringing this insight!!!!

  4. Pingback: Power, Authority and Respect in Parenting « The Parenting Passageway

Leave a Reply to Lisa Boisvert Mackenzie Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.