This post may contain affiliate links. Read my whole disclosure here.
When my son was a toddler disciplining him felt hard. Everything I knew about gentle parenting sounded great in theory, but putting it into practice turned out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined.
Some days were so chaotic and overwhelming that I often wondered if I was even doing a good job as a mom. I wanted to be a peaceful parent with all my heart, but my son’s behavior was causing a lot of anger and frustration inside me.
Nothing seemed to work!
But no matter how exhausting those days felt, giving up wasn’t an option. I wanted to make gentle parenting work for us.
I knew that disciplining kids shouldn’t be about yelling, threatening, or punishing. In my heart, I always had this strong belief that there is a better way to raise kids than the “traditional” disciplining methods many of us grew up with.
So I started searching for gentle alternatives to time-outs and punishments, and learned how to implement them with my son.
It wasn’t always easy to find the right strategies for dealing with challenging situations. I struggled at times and made mistakes along the way.
But I also learned a lot!
Once I discovered a set of disciplining tools to use with my son, things got easier.
I learned how to help him better when he is struggling, how to turn difficult situations into opportunities to teach him valuable lessons, and how to get him involved in finding solutions for the challenges we face.
Now my older son is 6 years old, and until now we never used punishments or time-outs to discipline him. Looking back, I strongly believe that this was the best choice for me as a parent and for my relationship with him!
If you are looking for gentle (yet effective) alternatives to punishments to use with your kids, I’ve gathered here a list of the tools that worked great for us.
How to discipline kids without punishments
Gentle parenting is not about perfection. It’s about finding peaceful ways to deal with negative behaviors and building a strong, loving relationship that makes parenting easier in the long run.
Gentle parenting is not about letting kids do whatever they want. On the contrary, it’s about setting limits and teaching children how to make good choices by guiding them in a peaceful and empathetic way.
It’s about finding the right tools to help your child behave better without relying on threats, punishments, or yelling.
As I know from my own experience, learning how to discipline kids in a peaceful way is not an easy job! This is why I gathered here a list of 9 powerful tools for disciplining kids using gentle parenting.
Discovering these tools made a big difference for us, and I hope they will inspire you too!
Gentle parenting tool #1: Time-in
Time-in is a parenting method that focuses on connection and helps improve the child’s behavior in a gentle way. When using time-in, you invite the child to sit somewhere with you instead of sending the child to spend time alone (in a time-out).
Start by inviting your child to sit with you in a quiet place.
You can use phrases like:
- “I see that you are having a difficult time (or you are angry/upset). Let’s go sit down and work things out together”
- or “Let’s have a five-minute break together”.
During time-in discuss with your child about their feelings and help them calm down. Make sure to listen to your child and empathize with them before addressing the negative behavior.
This helps you build a close and trustful relationship with your child, and it also teaches the child a valuable lesson on dealing with strong emotions.
(This tool is great for handling tantrums, angry outbursts, aggression.)
Gentle parenting tool #2: Model problem-solving
This tool is very easy to use and very effective in teaching kids how to problem-solve: Instead of rushing into correcting the behavior or enforcing your rules, you give the child a chance to share their perspective and come up with a solution.
This helps the child identify better alternatives and empowers them to improve their behavior.
You can encourage problem-solving by asking open-ended questions like:
- “What is a better way to handle this situation?”
- “Can you think of a better way to act in this situation?”
- “What is a different choice you can make when this happens?”
- “You seem to have a problem. Can we try to find a solution together?”
If you notice that a particular situation tends to come up over and over again, invite your child to come up with possible solutions and make a list of the ones that are acceptable for both of you.
When the problem appears again, take out the list and ask your child what solution could they use to handle the situation better.
(This tool is great for handling conflicts, aggression, power struggles.)
Gentle parenting tool #3: Give limited choices
Sometimes getting your kids to cooperate seems hard because they need more control over their lives. So instead of giving orders and expecting compliance, offer your child two choices.
This method works great for young kids and puts an end to many unnecessary power struggles.
Here are some examples of how this works:
- “I can’t let you play with the ball in the house. You can either go to the backyard and play with the ball or find something else to play with inside. What do you prefer?”
- “I can’t let you play on your tablet during dinner. You can either finish the game in 5 minutes while I set the table or pause it and finish it after dinner. What do you choose?”.
(This tool is great for power struggles, bedtime battles, whining, disobedience.)
Gentle parenting tool #4: Invite your child to a “do-over.”
Not every negative behavior requires a lot of coaching or guidance from your side. Sometimes kids just need a second chance to make things right.
You can encourage your child to fix their mistakes on their own by using phrases like:
- “You were very angry, and you used a very disrespectful tone when talking to your sister. Can you try again using kinder words?”
- “Seems like you grabbed your brother’s toy without asking. How about we start over and you try a better way to get the toy?”.
(This tool is great for handling conflicts, back talk, defiance, disobedience.)
Gentle parenting tool #5: Natural consequences
Natural consequences are defined as those consequences that happen without the parent’s intervention. (e.g., if kids go out in the rain without an umbrella, they will get wet)
Sometimes letting children experience the natural consequences of their actions is a great way for them to learn a lesson. (Of course, this method can only be used if you feel it’s safe.)
For example, if your child wants to go outside without a jacket even if it’s cold, you can allow them to do this and wait for them to realize that they needed the jacket.
Or if your child always forgets to put their lunch box in their backpack, the fact that they will get hungry at school might have a greater impact on them than your daily nagging about the lunch box.
When the child realizes that they made a bad choice, resist the urge to tell them that you were right. Instead, offer to help them fix the mistake and find better ways to handle the same situation in the future.
Gentle parenting tool #6: Related consequences
Consequences are a popular disciplining tool, but in most cases, they are just “punishments in disguise”. If the parent sets a consequence to make the child feel bad for something they did, then this is in no way different from punishment.
But in some situations, you can use a certain type of consequences in gentle discipline as well.
To do this, you need to make sure that they are respectful and related to the behavior. Also, make sure that you are using them for teaching the child a meaningful lesson and not for making them suffer when they misbehave.
For example, if your child hits another child with a toy, let them know that this is not okay and that you will need to take away the toy if the behavior continues.
If it does, gently remove the toy (“I can’t let you hit a child with the toy, so I’ll take it away for now“). Help the child calm down and return the toy when they are ready to use it properly.
Or if your child starts yelling when you are in a grocery shop, let them know that you can’t let their screams bother other people.
Tell them that they can either stop yelling or return to the car to have the chance to calm down. If the behavior continues, gently take your child back to the car and offer them your support for dealing with the strong emotions that caused the yelling.
Don’t use related consequences as a punitive method. Otherwise, they will only be perceived as punishment and lead to disconnection.
Always show your child that you are willing to support them to make good choices and fix their mistakes.
(This tool is great for handling disobedience, aggression.)
Gentle parenting tool #7: Use “after” phrases instead of threats
Threats are not a respectful way to interact with the children and don’t encourage cooperation.
Instead of resorting to threats to get your child to listen to you, rephrase them into more positive alternatives.
Here is how you can do this:
- instead of “If you don’t eat your lunch you won’t get dessert” try “You will get the dessert AFTER you finish your lunch“
- instead of “I’m not taking you to the park if you don’t clean up your toys” try “We will go to the park AFTER you clean up your toys“
- instead of “You are not allowed to watch cartoons if you don’t do your homework” try “You’ll be able to watch cartoons AFTER you finish your homework“.
(This tool is great for encouraging cooperation.)
Gentle parenting tool #8: Describe the situation and invite cooperation
Sometimes the way we phrase our requests plays a big role in the child’s willingness to listen to them.
Instead of making a request in a demanding tone, try to describe the issue and invite the child to solve it.
Here is how to implement this:
- instead of “Look what mess you did! Clean up your toys right now!” try “I see a lot of toys all over the floor. What can we do?“
- instead of “Stop fighting over that toy or I’ll take it away” try “I see that both of you want to play with that toy at the same time. What can we do?“.
(This tool is great for encouraging cooperation.)
Gentle parenting tool #9: Offer additional support for emotional regulation
If your child struggles with managing strong emotions, and this leads to negative behaviors, offer them additional tools to use when getting overwhelmed.
Here are some ideas:
- create a calm down box with different tools your child can use when getting angry (here is what we included in our calm down kit)
- build a calming corner in your house where your child can go anytime they need to calm down and relax
- teach your kids to work through their conflicts at a “peace table” (a safe area in your home where they can talk and find solutions when they fight)
- invite your child to create a calm down plan for when they get angry or upset, write it down, and display it somewhere at hand for them to be able to access it anytime they need.
(This tool is great for handling tantrums, conflicts, angry outbursts, defiance.)
A bonus tool that makes disciplining kids easier: Preventive maintenance
You may not see this as a disciplining tool at first, because you’ll not use it in the moments when your child misbehaves.
But if you’ll start using it with your kids, you’ll notice that in fact, it’s one of the most effective parenting tools for reducing negative behaviors.
Preventive maintenance focuses on offering empathy to your kids on a regular basis and welcoming emotions when kids feel sad or angry to allow them to empty their emotional backpacks.
Transforming preventive maintenance into a habit will reduce negative behaviors and will help kids deal better with difficult situations. You will see fewer tantrums and more cooperation, and this will mean fewer disciplining moments for you to handle.
(This tool is great for any behavioral issues.)
There are no “magical” solutions when it comes to disciplining kids. While our kids learn how to follow rules and make good choices, we as parents also learn how to guide them better.
If you never used these tools with your kids before, starting to use all of them at once can feel overwhelming, so I encourage you to test them one by one. Start with the ones that you think will address your child’s behavior better and try them for at least two weeks.
Decide on what tools work best for your kids and then focus on getting better on applying them when needed.
“One day your child will make a mistake or a bad choice and run to you instead of away from you and in that moment you will know the immense value of peaceful, positive, respectful parenting.” (L.R. Knost)
photos from depositphotos.com