Gentle discipline 101: setting limits

141- talk to me daddyMy husband is a sweetheart. He is also a big kid (in the good sense) and LOVES to play with his daughter. He is great with the imaginative play, with crafts and (surprisingly) involving her in chores… but he is generally not so quick on the discipline front. I am the primary carer and do most of the limit setting, in our family. Recently, he has been wanting to get more involved in that side of parenting, too.

He doesn’t read much about parenting but he agrees positive, gentle discipline is the way to go not only because it feels right to us but because it works – and he sees our daughter flourishing under this approach. Today, I watched him apply a limit and thought it was ‘text book’ (in a Connection Parenting book, I assume), so I thought I would share, as it is such a clear example:

  • He set the limit (no riding the scooter indoors). He said it gently and with compassion but also firmly.
  • He held the limit (he literally held the scooter and said ‘I won’t let you ride in the living room’). His body language was clear, too. This was not going to happen (riding the scooter indoors) – but he was down at her level, speaking in a even tone and ready to listen as well as ‘tell’.
  • He empathised with Nika. He listened to and validated all her feelings for as long as she needed to express them – all her anger and sadness about this limit and not being allowed to do the thing she was set on doing. Mostly she expressed her feelings through crying. (He said things like: ‘I can see you really wanted to scooter in here. It looks so much fun, right? But it is not safe. You could slip or it could scratch our new wood floor or you could run over one of your toys… You can ride outside whenever you want. Just ask and you can go scooter on the patio’. He continued in that vein – although overall he did A LOT more listening than talking)…He also made room for negotiation and compromise. He  answered all her questions and in the end we  agreed on a compromise, she can ride sitting down (her suggestion) very slowly and carefully, she will help cleaning up the floor before riding, if there is ‘debris on the floor’ but she cannot whiz around the room. Scootering is now established as an outdoor activity in our family.

That for me is the simple formula for setting loving limits:

  1. set the limit
  2. hold the limit, firmly but gently
  3. listen and empathise to everything that comes up for the child in reaction to the limit

And you can use this formula for any limit you need to set from ‘no hitting or biting’ to ‘yes, mom really needs to go out now’ and if possible you stay with them for as long as they need to ‘tell’ you (usually in tears) how much that sucks for them or how angry or sad they are. And personally I find, whenever this process is complete, we all actually feel closer to each other and ready to again ‘shoal’, co-operate and move together as a family. I can feel it in me and see it in my daughter’s behaviour, as she invariably becomes freer, more confident and engaged.

— — —

I share this knowing that time-outs are the choice of favour for many nowadays. And I understand that in a lot of ways time-outs are easier and have more immediately visible ‘effects’ however I do not think they are the best choice in the long run. I hope you will consider ‘loving limits’ as one of the (many) effective alternatives to time-out. And for anyone wondering, here are some articles that really go into the down-sides to time-outs:



54 thoughts on “Gentle discipline 101: setting limits

  1. All was going great until the compromise. if you read it again, you will see that the child still won her desire to ride inside and he stated firmly and gently that scooters where for outside. Then the fort came tumbling down and he said ok as long as she ride gently….ahem excuse me…whether she smashed around or gentle rides her scooter inside, she is still riding her scooter inside and by all reasoning Dad has caved and she will expect this every time. Just keep at him until he “compromises” and I get what I want. No hitting is allowed..ok Hitting if its gentle hitting..but no hard hitting…what next..ok no cocaine but you can smoke a joint…LOL all these compromises makes dad look weak and unwilling to hold his ground. Its really important to kids that they know that No means No and that we stand on our word. sorry but this disciple was a fail at the end. Child was still doing what dad asked her not too…nothing gentle about that…simply put Dad loses, child wins..vrrmm vrmmm daddy move on I come. My way always. Believe me after a few years of this compromising discipline..daddy will be nothing more than a doormat.

    • Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for commenting but sorry it reads that way to you. For one, I never think in terms of ‘us vs them’, parents vs kids. I always look to find solutions that work for everyone in the family. Secondly, and most importantly for me, the scooter never again was ridden (if that is the correct word) indoors. That little concession to her ego, to help her feel she had some control in the situation and was not just a pawn to be dictated to, was important to her – that was apparent. You might have misunderstood what was allowed – perhaps I did not write it clearly enough. She was not then allowed to scoot around the house ‘gently’. The compromise she offered (and yes, I think supporting our kids to develop negotiating skills is very important) was that she be allowed to scoot slowly while sitting on her butt (rather than riding it). As it happens, this has never been brought up again. She did 100% internalise the rule that there is no scooting indoors. The crying – the really getting what was being said and the mourning over not been allowed to do what she wanted – sealed the deal, emotionally speaking. She grieved the loss of that ‘freedom’, fully.

      She did ask for a little concession at the end and my husband granted it and for me it fits the bill of a win-win (a win for her AND a win for us, at the same time, all on the same team). This was not about stopping her from riding indoors ‘just because’ or ‘because we say so’. It was about her understanding that scooting indoors could damage the floor or make her bump into something. Scooting on her butt would solve that problem – and hence fulfil everyone’s needs. It was a classic win-win resolution and I am proud of her for reaching it on her own, actually… but as I say, the point is mute as that was just her last little flurry at saving face, like any human just clamped down on would probably attempt to do – and she has NEVER brought it up again. The scooter has been walked to the door every single time, since. So, it is in this light that I think of this bit of discipline – one of the first times I saw my husband step in and hold a limit – a success.

      And I wish you success and close family connections, too, whichever path your parenting takes you.


      • I do agree that the concession to ride (slowly and sitting down) in the house overrides the limit of no riding in the house. Personally, I think you should do what works for your family and is most loving. I know that I have a few extremely demanding children and I have learned that, for them, limits have to be true limits…not compromised limits. Because they can be more focused upon getting their way (just part of their personalities…I don’t take offense) than working cooperatively at times. Over time, there is less discussion needed about why a limit is a limit, but the fact is that not all children are as respectful of boundaries as other children. (Just like any other people.) Different children require different limit enforcements, though, so no negative energy coming from me. I just also noted that your firm limit example was not so firm in the end. I totally understand supporting our partners and celebrating their successes, though. :)

        Also, I’d like to add that I know how in the gentle discipline communities, “time outs” get no love, but for some children, at some times, they are much more effective than any other method. Used pragmatically, it can be a great way to keep family peace and give the kids who think a lot more than their peers some time to really get a grip on their thoughts and feelings and, subsequently, behaviors. Especially for children who are more kinesthetic or physical, time outs have proven to be vital to parenting success.


    • Hi “Beckamax”, I read your post (as above) on facebook (and replied to it there) but then it started me thinking. So I came back here and read what Gauri actually wrote and highlighted as part of the process… “He also made room for negotiation and compromise”.

      Suddenly I understood how important that would be. I can remember being a small child and my mother ‘winning’ all the battles! I wasn’t allowed to say how I felt about whatever limit (or in my case punishment) was being imposed on me, like Nika was, and most certainly not allowed to cry about it! I remember feeling hurt, angry and powerless and it struck me that these parents didn’t want their child to feel that way, so they were willing to listen to what she wanted to do and reach a negotiated settlement where ‘everybody’s’ needs and feelings were respected.

      You are right, and I think some kids who were not raised this way might start to push the limits, especially if they are raised in permissive homes (which make children feel insecure) or where they get conflicting messages (things allowed one day and not allowed the next). Such children might ‘try it out’ to see if this was a day it would be reacted to, or a day it would be ignored… Not because they were being ‘bad’, but because children raised without boundaries are looking for boundaries so they can feel safe… A bit like a blind person feeling around to find where the walls are.

      But Nika’s home doesn’t sound like that. I imagine from what I read, that if she got carried away, or forgot and did one of the things she had agreed not to, that they would go through the process again. They might say, “Nika, remember what we agreed on?” Then they would go through the three steps again. Most importantly they would also do the fourth step of “negotiation and compromise”, which means she wouldn’t lose face, and have to come back and do it again, just to regain her own self-respect. Instead Gauri says that after being allowed that ‘last little flurry at saving face’, Nika isn’t left with unresolved feelings, she hasn’t brought it up again, and the scooter goes outside now.

      Thanks for raising this “Beckamax”, because you are right… the scenario you paint does often happen in homes where children are raised either permissively or punished and ‘time-outed’ so that they become withdrawn or angry and rebellious. To prevent this, I have been writing about the first three steps for years, but it was only last night, in response to your reply on facebook that the light went on for me, and I came to understand the importance of the forth step… letting the child save face so that she can (a) drop the issue because she doesn’t feel unresolved and (b) feels okay about herself and her parents and can develop healthy self-esteem, which she will carry with her for the rest of her life.

      Especially thank you for writing the article and explaining it so beautifully Gauri!

      • Wow, Pat. You got understood my message so well I want to hug you – and to hear your memories of how it was for you as a kid not to be listened to was so, so powerful for me. Thank you!

        I have got to say I did not invent, well, any of this really. I am just practicing it. The limit-setting process I have learned from a few places but was probably most influenced by Hand in Hand’s approach and the idea to support kids to negotiate comes from Alfie Kohn’s book ‘Unconditional Parenting’. The win-win idea comes from… well, you know lots of places starting from transactional analysis, though I am mostly influenced by Marshal Rosenberg’s work (and his system known as NVC – non-violent comunication). I share this as others may be drawn to read more directly from the sources that analyse the research on this approach, than from me a mom-practitioner.

        Also, I want to pick up on two key points you mentioned, first YES consistency is the most important element in limit-setting! There is no point making up rules and then changing them the next day. Consistency really helps kids make sense of what is and is not allowed and as you say makes them feel safer. Love your analogy of the blind man, btw. Secondly, yes, that is exactly how we would phrase it if she were to get on her scooter again ‘Hey, Nika, remember what we agreed’ and if she didn’t or pretended she didnt, we would repeat steps one through three – absolutely – as many times as it took. But I find if you are clear and, perhaps more importantly if they get to fully grieve the loss of freedom and essentially having their will thwarted (usually through shedding tears and/or raging aggressively or tantruming) then a new level of understanding and peace is reached, in my experience.

        Wanna plug your writing here, Pat? What is your blog domain or… do you have any books out? :)

      • THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! I agree with everything you wrote! Both Gauri and Pat! I am working on using the positive parenting techniques. Somedays I do well and others I struggle! I totally understand that comment about your husband being a door mat. Sometimes I think that is what I am doing. But reading this made me think otherwise. I want my kids to make the “right” decisions because they feel inside it is the “right” thing to do, not because they are scared of the consequences. Gauri, your daughter understood that she could get hurt, and that the floor could get ruined and she didn’t want to do either of those things! But she did want to scoot inside. So, your husband listened and together they came up with a solution where the floors didn’t get ruined, and your daughter stayed safe, yet she got to have fun with her scooter! She could then make the “right” decision not to ride in the house. There are days when I struggle and want my kids to listen to me cause it would make my life easier, but I have to stop and think about them! I have to remember they are kids!! They have happy hearts, that are filled with play and wonder! When I successfully remember this, and slow down, and take the extra time to listen to them, I can see things from their view. We can come up with a compromise and they can make their decision cause it feels good to them and it is a win win!!! I can’t write like you two can, but I totally understand what you are both saying and appreciate it! So again, THANK YOU!!

      • Hi Megan,

        Thanks for stopping by. Everybody struggles sometimes. I have had my own positive parenting crisis (as in: ‘is this working? is this the way?’) but have always come out feeling stronger and more resolute in keeping to this path. But it is NOT easy, for sure. It takes continual practice and relies on us developing ever keener self-awareness. Yep, not easy at all…

        I appreciate that you got the point about compromise. Yes, it is exactly about building understanding over blind obedience; mutual respect and co-operation over compliance based on fear of consequences. That is the goal we are journeying towards. Thanks for taking the time to add your voice to the debate. Cheers,

      • Hi Gauri, I’m trying to reply to your post below this, but it doesn’t allow me to reply there — only here, so I hope this won’t jumble up the discussion. Thank you for your lovely warm welcome — big hugs back! It’s so good to find a kindred spirit!

        I hear you about the fact that you didn’t invent this, and are only practicing it. But this information is out there all over the place now, and the point is you resonated with it — me too! It’s a very long story that goes back a long way — maybe I can share it will you elsewhere. I got into this by going through psychotherapy to heal from my childhood.

        You asked me if I had a blog or domain — well actually, that’s how I found you here two days ago. (If you click on my name at the top of this post, I think it will take you there). I check every night to see where my hits are coming from, and on Monday there was a link I had never seen before, so I clicked on it and came out here! You have a link to an article of mine, “Do Time-outs Make Children Behave Better?”

        Well, I landed here, read your article and went “wow”… sounds like this lady knows about Aware Parenting (or something very similar). Then I saw two other AwP Instructors I keep in touch with a lot… Marion (Aussie) and Genevieve (NZ). I started to wonder, “I must know Gaurie on facebook — maybe she uses another name?”

        I started searching the site for clues — like articles that would resonate with me. “Emotional release feels good – to kids, too” jumped off the page at me, so I went there, and in the correspondence below you tell most of your story, so now I know a bit more about how you got these insights into children. Yes, Hand in Hand Parenting is very similar to Aware Parenting.

        I have been posting this article of yours all over facebook the last two days. The response has been amazing. All of them have got a lot of “shares” so the article is doing the rounds on facebook among my friends and groups. I will probably put your one on emotional release up next.

        You asked me how it felt for me as a child. Well, after reading your article a memory came back into my mind. You had written about your husband saying to Nika, “‘I can see you really wanted to scooter in here. It looks so much fun, right? But it is not safe. You could slip or it could scratch our new wood floor or you could run over one of your toys…”

        I couldn’t get the words “you might scratch the floor” out of my mind. Then I remembered the farmhouse where I grew up. There were several ways into our house, and one was through the front room, where my parents had sanded the floor and had some kind of very dark varnish put on — but it was weird, because if you walked across it, even with clean shoes, it left footprints.

        So the doors were kept closed and we were told not to walk through that room, but to use the other way in. One day I forgot, and left footprints across the room. I remember my mother being angry and I remember thinking, “I wish my mother cared about me as much as she cares about the floor.”

        I think my mother was a bit obsessive about housework and tidiness. She worked very hard to feed and clothe us and we had to work hard as well. I remember once or twice as quite a young child asking her things like, “Couldn’t we just be nice to each other and do happy things together, and not have to spend all our time cleaning the house?”

        I don’t think she heard me, because nothing changed. Looking back I feel sad. I think my mother was a terribly damaged person — she didn’t know how to show love or affection (which she saw as being weak and “dirty”) and the only way she could feel good about herself was to keep on “cleaning” everything.

        The really big thing though was that from about two years of age she got very angry if I cried. I can remember her yelling, “Stop that crying at once or I’ll ‘give’ you something to cry about!” So I spent my childhood stuffing my feelings down, and have now spent my adulthood in therapy, paying a lot of money to therapists to let me have a place to cry out all those tears I had to stuff as a child.

        But there is an up side to it — that now I know how children feel, and that’s why I am doing the work I am doing. And you???

    • Someone just posted this in response to this article on one of my psychotherapy groups, so I wanted to share it:

      “I was pleased the father was able to compromise on his limit and reach a mutual win win agreement. I don’t trust the ” keep the limit at all costs” school. It seems to me to be about teaching “biggest and strongest gets their way” rather than “negotiate a solution” which is a much more useful life skill.”

    • So you feel they should of “broke their daughter” and forced her to do as she is told with compromising negotiable. In the grand scheme of things what is this doing to our kids? We are forcing them to not have an opinion, to do as told and no talking back. Parents don’t always know what is right or wrong. Sometimes we get caught up in everyday life that it is easier to say, “Don’t do that!” than it is to understand the developmental aspects of a child’s behavior. My golden rule with my own children is to treat them the way I want or wanted to be treated. I think back at my childhood and place my self in their point of view. Is my reasoning for saying no justified? In this case, she could of gotten hurt or scratched the new floors. So her (daughter) compromise took the justification for saying no out of the situation. I praise this family (especially the father) for understanding their daughters needs. The problem with society these days are we are to worried about spoiling our children that we ” break them.”

      • Hi Samantha, Yes! I love it that you are raising your children by treating them the way you would like to be treated. That’s how children learn. You say that the problem with society these days we are so worried about spoiling our children, that we “break them”. Exactly, and it is so much easier to raise a whole child, than to try to put the broken adult back together twenty or thirty years later…

      • Hi Samantha, Could you tell us who you were addressing this to when you wrote, “So you feel they should have “broke their daughter without compromising or negotiating”? I am a bit confused about who you were writing to… Thanks!

  2. bllrrgghhh… that was too easy. no scooter indoors? are you kidding me, that even had to be made clear? how spoiled is this kid? let me know when you’ve got something difficult to actually debate over.

    • Fair enough. I agree it was not the biggest possible challenge a child can present, by a long stretch. As I say, I chose to write about this example exactly because it was simple and clear and because it was truly just a little episode I witnessed at home and wanted to share. Again, this was almost the first time I saw my husband set a limit like this. He is more of a playful parent than a ‘disciplining’ one, so this was huge – even if it was a simple thing. It was also clearly huge for my daughter – in the sense that it brought up some big feelings for her, which she shed through tears. And he stayed and listened because it was big for her. Life is made up of stuff like this, no? big stuff, little stuff and sometimes the smaller stuff is easier to talk about and pull apart. Plus, as I say, I do most of the disciplining, so this was much easier for me to observe as an outsider and write about in this detached way (though I am a blogger, I have plenty of ‘first person accounts’ through the rest of my blog :) )

      Not at all sure why not riding a scooter indoors makes my child spoilt, though… interesting leap, imo. Is it that you think that because we chose this example it means we let her ‘get away’ with the big stuff?? Interesting… but not so.

      Thank you for your views, though, challenges make it clearer how our posts are being read (by some at least) and where we need to spend more time clarifying. Cheers,

    • If Gauri were trying to start a debate then I suppose you would have to leave disappointed. Since she is not even trying to debate anything, then I suppose you may still have to leave disappointed. This article is called “Gentle Discipline 101” after all, it’s for very beginners to see how to apply and identify the key factors.

      I appreciated this small example Gauri, it was simple and clear to see how a set limit could go down in real life, without other clutter or complications. Thanks also for walking through it and helping to identify the key points/actions. I look forward to reading more expanded examples.

  3. cheers, i must confess i haven’t read anything else you’ve written, came by this post via someone else. i haven’t a concern in the world how your family works. none of my business really. i suppose my little irk is that no-one with adult or even teenage children write about parenting. all these ‘mommy bloggers’ (myself included) think we have something to teach the world while the experiment is still running. i’d love to hear from you (and all the others) in 20 years once your child is an adult to hear an analysis, once, as you might say, the experiment of raising a child/ren is ‘complete.’ what might the results be?

    • Hi “Travelstogether”, Actually what Gauri has written about is now well researched evidence about the best way to raise children. It started being understood in the 1970s/1980s by people like Haim Ginot and Tomas Gordon (“Parent Efffectiveness Training”) and others who began to move away from the Behaviourist theory of the 1950s and before, which looks only at the behaviour, and doesn’t go into what needs and underlying feelings are driving the behaviour.

      We know much more today and parenting experts (several of whom are child psychologists) and who cover this kind of parenting and have written books include Patty Wipfler, Aletha Solter, Pam Leo, Naomi Aldort, Alfie Kohn, Robin Grille, Laura Markham, Margot Sunderland, etc. Mothering magazine has also covered it. You might find you enjoyed reading what they are writing.

      You ask how the children might turn out twenty years later — well we have some of them around already. They tend to be kind and gentle and respectful of others people and their feelings (because that is how they were treated in their early years). They are also often independent thinkers, tend to have high IQ and high EQ and many of them have been described as “self-actualisers.”

      The beautiful thing to me is that people like Gauri (and I know of others) found these things out for themselves and are blogging about it so that more people can hear about this kind of parenting. Of course, ever parent who tries out these ‘new’ ways of handling children and their feelings, does it their own way, and finds a way that works for them and their child.

      Like you say, “the research is still running” (and always will be) but if you are looking for the research, people to check out are Allan Schore, Ph D of UCLA and Jaak Panksep Ph D Head of Affective Neuroscience Research, Washington State University. They are confirming that what mothers like Gauri and the others are doing, is right.

    • As a parent of 5 children, ages 18-26, who used this form of gentle discipline I can say it was challenging but effective with my teens. We have wonderful, compassionate adult and nearly adult children. At this point we care for my 93 yr. old mother-in-law in our home and all of our children assist and care for her with loving kindness, reflecting the values in our family that everyone is deserving of resectful care.

      • Wow, this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I love glimpses of what lies ahead for people who commit to this (intensive, challenging) path that requires so much inner as well as outer work. Your family sounds just beautiful – thanks in no small measure it sounds to how much love, empathy and respect you poured into keeping it this way. Wonderful. Thanks for adding your voice to this conversation.

    • I hear you, ‘travelstogether’. I am forever begging my friends with older kids who have been raising them consciously, respectfully and gently (with no punishments or rewards) to guest post for me because I, like you, love to hear more about how this ‘ends up’. But I am lucky. I kind of do know – not exactly how each child will end up, of course, but I know some of the general directions this is heading, from those who have trodden this path before me. Among them is my friend Genevieve (who runs ‘the Way of the Peaceful Parent’ on facebook and the Insitute for Peaceful Parenting in New Zealand) and whose children are now in their pre- and prime- teens :) I hope she will not mind me mentioning her here by name.

      But in point of fact, I was raised pretty much like this as were other friends of mine. I am a second generation AP parent and though we continue to learn more and more about, for example, building emotional intelligence I have witnessed first hand many of the effects of peaceful parenting.

      But it is not all anecdotal, there is much solid research on the benefits of this approach to parenting. The book ‘Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child’ by John Gottman explores a fair bit of it, for example. Alfie Kohn’s influential ‘Unconditional Parenting’ is a treasure-house of analysis of much of the research out there. We are not the first to join this experiment, as you call it, not by a long shot.

  4. Thanks for sharing this little episode. Life certainly is made up of both big and small happenings. Simply felt compelled to comment and say how graciously you replied to people who don’t share the same parenting view or experience as yourself. It really impressed me. :) Go girl!

    • hi jackie, i’m laughing along with you at your gentle needling of “people who don’t share the same parenting view.” blinkered assumption me thinks. but again, i care only enough to acknowledge it. of course the original poster replied graciously, it would appear that’s how she does everything, and it’s a credit to her.
      if you care to know, my kids are raised gently and lovingly too. perhaps being older than the child in this example we’re onto harder or bigger happenings/challenges now, destroying floors that don’t belong to them and giving everyone around them headaches are done and dusted concerns in our house.
      your side-swipe lack of graciousness is telling. telling me not to get into a conversation/debate with you! ha ha!
      wishing grace to everyone!

  5. Good read, thank you. It seems to me it was intended as a basic example for families that may not currently practice gentle parenting. It was well written and clearly explained. Nothing wrong with a little compromise sometimes, the tree that does not bend will break. As for the comment that compared scooting in the house to narcotics abuse, well I needed a good chuckle today.

  6. Wow, you are getting some really negative comments to a very positive article. I am sorry for you. I enjoyed your article. I feel I got your point and thank you for taking the time to write it. I really appreciate when people show positive parenting techniques in a step by step process. I fully believe in positive parenting but really struggle when it comes down to actually doing it. Thanks again.

    • Don’t we all…? :) Yes the theory of positive parenting is always easier than the practice, right?… It takes time and, well, practice and of course, as I have said elsewhere, limit-setting is only the minuscule visible tip of the peaceful parenting iceberg – most of the time-consuming work is almost invisible. 90% of positive parenting is prevention, through connection-building play, empathy and responsiveness.

      If positive parenting is even in your awareness, if it resonates for you and calls you that is already a huge step in the right direction to make this change (as it is something you have expressed you are already working towards). In my experience, most of the shift is mental, a shift from a control-based parenting model to a mutual respect approach to parenting. It is a BIG shift. When that is in place, the rest begins to follow, ime.

      Thanks for commenting.


  7. I don’t understand what the point of discipline was if you let her ride in the house anyway. It should have been cut and dry. Riding in the house is not safe, among other reason, so you can’t do it. Oh unless you do it sitting down. Defeats the purpose.

  8. Hi Megan,

    Thanks for dropping by and being honest about your reaction to this piece. Honestly, I even wondered about including that part about compromise, knowing it might dilute the main message (about listening to kids emotional reactions to our limits) and that some may perceive it as undermining the limit-setting process. And, there may not always be a place to compromise… but there is always a place to listen to their objections and their suggestions, in my opinion.

    In any case, I have answered this objection above in some detail (the ‘compromising undermines the limit’ point) but in short it depends what our goal is. If the goal is to instill blind obedience then yes, compromising undermines that. If, instead, the goal is to build mutual respect and a genuine understanding of WHY she was being asked not to ride, then finding a solution that meets our needs (that she is safe and the floor is not damaged) and her needs (to have fun on her scooter) is exactly the kind of win-win I am proud to support my child to come up with, by herself. I get that is radically different to other parenting schools-of-thought. I understand we are conditioned to think of anything less than complete obedience as a parenting failure but actually research suggests kids who are brought up to *obey* rather than question, compromise and negotiate are also the more likely to follow other influential people without questioning what is being asked (teachers, bosses, etc). We are effectively training them to blindly follow authority figures without raising objections, looking to find their own, creative solutions or otherwise engaging their own good judgement. This can sometimes work in their favour but it can also not be a good thing if what is being asked of them is, for example, less than ethical. Kids trained to obey blindly are also, alas, more likely to take drugs to please popular peers or even to get pregnant young. I don’t mean to imply that anyone who doesn’t compromise with their kids will find their kids are weak in the face of peer pressure. Many factors play into this… but having a chance to practice negotiation skills and exercising their own discernment in the face of what is asked of them is certainly part of how they learn. [Sorry, don’t have a reference to hand but will come back with it, if I think of it]

    i am, however, reminded of this excellent piece by Psyychologist Dr. Laura Markham:

    I hope this explains in a little more depth why I did leave this in and why I think making room for compromise and negotiation is an important part of the process in helping our children build SELF-discipline, surely the aim of all good discipline, in the end, no?

    But hey, I realise there is not only one way to parent children well or lovingly and the important thing is to find solutions that work for each of our unique families, and to keep learning as we go.



  9. I really wish this worked with a hard headed 3 year old! For a long time it did work but once 3 came along it was out the window. We find timeouts do correct the behavior and it kindof makes me sad to see that this post trys to make parents feel bad for using time outs. That being said I think a timeout needs to be done in the right way for it to be effective. We always use a timer (1 minute for each year) and always hug, apologize and talk about what action(s) landed him in time out. I feel it is still very loving and we are also normally closer when it is over.

  10. WHat a great post.
    In the days of 123 magic & time outs it’s nice to see people trying other methods. I find discussing, empathising & negotiating work with my Miss Two & my hope is that it’s building a relationship of understanding & trust between us.

  11. I disagree with commenters who suppose that compromise undermines limit setting. I think for our children to abide by the limits we set, they need to understand and respect the limits. When we compromise, we teach them that their input is valuable and we honor their opinions. Frequently as parents, we make quick decisions and state limits as needed in the moment. And if our child has a very good reason for us to compromise and/or modify that limit, then we can decide together and clarify what the limit should be. This teaches them that they can rely on their own powers of judgement as well as their parents.

    If someone thinks this process will undermine their parental authority, they are operating on the assumption that the parent is the authority and must have obedience from the children.

    Although obedience from my children makes my job so much easier in the short run, its not the best for everyone in the long run. I don’t want to raise children who are merely obedient. I especially don’t want my children to think they must obey someone just because they are a grown-up or in a position of authority.

    I want to raise children who are independent. I want to raise children who use knowledge, reason, and morality to make the best decision they can for themselves. Using the example from the author’s experience, I don’t want to raise a child who doesn’t ride their scooter in the house just because its not allowed. I want to raise a child who doesn’t ride their scooter in the house because they choose to not damage the floor and their toys by riding the scooter outside where it belongs.

  12. Pingback: A time and place for time-out? | L-plate Mum

  13. Hi,
    I’m NinjaDad, the husband in the article (or at least I hope I am!)

    With regards to the the ‘compromise’ here are my thoughts on it:

    We parent with the Horton philosophy that Nika is a person (albeit a small and very cute one) and should be respected as such.

    The compromise was NOT given in a way to pacify the child or prevent an out burst of crying.
    Nor was I going to “hold my ground” on principle, as I feel that this would just reinforce an attitude I do not want Nika to learn (the one that I am always right and she must do what I say). Here is how the compromise came about…

    My primary concerns about why she should not scooter inside were:
    1: after she’s been playing she often leaves toys and things on the floor. This causes a hazard which could cause the scooter to fall or for the toys to break if they are run over.
    2: we have blind corners and she could run into someone

    I explained these points to her and she counter argued that she
    – could clean up the floor and move the tables to clear the space.
    – scooter slowly sitting down as not to bump into anyone

    This not only showed me that she understood why I did not want her to scoot inside but are also reasonable solutions.

    At this point if I had arbitrarily held the stance without any logical reasoning behind it I feel I would have gone against our parenting philosophy of respecting Nika as a person. That and it would have undermined all the effort we have put into teaching her logical reasoning. Sure sometimes life throws arbitrary rules at us (still don’t know why I wasn’t allowed to roll my sleeves up at school) but this was not one of those times.

    For what its worth, despite this ‘compromise’ being in place, Nika has not used or even asked to use her Scooter indoors since. So, by this measure alone, I would consider this exercise a success.

    • Okay, I am biased (I married the man) but I LOVE this response. He articulated so clearly stuff that takes me pages to say sometimes.

      Sorry I haven’t had time to answer everyone’s comments yet but saw this one come in from my love and thought I’d quickly chime in to say: THANKS (he doesn’t normally even read my blog!!)


  14. I didn’t read the compromise bit at first. We frequently ‘give in’ or negiogate. It just feels right. Banging the spoon on his plate, to banging the spoon (more gently) on his leg etc. I do seem to out right give in a bit too often though. But that is, I think, because I say no too often before thinking that it does not really matter. I love your common sense approach to parenting. Thanks

  15. Hello, Gauri.

    What a great, great, article! And blog, too. Congrats!

    I’m from Brazil, and me and my wife have a 8 month old baby. We follow attachment parenting’s principles and we are also starting to get educated on gentle discipline. I also run a blog about fatherhood, where I talk about my experiences with attachment parenting in Brazil. It’s helping a lot of parents to get the education they need to raise their children with strong bonds. The link to my blog is on my profile here, if you want to check (it’s in Portuguese though).

    Therefore, I would like to kindly request permission to translate this text and post it on my blog, with all due credits and links back to your blog. Here in Brazil, there is not much information available in our language regarding attachment parenting and especially gentle discipline. So, when I come across to great texts like yours, I feel the need to make this sort of information available to people here in Brazil.


    • Hahahahaha. Hahahaha. Hahahaha. Okay, done laughing. I am Portuguese. Love that I just got a request to translate this into my first language. Hahahaha. (bit more laughter in me, after all). Seriously, I am touched and flattered that you wold want to. And sure, translate away. Can I read it before you post it (since I ‘can’)?

      Also, please share your blog with me. I would love to read it.


      • Hi “paizinhovirgula” and Gauri, Oh hehehe! I also have a WordPress site so I saw the request go through the newsletter, and thought, oh what a joke when Gauri replies to say she is Portugese too! :-)

        I went to your website “paizinhovirgula”, but sadly can’t read Portuguese but if you would like to see mine, just click on my name at the top of this post and it will take you there. If you like Gauri’s article, your site might be the kind of one I would like to link to on my site.

        I would love to chat to you, so if you would be so kind, would you send me your email address to me at pgt(at) , or direct from my site. I tried to message you from your blog but couldn’t figure out the Portuguese instructions…

        Cheers both!

  16. Pingback: Let’s not punish our kids for our mistakes | Loving Earth, Mama!

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  18. Pingback: Beneath the tantrum is the love – address the feelings and the behaviours start to resolve themselves | Loving Earth, Mama!

  19. A friend just sent me your post. Your post is a valuable model of limit-setting simplified, and your responses beautifully demonstrate your philosophy of respectful interaction. Must share it on my FB page!

    Personally, I loved your husband’s clear boundary statement. It sent the message to your daughter that he knows she can handle boundaries – no messing around or “trying to be nice” needed. The validation that followed was effective in keeping their relationship strong and helping her step past grief into problem-solving, which she did very creatively with good judgment, and is exactly what you said you wanted her to be able to do in life. If this was a man who had difficulty setting firm boundaries, I’d have to call this example a breakthrough! It sounded completely natural. Congratulations, NinjaDad!

    Funny though, I didn’t even see what he did as “compromising.” I saw it as encouraging problem-solving until your daughter arrived at a solution that was fully OK with him, not just “sort of” OK, as the the word compromise suggests. Listening to your daughter helped him avoid the trap of enforcing a boundary just because it was spoken, when his real boundary was safety. Good judgment prevailed! Win-win, just as you said.

    If I may, I would like to share a slightly different approach that I think you and your readers. will like, too. (I wanted to contact you privately first, but didn’t see way to do that.) Like your philosophy, it is grounded in respect and takes boundary setting to the next level with a couple of subtle shifts.

    In this same scooter scenario, imagine starting with putting your hand on the scooter to physically stop the action (the intervention of your second step), but instead of stating the boundary “No riding the scooter indoors,” or the follow-up, “I won’t let you…,” which can build resistance, respond FIRST with validation and excitement to match the child’s, then add the boundary with AND, using a tone that communicates “and this is just how it is,” like this:

    “You really want to ride your scooter fast, AND inside the house is just not safe!!! Hmmm. Must be someplace you can ride where there are no corners, no toys, no wood floors, so you can ride fast AND safely!” Stating the boundary this way presents it as a problem-solving opportunity, which puts the child’s natural problem-solving abilities into action.

    I am always amazed at children’s solutions. Your daughter’s is a great example. You probably would never have come up with, “You can sit and scoot after picking up your toys,” but she did, so it worked for her.

    The final step is pointing out the child’s strengths, so after she comes up with a solution that is OK with you, you can say, “You figured out a way to ride fast AND safely. You know how to do both!” That would leave her feeling empowered and ready to solve her next challenge safely. No loss of freedom for this girl!

    Though this is a subtle shift in language, it has the potential to create a huge shift in the way children (and we) see boundaries. Instead of restrictions on children’s freedom, boundaries become problem-solving adventures where children learn their strengths. (I’ve written a short book on it which you can find on my website.)

    In the few cases where there is truly no way for the child to solve the problem to his/her satisfaction inside your boundary, staying firm on your boundary and validating the feelings as your husband did in this post are perfect as follow ups. Just give the child a chance to solve it first. For children, things are possible that we would never dream of. Presenting boundaries as problem-solving opportunities, keeps it that way.

    In response to your invitation above, my daughters are 25 and 26. Our relationship is strong now and always has been, even through the middle and high school years that were supposed to be rocky. I would love to do a guest post to share some of the amazing things my husband and I have seen as our girls grew into adulthood. My younger daughter writes posts for my blog sometimes. Maybe a combined post would be of interest? Just let me know.

    • Dear Sandy thanks for your heart-felt contribution to this discussion. I love that you have been trail-blazing your path of peaceful parenting by walking it. And yes, a guest post sounds FAB!! <3 Let's talk behind the scenes. :)

      I agree with all that you said and confess I already practice a version of it, at least. I always start a 'limit' by empathising with what is true for the child and validating any feelings coming up for them. It is funny. That is the problem in trying to write short, easy-to-understand posts for new people, right? We can never possibly cover everything in detail (or perhaps that is just me) but for me that was kind of implied in the fact that he set the limit "gently and with compassion but also firmly." – the compassion or empathy bit is the part in which he said 'I know how much fun it is to ride the scooter, you look like you are having a blast and I can see you are upset that I am saying you can no longer ride it indoors'… or words to that effect (which he did utter, I remember). But I like your 'script' too – very respectful and peaceful. Thanks for adding that.

      And yes, I also am totally into the problem-solving coaching thing (I agree this was an example of just that – supporting our daughter to come up with her own win-wins for this situation, something I really believe in). I learnt the 'brain storming solutions' technique as part of John Gottman's 'emotion coaching' model, which I love!! And I totally agree with you that yes, this makes room for kids to both practice and come up with their own, often surprising solutions to the apparent problem. I agree, this was only a 'compromise' in the most bening use of the word – it was focussed on finding solutions that met EVERYONE's needs. That is the gold standard for me, always.

      I like what you said: "Instead of restrictions on children’s freedom, boundaries become problem-solving adventures where children learn their strengths." That is awesome… a platinum standard? :)

      Loved reading what you had to add. Will continue to reflect on it, try it out and see if it works even better than where we are at – but it certainly has a great feel to it in terms of ensuring our needs (that the child is safe and the household objects are unharmed, in this case) and the kid's needs (in this case: to be respected, heard, have their feelings validated and feel able to make safe choices that coalesce with the family agreements and priorities. Good stuff. Thanks!

  20. PS In my example, I was assuming the child wanted to ride fast, and without the boundary struggle, would’ve been the one to suggest riding outside. But if she didn’t actually care about zooming, and riding indoors was more important, then she might’ve come up with the same solution she did in the first place. If so, the strength for riding indoors sitting down would sound more like, “You found a way to ride your scooter safely indoors. You know how to be careful with it.” Sorry for the confusion.

    • Sandy, the only other thing I wanted to re-emphasise is that, as I mentioned in passing in the article, the suggestion for the win-win solution (to ride the scooter sitting down) was my daughter’s. This came after her daddy emotion-coached her through a problem-solving exercise in which they brainstormed ways forward and, as you mention and as kids are prone to do, she came up with her own solution which fit the bill and was different to anything we would have thought of – so yes, this was very much a joint solution finding mission.

      It seems to me that our approaches are already very aligned if not identical… but I love how simply you explain this point – super clear, great language. Cheers!

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