Learn 10 Gentle Discipline Techniques
You’re standing in the living room looking like a deer in the headlights while one kid hits their sibling and another kid is hitting the dog and somewhere something is dripping.
You’ve figured out that you shouldn’t spank your kids or yell at them and timeouts are out, too.
At that point, you might start to panic a bit. What CAN you do?
When you choose gentle parenting, what does discipline look like?
Gentle parenting means teaching children through empathy and respect. Gentle discipline techniques involve cooperating and problem solving so that you can live in harmony together.
Here are some ideas to inspire you along your gentle parenting path. (I think #7 will work best with the all-too-common hitting scenario I mentioned!)
10 Gentle Discipline Techniques
1. Be Proactive
Gentle discipline techniques start with prevention. Think ahead, plan, and tailor your child’s environment to their needs. You baby-proofed your house at the time of your new arrival. As your child gets older, keep the same idea in mind. Remove age-inappropriate temptations. Plan outings with your child’s attention level and interests in mind. Think about the situations that will irritate your child and make plans and expectations that will lead to success.
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2. Problem Solve
Traditional discipline methods treat the parent as the bigger, badder person in the relationship. See yourself instead as the cleverer, more insightful person. Use your grown-up skills to help find solutions that work for everyone in the family. When you and your child are in disagreement, help your child see it as a puzzle the two of you can work out together. Ask your child for their ideas. Offer your own ideas. Don’t be afraid to reach for off-beat, zany options that just might work.
3. Lead by Example
A wonderful tool in the gentle discipline techniques toolbox is leading by example. Your children are always looking to you for how to behave. This gives you the power to teach without having to give sermons. You can help your children be polite by being polite to them and let them see you being polite to others. To help them be responsible, share with them ways you show responsibility in your life. To help your children be kind and generous, be kind and generous with them and with others. When something is “off” about your child’s behavior, think back to the example you have been leading lately.
4. Nurture Your Connection
The closer you are with your child, the easier it is to understand their moods and interpret their motivations. When you have a close connection, your child knows they can trust you and come to you with problems. They will be less defensive during teachable moments when they know that you care about them. Nurturing your connection doesn’t LOOK like discipline. It looks like time spent together. It’s asking questions about your child’s life and getting involved in their interests. It’s being open to sharing your emotions and receiving your child’s emotions. Connection means lots of hugs and kisses. This may be the most fun part of discipline!
Additional Reading: The Most Important Part of Parenting
5. Set Limits with Empathy
There are times when you must make a firm decision that displeases your child. The key is to empathize with your child’s feelings, even while you hold fast to your decision. Your child may need to cry. They may need to tell you how disappointed or angry they are. You can comfort them and connect with their big feelings. Don’t try to brush these feelings away to get through the discomfort. When you set a firm limit, it is only fair that your child gets to express their feelings about it. You will gain much more cooperation when your child feels connected and supported.
6. Give Choices
Every person wants control over their own lives, and children are people. With young children, simple choices work to inspire cooperation as you set limits. When it’s time to leave the house, you could say, “It’s time to get in the car now. Do you want to put on your coat, or do you want me to help you with it?” As children get older, the choices will get a little more complicated. This is the beginning of learning to negotiate, work with others, and make social compromises.
7. Be playful
This is my favorite of all gentle discipline techniques! Whenever you can, turn discipline situations into games instead. Look for opportunities to create cooperation through play. Say it’s time to get in the car for errands and your child doesn’t want to go. Maybe they would if you suggested walking to the car like flamingos! My 3-year-old often resists bedtime. We play a game where I pretend to go to bed by myself only to find that he has sneaked onto the pillow. I pretend to lay my head on him and complain about my lumpy pillow. It’s a silly game, and such a small thing to make the uncomfortable transition easier on my child.
Additional Reading: Playful Parenting – this book is the manual!
8. Look Beyond Behavior
With all gentle discipline techniques, remember that your child’s behavior is not the most important thing. The most important thing is your child. When your child does something you don’t like, look beyond the behavior. See your child’s feelings, thoughts, and intentions. Assume the best of your child. Problem solve the situation from the perspective of addressing your child’s needs so that they can do better in the future.
9. Listen and Respect
Your teen says they don’t want to be on the basketball team anymore. You push them to keep at it. Two weeks later they’re involved in a fight on the court. Or, your child starts to get irritable at the grocery store, and you try to hurry through some more errands anyway. Surprise, surprise, on the last stop a full-scale meltdown erupts. Your children tell you – verbally or not – what’s going on with them and what their needs are. Take the time to listen to them. Believe them when they tell you about themselves. Respect their needs.
10. Make the paradigm shift
Say you’re already on board with with not spanking and not using timeouts. You don’t want to withhold possessions and privileges. You know the downsides of praise and rewards. You may still find yourself asking, “What am I supposed to do instead?” There are lots of resources out there for gentle parenting and gentle discipline techniques. This article is one of them! But the greatest step you can take is the true paradigm shift to a different way of relating. You don’t need something to replace spanking. You need an new outlook that alters the fundamental patterns of your relationship with your child.
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Once you’ve made the big shift, you find that you don’t need alternatives and techniques. What you have instead is a relationship where punishment and manipulation don’t exist. You have love, compassion, connection, and cooperation, and most of the time, that’s truly all you need.