A new take on discipline

What do you think of when you hear the word “discipline”?  When most people think about parenting and discipline they probably think of punitive discipline like time out, yelling, spanking, or taking away privileges.

I don’t want my daughter to be afraid of me or of the punishment I might hand down.  So I’ve chosen the most peaceful parenting I can possibly muster.  But if punitive discipline is out, does that mean I’m a total softie and my kids walk all over me?  Definitely not.

In fact, setting clear and consistent boundaries is one of the best ways to help your child feel secure.  In the Montessori schools in which I worked, we practiced a logical or natural consequences approach to setting boundaries with kids.  And it really worked!  Children understood why we did things a certain way and they were usually happy to cooperate.

Somehow setting boundaries was easier when it was my job to be completely respectful of the child.  Now that I think about it, it was much easier not to swear when I was a preschool teacher and my job was on the line.   But now that I’m a parent, I slip up sometimes.  It’s a much different challenge to be respectful of a child 24 hours a day than it is for six or eight hours a day five times a week.

Today I’d like to explore a different kind of discipline, the kind of discipline that allows us to complete a difficult task or to master a new skill.  Lately I’ve been thinking that by developing interests and practicing one or several disciplines myself as well as encouraging my child to do the same, the need for any other kind of discipline could simply melt away.  Maybe I’m crazy and my daughter just hasn’t hit her “difficult” period yet, but this sure seems to be working for us so far.

By encouraging her to develop her own interests and explore them independently, my relationship with my daughter becomes more about facilitating and supporting her desires, rather than circumventing them or redirecting her.  Oh, trust me, there are plenty of opportunities to redirect her.  But the more I’m able to just go with her flow and allow her to explore what she’s interested in, the more confident she becomes and the more she enjoys learning.

We’re setting up a positive loop.  She seeks out something interesting and explores it, she enjoys what she learns and then she seeks out something new and interesting again.  And we’re also building our connection because she understands that I deeply care about her and want her to explore her interests and fulfill her purpose in life.  So really, she’s developing self-discipline!

That way, in the times when I do need to set a firm boundary for safety or for some other reason, she knows that I’m not just trying to punish her.  I’m actually making choices based on what will give her the most freedom she can safely have.

So what do you think?  Can we reduce the need for “discipline” by supporting our children to develop their interests and practice self-discipline?  I would love to hear your take on my idea.  Please leave me a comment!

And have a fantastic week, Shelly


Hey Carmen, Thanks for your comment. I think that setting clear boundaries with kids is actually a combination of expressing the boundary by saying something like "No, you may not hit people, that is never OK, absolutely not." and then redirecting in a fun way like, "But wait! I see a big fluffy pillow over there. Let's go hit the pillow. Really whack it! Yes just like that. Nice one!" This gives children the opportunity to work out whatever it is that compelled them to hit in the first place, but also keeps everyone safe.

Would you be willing to email me (shelly@awakeparent.com) with some specific situations that are challenging for you? I would be happy to write a blog for you and Nayana with specific examples, ideal word choices to use with children, and actions you can take that will maintain your boundary while fostering continued connection.


In total agreement with Nayana. How do you actually put this into practice with a tot. I try to veer far away from harsh discipline, but I'm having trouble getting through to my son when something really isn't ok. I feel like I'm saying no all the time, and I can't just redirect without trying to teach him what he's doing is wrong and not to be done. But then he just continues sitting on the baby/chasing the dog/hitting etc etc


Hey Nayana, Thank you so much for asking for what you want! Would you be willing to email me at shelly@awakeparent.com with a few specific examples of challenging situations? Then I will email you back with some suggestions. Sound good? Also, some coaching sessions would be an excellent way to address these concerns and learn some new ways to communicate. And lastly, if there was just one book recommendation I could offer that will completely change how you communicate with your children it would be "Nonviolent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg. I'm looking forward to your email! Have a great day, Shelly


it all sounds fabulous on paper (or blog :) ) but you know what would be absolutely helpful is some examples of situations and words to use and tips for how to set boundaries.

i come froma very very tough upbringing and i know i want to parent my child in a non agressive or authoritarian way.. but and here is the big but.. because all i have is very bad examples from childhood and a load of books and blogs that talk about another way .. but NO examples no foundation of words, no suggestions of when this happens try this and see if it works etc etc ...

this would change my world, this help is what i am looking for..