Home Go to Family & Parenting
Joyful Discipline: Setting Clear Boundaries with Joy in Your Heart
by Shelly Birger Phillips, MA,
Editor's Note: Lately my clients have been asking me for real life examples of how to handle discipline lovingly and non-punitively. This article is my answer! Please leave me a comment, I'd love to know if gentle discipline is working well for you.
I’ve been doing some online research into discipline and wow, there’s a lot of misleading and just plain ineffective information out there! Just yesterday I saw an article that was actually quite disturbing to me. The article suggested a lot of punitive discipline but the one that really struck me was the idea of creating a “consequences jar” and when a child misbehaved, just going over to the jar and pulling out a random consequence and applying it to the child. Whoa. This is not only ineffective; it’s just plain mean. I don’t want my child to be afraid of doing the wrong thing and then forced to make up for it by performing some random task.
So, clearly I’m not an advocate of random consequences, spanking, punishments, or even time-outs but that might leave you wondering, “How can I set clear boundaries with my child in a way that’s kind and respectful, but also maintains some order and keeps us all safe and happy?” My answer is easy to understand and challenging to implement. Setting clear and consistent boundaries with joy in your heart is the key to effective, respectful discipline.
Thinking back over the past few weeks, consider the moments when you felt you needed to create or maintain a rule or boundary. How were you feeling in the moment? I find that I tend to restrict my daughter’s behavior the most when I’m feeling upset or overwhelmed. When I’m feeling creative and joyful, I rarely even need to stop her from what she’s doing!
That doesn’t mean we don’t have rules. It does mean that our rules are based on either safety or exhibiting our values. For instance, I’ve never liked to see babies chewing on board books. I understand that for some people, destroying a board book due to teething seems like no big deal, but for me, it represents misuse of a valuable object.
So ever since my daughter could hold a board book, our rule has been, “Books are for reading, not for eating!” The rule was stated often as we initially established it, but it was said with joy and enthusiasm, not in a threatening or angry tone. And guess what? We still have beautifully pristine board books and a daughter who LOVES to look at them independently. Sure, she occasionally tests the boundary, and every single time I protect the book from her, smiling and playing with her as I remind her, “Books are for reading, not for eating, silly!” Sometimes this evolves into a fun game, other times I remove the books and we find something else to do, but most of the time, she would just rather look at and read the book than chew on it.
Recently Julia received an easel as a holiday gift and our rule is that the crayons must remain at the easel. She has a hard time remembering the rule, so I’ve figured out some ways to make it easier for her. I either remove the crayons, which means she has to ask for them (and then I supervise her with them and remind her to return them to the easel when she steps away), or I tie them onto the easel with a string. Either way, I’m making sure that the rule is observed, but I’m not angry with her for breaking it, instead, I want it to be easy for her to follow the rule. That’s what I mean about having joy in your heart as you maintain a boundary. For me, I know that if it’s turning into a power struggle, then I’m on the wrong path.
For those of you with older children, here’s a blog I wrote called “How I averted a power struggle and created a game instead” which has another example of setting a clear boundary with joy in your heart. This happened with a six year old boy who was really pushing my buttons.
So your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to sit down this week at a time when you’re feeling joyful and loving and write down all the rules of your household. Then take a look at them and decide whether any of them can be dropped. Next, identify the rules that are really important to you but are the most difficult for your kids to follow. Brainstorm about ways to make it easier for your children to follow these rules. Lastly, make a commitment to yourself that this week you’ll stop, breathe, and feel joy in your heart before you remind your child of the rules. “I love you so much, and this is not OK.”
Please share your thoughts about joyful discipline- does it work? Is it hard? Easy? I want to know!
Please "Add a Comment" at the bottom of this page or blog in our Forum here.
Please do not use apostrophes in your comments.
About the Author
Shelly Phillips is passionate about being absolutely the best mom she can be and supporting other parents to do the same. She offers individual parent coaching over the phone to parents all over the world using a connection-based parenting approach.
Visit her blog: http://www.awakeparent.com/blog
For more info on her parent coaching visit: http://www.awakeparent.com/coaching
Bend, Oregon USA