Guest Post: Setting Limits With Children |

Guest Post: Setting Limits With Children

admin August 27, 2011

Recently I posted an article, Do You Want Your Children to be Obedient or Have Good Judgment? and it stirred up a little bit of controversy. The minute I start sharing about some of the problems with using punishments in the discipline of children, the immediate question is, so what do you do????

The assumption is that if you do not spank or use time-outs you must be a permissive parent. I think in many people’s minds it’s either one or the other. I want to propose to you that there is another way. Not punitive, not permissive. Two terms I’ve heard are, “Gentle Parenting,” or “Grace-Based Parenting,” but I don’t think the label matters. I like to think of it as parenting from the heart.

Answering the question, “so what do you do?” is actually not that simple. Understanding this way of parenting requires an entire shift in the way we view children and parenting.

The biggest shift in this style of parenting is a shift in the way we view behaviors. Instead of trying to find ways to get our children to obey, we look at ways to meet their needs, understanding that meeting a child’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs will change their behavior. All behavior is a form of communication and so we become detectives, learning to decipher the underlying cause behind the behavior – what is our child trying to communicate to us? At the most basic level it may be, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I need some attention. Or it may be, I feel frustrated, I had a hard day and I don’t know how to tell you about it, I’m angry because things aren’t going my way and I don’t know how to handle these strong emotions. Once you’ve uncovered the reason for the behavior, you can meet that need and the behavior will disappear at a core level.

Another thing we have to recognize is that emotions are not bad behavior. There will be things that I don’t allow my children to do. But they are allowed, even expected at times, to feel sad or angry. And I will be there to help through those strong emotions. The limit won’t be moving – we won’t be having candy for breakfast – but I will help him get through the strong feelings that follow. By being there as the anger and sadness pours out helps my children internalize that comforting and in time soothe themselves. This helps them learn how to regulate their emotions – not by stuffing them, not by being destructive, but by feeling them and knowing that it’s ok, we’ll get through it and in the end we’ll both feel better. The goal is to not break connection with my children by making them feel afraid or guilty for their feelings.

Like I said, it’s not a simple answer, but I have found this way of gentle parenting to feel so right. And through this process of parenting, I’m actually becoming a better person. In order to be the type of parent I need to be for my kids, I have to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal what’s going on underneath my own behaviors. When I lose my patience, or feel I’m at the end of my rope, I can’t take it anymore. What is really going on? I have to take this same view on myself and be open to the work the Lord wants to do in my own heart. It is a heart-wrenching process, but so worth it. The end result is a real feeling of closeness with my children. The trust, love and openness I feel with them is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Try it, you might be surprised!

Written by Leslie Freeman

Leslie is a wife and mom of four boys. She and her family live and work in Costa Rica reaching out to children at risk. She writes at Real Child Development about taking the study of child development and applying it directly to her real, everyday life with kids.

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  1. Thanks for a great post! I have really struggled in the area of discipline. We do spank some, but I feel bad when we do. I feel like it's necessary in some instances like if our child runs out in front of a car when we stay "stop," etc.

    I read Grace-Based Parenting, but my hubby said I was already leaning too heavily on the grace side (actually–more like the permissive side).

    Our older daughter is 3 and very strong-willed. It has been hard to find a means of discipline that actually works with her.

    I used to live in Costa Rica! I met my husband there. I taught at Sojourn Academy in San Francisco de Dos Rios in San Jose! Awww…I miss that place!


  2. Hi Erin! Thank you for the comment! I lived in San Francisco de dos Rios for two years…what a fun connection! It is hard to make a major shift in discipline without the support of your husband. It was hard for my husband, too, but I have been able to share articles and books with him and he has shifted over now. A huge shift for him was reflecting on his own past and the discipline he received. He doesn't feel very close with his father now and he wants a different relationship with his kids. If we want to have a close relationship with our adult children, we have to start treating them with respect now. It starts now. I love the concept too, that this style of parenting is not permissive. That there is a way to discipline that is not punitive, but not permissive either. It takes a lot of strength to be gentle. Buena suerte y que Dios le bendiga! 😉


  3. The assumption that people who parent gently must be parenting permissively is one that deserves to be overcome. When the parenting styles are examined closely, they could not be more different.

    Permissive parents seem not to care much about their kids. The child makes a ruckus in a restaurant, and the permissive parent checks their text messages. The child throws a fit in the grocery store line, and the permissive parent buys the candy bar to 'shut them up'. In contrast, the gentle parent puts what they were doing on hold, and effortfully connects with their child. Making eye contact in the restaurant, the parent acknowledges that it is hard to sit still and wait for food, and suggests colouring, or a walk to the restroom to help pass the time. Getting down to the child's level at the store, the parent empathizes with the child's fatigue and interest in candy, but firmly says that a snack will be happening at home, and redirects the child to helping to unload the grocery cart. Permissive parenting has a short term view, with the aim of solving or ignoring the nuisance of having children in this moment. Gentle parenting looks long term, considers what the child needs to learn, and how to teach that in a way that shows respect for the child's understanding, age, and personhood.

    I think the reason that it is difficult to answer the question of "what do you do if you don't punish?" is that there is no one-size-fits-all reaction when it comes to gentle parenting. Each situation is unique, and deserves a sensitive and thoughtful response. This is parenting at its hardest, but also, at its most rewarding.


  4. Wow, Lisa, what a thoughtful, insightful comment. You give such excellent examples, too, of the contrast between the two styles. I couldn't agree more!


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

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