Mindful Parenting : Gentle Discipline Part One


Today, I wanted to look more closely into the concept of “Gentle Disciple“, “Simple Discipline”, “Loving Authority” or “Respectful Discipline“. I think this subject is often a sticky web of mixed concepts and expectations, including strands from our own childhood, inconsistent societal expectations, cultural overlays and personal expectations.Through this three-part series I will attempt to piece together what Gentle Discipline is, how it’s different from traditional punitive models of discipline, and most importantly how we can strive to consistently use it in our homes.  A lot of my research on this subject is inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, Kim John Payne, Magda Gerber, Janet Lansbury, Joseph Chilton Pearce, John Holt, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Alfie Kohn, to name a few.

Part One – What is Gentle Discipline?

The word ‘discipline’ comes from the latin discipulus. Discere is from the latin ‘to learn’. Pullus  refers to a pupil or student. It is interesting to note that pupils (students) and pupils (the small black part of our eyes) come from the same latin root- pupa which means doll (think of puppets).

Self-knowledge can be obtained only by looking into the mind and virtue of the soul, which is the diviner part of a man, as we see our own image in another’s eye. And if we do not know ourselves, we cannot know what belongs to ourselves or belongs to others. – From Plato’s Alcibiades.

With this etymological background in mind, I believe that discipline does not infer just the guiding or teaching of an other, but begins with the Self.

Gentle Discipline begins with the parent

  • For me, mindful parenting means taking responsibility for and being fully present with our own feelings and actions and modelling this awareness to our children. This definition indicates a certain level of self-awareness and self-control over our moment-to-moment reactions
  • We as parents need to be inwardly clear with what we expect and why we expect it so that when we do create an expectation we have the resolve to follow through so that this expectation is met

Gentle Discipline moves beyond punishment and reward systems

  • Punishment and rage break the child’s will, the capacity to overcome obstacles and explore the unknown, which is learning itself. They will leave him or her with no self-confidence, no faith in themselves and they will fumble or retreat at every little difficulty of challenge“. – Joseph Chilton Pearce
  • Studies have shown that punishment and reward systems are detrimental to a child’s healthy emotional and cognitive development
  • Instead, we as parents should aim to use appreciative and descriptive praise and learn to rely only on natural consequences

Gentle Discipline requires follow through

  • Language affects a child’s mind – focus on what you want to have happen instead of what you don’t want. Avoid negatives such as “Don’t hit your brother” and replace them with positive guidance such as “We use gentle hands” or for the older child, “Please be gentle”.
  • A useful parenting affirmation is: “My word is gold. I will walk my talk, I will follow through, I will consider before I speak” If we know we can’t follow through or realize we don’t care that much- don’t make idle threats!

Gentle Discipline is unique for each child

  • Recognizing that what works for one child will have no effect on another is important. We are all unique and come to this world with differing temperaments and personalities. Even when we’re in the same family our environment and the way we perceive it is completely individual.
  • As a family unit, yes there are some boundaries that need to be met by all of us. But within those boundaries there can be creative freedom and interpretation.

Gentle Discipline requires forgiveness, unconditional love for both your child and yourself

  • Holding grudges or resentments is never helpful or productive. Do not focus on past emotions and conflicts – instead, focus on the current conflict or challenge that you are facing now.
  • Before bed, go through your  “bad day” in your mind. Review each moment, where you were triggered and ask yourself why. Reflect on this and then the hardest part- let it go!
  • “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”- Mary Anne Radmacher

If you find some time to do some inner work this week, it might be helpful for you to explore (and journal) what discipline means to you. When and how does it work in your home? When do you have trouble with it? And diving even deeper into self-inquiry: Why might that area be challenging for you?

We would all be honoured to hear your thoughts if you’d be courageous enough to share.

Mindful Parenting : Gentle Discipline Part Two

Mindful Parenting : Gentle Discipline Part Three

Meagan Wilson is a parent educator and author of the now-retired seasonal series of Whole Family Rhythms. After finishing a BA, she went on to complete her Foundations in Steiner Education and Anthroposophy at Sydney Steiner College, as well as her Waldorf Early Childhood Certification at the Rudolf Steiner Centre in Toronto. She has received her certification as a Simplicity Parenting Family Life Coach and has supported hundreds of parents to create a strong family rhythm unique to their own values and culture. She has four young children. Meagan provides resources, support and information to parents who are looking for a bridge to cross between their unique family life and their children’s (often but not always) Waldorf schools.


  1. Tess Frame on February 21, 2017 at 4:20 am

    I completely love the concept of gentle discipline – even though I struggle to always practice it. Some days, I am really connected to myself and my kids, and I have endless patience to explain, express emotion and love, and teach him about choices and consequences. Other days I find myself yelling, using negative statements a lot, or even shutting down and resorting to punishments.

    As far as my reflection has led me to understand, the days I struggle have much more to do with my own attitude, expectations, and mood, and less to do with my kids and the circumstances. I’m really looking forward to your next posts on the topic!

    • Meagan on February 24, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      Thanks Tess! I agree so much with what you said. My own habit is to get stuck in a cycle of lecturing or stern words instead of remaining non-chalent about challenges to boundaries. I am sensitive so I take things personally. It’s a journey!

  2. Taylor Norris on February 21, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    I think this is really wonderful (and perfect timing for our home right now). I especially think it’s so important for parents to have the self-awareness you mention and realistic expectations. I don’t, however, think we need to rely “ONLY” on natural consequences. Sometimes it’s just too dangerous. And sometimes the natural consequence might be too nuanced for a child to really understand (i.e. being quiet in a formal setting to show respect.) But if you have examples of another way, I’d be very curious to hear.

    • Meagan on February 24, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      I agree Taylor, those are some great points. In fact natural consequences don’t consistently work for me! LOL. For example, my three-year-old bumped her own head on a wooden block she was swinging around yesterday. I had asked her to keep it down low and was about to take it away because she wasn’t listening. As soon as she got over the initial screams and cries because she hurt herself, she demanded I give her back the block so she could continue what she had been doing (dangerously) before. Of course, I did not give he block back, bit I did think, “So, much for natural consequences!”. ; ) Being quiet is a formal setting is an example of a very tricky one. Depending on the age a parent might ask, is it necessary for the very young child to be here? At what age can he/she be expected to control impulses to a certain degree? If I know this particular child may not be able to control her impulse to make noise what is my backup plan? Etc. Etc. Sometimes gentle discipline is about parenting ‘in front’ of an issue instead of ‘behind’ if you know what I mean.

      • Taylor Norris on March 6, 2017 at 3:54 pm

        Yes–proactive discipline. I get it! 🙂

  3. […] overlays and personal expectations. Through this three-part series I will attempt to piece together what Gentle Discipline is, how it’s different from traditional punitive models of discipline, and most importantly how […]

  4. […] overlays and personal expectations. Through this three-part series I will attempt to piece together what Gentle Discipline is, how it’s different from traditional punitive models of discipline, and most importantly how […]

  5. […] are well versed about the detrimental effects of both punishments and rewards and realize that although much more difficult to navigate, there are alternative ways to be a […]

  6. Dawn on April 20, 2019 at 3:35 am

    Yes totally yes but.. the thing is when you haven’t been raised that way there will be a huge work to be done on yourself first then on your child.

    • Galia Tsioni on April 20, 2019 at 7:15 pm

      Definitely. I wasn’t raised this way myself so it is most definitely an uphill battle with the Self. All we can do is strive.

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