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.
Today we are focused on birth through age 4. The mainstay of gentle discipline for these years begins with our own inner work and development, as discussed in Part One of this series.
The overall picture of development for these ages I think is two-fold. This time is the child learning about their own bodies as their first physical space on earth, which requires protection of the senses, warmth and physical activity that is unstructured in nature and in the home. The second part of this time is that the emerging child is building trust in a secure caregiver, a good world, and learning to ask for help from trusted caregivers whilst exploring his or her world. Therefore, parents must work hard to believe in their hearts that the world is a good place, that they are good people, that the world is full of hope and love. The smallest of children can often sense this so strongly in a place of religion, the outward beautiful expression of spirituality.
That is the beginning picture. Toward the latter part of this stage, a child of three years or so is beginning to have an emergent sense of self noted by use of the word, “I”. The use of the word, “No!” also has a place and gift in this time as the child uses “no” as a beginning of separation, but not as a disobedient act.
These are our tools for gentle guiding of the smallest child:
- Connection. In Christian circles, we often say the mother’s face is the doorway to God for the child. It is the first icon. Connect with love and warmth. Some of the best times to connect are outside, by starting with a walk during the morning and lots of free time in the afternoon to play outside. Nature is soothing, there can be no bouncing off of walls if there are no walls, and there is real opportunity for connection.
- Rhythm is our best discipline tool in these early years. Regular times for sleeping, resting and eating solid foods as a social mealtime are being developed in the birth through three years of age children. Know that this takes time, and rhythms may change with teething and new developmental milestones. Developmental shifts often seem to come out in sleep and fluctuations in appetite. Rhythm also aids us as parents to provide some predictability, some thoughts of time for ourselves for replenishment, particularly for a three or four year old as they shift toward solid rest and sleeping times.
- Taking our time and slowing down is very important. The early years feel long, but they are short. You have time to do be in an unhurried manner indicative of this precious time. There is no need to rush through the farmer’s market, nor housekeeping with a small child. Have a rhythm for your own work which your toddler or early preschooler can observe from a sling, from a vantage point of free play or by helping. Meaningful work is so important.
- Many mothers I know who stay home have shared with me (whether they practiced “attachment parenting” or not) that their children were very difficult to separate from until the children were around four and a half. I have heard this over and over again, and I don’t think we give this enough attention in our society. So if this is normal, and therefore separation may be hard to come by, brainstorming the best ways to have self-care and support is important to think about. Support can make a huge difference. Surround yourself with supportive family members and those who support your parenting goals for being kind to your children. But remember, the best way to be kind to our children is to be kind to ourselves by taking care of ourselves. Ask for help.
- It is easy to be kind to our children when everything is going “right” and much more difficult when our perception is that things are not going well. Come to grips with where you sit on boundaries and authority. This is so important around the three year mark, when many parents are flabbergasted that their child is really a child separate from them with their own strong will.
- Less talk, more doing. Stop talking. Hum, sing a song, use a verse, use rhythm, slow down, and remember what you are doing is what your little child is going to imitate.
- For discipline for our toddlers, I have this back post that covers specific situations of challenge: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/11/common-toddler-challenges-and-how-to-solve-them/
- To help understand normal toddler development: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/10/tripping-into-the-toddler-years/
Please feel free to chime in with your best tips for gentle guiding of your child as you create a home that is nourishing towards both the adults and children in the home as a family.