Category Archives: Gentle Parenting Toolkits

But What About Discipline?

But what about discipline?

I discipline, yes. I teach about the consequences of actions.

With spanking?

No, that is punishment, not discipline. Discipline is teaching, not punishment. Punishment is disconnected from an event, it is a thing done to a child, not a thing in which the child is engaged.

Discipline looks like explaining consequences connected to an event.

“If you pull the cat’s tail she may scratch you and she won’t want to play anymore.”

It looks like explaining what happened and showing empathy for the child’s upset or hurt from a situation, not trying to drive a point deeper to make them feel it more.

“I am sorry that your favorite cup broke when you dropped it on the floor. I know you are upset. I would be, too.”

Discipline means that the consequences for an action exist even if I am not in the room. That they stand alone, and even the tiny little consequences have weight all on their own.

When something needs to be made huge in order to merit attention, the child just becomes numb to that thing, the original reason.

That is not discipline, it ia desensitization and conditioning.

Don’t Think of Pink Elephants, and the Annoying Repetitive Behaviors of Children

Don’t think of pink elephants. Stop thinking of pink elephants. STOP THINKING OF PINK ELEPHANTS! If you keep thinking of pink elephants you are going to have to sit on the bottom stair for one minute. TWO MINUTES! FIVE MINUTES! STOP THINKING ABOUT PINK ELEPHANTS RIGHT THIS MINUTE!

There are some behaviors that my children start up on the minute that certain adults come home.

The behaviors that have to STOP RIGHT NOW. The behaviors that have consequences. The behaviors that pop up randomly across our days together but in small and manageable amounts that quickly pass.

When someone is fixated on something you don’t get them to stop by talking about it.

Remember the pink elephants? I’m guessing it became a bit easier to put them out of your mind after I stopped talking about them as much. Because you started thinking about what I was talking about instead. Your mind moved on.

I call these behaviors “Pink elephant behaviors”. They aren’t going to stop no matter how much you DEMAND THAT THEY STOP.

Change the topic if you don’t like it. Teach them something else to do if they’re bored. Remove them from the room where they’re doing the thing. Let them know that they can do it in a specific place, then insist that they go to that place, instead.

But stop talking about the pink elephant in the room.


Sleeping Tigers, Switched-Off Cliffs and Teaching Toddlers about Every Day Dangers

Once upon a time when humans first roamed the planet.. There were no Dangerous Steep Cliffs that had an off-switch, and sleeping tigers were still very dangerous to poke. Back then parents didn’t have the luxury of teaching children about dangerous things with a “no! no!” and they simply showed their child the fear that the parent had for the dangerous thing, and the child knew not to approach.

Today we interact with our Dangerous things. We ride in the cars that can run us over. We cross those streets. And when our child runs towards those things we…. Do what? We often do the same thing that we do when our child interacts with the Dangerous Things that are turned off.

“No!” we say and run after them, turning it into a marvelous game of chase where the child runs as fast as they can away from the parent. (Usually right into the street.)

I don’t. I stage opportunities for my children to safely approach a danger in its “off” state. And I allow panic into my voice. It’s a dangerous sleeping tiger, not an empty road. It’s a cliff, not a stove that has been turned off. I look ahead, I make sure that the road is clear, and I watch as they approach the street alone. I drift closer and as they approach the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the quiet residential street that we live on, I call out in panic and freeze until they look at me, startled, and begin to toddle towards me in a rush of instinct to climb into my arms. I run over to them, sweep them up against my chest where they can feel the rapid beat of my heart from the adrenaline rush I just pushed myself to have.

“Not alone.” I say. We cross while holding hands, in the stroller, while I carry you. Not alone.

When a toddler hears a parent be afraid they become afraid. This is instinct. It’s a part of them just like reflexes are.

When a toddler with a healthy attachment is scared they run towards the parent even if the parent is right there with the source of danger.

This is how my children learn that they stay on the sidewalk and don’t go near the grassy edge. This is how my children learn that we hold hands and don’t let go when we walk through parking lots. This is how my children learn that they don’t touch the stove, that they don’t reach for things that are above their heads on counter-tops.

And as they get older I teach them what to watch for, and we talk about earning trust as they tell me what it is that they need to be able to see and what they need to be able to do in different situations.

They learn about danger, not as something that I “don’t want them to do”, but as something that I am afraid of. As a sleeping tiger.

The Happy Things Hands Can Do After Hitting

Your hand slaps against my face suddenly. I catch the feelings that balloon inside of me and I breathe them out before they burst.

Time can slow like this.

I turn my face to look at yours, catching your still-raised hand in mine.

“Keenie, ouch. That hurt mama. Ouch! Ouch! Mama’s sad. I’m sad.” I say, and let sadness show on my face. You know “ouch”. You’ve heard it when you fall. You know “sad”, you’ve heard the word when you’re sad about how your brothers have done something that you don’t like.

You giggle and say “funny!”.  My face stays sad. You pull your hand away and try to hit again. I put you down and say “Please don’t hit me. I don’t like that. Ouch!” and you launch yourself at my legs in upset, trying to clamber back up to where you want to be so that you can hit again.

You are not a small sociopath, you are not a bully, you are not mean, and you are not being abusive. You’re exploring. Your learning. You’re developing a model of reference for things. You are learning that the things you feel inside of you are not always the things that match the people around you. You are learning that hitting hurts.

This is what learning looks like. Like repetition, like consistent reactions or like exceptions. You have learned that hands are okay for hitting other hands when high fives are given, you’re learning that hands don’t hit faces, that hands don’t hit when angry, that dogs and cats don’t give or get high fives.

I catch your hands and kiss them. I show you how to tickle, to gently pat, to walk them like a puppet on my shoulder. Look? See? These are the happy things that your hands can do. High fives where hands hit other hands. Clapping where hands hit each other. Gentle things. Patting on a drum. Throwing a ball. Hitting a ball. But not my face. Ouch! Oh Keenie, not my face.

We don’t dwell here long. I’ve caught your hands in mine, I’ve shown you what to do instead, we’ve practiced it and you’ve had your success. Now we move past this place from the point of what you have done right, not from the point of an EXPLOSIVE YELL OF “NO” THAT HURTS YOUR EARS and that just says “don’t do that” without telling you what you can do instead.

You are little and still learning, you are learning self control. You are learning the rules of things.

I am grown, and I know these things. And one of the things that I know is that learning takes time. Your hands are big enough to sting briefly but you are tiny and can cause me no real harm.

Waiting Room Games for Toddlers


A friend asked how to keep a young toddler occupied in a waiting room. I figured I’d share it here as well. :)

Upside Down Baby 
“Upside down baby” is a huge hit. Hold him on your lap straddling your waist. Hold his hands and open your knees and lower him until he’s hanging upside down. Bring him slowwwwly up and say “peekaboo!” Or you can say “uppppsiiiiiddown! Riiiighttttsideup!” Be careful that baby is not somehow licking the floor and that baby does not flip over upside down. 

Art Walk
Wander the office and look at artwork. This works best if baby is sitting on your shoulders and you’re holding baby’s hands to keep baby from falling off of your shoulders. Otherwise baby will attempt to pull all of the artwork off of the walls. If you are not fast they will succeed. 

Trot Trot to Boston
“Trot Trot to Boston” is fun. Start off with baby sitting on your knees facing you, with one leg off on the outside of each of your legs. Bounce your legs and say “trot trot to boston trot trot to lynne be careful when you get there.. you don’t fall in!” and then open your knees and baby “falls” into the space between while you’re holding onto baby’s hands. Be careful to not actually drop baby. *Note: Do not worry, this will not convert him to a Red Sox fan when he grows up, despite mentioning Boston. If you need to be cautious you can substitute any type of rhyming thing that involves the world opening up and swallowing him whole.

Sliding Face Changer
Play the “sliding face changer” game. Hold your hand in front of you so that the knuckles face out, your thumb faces up and your pinky finger faces down so that it can move up and down like a shutter. Move it up in front of your mouth- as it moves change the expression of your mouth. Move it over your eyes and change the expression of your eyes. As your hand comes up and baby can see all of your face you should have “Funny Face A”. Slide your hand down. As your hand obscures your eyes and then mouth change the expression. As your hand comes down below your chin you should have “Funny Face B”. You can add to this game by saying “Sad”.. “Angry”.. “Happy”.. “Sleepy”.. etc. Or you can make a sound before a specific face so that he can guess what face is going to come. Teaches pattern recognition. I’ve managed to make my daughter fascinated with patterns and she looks for them everywhere.

It looks like this:

Knee Bounce Patterns
Play the knee-bounce pattern game. Put him on your knees ala “trot trot to Boston”. Bounce your knees up and down and say “Bum bum bum”. Then bounce your left knee and say “Boom boom boom” then bounce your right knee and say “Bam Bam Bam”. Vary the patterns. Then start saying the pattern before the bounce. He’ll start trying to predict which bounce is coming. This works best if you make it very very suspenseful and make Obvious Eye Contact of “this is about to be funnnnn.” You can even raise one knee like you’re about to bounce to the wrong pattern and see what he does. My daughter dissolves into fits of laughter when I am about to “get it wrong” because she knows I’m going to do something silly just before I do the right pattern. *Note: This may have strange consequences as the child grows older. Do not blame me if he becomes obsessed to listening to old Beatles songs backwards to find secret messages.

Body Part Identification
Ask him where all of his body parts are. Hand, nose, fingers, toes, belly button.. If he doesn’t know them now is a fun time to teach him. 

Animal Sounds
Ask him what different animals say. What does a cow, donkey, elephant, etc. say. If he doesn’t know them, now is a fun time to teach them. 

Paper Ripping
Bring paper. Let him rip paper. Also bring a bag for the ripped paper. Toddlers LOVE to rip paper. Love love love love love. 

Bring Books
Bring books. Unless he likes to throw books. Never bring anything that can be thrown unless you are willing to crawl under many things. 

Fake Wallet
Make a fake wallet. Fill it with those shoppers discount cards everyone wants you to have, the library card that you have from when you were twelve and that you never got rid of, the expired ID that someone punched a hole in and that you can’t actually use anymore, the fake credit cards that everyone sends you that are not real credit cards, the Kohls discount cards, and various things that you have printed out and laminated to make chew-proof and rip-proof (See the previous paragraph where paper ripping is mentioned.) Fill it up with LOTS OF THINGS! Now it’s baby’s wallet. Or baby’s purse. The more child-friendly contraband stuff the better. DO NOT allow them to use your real purse or your real wallet for this purpose. This stuff gets thrown and you have to retrieve it. You do not want your actual license to somehow manage to disappear. Trust me on this.

Let the Lesser Words Go

All the words there are, simply start a war
“manipulative”, “careless”, “ungrateful brat”
“conniving little cur”, “an artful boor”
no rod for your back, don’t be a doormat.

The things we notice are the things that float us
or the things that pull us down
the things that buoy us or the things that destroy us
and the things that make us drown .

Words so focused on upset, so simple to forget
you- a tiny little hand, a chubby little cheek,
Me? So big and strong, been around so long,
But anger makes us weak

I pause, I breathe, grasp at straws, sink down to my knees,
look at you, all the things that I love
God, give me patience please.
I can sit and talk without towering above.

little messes, broken things, grownup stresses,
words that others have fed me,
I can pass those words on like outgrown dresses
I refuse to have you dread me.

Open arms, pull you near, no more anger and no more fears,
I won’t let those words between us,
open heart, my head can clear, a gentle touch to brush our tears,
let there be love, nothing more and nothing less.
no more sadness in-between us.

I’ll let those words go, love the you that I know,
innovative, curious, endlessly creative,
You grin and you glow, strive to grow,
Dear one, you’re impressive, such a blessing
when I let the lesser words go.

(Written after a series of posts on one of the support groups by mamas that are working to let the lesser words go. <3 You’ll let them go, mama. You will. Be gentle with yourself, too, as no one was gentle with you.)

Breathe In, Breathe Out (The Zen in Tantrums)

Small flailing body in my arms. Screechy loud upset voice over wishes and desires that conflict with each other in ways she can’t understand. Frustration. This loud little thunderstorm isn’t a big and powerful thing. It is just bigger than the her I’ve known as she has grown to be this size. Just like her hands look huge in all their littleness, as they are so much bigger than the newborn hands she used to have.

Breathe in. (the scent of her hair has changed since she was a newborn. Less overpowering babyness and more little girl). Breathe out.

Breathe in. (She has grown so much since she was born. Big little hands. Big little feet. So tall!) Breathe out.

Breathe in. (She is so tiny still, in my lap. Hands dwarfed by mine. Feet so small.) Breathe out.

Breathe in. (She has words now, but so few and so hard for her to say. She repeats them over and over to try and get them right.) Breathe out.

Breathe in. (Feel my own size. My own strength. My own bigness. Look at her from the scale of me and where I have grown, not from the scale of how tiny she used to be.) Breathe out.

Oh little girl. Trying to be as big as the little things inside. I’ll hold my calm for you. You can rage it out, let it go, and when you pause to look at me I’ll be those open arms for you to clamber into, still wailing. I’ll hug you tight and tell you it’s okay. Storms pass. It’s all a part of growing. Your body will calm against my own, your breathing will slow, you’ll look up at my face and your tears will slowly stop. Red eyed, damp-cheeked, hiccuping from your sadness and upset.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I love you, little one.

Are You a Gentle Parent or are you Trying to be a Gentle Parent?

I’ve had a few people worry recently that while they TRY to be gentle parents they don’t feel like they are actually gentle parents because they make mistakes and don’t always know what to do. Because they came from homes where they were spanked and yelled at, and while they are trying to change sometimes they yell or want to hit.

Is it possible to be a perfect anything?

A few of my friends are devout Christians. They are very forthcoming about what their faith means- it means that they believe and they strive to live by their faith. They are also very forthcoming about the fact that being Christian does not mean living without sin.

For those among us who are Christians that comparison might help understand what it means to be a “gentle parent” while still not being perfect. We are human. We react to things. We’re not perfect. But we believe strongly in gentle parenting and we strive to be good parents. The process is humbling.

They are Christians even though they are not perfect.

A few of my friends are runners. Some of them are pretty fast and run ten minute miles or faster. Some are running fifteen or twenty minute miles. Some are running 5K’s and some are training for marathons. Being a runner doesn’t mean being perfect and winning every race.

For those among us who are runners that comparison might help understand what it means to be a “gentle parent” and to have that goal and work towards it consistently and persistently but to still be human with human failings.

They are runners even though they are not perfect.

I’m a computer programmer. When I first write a program it’s “version 1” and it has very few features (tools) and a lot of bugs and things that break or don’t work well. I keep working at it. I can’t automagically create the perfect computer program that works wonderfully. I have to slowly build the features (tools) and slowly work on getting rid of the bugs.

For those among us who are computer programmers that comparison might help understand what it means to be a “gentle parent” and to have a goal and work towards it consistently and persistently but to still be human with human failings.

Whatever you are or have been you have experienced what it is to “be” something while still being human.

Parenting is deeply emotional and exhausting and challenging and it’s 24/7. It’s unrealistic to expect to you to be anything less than human or more than human.

The best you can be expected to do is to recognize the times you fall short of your goals or end up parenting in a way that doesn’t mesh with your philosophies and the desires of your heart. To be brutally candid with yourself about your shortcomings and to work on them with all the love you have in your heart so that you can do your best.

You can try and model things like apologies and making changes and how to try harder while being imperfect. Your child is going to be imperfect as well. They will learn from you and how you handle things.

You’re human. And that’s an awesome thing as well as a flawed one.

Pressure makes people crack. So if you’re trying to “be perfect” you’re just going to crack more. Embrace your humanity. Embrace your child’s humanity. Be wonderfully imperfect together and try hard together. Work to make positive changes and to be more of what you want to be.

Some people are always going to be ‘better’ at it than you are. Better runners, better programmers, better at being “gentle” or better at being fun. Some people are always going to be ‘worse’ at it than you are.

It’s not a competition. The only one you’re working on is you. The only one you’re in competition with is who you were yesterday and the week before. Don’t get caught up in the bickering over who is doing ‘it’ better.

Find new ways to approach the situations that cause you to react in ways that you are not proud of, and you’ll be closer to your goals.

The Annoyance of Whining (Emerging Communication Skills)

Dear Daughter,

You’re nineteen months old and your whines cut straight through me. They’re endless sometimes. You whine for everything you don’t have words for, or all the words that you forget in that moment where you feel a need or a want and can’t pull the words out of what you’re feeling.

Whines are just the sad and ouchy things, the urgent wantful wishful things, the hungry needing things. All the things you haven’t found words for yet. Something less of an emergency than cries, but that tries to tell me that something is on your mind. They are just a quiet sound that you hope my heart can translate rather than becoming annoyed.

I won’t let you down, I’ll look at your face, your body. I’ll try to see your need. I’ll offer up the words you’d like to be able to say. One day you’ll know how to say them, how to remember them in the heat of the moment.

You’ll be able to do this because I do this with you now.

I’ve been taught that whining is annoying, that it’s manipulative. “Don’t whine!” “Always whining.” “The whining’s driving me nuts.” “She whines like a baby.” “He won’t stop whining about the toy he wants.” These are the words that have been put in my head by other people, the words that color my emotions red and reactive.

The truth is, whines are a communication of want and need that are somewhat less urgent than cries. They’re a placeholder for words that you’re trying to reach for but that you can’t yet grasp hold of.

The whining’s just the words you’re looking for, and I’m here to help you find them.

You whine and lean your body towards something. I point around and ask “that?” And you learn to point at the things that you want.

You whine and grab at my shirt. I ask “nursh?” and I make the sign that we use. You learn the words.

“Sleepy?” “Hungry?” “That toy?” “Do you want me to carry you?” “Bored?” “Tired?” “Scared?” “Do you want me to put you down?” “All done with the stroller?” “That?” “You want to know the word for that?” “Yes! It’s a cat. Look at the cat run. Run. The kitty’s running!”

Choosing to put the words of others out of my head means that I don’t mistake the “makes me need to respond” feeling that whining brings on for agitation. The annoyance is something that the words of others has put into my head. Your whines are no different from a hungry newborn rooting. They are a call waiting for a response.

That response does not need to be the ineffective annoyance that I have been handed. It’s not you that I should be annoyed with when you’re just doing what you’re supposed to do. I should be annoyed at all the people that have told me that whining is useless or manipulative instead of telling me that it’s something to listen to carefully so that I can translate it to the words you’re trying to learn.

All I need to do is give you the words that you were looking for, and in time you’ll be able to choose the words instead.

<3 Mama

Extended Family Holiday Stress- Coping as a Gentle Parent

Spending time with family members over the holidays can be stressful for some parents that are choosing to raise their children differently from how they were raised or how their other family members are raising their children.

Some things that might help:

Have compassion for your parents and in-laws. They may feel that your choice to “do it differently” is a negative judgement on their own parenting choices that they made with their children. (It’s not that a different path was chosen because they ‘did it wrong’, a different path was chosen because you are a different parent than they were. And that’s okay. You grew up differently than they did. And your children will grow up differently than you did.) This goes doubly for anyone who is currently raising young children.  Not everyone understands that it’s okay for different people to make different choices for their families and you don’t have to convert everyone else in order to be making the right choice for YOUR family. “I love how you raised me and wouldn’t change anything, but this is how I enjoy parenting.” “I love how you raised your son, he’s an amazing man and I’m so thankful for everything he is. This is how we enjoy parenting, though.”

Understand that they are still your parents/your partners parents. They may still feel that it is their job to teach and to guide. It roughly translates to “I am older than you and feel like I have to give you wisdom and advice. I’ve never experienced what you are experiencing but it is my job as a parent to teach you about things. So here’s this thing I heard on this show or read on the internet that sort of fits what you’re going through. I didn’t spend too much time researching it because it’s not relevant to my life but it makes a lot of sense.” Some people don’t let go of things easily, either. Don’t let it make you feel like you are “doing things wrong”. You know the reasons you have made the decisions that you’ve made. You don’t need to change them because of different advice.

Some people love to give advice. Which is awesome if their advice works for you. If you’re a very different parent from them it’s okay to redirect the conversation to a different type of advice that you will find more useful. How to refinish furniture, where to buy a car, recipe planning ideas, what to look for in an accountant, what type of diaper works best at night. Once they figure out that there are certain areas that you LOVE their advice in they’ll gravitate more towards those areas and less towards trying to change things that you don’t want to change. “That sounds interesting.. Hey, while you’re giving advice I have really been meaning to ask you.. Your house is SO clean. What’s your secret?”

You CANNOT follow everyone’s advice. It’s impossible to be a consistent parent and follow 100% of all the advice that you will get. It’s okay to ignore the advice that doesn’t mesh with your parenting style. In fact it’s REQUIRED to do that. If you start trying to follow everyone’s advice you’ll be exclusively breastfeeding with bottles of soy-dairy formula while using CIO to rock your baby to sleep in a crib that’s in your bed in a car seat balanced on top of your drier with white noise silence playing loudly but quiet in a very dark room with a night light. It doesn’t work. One piece of advice that doesn’t fit is enough to create complete and utter chaos and unhappiness. Choose the advice that you follow wisely and discard the advice that doesn’t work. “I’ll need to think about that and how it would fit in with what we’re doing.”

It’s okay to listen to your child first and everyone else second. Listen to what your child needs both through what they say and what their body language is telling you. It’s a great chance to teach your child to peaceably advocate for themselves and their autonomy and health. “Oh it’s so sweet that Gramma is offering you a cookie, maybe you can say ‘thank you gramma! I need to eat dinner first, I’ll LOVE the cookie later!'”  or “Oh look! It’s Auntie Susan. I think she’d like a hug. Hmm? Not yet? I think he’s saying ‘I’m sorry Auntie Susan, I don’t know you well enough to give you a hug hello. Let’s play together and I will probably give you the biggest hugs later‘.” Your child doesn’t have to be rude to not hug Auntie Susan, but he also doesn’t need to be forced to hug Auntie Susan.  “Ooh look! It’s Auntie Susan. She’s asking if she can hold you. Oh. I think you want to get to know her a little bit first. That’s okay. Let’s go over here and you guys can have a chat and when you’re ready she can hold you.”

Your job is your child’s parent. Your most important job right now is to be your child’s parent and to protect, care for, and teach your child. This doesn’t get suspended just because it’s a holiday. It’s okay to evaluate each situation and make sure that it will allow you to meet your child’s needs. Family gatherings are full of learning experiences and opportunities for your child to interact and learn about family and traditions.

Remember your toolkit. Before you walk into the gathering remind yourself of what your tools will be. What stresses you out when you visit with family and friends over the holidays? How do you help yourself and your children get through things with less stress? Having a plan for dealing with things helps make things go more smoothly.