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,


Time-in, Time-out

(I had a lovely mother email me about time-in versus time-out and she bore the brunt of listening to some off-the-top-of-my-head musings, so I just wanted to thank her for inspiring this post…Hopefully this post is my coherent than my initial ramblings…)

Time-in is still getting a lot of press around parenting circles in the United States this summer.  To me, the traditional version of “time-out” complete with naughty chair and one minute for every year of the child’s age is the equivalent of emotional spanking.  You can read what I have written about time-out here:  and here:  and here: 

I also have just a common-sense kind of beef with time-out:  if your child is that calm that they can go and sit in a chair to “think”, then they probably could have been addressed with other methods of positive discipline to guide them.  I am all for helping to  guide children.  Try some different ideas than time-out here in this post:

The opposite end of this spectrum is that when children are not calm and they are falling apart, this is not a teachable moment.  If you need a time-out as a parent, I am all for that.  However, for the child end of this equation, if your child is so upset and they are melting, how is sending them with their overwhelming feelings to sit in a chair going to help them make the most of this opportunity to learn? Please look at that “More About Time-In For Tinies” post listed above for some tips on handling meltdowns!

I also find that Americans and the Brits are really the only groups where time-out seems to come up at all.  So I think there is a strong cultural component that is influencing the use of time-in in parenting in this country. 

That being said, some people are saying some things about time-out that I wanted to bring out.  In the book “Attached At The Heart”, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of Attachment Parenting International, argue that “time –out” should be re-defined:  “We would like to take back this term, remembering its original intention:  stopping the activity, taking a break, and coming back with renewed perspective.  Keeping this in mind helps parents work on their relationship with their child, rather than focusing on the child’s behavior, and make efforts that strengthen the parent-child connection.”

Some people have argued that time-in is not much of a deterrent toward changing behavior.  What time-in gives a child is the chance to connect.  Time-in is not a punitive strategy;  it is a strategy toward making a teachable moment happen and calming everyone down.  Lawrence Cohen, PhD and author of “Playful Parenting”, has a whole section in this book entitled, “ Choose A “Meeting On the Couch”  Over a “Time-Out” (page 234).  I would encourage everyone to read this book, and this section in particular as he talks about time-outs were supposed to be a humane alternative to hitting children and have now ended up as the ultimate tool of positive discipline but that time-outs “enforce isolation on children who are probably already feeling isolated and disconnected.”  He goes on to talk about how one COULD use time-out in a better way:   1.  By inserting yourself into a child’s play when things are ramping up and play with the child(ren) (to me, this is like the way I say “Hold The Space”  This may work well for sibling fighting!  You could say “Time-out!  I am going to play with you all now too!”  2.  Providing a time-out for YOURSELF (which I am all for!) or 3.  Giving children a cozy place they can go to and calm down in when they choose to go there, for however long they choose to stay there (I find this can work for children coming up on 9, but that many small children just do not understand the concept of being by themselves to calm down; they need your help!)

He also talks about how punishment gets a child’s attention, but how our goal should be to get a child’s attention  in order to connect with that child, not to scare them, not to show them “who is boss”.  To me, every single thing you do and say and construct within the rhythm and environment of your home should be modeling how a calm and compassionate adult functions and lives; not punishment!  My nine-year-old said to me tonight, “Mommy, how did grown-ups get to be so smart about everything?”  She is surrounded by smart, confident, wonderful and caring adults in our neighborhood, our church, through our friends.  These are authentic, real people, not people who pretend to like children and grit their teeth and smile.  She is impressed with these people, and so am I!  She doesn’t need punishment to get attention or to figure out that adults know things; she sees this modeled each and every day!  Keep your eye on your ultimate vision for your children as laid out in your Family Mission Statement and the gentle tools that are appropriate for your child’s age in order to guide them!  If you need help understanding your child’s development stage by age, please do see the posts on the one-year-old, the two-year-old, the three-year-old, etc, all the way through age nine on this blog, and go back to those posts on the Family Mission Statement if you need help there. 

I like this quote from Lawrence Cohen’s book (please do see his website here: – there is now an AUDIO version of his book out, for that I am excited!  I have the book, but I could envision listening to the audio version in my car, etc.)…  He writes, “We are often reluctant to give out love to people who have been bad, even when it’s what they need.  I have always liked the poem by Edwin Markham, which A.S. Neill quotes in the beginning of his book Freedom—Not Licensel:

He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!”

Still not convinced?  I am all for boundaries!  You can still be gentle and have boundaries.  You can still love your child and keep boundaries.  In fact, I think if you truly love your child, there MUST be boundaries.    But I am also all for understanding a child’s developmental stage and working with that in a positive way.  As Barbara Coloroso, author of “Kids Are Worth It!  Giving the Gift of Inner Discipline” says regarding discipline:  Leave your child’s dignity intact. 

Help your children by guiding them with LOVE.

Many blessings,


Celebrating Children Who Say “No!”

Sometimes we can smile with a small toddler as they reach for something in an obvious gesture of embrace but are still saying “no”. However, in general, many parents frequently feel frustrated when small children start using the word “no” (and yes, I do know this is because your precious one has said “no” literally 800 times today!).  It also seems as a society we rarely celebrate our older preschoolers or older children being able to say “no” to us .

No really can be a cause for celebration if you look at it in the right way.  Why do I say this?  The word “no” is a true expression of My Own Will.  Without the ability to say no, there are no boundaries between Me and Other.  And boundaries are something that can really serve your children well when they are adults!

I am reading this interesting book called “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  This book was published in 1992, so perhaps some of you have already read this.  One of the points in this book is that the word “no” is a basic word we use to set boundaries in our lives, and boundaries can help us as adults answer such questions as how can I set limits and still be a loving person, how do I answer people who would like my time/money/love/energy, how do we set boundaries without feeling guilty.  Anyway, I don’t agree with everything in this book, but it is worth a look if this is an area that is challenging for you!

I also like what Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears say in their book, “The Discipline Book:  How to Have A Better-Behaved Child From Birth to Age Ten”:  “Saying no is important for a child’s development, for establishing his identity as an individual.  This is not defiance or a rejection of your authority.  Some parents feel they cannot tolerate any nos at all from their children, thinking that to permit this would undermine their authority.  They wind up curtailing an important process of self-emergence:  Children have to experiment with  where their mother leaves off and where they begin.  Parents can learn to respect individual wishes and still stay in charge and maintain limits.  The boundaries of selfhood will be weak if the self gets no exercise.  As your child gets older, the ability to get along with peers in certain situations (stealing, cheating, drugs, and so on) will depend on her ability to say no.” (page 67)

I have also seen the opposite:  mothers who rarely say no to anything.  Saying no is not negative; I have written about “The Power of A Well-Placed No” here for your reading pleasure:

So how can we as parents better embrace and respond to when our children say “no”? 

1. For small children, do look at what is behind the “no” a child is saying.  Maybe the no is really I don’t want to go to bed (but I really am tired).  Maybe the no is I don’t want to stop playing to go to the bathroom.  Maybe the no is something else.  So being able to look behind the no to see what is the true need or want is important, and will help everyone get their needs met.

2.  Give small children your time to help transition, and have a rhythm to things.  If small children are engaged in something, give them time to switch gears with your help.  Songs and verses for these  transition points are helpful here.  A rhythm is also helpful because then a child knows what comes after what every day. 

3.  If there is a natural consequence for a child not doing something, then  you must follow through.  I know everyone is going to write and ask for examples of this, but really this is variable family to family and also depends upon the age of the child.   Perhaps an example would be with a child who won’t wear a coat to go outside on a freezing cold day.  No coat, no outside.  When the coat goes on, the child can go outside. 

4.  Please don’t let your child’s resistance to something make you doubt yourself.  Your child is not choosing to get cavities just because they don’t want to brush their teeth.  I don’t mean this to give an excuse for some really authoritarian parenting, but I do want you to feel empowered that you do know something about what your child needs!

5.  Recognize that older children say “no” in different ways, such as the famous “You’re mean!” “You’re not the boss of me!” or things to sidetrack the whole original issue. Less words and a calm tone can be helpful here.  Don’t get sidetracked and feel as if you have to verbally respond to everything your child is saying.   Love your child, be warm, but stay the course.

Many blessings,


“Discipline Without Distress” – The Last Chapter!

Well, we did it – we are now on the last chapter of “Discipline Without Distress” by Judy Arnall and ready to move on to our new book, “Hold On To Your Kids:  Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.  You can order it through Amazon here:

Let’s finish this book up!  This last chapter is entitled, “Technology Without Distress: Educate, Not Ban.”   Despite the title of this chapter, the author makes a great case for the fact that babies, toddlers, and school-aged children do best with hands-on learning and have no need for technology in the Early Years and Early Grades (see for yourself on  pages 368-371).

Judy Arnall writes in the beginning of the chapter about how we are currently in a generation gap due to technology.  She equates things such as instant messaging to book discussions thirty years ago, the internet to encyclopedias, books, microfiche thirty years ago.  She notes that “of all the electronic devices designed to make adult and children’s lives easier, computer and video games, as well as instant messaging and the internet, are the major concerns of disciplining and parenting.”

Her first topic to tackle is one of safety on the Internet and how to discuss this with children, how to talk about the fact that what one says in email and on the Internet is permanent (including photographs and video).  I think one could also add that the computer should be in a public place of the house, and that there should be ways to block certain content of the Internet.

In her section regarding “Games, Games, Games….What’s the Difference?” the author equates an adult getting a scrapbook kit or golf clubs and being told you can only scrapbook or  play for one hour on Saturdays.  She writes, “You are probably feeling disappointed, angry, and frustrated at the limitation, especially in spite of this whole new world opened to you.  This is probably how a child feels for the first time she experiences a computer or video game.”

I personally think this makes a great case for introducing technology later rather  than sooner.   I think that small children especially can have a rather “more”-ness about them with rather poor self-control as this is part and parcel of being a child.  Adults can be like this as well, but hopefully an adult can temper the “more” they want and look to themselves for happiness, for creativity.  I am not certain video games provide a helpful teaching tool for that, especially after all my research on boys and how boys can become easily “visually addicted”.  I will refer you to Don and Jeanne Elium’s “Raising A Son” for more regarding this. 

Judy Arnall cites the good things about gaming, including academic benefits, life skill benefits, and socialization benefits.  She talks about the need for moderation and considers if her teenagers are involved in other activities that it is all working out okay, and she advocates for a balanced life.

I personally feel most of the suggestions in this chapter, especially the section on gaming, was aimed more at teenagers (except for the pages 368-371 listed above) than smaller children.  However, one certainly is seeing a big push for computers and games for small children in pre-school and kindergarten and certainly in the elementary school years, at least here in the United States.

Judy Arnall admits she has a “pro-gaming” stance.  For the other side of this argument, I will direct you all to this post from the Alliance For Childhood:

Please share with other mothers how you handle media (TV, computers and gaming) in your homes along with the ages of your children.  Help other mothers make informed decisions for their families.

And please do look for the first post in our next book study!

Many blessings,


The Power of a Well-Placed No

As attached parents, we often act as if we are afraid to say the word, “No.” We become good at structuring our homes so we don’t have to say “no” all the time to our babies and toddlers.  This is a good thing.   For the preschooler, we become masters of using fantasy and movement to re-direct a child.  We use distraction. We pull out every tool in our toolbox….

But sometimes a child needs to hear a well-placed “no”.

As adults, we know that life often hands us a “no” that is not couched in any other terms. We are  living in a society where parents are scooping in to rescue older children who have been dealt “no’s” through consequences.  Parents who are trying to have the school pass a child who needs to fail.  Parents who are so emotionally invested in their children that they need to detach a bit and let a “no” settle on their child, even if it means their child is not going to pass a grade, not make the team, not gain admittance to that college program. 

What are your non-negotiable “no’s” and why do you feel badly saying this word?  “No” is not a bad word!

Yes, we try to offer what a child can do along with the no. Yes, we try to leave the heart and spirit of the child open and not crush them with this powerful word.   But I strongly feel that not every “no” needs to be followed by this.  Sometimes just “no” is truly enough.

If you are a loving parent, please accept that “no” can sometimes be the most loving thing that you can say, and that we are doing a disservice to our children if they do not hear a few well-placed, loving  “no’s” from an early age.

Many blessings today,


Stages of Discipline for Boys

Let’s wrap up our series of posts about raising good men.  I  like this quote:  “Without a seasoned heart connection between parents and sons, the teenage years feel like wartime…..The balancing of limit-setting and parent-son relationships begins at a boy’s birth.  The father who waits to become alive in the family until his son is a teenager and making trouble puts himself at a great disadvantage; he will have little effect with his son.  If he starts “laying down the law” the son can just leave.  A thirteen-year-old can live for days by going from one friend’s house to another.”

Discipline, as I have written about time and time again, begins with CONNECTION:

Here are some ideas for discipline and general parenting through age 12.  Please do take what resonates with you and leave the rest behind.

Ideas For Birth- Age 7

  • Closeness and connection through breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, warmth, and lots of time together lay a great foundation for this attachment and connection that becomes the foundation of discipline.
  • Protection of the senses is very important. I have written so much about this on this blog that I am not going to go into all of that here; the other issue to consider is how we deal with a boy’s feeling/emotional life.  It is important to not let your own baggage, your own sense of worry and anxiousness and inadequacies color how you present the world to your child.  Work through your own stuff and you will be a much better parent. 
  • We always need to remember that small children view things much differently than an adult does.  Small children under the age of 7 have an entirely different consciousness. 
  • How will you supervise and structure the day of your small son?  A four and five year old little boy especially needs structure and a way to get physical energy out – they will most likely need to do this first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon.  Life will not go smoothly without this!
  • Boys need to know the rules of your family and they need you to be kind, fair and calm. 

AGE 8- AGE 12:  Suggestions for parenting:

  • You must be involved, because “the boy is no longer satisfied with free play.  He wants to go further, to master physical challenges, make things, and build with a goal in mind.  He requires more parental involvement in planning, supervising, and providing opportunities at home and in the world that help him develop the skills he craves.” – from “Raising A Son” by Rick Johnson
  • Positive role models are very important!
  • Help your son experience success and the value of persistence in learning.  Help boys sample lots of different kinds of skills so they can find their own talents and abilities.    Music lessons, carpentry, drama are all important for this age. 
  • Boys of this age CRAVE time with their fathers and still need their mothers.
  • Boys of this age are working on building up their self-esteem, and how they deal with relationships.  Help them.
  • Children of this age are still impulsive and don’t think things through, so they still need rules that are fair and boundaries to help them.
  • Sexuality is now a topic of interest, so  think how you would like to approach this. There was just a great discussion about this topic over on Melisa Nielsen’s Yahoo!Group at .  Please do join in!

Many blessings,


Raising Healthy Boys

I mentioned in my last blog post (  the importance of a father or other positive male role models in raising boys into successful manhood.  Rick Johnson has a great quote in his book, “That’s My Son”:

Manhood and fatherhood are learned behaviors.  Boys are visual creatures and learn by observing.  By watching how men react in certain situations, what they say, and how they solve problems, boys learn to become men.  Boys need to be instructed at an early age to take on their manly responsibility.  They need to develop a leadership style that appears both noble to men and endearing to women rather than dominant or abusive.  They need to understand a masculine vision of what a real man is.  They need a code of conduct teaching them how a real man lives his life.”

I have written on this blog before about the difference between mothering and fathering, and the importance of both (see: )   .  If you are in a situation where you are a single parent or your child’s father is uninvolved, Rick Johnson, suggests looking at Boy Scouts of America (and yes, I know there are varying opinions about Boy Scouts), Little League and soccer, and male teachers. He also suggests attending things with your son in which men are involved, such as sporting games, etc.

To understand the role of older men in nurturing boys better, I like how authors Don and Jeanne Elium outline the progression of maternal attachment to entering the world of men in their book, “Raising A Son”.  They talk about the importance of fathers being involved with their son even though a small child is primarily attached to the mother during the early years.  They write, “The father who is active with his son in the early years is making a huge investment for the future.”  They note through culture that boys are frequently begin subconscious separation from their mothers around the age of three. 

The psychological identification of boys with their Father begins somewhere between the years of five and eight.  The Eliums write that this does not mean a boy no longer wants, needs or wants attention from his mothers, but that the child often experiences a “push-pull” relationship with their mother and that the boys are often craving a relationship with their fathers.  Rick Johnson pinpoints the ages of around five and adolescence as times where mothers and sons experience challenges as a boy tries to head toward manhood.  Mothers must not take this push and pull personally!

Around the age of nine can often come a time where the young boy is challenging authority more and really needs copious amounts of time with other positive adult males.  At this time, the boy’s relationship with his mother must be expanded and transformed.  The Eliums write that “Boys have to be pulled into the responsibilities of the adult male world with compassion, firmness and father-love……From Dad the son learns not only about his male body, but about the masculine workings of the mind, soul, and spirit.”

John Eldredge, author of “Wild at Heart”  says that “The idea, widely held in our culture, is that the aggressive nature of boys is inherently bad, and we have to make them into something more like girls.”  Indeed, this idea of “shaping behavior” comes up frequently.  Christina Hoff Summers talks about how boys do not need to be “ pathologized” and that whilst aggression and such needs to be channeled into constructive ways, we are forgetting that some of these exact traits are what contributes goodness to society.

What the Eliums bring up is that we often ignore the soul of the boy as he transforms into a man.  Author Rick Johnson argues that boys, and later men, have needs to have significance in their lives and to have a cause to fight for.  I have written time and time again on this blog about children having chores and contributing to the family so there is something bigger than just themselves.  I have written time and time again about the need for children to see spiritual ideas in ACTION, so they see there is something bigger than themselves in both the spiritual realm and also in the sense of community.  Boys also  crave heroes, and stories about our founding fathers, pioneers, frontiersman, soldiers, athletes for boys ages 7 and up really can be helpful.

It is important that mothers let their boys take risks; that they understand that getting physically hurt to a boy frequently just means they need to try again; that taking risks and attaining success is an important part of developing into manhood.  Johnson says, “A man’s role in life often requires him to persist in the face of adversity.”  Boys do need guidance, but smothering love and over-protectiveness does not help.  The Eliums describe boys as needing parents who are courageous and who can set firm and appropriate boundaries for their sons based upon complete connection and lots of time spent together.

Lots more to say in the next post.

Live big and love your children!