What Is Gentle Discipline?

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Probably no other topic sparks as much resignation in a parent than the topic of discipline. Parents
are afraid not to discipline, or afraid to discipline too harshly. This is a good thing, as it means that
modern parents are concerned with their own actions. Instead of doing things the way they’ve always been
done, we want to do one better. We want to utilize gentle discipline with our children.

However, a problem sometimes exists in the attachment parenting community. Some parents think that
gentle discipline means no discipline at all, or they engage in ineffective discipline that leaves both parent and child ultimately frustrated
. It would be helpful for us to define discipline first of all.

What Is Gentle Discipline?

The word discipline comes from disciple, which has as its root the idea of teaching. Teaching is a parent’s job. We provide a framework where learning can take place by loving our children and giving them a safe place, but we also actively teach our children. Instead of being afraid of discipline, viewing it from this paradigm opens up a new idea about discipline. It does not involve harsh punishments and certainly not physical punishments, but focuses on praise and rewards as well as creating an environment where a child naturally wants to please us as his parents – a natural byproduct of an attached relationship.

Here is an example of gentle discipline.

Let’s say a child has a habit of slamming doors. You find this irritating to the ears and sometimes the slamming causes things to fall off the walls. There are a few things that a parent can do in this situation. A parent could punish a child or yell at their child for slamming the door, but is that effective or loving? Small chidren generally don’t know that slamming doors is a bad idea. They don’t understand how that damages the door frame or causes the hinges to weaken. Here is where teaching (and gentle discipline) comes in.

Why not take the child by the hand, lead them to the door, and get down on their level on your knees and explain calmly how slamming the door can damage it? Use language that the child can understand depending on their level of comprehension, and keep it brief. Don’t lecture. Once you explain the “why”, show the child how to close a door softly. Sell them on the benefits of doing so. Then ask them to show you how well THEY can softly close the door by doing it for you ten times. Make it a fun game, see who can close the door the softest.

Children love this kind of discipline. They deeply crave to do things right and want to please you. By taking time to teach, to discipline, you get what you want without damaging your relationship with your child. Wouldn’t you want to be treated this way?

Of course, it’s much harder to use gentle discipline about things that may cause you as a parent to have more upset or angry feelings. For example, when your child bites a playmate, or siblings who bicker and fight a lot. To parent gently in the face of problems that challenge you, try a method like The Kazdin Method. You can read a review of The Kazdin Method here. Another helpful book would be ADVENTURES IN GENTLE DISCIPLINE: A Parent-to-Parent Guide.

Gentle discpline is not easy, to be sure. But it can lead to a closer parent-child relationship, and a child who grows up to be an adult who solves problems with reason and consensus, not force.