Mindful Parenting : Gentle Discipline Part Three


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.

Steps to Effectively and Consistently use Gentle Discipline in our homes

(advice for children up to age 7)

Familiarize yourself with the typical qualities of your child’s age group. Specifically, what is age appropriate behaviour and what are the developmental milestones he/she is experiencing?

  • If you understand that a two-year-old is developmentally very likely to eat with his/her hands, throw food and make a mess, you’re less inclined to label the behaviour as bad or good and more inclined to continue to model table manners each day as she grows.
  • The Gesell Institute Booklets are a great place to start reading about development development year by year.

Connect with your child each and everyday.

  • Connect with your child daily using physical touch, eye contact, conscious listening and real presence
  • Daily connection is the number one discipline tool that will carry you through all your years of parenting

Limit choices.

  • For a general rule of thumb: No choices for children ages 1-5, two options maximum for children ages 5-7
  • Choices overwhelm children and intimidate very young children. Young children want to know that you are taking care of them, making decisions for them and creating protective boundaries for them

Have a strong Family Rhythm.

  • Seasonal, Weekly and Daily Rhythms are the anchors that provide security to your young child.
  • If you have a strong bedtime rhythm it is less likely your little ones are going to fight sleep because it’s the same routine each and every night. Whereas if your evenings are always a little bit different it’s hard for your young child, they do not have any subtle cues to signal to them that it’s now time to begin quietening down and getting to sleep

Do your own inner work.

  • Take some time each day to fill yourself up, however you do this: creative expression, prayer, journalling, meditation or exercise
  • “If you want to change the world, start with yourself”- Gandhi

Speak pictorially to your young child.

  • Try to avoid direct commands or use too many words and details when speaking to a young child
  • Instead of, “Come and sit down for dinner” you could say, “Little Kangaroo, hop over here and fill your belly with some warm food”.

Use Time-Ins.

Time-out is actually an abbreviation for time out from positive reinforcement. The practice was developed almost half a century ago as a way of training laboratory animals….When you send a child away, what’s really being switched off or withdrawn is your presence, your attention, your love. You may not have thought of it that way.

From Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
  • If your young child has crossed a boundary sit him/her on your lap and very simply explain that “we don’t…” or “Now you must sit with me until…”

Lead by example.

  • If you ask a young child to tidy up their toys, you must help them!
  • If you lose your temper, be sure to apologize to your children afterwards

What are some of the ways you hold boundaries in your home? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below. 

DISCLOSURE: This journal entry contains a link to Amazon.com. Meagan from Whole Family Rhythms is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. amazon.ca and amazon.uk Thank you for your support.

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. Lexie on April 26, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    I am so happy you mention the importance of apologizing to your child after you lose your temper. We are only human and are bound to become cross and use sharp words every now and then. My son is 18 months old and since he was born, I have always been sure to apologize if I lose my temper. I give myself a few minutes to compose myself, then pull him into an embrace and apologize for my behavior. I tell him he didn’t do anything wrong, Mama got frustrated, and that I love him. This simple act seems to settle him as much as it settles me. Little ones are so in-tune with our energy and temperament and I feel it is important to re-instill that loving and positive energy.

    • Meagan on April 27, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks Lexie. I so agree. We are only human, but to show them the full range of being human- making a mistake and then apologising and making amends- this is such a valuable lesson!

  2. Camilla on April 27, 2017 at 11:22 am


    Thank you for writing such specific advice. It is very helpful, and I think it is easier to try something when you have somewhere to start, something specific to try. I am wondering if you have any advice for older children as well? It is hard to find help/support/advice on raising children age 8-12, and even though my child (age 9) is a good little man, I feel the need som learn more about this periode of a child’s life, what’s going on in their heads, what can I expect, how should I deal with “challenges” in the most constructive way. Do you have any advice on gentle parenting older children? 🙂

    • Meagan on April 27, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Hi Camilla, My eldest is eight and we are on that journey now but as he is my first it is always a walk in the dark and doing the best I can instead of doing the best I can based on my experience! Right now I am trying to focus more than anything else on our connection- making enough time and space to really connect with him one-on-one on a daily basis, listening to him, talking to him before bed… it’s easy to get caught up with the little ones as they are so physically demanding but I think maintaining that sense of attachment in the older years is of even more importance. I’d recommend “Hold onto Your Kids” by Dr Gordon Neufield and Dr Gabor Mate. Also The Soul of Discipline by Kim John Payne which I will eventually write a book review for! Hope this helps! Meagan.

      • Camilla on May 1, 2017 at 6:27 pm

        Thank you Meghan. I actually have time alone with my eldest quite often, almost every weekday, but there is always things to be done, like homework. And he is not very chatty. But when we sit together in silence doing our things side by side, I notice that he enjoys it, and sometimes he starts to talk about things he clearly has been thinking of and are wondering about. But it takes some time to get there, in that chatty mood, so when there is someone else in the house there is no talking about serious issues. But I will have a look at those books, I really appreciate your recommendation. 🙂

  3. Deb on October 23, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    I love the suggestion on speaking pictorially – I’ve been struggling so much with my 3 year old lately and I know I need to change my speech & how I relate to him so it’s not negative all the time, especially bc I’m dealing with correcting him so much during the day. I don’t want him to feel like he is “bad” or that I’m just mad all the time. I’ve switched from commands today to some of the suggestions on your blog/other books (using verses, lighting a candle together to welcome him to the table) – I’ve noticed a world of difference already. He gets excited, I don’t have to “wrangle” him, it adds a bit of fun and magic that he can join in with, and gives him a model – not something to revolt against. I’d love to hear more examples you use at home, especially in dealing with any difficult behavior. Thank you for this wonderful post!

  4. […] 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, […]

  5. […] 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, […]

  6. Vanessa Tamplin on June 2, 2018 at 3:15 am

    I like the suggestions here, but I do find the concept of replacing direct instructions with whimsical, fantasy language a bit strange. Saying things like “Little Kangaroo, hop over here and fill your belly with some warm food” is just not natural to me; or at least, to use this sort of language all the time. There are moments for using fun or funny language, but the default “please come here” or “please put the toy in the cubby” is perfectly acceptable. Besides, very small children (say, 2 years) are probably more likely to understand “come” than “hop over here, kangaroo”. I do really appreciate this positive parenting approach, but I wonder if some of its interpretations are about having parents bend over backwards to make life as fun and entertaining as possible for children, which results in some stilted interaction between parents and children (and I feel personally that using the sort of pictorial language you describe would quickly become stilted and boring).

  7. Kirstan on November 6, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    So many insightful gems in this article! Our little one is only 11 months so many boundaries are focused around us as adults owning our emotions and feeling them so our daughter isn’t affected by them in detrimental ways. I recently discovered that when we feel our feelings it gives our children space to flourish as themselves. I love this. She’s into eating books right now so we gently stop her telling her we won’t let her hurt the book but we can read it together. If she keeps eating it we take it away and let her know we won’t let her hurt the book. Same with hitting our faces.

  8. Tracey on February 17, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Thank you so much for this wonderful read! I have a very busy and strong willed five year old, and a four month old. 14 months ago we moved countries, and the last year has been a rough one. We went from living and working on a farm to moving house five times, i had a emotionally rocky pregnancy and my husband works full time. Between that and just simply being 4 it’s been a very challenging journey. I’ve been going through a lot of mommy guilt, especially now having a second one to care for. Reading this has reminded me of so many things i use to do, and the one i still do daily. It’s reminded me it’s okay to get frustrated and make “parenting mistakes” and that it’s okay to find our own rhythm that works for us. With so much info out there i have stopped reading up on every concern I have as I find it disconnects me from my gut instincts and my ability to read a situation and not over analyze every single thing. I’m glad i stumbled upon this one though and will continue to read and reread it, as there are so very many wonderful new ideas and reminders of old habits that truly resonate with me at the moment! With thanks and gratitude x

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