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:

– http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/supernanny.htm
– http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/timeouts
– http://www.parenting-with-love.com/do-time-outs-make-children-behave-better/
– http://genevievesimperingham.com/what-does-a-child-learn-when-theyre-put-in-time-out/

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