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.

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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:



How do we get kids to WANT to eat healthily?

drink cold water

drink cold water (Photo credit: Jay Hsu 藍川芥)

New research indicates that kids who understand more about food, the nutrients it contains and and what they do in our body are more likely to want to eat their greens.

This totally jibes with my experience – although my example is with drinks rather than food. At around 2 my kid discovered juice and (though we dilluted it and only gave her about 1/4 juice or less) it got so that she wouldn’t drink water on its own. I was really not happy about this but there were extenuating circumstances: a) I could see that she drank much more fluid when there was even just a splash of (organic, 100%) fruit juice in it – and I know the importance of hydration to the body; and b) I often used the taste of the juice to disguise her probiotics, fish oils and other supplements – mostly aimed at helping ease her eczema. So the juice was also helping in a way. But, at the same time, I am aware of the effect of even fruit sugars on blood sugar and teeth.

So, a few months back, we started talking to her much more about the importance and advantage of drinking plain water. I think the tooth-health argument really got through to her. We never made it scary or threat based. We didn’t want to scare her into drinking more water, we just wanted her to make an informed decision based on more than just taste. And, now, at 3.5 she has decided that most days she’ll drink only water and occasionally drink juice… and actually she hasn’t asked for juice since she made this new resolution, a couple of weeks back (though I know this can still change at any moment lol). Still, I love this. I am very proud of it, actually (hey, you got celebrate the ‘wins’, right?)

And I get that much of this is because at 2 or 2.5 when she started wanting only juice she didn’t have the cognitive whereabouts to grasp the finer aspects of the nutritional choices she was (unconsciously) making – she was guided by her taste buds alone. And now at 3.5 she can get this stuff, make connections… but I am so proud that she did get it and made the choice by herself without any real pressure from us. Okay we told her water was better and explained why but we kept cheerfully giving her the juice until she chose the water, for herself. We gave her freedom and time so she could decide for herself.

Would this exact approach work with all kids, in the same time-span? Possibly not – but I bet it would work with most, sooner or later. Given good information, (most) kids make good choices, in my experience.  This new research from Stamford seems to indicate my gut feeling might just be right, if you give kids credit for the ability to understand and care about their health, they will rise to it.

Here is the piece on the Stamford research on the effects of teaching pre-schoolers more about nutrition. Enjoy!

Breaking the Silence: Attachment Parenting Is Hard

You don’t have to be a martyr to be a good mom.

I just had a long conversation with a fellow AP friend of mine. She is feeling burnt out… even as she LOVES what she does and spending time with her bubbling, smart, energetic two-year old. In the conversation, this came up: we don’t have to be martyrs to be good parents.

Parenting is hard. Attachment Parenting mamas and papas are, arguably, even more likely to make choices that put the child first, sometimes at some personal sacrifice. Everybody reminds us not to do it. It is about finding ‘whole family solutions’ that meet everyone’s needs – that is something I myself am fond of saying, for example. Even the Sears, who coined the term Attachment Parenting, emphasise balance and remind us that ‘if you resent it, change it’ and that you need to take care of yourself as well as your baby. Metaphors of putting the oxygen mask on your own face before you place them on your kids abound.


Still, I find those of us in the natural, attachment parenting movement are sometimes particularly guilty of setting crazy high standards for ourselves. Breastfeeding ‘on demand’ until they are four? – sure! Cloth diapers? Absolutely. Co-sleeping and waking several times a night, every night, until they are three? No problem. We will even argue publicly that these are, for us, the easier choices. Breastfeeding and co-sleeping are easier in many ways than bottle-feeding, for example, especially in those first 6 to 12 months. This is true.

And again, let me be clear that I know all parents make sacrifices and put their kids first often… but I am talking here to AP parents who know some of those extra lengths many of us will go to in the name of creating secure attachments and staying ‘crunchy’: ALL food has to be home-cooked; baby must be carried not pushed; we don’t take breaks, ever! I know I am talking of the extremes here… and still I bet this is something many of us can relate to, choosing the ‘higher’ rather than the easier path.

We do not regret it. We probably would do most if not all of it again – AND it is bloody hard.

People don’t like to talk about this. There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding how hard Attachment Parenting can be, especially for those of us who do not live in any kind of ‘village’. We don’t want to talk about how hard it is because it seems like  it would be giving in to our critics, who accuse us of competing to be ‘mom enough’ by being self-sacrificing to a fault. We don’t want to talk about it because, hey we chose this and nobody wants to be a whinger. And still, sometimes it has to be said, too. Attachment Parenting is NOT the easy path, most of the time. It is fulfilling. It yields wonderful outcomes and, in any case, most of us deeply enjoy the actual process, the doing of it, most of the time, anyway. We do it out of love. And, yes, it can be done in a more or less balanced way (especially if you have family or a strong support network near by) but I feel as a movement that is trying to re-define or re-purpose these old ways for a modern world, this is our challenge: to meet all of baby’s needs without neglecting our own.

Maybe some of you do this wonderfully already. Many of us, including me, are still learning.

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[Yes, I know you could and many probably have written similar posts speaking specifically to single parents or working parents or parents of kids with disabilities or those really struggling financially or… all those  challenges are REAL and incredibly hard. I bow to all working parents. I have deep respect for the work all single parents put in. And I cannot begin to do justice to my admiration for those who parent kids with physical or cognitive impairments who somehow do it with joy and grace and positivity. You amaze me!… and still, even knowing many parents have it way worse, I still want to take a moment to talk about some AP challenges in particular.

Of course if you are a single, working AP parent with a disabled child and on a low-income (or any combination of the above) – well then, F*CK, you rock! And please PM me as I’d happily host a blog post on how you do it!]

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For the APers:

Share here, if nowhere else, aspects of Attachment Parenting which (though you would chose them again) you find extra-specially challenging and draining?

What do you do to take care of your own needs? How do you keep yourself from burning out while being the very best AP parent you can be?

What areas have you willingly compromised on? What standards did you let drop (despite your original dream to do them) because they proved to be unrealistic for your individual family? (cloth diapering being one of mine – I totally wanted to do it… but I just did not have the extra energy in me at the time so it was when that fell by the wayside)

And tell me areas you are really proud that you stuck with despite how very exhausting it was to do and despite the fact that you were, perhaps, one of the only people you know that went that extra mile?

I am hoping (and will work to ensure) this will be a safe, AP-supportive place to confess among friends and those who won’t judge some of the things we find hard even though we chose them and would chose them again.


‘I hate you’ cannot touch Unconditional Love

green gauri

Within each of us is a sea of Unconditional LOVE, yearning for us to remember that it is who we are. Waves come and call themselves sadness, fear, anger, hatred, joy, excitement, etc. They do that. But the sea is LOVE – you are love.

The same happens with our children – but they quickly act as if  they are the waves. They feel a moment of hatred and say ‘I hate you’, they feel a moment of sadness and cry with all their might; they are angry and they express it with their whole selves because they live soooo in the NOW! And that is good, healthy to feel what is arising for them, completely. It is good if we as adults remember always who they are, they are LOVE.

Even as they are ‘waving’ (in anger, sadness, fear, etc), they ARE love and if we keep talking to them knowing, remembering that the unconditional LOVE is way stronger than whatever passing wave of feeling is coming up for them, they will (eventually) return to that, too, their trust and connection with us re-built.

Honour your child’s feelings as they come up. They are real, very real to them. Listen to them deeply, remind them that this feeling is valid… but hold in your heart the certainty that they are LOVE expressing a passing emotion (of anger, hatred, over-excitement), etc. The more often you can come back to love, even as they are ‘waving’ the safer they will feel in showing you all the passing BIG feelings that come for them, as they will sense that you know that is not who they are, it is just what they are feeling, for a moment.

And whether or not they grow up to believe themselves to be an ‘angry person’ or if they know that they are LOVE who happens to occasionally express some passing anger is, in large part, up to you. You can remind your child always, through your actions and words, that feelings are bubbles that come up for us and they pass, but the unconditional bond between you is unbreakable. More  importantly still, who they are is, at its core, LOVE and they can always return their attention to that in fullness, once the very human, very natural feeling has done its waving and is passed.

This is our job, in my opinion, to remember they are love, even when they forget it. Is it easy? No, not always. Not when our beloved child is shouting that they hate us, trying to hit their innocent little sibling or generally pushing our buttons. It is not easy but it is our calling, in my view.

One trick that can be useful for those starting out on this path is to choose one memory from a time in which you were with your child and felt only love for them and then consciously chose to recall that memory at the very moment when you are almost about to believe they are anger, and get pulled into being angry, too… instead, hold the pleasant memory, feel that love and answer from that space. You still validate their feelings but you also remember the unconditional love that binds you.

It becomes a virtuous cycle, remembering they are love and that feelings are just passing clouds (to mix my metaphors) can help us reconnect with the unconditional love inside of us (that is us). And us holding ourselves in our own centres, even as we are challenged to come out of it (and become angry/fearful/sad/etc – and believe we are that – too) will help our child express everything they have to express, fully, and then, when the catharsis, is complete, come back to their own center, knowing they are LOVE.

It is possible to feel love, even as we are angry. The unconditional love for me is like an unmoving background, always there, even as other passing-feelings project themselves on that canvas. The more we practice connecting with and seeing the unconditional LOVE (definitely different from romantic love or infatuation), the more we remember that LOVE is stronger and the easier it becomes to come back to it, even in times of crises.

Again, I waver. I don’t always find it easy, either… but I do find it true. I do find it a very worthwhile practice. I do see it helps in every facet of my life to know the LOVE is not just unconditional, it is truly eternal and ever present.

I am LOVE and remembering that helps me remember my child is LOVE, too… even when she isn’t acting like it.


Slow Parenting: eight simple steps to help our children be calmer

Everyone wants a smart child, a co-operative and respectful child but in the rush to fill their minds and set stern loving limits, sometimes it would seem – those of us living in Western countries especially – can forget to leave time for peace, for contemplation, for silence and healing solitude.

We complain our children are bouncing off walls and sometimes that comes down to genetic differences… but often these kids are just responding to the pace of life we immerse them in. They are running fast because their lives are fast, the games and TV shows they watch are fast, even the food they eat is fast – ‘cooked’ fast and eaten faster.

So, while you continue to nurture your kids’ intellectual potential and  support them in developing an inner moral code and even as you may or may not be taking them to church or otherwise feeding their soul… spare a thought for the importance of nothingness, of being okay with just being and feeling comfortable within one’s own skin.

Here are few a suggested starting points:

  1. 67- footprints on the beach copy IIIIf you want to have a calmer child, start by having a calm schedule and make sure you timetable-in free time for self-led play, ideally every day. Kids need time to process what is going on in the world around them. They are taking so much in.  Being kids, they get to grips with what is happening through play. It needs to be self-led to really unlock the full power of creativity and the potential within them, imo. Don’t get me wrong other types of play are crucial, too, such as with their peers, ‘special’ one-to-one time with a parent/caregiver, therapeutic play (aka laughter games and ‘PlayListening’) but pure, unsupervised self-initiated play is incredibly valuable, too, and I believe it is crucial in allowing kids to self-regulate their emotions. Make sure you make time for each of your kids to enjoy the pleasure of their own company and pursue whatever is interesting them at the moment, on their own.
  2. Time in nature is healing. Want a calmer kid? Help them spend as much time in nature  as possible. [Read this: And I love this about the magical effect of nature and space in resolving sibling conflicts:
  3. A relaxing environment, simple, spacious with few open-ended toys displayed in little scenes (rather than thrown in big bins) can also really invite longer, calmer periods of play, indoors. I have written more about that here… although I confess I need to really re-simplify my own living environment, too!
  4. Calming foods (slow/homecooked foods) also help – and reducing junk, sugar, hydrogenated fats, artificial colours and preservatives is part of that.  Make sure kids are well hydrated, too, and that they get lots of good fats as those are two important factors in soothing the nervous system. Here are a few suggestions of specifically calming foods: (and at our house we love green smoothies which almost always have bananas AND spinach – two of the calming ingredients). Or check out this eye-opening first person account:
  5. … and taking care of the body, generally, is important in creating the inner conditions for calm – for example by making sure kids get enough exercise and sleep every day!
  6. Silence also aids concentration and inner restfulness. Having only nature sounds or ‘working silence‘ surround your kid much of their day is very soothing. If you live in a city, it can be about NOT having the TV or radio on in the background ALL the time. Mellow classical/instrumental music without words can be relaxing sometimes, too (but silence is important other times, too, right?). And here is Janet Lansbury on the  importance of silence in learning to listen:
  7. Freedom of expression… few things are more helpful to cultivating inner peace than to let all the psychic and emotional junk out. At times, what some kids need is a good listening to! It is amazing what feeling understood can do to help our kids be at ease with who they are and be able to play for long periods of time in harmony with themselves and others. Some of my ‘aha!’ moments on this topic: here. Much more on the clearing, cathartic effects of emotional release on kids here:
  8. Keeping calm, yourself, and surrounding your kid with relaxed, joyful, empathic people models the way.

None of these are magical cures for ‘electric’ children but together they can help and at the very least should be, imo, the starting point for helping kids find their own inner calm… and if they are old enough, you can even start practicing a little meditation together :)

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Further reading:
BBC piece on the importance of being ‘bored’ 
– ‘Simplicity Parenting‘ by Kim John Payne
– ‘Last Child in the Woods‘ by  Richard Louv

Why my techy family limits screen time for little’uns?

195- in the grass

Today while out for an amble at a beach by the bay, I was talking to a friend about how many top execs here in Silicon Valley (just down the road from where I live) chose to bring up their kids in low/no tech homes.

I don’t see it as a contradiction, quite the opposite, it makes a lot of sense to me. We are not ‘Silicon Valley Executives’ but still I can relate. We are a pretty tech-oriented family. I spend a lot of time online blogging and managing my facebook page and my husband is a Software Engineer. I think we (people immersed in technology but who chose to emphasise other things in early childhood) are saying we trust our kids to pick up all that fun stuff, in a snap. We feel confident to be able to guide them through the world of technology in a few years and that they will be soon teaching us… but in the meantime, we want them to have a chance to build up a real, enduring love for some of the things that are not so ‘easy’ to form a lasting relationship with, like nature, social-games and free-play, literature, crafting and silence. These are the things that NEED to be cultivated now, imo.  These are the things that take time, energy and effort: to create our own fun (in free play), to learn to interact with others joyfully and respectfully and to *want* to spend more time outdoors. These things don’t come automatically. They need to be nurtured.

For me it is a given that kids will love cartoons, for example. No effort required on my (or their) part to ‘learn to love’ TV. Plus research shows that even seven year olds never exposed to technology catch up with their computer-savvy friends in no time, given a chance [I read this but cannot for the life of me remember where – but there is plenty of other juicy stuff in the links below]. But to develop a life-long connection to the environment, to cultivate the ability to be at ease with oneself in stillness, to practice being truly creative by leading in our own projects, to learn to think critically and independently – these are things we need to put our conscious attention into, if we want these qualities and skills to flourish in our children. Technology will always appeal. It is the other stuff that needs work.

At the same time, while I understand some of the unhelpful effects of screen-time on young kids (especially under the age of two) I do not think TV, video games or phones are evil. Far from it – I love them. But I think they are ‘easy’ and sometimes it is the slow, silent, natural stuff that gets left behind in the rush and it is those things I want to honour for now. I want my daughter’s childhood memories to be filled with picnics and family time, great ‘construction projects’ and little theatre shows she put on for us – the kind of stuff that you really only get to when the TV is off – most of the time, at least.

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How about you, what balance works for your family and why?

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More here:


Musings on Materialism, the Day After Christmas…

Whenever somebody asked my child what she wanted for Christmas she answered ‘a surprise’. I felt all glowey about this – not least because this response was not coached in any way, it came totally from her.Gauri and Anya opening prezzies

But now she has us scratching our heads, wondering how we can preserve this open-heartedness in her. How do we keep it from turning into the greed, materialism and acquisitiveness that so often comes with Christmas? She is (nearly, nearly) 3 now.

We plan to continue to focus on family, good food and the feeling of love and connection rather than on ‘things’. Will that be enough, I wonder?…

I can’t help but think that cultivating the ‘Christmas spirit’ of giving, gratitude and gracefulness is not about what we do one day a year, what we give her or don’t give her on the 25th of December, what we say when she opens a gift or how we respond to her reactions as she discovers what ‘santa’ brought her… I suspect it is our attitude toward having rather than being all year round, that counts. That is what shapes who she is and how she feels about herself and whether or not she thinks she needs stuff.

A friend of mine said once that she likes to give her kids whatever they want so that they grow up feeling abundant and that whatever they want is within their reach. She comes from kind of new-agey stock :)  (as do I, but we see this one differently…) I actually think it is the opposite. The more we cultivate contentedness and gratitude for what we already have the more ‘abundant’ we feel in our hearts and in our lives.

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How about you – what little or big things have you been doing to combat the ‘holidays = gifts’ and the ‘more, bigger, better’ mentality that surrounds our kids this time of year?