Boundaries For Gentle Parenting: Why? How?

Often in  the world of gentle discipline we are implored to look at our child’s needs and wants when they are acting in a way that we don’t understand or want. However,  I often think that just attributing a reason “why” a child does something is really not enough or honestly, even always necessary. I have known and worked with a lot of children and their families, and I just don’t know as every childhood action that is trying or challenging  to adults is the result of an unmet need that the parent needs to decipher. Yes, sometimes there are things going on that the child is feeling stressed about and cannot articulate well.  Yes, we live in a fast-paced world and many children have an awful lot to deal with.  Connection and attributing positive intent  to a child’s often immature but developmentally appropriate actions are so important. But some actions are just things that children do for whatever reason, many times without really thinking at all.

So I guess part of  this just depends upon how you view childhood development.  If you think that children are rational, like a miniature adult with an adult consciousness, and therefore have the same rational motives that an adult would for doing something annoying (hahaha, because adults never do anything annoying!)  then I think this theory of looking solely at a child’s possible unmet desires, or unmet wants makes perfect sense.  However, if you believe in a view of childhood development where not every childhood action has a rationale behind it; that sometimes it just IS – well, then now you are talking to me!

So, I have to once again rely on boundaries.  Whatever the motive for the behavior, boundaries are the things that I use to help my children learn how to connect and function with other people in community.

Because you see, it isn’t really all about them. 

It isn’t all about me or my needs either.

It is about us living together and loving each other.  It is about them being able to function in the world.


Sometimes that means they need my help to set a boundary on a behavior that might hurt themselves or someone else.

Sometimes that means if the behavior is annoying but typical of that developmental age and not causing harm, I need to drop my end of the rope because I cannot argue about everything in sight.  We cannot live peacefully together that way.

Sometimes this means my child and I disagree with each other.  A strong rhythm , lots of connection and lots of outdoor time can carry many things when a child is in the early years but my child still has the right to use that powerful word, “No.”  My child is a human being and  needs practice and how to learn how to set his or her own boundaries.  “No” is an important first step.  And, as a child approaches the age of nine or so there can be a shift toward the child coming into him or herself, so perhaps even more disagreements abound, and that is okay. My child needs practice in handling disagreements because learning how to resolve conflict is so important.

This often means the biggest detriment to teaching my child is myselfAm I passive?  Am I not consistent?  Do I withdraw my love when I am angry?  Do I explode?  Do I rage?  Do I send a message to my child that he doesn’t live up to my expectations?  Why do I have expectations anyway?  Where did those come from?  Are they realistic for a developmental stage?  Do I make my children take responsibility for my feelings – do they have to step in and be the adult, placate me so I won’t be upset?  My reaction to what someone else does – child or adult – is about MY boundaries as much as it is about setting boundaries for my children.

So, for today:

  • Today, I will not be passive aggressive.  I will say what I need, and I will stand there and help my child follow through with what I asked or I will not ask at all.  If it is not important enough to help my child follow through, then it is not important enough to ask.
  • Today, I will not yell or rage at my child.  He is just a child and I am the adult.  I am the only parent this child has and I will act like I have learned something in all my years of living and dealing with others.
  • Today, I will not perceive boundaries as being “bad”.  If I have a distaste in my mouth for “authority” and “the man”, I will remind myself that I am helping my child learn to function in the world and that discipline is an authentic leadership that guides out of love.
  • Today, I will remember to help my child express their needs – and also help them understand that not all their wants are needs.
  • Today, I will help my older children see that they can make choices and take on the responsibility for what these choices mean.
  • Today, I will not put my children in the position of making decisions which they really are not mature enough to make.  I am the parent, and I help guide things.
  • Today, I will help my older children develop self-control by not robbing them of anticipation of something.
  • Today, I will take responsibility for my own needs. It is not up to my child to meet my needs.  If I need rest, if I need to exercise, if I need to have time to pray, then I will figure out how to make these important priorities happen so I can be the best parent I can be.
  • Today, I will keep the dignity of my child intact even if we have a conflict.
  • Today, I will keep the connection to my child and the love for my child alive and well.

Many blessings on your parenting today,


30 thoughts on “Boundaries For Gentle Parenting: Why? How?

  1. “Wow! This is a fantastic post!” which were the first
    words out of my mouth when I read this. Thank you so much.

  2. Well I blew it today. This post is perfect timing, wonderful and a great reminder. I still have the afternoon to try again (I’ve put myself in time out to regroup right now).

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  4. Great post! As someone who struggles almost daily with parenting – yelling, setting boundaries, following through – this is a great list to bookmark and refer back to in times of need. One question, for the bullet point of helping the older child develop self control by not robbing them of anticipation, can you provide an example. I want to make sure I am understanding it.

    • Sure mammalin — I think with older children sometimes we make the mistake of not letting them struggle. If an older child can work to earn money for something, and we buy it for them, we are robbing them of the anticipation, responsibility and hard work it takes to make that happen. If we let them do everything they want to do when they are nine or ten, what will they be doing when they are fifteen or sixteen? We rob them of waiting for milestones. If we continually do their chores for them, we rob them of the patience, hard work and anticipation it takes to complete something on their own.
      Hope that helps…

  5. I have two young daughters (1.5 and 3) and it is so hard for me to remember that they don’t understand when mommy loses her patience, or why. I struggle to maintain a gentle calmness when dealing with behaviours. But I do try so very hard to teach them that they have a choice, and that their choices have consequences: good and bad. I really needed to read this post today, thank you so much.

    • Ashley,
      I hear your challenges and am so glad you are here…I think the posts under the development header could really be helpful to you, check on the one year old and three year old sections from that header’s drop down menu. Your ability to teach them about choices at the tiny ages of your girls is pretty limited; that will come in time but there are many wonderful tools you can use for gentle discipline for those ages. They really imitate, so setting up a strong daily rhythm with lots of work that they can join into, outside play and walks and exploring nature, and rest and sleep and warming meals are so very important. Choices will come, but choice implies a conscience being able to stand within themselves to make a choice, and I think that developmentally comes much later. Distraction, singing, strong rhythm, being ho hum, taking breaks with other supportive adults as you need really belong in these early years.

      I hope you will continue to come here for support! I am so glad of the wonderful job you are doing mothering two small children. It is a hard task at times, and I think we are all lucky to make it to the end of the day with everyone fed and safe. 🙂 Keep exploring on this site as you work on mothering your two young ones. The most important job and work is this work you are doing with your own children, and in that process, how we work on ourselves as we mother.

      Lots of hugs, blessings,

  6. This is very good and helpful. Wonderful insights. I am a student, from Steiner’s education stream. I am learning a lot here…..Thank you, Carrie.

  7. I am on a gentle parenting path…but sometimes it feels that my husband is on a war path. For instance today darling 6yo son and daddy were playing interstar battles and ds threw something at daddy’s battleship…unfortunately daddy’s face was behind the battleship and daddy was hit square in the eye….and he was visibly upset about it. Separating himself from ds. DS was so sad, and rushed to get a frozen thingy to make it better…but daddy wanted separation and then ranted a bit about yes it was an accident but that he needs to use common sense. He said that because earlier in the day, ds jumped on daddy (his knees to daddy’s chest) whilst he was resting his eyes. DS didn’t do it to hurt daddy….he has been jumping on daddy since he was little and I believe that sometimes he forgets that he is a big boy now…but it all goes back to my husband insisting that DS use his brain and have more common sense. I feel that I am constantly referreeing my husband and it really gets under his skin. How do I get my husband to take a step back and rethink his parenting. I feel like crying. Anyone have any help at all? Thanks.

    • Dear Sweet Dee,
      First of all, congratulations to your husband for being such a good dad and playing with your son! And sometimes things do happen when we play, and sometimes Daddies do get hurt. That is true, it happens, and sometimes right in the moment Dads don’t want to be comforted. I think the time to talk about that is at night after your child goes to bed and you can point out that part of learning to be a responsible adult is to try to rectify our mistakes, which is what your child was trying to do with the ice pack.

      On the other hand, please do give them time and space to have their own relationship, their own boundaries. He is not going to be you; he is not Mom, he is Dad. So far as common sense and such in a tiny six year old, they really don’t have that, which you know. I wonder if any articles or such about child development would be helpful. Who are his dad models to learn from? Does he have any gentle dad parents who have children older than his to learn from and model from? As mothers we tend to hang around with other mothers and see many of the wonderful ways they handle things — many times Dads don’t have those opportunities the same way we do. So that could be an important piece.

      Don’t cry; this is all part of the journey.

    • Thank you for caring words. I asked my hubby a bit ago if we could wake early and do a parenting study – read a book together and discuss it. I was wondering if you would be kind enough to recommend a book? One where darling hubby could see the benefit of gentle parenting. We are both really trying and thanks…he is an AMAZING dad. He sometimes forgets that ds is just 6. Also, books about age related development…that would be really helpful also. Thanks again for your lovely reply.

    • Dee == how about starting with the posts regarding the six year old on this blog? Look under development in the header bar and select the six year old. You can also look under family life in the header bar and there are many posts on anger and such, and of course under the discipline header there is a lot there about setting boundaries through gentle parenting.

      I would recommend The Gesell Institute’s “Your Six Year Old” — don’t like the discipline part but I do like the developmental picture.
      The other book your husband might like is Jack Petrash’s “Covering Home” about the art of fatherhood:


  8. Thank you so much for this post. Of all the things I have read it has really helped me. I have really high expectations of myself as a mother to my 3 1/2 year old Little Love. I rely alot on my gut and my instinct and it has served me really well up until yesterday. You see, my up until around age 3 very happy & contented little man started to exhibit some typical 3 and a half year old behaviours (hitting me, yelling, throwing things). He’s a pretty sensitive little soul so hubby and I have found the most effective boundary setting methods for him are more gentle ones. Time out/thinking corner only escalates his behaviour. We don’t yell or shout. Ignoring unwanted behaviour tends to work the best for us. If he hits me we tell him very calmly “hitting is not okay, it hurts Mummy” and I/we walk away until he comes to us speaking and behaving normally. Then we give him a cuddle and carry on with our day. The idea is to show him that he gets no attention from this behaviour but that when he behaves nicely life carries on as normal and he is still very much loved. This has been having a great effect. He has been coming to us when he has calmed and saying things like “The problem was, the lid was stuck and it made me cross”, pretty articulate for his age. But yesterday he really pushed all my buttons. I am pregnant with our second and he had stomped on my stomach in the morning and had been following me around the house pinching me leg. I really lost it with him and smacked his foot twice. Not terribly hard but enough to shock him and make him cry. I feel sooooooooo awful. The very thing i’m trying to teach him not to do, I did to him. And the very way I’m trying to teach him to not deal with his anger/frustration I succumbed to myself. After he had calmed down I went to him and said “I am really sorry for smacking your foot, it hurt you and I’m so sorry. I was really cross that you pinched me but I shouldn’t have done that. I will try not to do that again. Do you need a cuddle?” He sunk into my arms and told me I hurt him and we had a bit more of a chat about it and then continued on with our day. I still feel so very guilty but am carrying on in the usual way, loving, nurturing, but kindly firm if he hits. He hit again this morning but I’m presuming he’s going to do this for a bit now to test to see if he gets another awful response like he did yesterday. He’s not going to. He has been so full of “I love you Mum and Dad” for the last month but he hasn’t said it once since yesterday. He’s been really cuddly. But I feel just terrible. Anyway, the point of this story was to tell you that your post, and the developmental page for age 3 1/2, has really helped me move on and not be too hard on myself and continue to be the parent he needs me to be. Thank you 🙂

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  11. Excellent post Carrie. I loved this part:.”…and also help them understand that not all their wants are needs”. I was just discussing this point with my Mother so it was so good to get a confirmation from your post!!

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  14. Thanks for all the wisdom you share on your blog. It’s a gold mine.

    I blew it yesterday and have been blowing it for the past month or so with my challenging boy who turned 9 last week. The 9 year change seems right on point with him.

    I’m re-grouping and understanding that I haven’t been consistent with following through on boundaries. I say no to something, then he pushes back with all his might, then I give in – this happens frequently – and then I explode out of proportion to some misdemeanour because of all the pent-up helplessness and powerlessness I feel due to his constant pushing back against my limits.

    I realize I need to clarify what things are a definite no, and to pick my battles. I need to be the Rock and be consistent. A lot of inner work called for.

    Thanks for putting out so much guidance in navigating through all this.

    • Mangala,
      We have all been there, so big hugs and love. The hardest part of raising children, I think, is setting boundaries and keeping our emotions neutral. Parenting is hard these days. It used to be so many boundaries were held by “age groupings” and extended families and communities and now everything has to be held by the parent. It is exhausting work. However, it can be really rewarding to use this time to create your family culture and to really think about what kind of man you are raising. He will grow up to be someone’s son, spouse, father perhaps someday. I always ask myself, is this essential for my children to learn how to be an adult? Where would the part of this apply in adulthood?
      Challenging indeed! A great call for inner work.

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  17. Hi L, I once was you on that exact same day (only I was nursing a baby instead of carrying one) my little lovely kept smashing me with a lightsabre and what little calm I had maintained as a sleep deprived milk machine, I lost and smacked the sabre out of his hand and accidentally got his face. I feel that most mothers have been there and I feel (no expert just a mother of 2) that you handled it well.
    I cried for days every evening about it to my husband and now 3 years later, I am able to look back on the incident and realise it wasn’t all bad. Like you, I try to maintain calm and our children see that all time and can model remaining calm despite annoyance. Also, we both apologised which is a good behaviour model, we apologised and vowed not repeat our behaviour. I think that the silver lining to the bad experience is that our 3/4 year olds can see that sometimes everyone messes up but one act does not define them.
    Please forgive yourself and carry on.

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