A Complete Approach To Real Discipline


Much of the popular bookstore literature regarding discipline of the small child to the pre-teenaged years are sorely lacking, in my opinion. 


These resources typically demonstrate one of two approaches.  The first approach is to focus solely on cause and effect (ie, carrot-stick, bribe or punishment), which does not take into account that children do not really even begin to develop the ability to use cause and effect reasoning until the age of twelve.  A kinder and gentler way of this approach is to talk the child to death in hopes that all your explanations will lead to the child agreeing with you.  These are really two facets of this same approach, and neither one is developmentally appropriate.   


The second approach is one that focuses on empathizing with the child.  I am not saying that this is a bad thing, to connect with the child when there is a challenge, but only using empathy can lead both child and parent bogged down in how each one feels and why without much resolution, or just lead to endless talking (circling back to approach number one as described above).    Kim John Payne, in his book “Simplicity Parenting”, talks about how children under the age of nine developmentally display a more diffuse manner of feeling “good” or “bad”, unless they have really been coached in labeling feelings. 


I propose a more balanced approach to discipline.  After all, the first approach is focused on thinking: cause and effect.  Yet this is such a fallacy.  Children developmentally don’t think the same way adults do.  The second approach is focused on feeling.  Whilst   connecting to a child through the feeling life is important, there are other ways we can do that besides words, which frequently seem to get ignored:  the warm smile, the holding of a steady rhythm in the midst of anxiety and stress, the hug.  These cues often seem to get ignored and lost in the literature that focuses on a feeling approach to discipline.


A balanced approach involves not just thinking (mainly on the part of the adult!)  Were is the child’s consciousness in this situation?  That is for you, the thinking adult, to realize, and to bring your patience and persistence to this), feeling (are you feeling compassionate and loving toward your child?  But loving does not mean the child has to be responded to right away or that the child gets what they want!  Wants and needs are two different things in children above the age of 2!) but also involves willing.  What can the child DO in action, to help the situation.

How are you moving, in movement, in your body, to help the child?


Give your children phrases to use that they can imitate, short phrases that involve not so much thinking but willing – what can they do?  What are your words helping them to do , how are your words entering into the child and helping them create their own will? 


Other things that help a balanced approach to discipline include boundaries, the word no, positive words to imitate, real work, and a strong rhythm.


Firm boundaries are important, and especially so for small children who live in their bodies. Hitting, spitting, kicking, throwing are all common behaviors of the small child.  The word no is an important word.  Not everything can be phrased completely positively, especially when it comes to the safety of the child or other children.    We can give a child a positive or accepted action, but sometimes it is really important for the child to hear no and live with that boundary before even hearing the positive thing they can do. 


Some Waldorf kindergarten teachers use the phrase, “You may…”  Some teachers do not like this approach, and for situations where there really is no choice will use the phrase, “You will.” 


Real work is something that turns difficult situations about.  In the home environment, going back to the basics of food, and sleep are also important.  Sometimes as children become tired they get more and more wound-up, and throw and hit and kick and spit more.  Keeping a solid rhythm of warming foods and sleep and rest is a vital component of discipline.    With small children you must plan ahead and keep things on track.


You can do this!  Envision how you want your family to be, and use your patience and persistence to make it happen! 


Many blessings,


14 thoughts on “A Complete Approach To Real Discipline

  1. I hear you speak of “warming foods” often. Can you please explain what you mean by that and provide an example? Thanks so much Carrie.

    • Hi Lackerma,
      Warming foods can mean porridges, soups and stews for this time of year. Grains are actually considered important in waldorf education, and people have varying feelings about grains so you have to take what works for you and your family. THis time of year, we also try to work in those warming spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, garlic, etc.
      Warm, cooked food.

      Hope that helps,

    • Thank you Carrie. This is such a fascinating concept to me. Is there a source you could please recommend where I could research this further, maybe what to do in different seasons? Any direction you could point me in would be very much appreciated. Thanks again Carrie.



    • Lisa,
      Try “Cooking For The Love Of The World” (http://www.waldorfbooks.com/item_40.htm) and also “The Waldorf Kindergarten Snack Book”. Aviva Jill Romm also has many seasonal recipes on her facebook page, she is a herbalist/MD, not into biodynamics or Waldorf Education as far as I know (??) but certainly understands seasonal cooking and warming foods!

  2. Thanks for this post. I’d also love some examples of how helping a child choose “willing” might look…in contract to feeling or thinking. Maybe with a request. Time to clean up toys! The child runs the other way. (even with routine and singing this does still happen). I would gently take the child by the hand and say, we can go play after we put the blocks away….the child goes limp. Yes, maybe there are tired or hungry but even when we do our best that happens. How would this play out with encouraging to will!

    • Talia,
      Yes! One small and specific task, helping with movement and song,,,and it may still not go well. All you can do is do it every day and it eventually will stick. Remember at home we don’t have the group of a classroom to carry us either, so things are different. 🙂 I don’t know as there is much more you can do other than break it down for one small task, let me so those beautiful sparkly hands, they look ready to help all the wooden animals jump into their beds! and try to keep it light and full of humor. Children know when we are getting irritated with the whole thing. So one small thing, and let the rest slide. In a classroom, they wouldn’t have to clean up everything. 🙂


  3. Dear Carrie,
    Thank you so much for you post.
    Tantrums are the challenge for me. I question myself everyday about this because my little girl, who is five and a half, does makes quite difficult tantrums. Most of the times I just don’t know how to react, and I get really really tired. I try to pick her from school at about 16.30h/17.00h. I always feel that she is very tired and hungry, so I usually bring something for her to eat. Driving home I realize that she starts to tantrum, which gets a lot worse when we arrive. I feel that there is nothing I can say or do to give her some comfort. I try to holder but she just will refuse it. She will kick me, bite me and say a lot of horrible things. This can last for two hours till she is completely exhausted. And I feel very very tired. This continuous situation is affecting our relationship, daily rhythm, and affects me physically, emotionally and professionally because I’ve become too tired. I keep thinking on why this happens, and I just can’t figure it out. All I can think is that she is too tired, but she refuses to take her nap. Sometime she falls asleep in the car, while traveling home, but she wakes up as I put her to bed, and the tantrum will be even bigger. At this point I realize that she really needs to rest, but she refuses so, and I can’t find a way to put her to sleep. She is a very active girl. She can wake up in the middle of the night saying that she is ready to play. And I have a tantrum in the middle of the night. I’ve discussed this with her pediatrician, and he told me that she is a very decided girl and that I should be very warming to her. But I sincerely don’t know what to do when I have her screaming for two hours, no matter what I do… We have no television or electronic toys. And we do a lot of activities together, like cooking and playing little games, and doing crafts. I just don’t know how to solve the tantrums. They are really severe. I want to be very close to my little girl, but I feel that she tries to kick me away and I can’t understand why. Within tantrums I feel that she is not in herself, and so she is not hearing or feeling my warming touch. I did a lot of readings, but where of no help. I try to find a parent group nearby to discuss this, but there is none here where I live.
    What do you mean by “How are you moving, in movement, in your body, to help the child?”
    Thank you so very much.
    You posts inspire me.

    • Ana,
      Movement is in that we don’t approach a small child with only words, but with movement — Now is time to put on our coat, put on our coat, put on our coat (singing) but at the same time we are literally helping the child put his or her arm into the coat. Movement begets more movement and better cooperation.

      As far as the tantrums, try the back posts listed here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/?s=tantrums Anger and aggression can be part of the six year old change, and five and a half can be a difficult time for girls especially. Have you spoken to your child’s teacher? How is her behavior in school? Many times small children can only hold it together at school for so long, and then they fall apart with the safety of their parents. Is she in a full day, could she be in a half day program? (I don’t know how the school system works in Portugal). Do you have a structured rhythm for when she comes home from school that YOU can enter and hold the space for her? The afternoon should not and cannot just be her screaming. It can be your work and her screaming, or it can be a snack in the car and a stop at a park to come home to a warming meal, but not just her screaming. I think if you have a steady rhythm, an early bedtime (7 is not too early! What time does she have to be up for school?) , and outside time to burn off sitting in school if there is mainly sitting, and hold this very steady, you will see improvement. But screaming and hurting the people we love are not acceptable actions, even if that is the way she feels. At five and a half, she may need less attention for this behavior and not more attention. Holding may not be what helps her gain control, but going on with your work and your rhythm, and saying to her, I need your gentle hands and your inside voice and then you may come and (help me make the cookies, help me tend the garden and play with the hose, help me do whatever is part of your rhythm for the day). You could build her a little fort where she could just be and draw until she feels ready to engage with people again. Only you can decide if more physical activity, like at a park would be helpful, or something quiet, like being in a little fort. Perhaps her teacher can also help you with this.

      Also, I don’t know if this is common in Portugal, but are you allowed to visit the class? Or watch her during lunch? Is she friendly with the other children or what is happening socially? Part of the major goal of these early years is for a child to feel loved and accepted, and to use their power for good in treating others the way they would want to be treated. Does she feel loved and accepted?

      Will be thinking of you, and will write more when I have more time.
      Many blessings, and please do be sure to get some rest for yourself so you will have some reserves to deal with the afternoons!

  4. I would add, along with good food and sleep, don’t forget outdoor exercise! Sometimes when things are not going smoothly I realize what I need to do is “outdoors the boy,” as my husband and I have started to call it.

    • Wendy,
      You name a situation, and I am happy to chime in with some thoughts from a will perspective.
      Many blessings,

    • Thank you, Carrie, for the invitation to provide some examples. Some background: I have a 3.5 yr old daughter (M) and a 8 mo old son (S). Since the birth of S, the rhythm we had established when she was 2 has been substantially derailed by needing to respond to S’s needs at unexpected times. I am currently working to re-establish a more predictable rhythm . Additionally, M has really grieved over the death of our beloved dog (9 mo ago) and changes associated with each stage of her brother’s development.
      S is able to cruise the furniture and crawls to touch her toys.
      One situation where I struggle to work with M’s will is regarding her ability to share physical space with S. This is particularly important because she doesn’t have her own space anywhere (family bed, shared room for clothes and storage, most play takes place in the living room or the kitchen). M gets very angry about S exploring. If S starts to move toward her toys, M aggressively moves to prevent him from touching them (e.g., pushing, holding his hand down to the ground, or grabbing him around the belly and pulling him backwards) and screams “no, stop”. She has this kind of response even when she is not using the items that S is about to touch and when she wants to use items that are designated as ‘baby toys’. In the moment, I will physically restrain her if she tries to hit or push him. I have communicated that in our family we do not hurt each other. I have acknowledged that her need to act out her story is important, just like S’s need to explore is important. I have acknowledged that she must feel frustrated that S interrupts her. I have tried to engage her in problem solving:
      – which items she can play with and which she can share
      – whether she can play on a surface that he can’t reach
      – whether she can find find away to let him participate.
      So far the only solution she has come up with is for S to be in a different room. This solution works part of the time, but is not viable in all situations. M often wants me to be in the room with her and S to be in a different room. M also comes into the other room where S and I are and starts to complain about the things that S is touching in that room. Additionally, there are times when the three of us are in the same room and S is interested in something that M has agreed he can play with but she is so anxious he will not shift his attention elsewhere. She can no longer focus on her play and repeats over and over that “he’s coming after my stuff”. My attempts to challenge this assumption don’t resolve her anxiety. My husband gets so frustrated that he ends up yelling at her to “Stop It” and “Leave your brother alone”. Insight and suggestions would be appreciated.
      Many thanks,

  5. DH and I were talking about this very issue the other day – the ‘space’ that we come to DD in when regarding discipline and guidance. Thank you for these lovely and gentle reminders of remaining in the will space with the younger child.

    I also appreciate all the further information shared in the comments and replies. Thank you to everyone who shared their situations, it is of such value to have these experiences and the supporting advice to read through in addition to the post.

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