Tips to Practice Mindful discipline

We’ve had our fair share of “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” moments in our home.

When our son first joined school there was only praise for his behaviour. He would basically do as he was told – anything not to rock the boat. His teachers loved him; I suppose when you’re dealing with high-energy 3-year-olds all days, it helps to have a few kids who give you a little piece of mind.

Our son was the pupil who could be counted on. The perfect pupil. Now the thing with perfect pupils who keep their emotions locked in the whole day is that, sooner or later, those emotions find a way out.

So we got accustomed to living in the midst of emotional explosions. He would be the perfect pupil in school then a little devil when he came home. There were furious outbursts that would end as suddenly as they had begun, powerful outbursts that would no doubt surprise his teachers if they were to see them.

Being the greenhorns that we were, we handled it all pretty badly.

We knew we should discipline him more but he was only 3. He was the youngest kid in the entire school. He was also our baby. The first one. There’s something about the first ones. It’s a different kind of love – perhaps the first love.

Alas, we sometimes let him get away with more than we should have. Still, we often snapped, felt guilty, apologised, then snapped again. We were both busy and working long hours. It’s never easy dealing with tantrums when you’re tired yourself.

We couldn’t get past the feeling that there had to be a better way to strike the right balance.

After reading much of the enormous information and research available on discipline strategies, we settled on a few mindful parenting strategies.

We’ve found that using bits and pieces from different philosophies depending on different kids, our personalities and different contexts has totally changed how we view discipline and made it possible for us to stay sane.

This Mindful Discipline Series focuses on the different strategies that work.

It is not a guide to follow – You’re the only true expert when it comes to your child’s discipline.

The objective of this series it to help you sift through some of the discipline advice out there.

First things first. What are we talking about when we talk about “mindful discipline”?

– Being mindful about how and why you discipline
– Mutual respect
– Creating healthy parent-child relationships

This mindful parenting series will provide you with some information on proven strategies that work. It will also give you practical examples of how you can apply these strategies in practical situations.

So let’s get started!

Boundary-based discipline: Limits, high expectations, rationality

Boundary-based discipline is about setting limits and enforcing them, but it is also about taking your child’s emotional needs into account.

This discipline philosophy is about having high expectations but also being warm and receptive.

It is about finding the right balance between freedom and responsibility.

For example, your 8-year-old is driving everyone crazy because he wants to watch his latest Star Wars movie at maximum volume, you ask him to turn the volume down or you’ll take away the DVD player for the day. You let him choose but you also let him know the consequences of his actions.

Boundary based parenting is closely linked to the “authoritative” parenting style.

“Authoritative parenting” is a term that was coined by Diane Baumrind who carried out a study in the 1960s to determine how parenting styles (parental control) influenced child outcomes.

Ever since these initial studies, authoritative parenting has been associated with many positive outcomes: autonomy, social and emotional development, empathy, consciousness, academic success and less antisocial behaviour (You can read about some of the studies here and here).

How do you apply boundary-based discipline?

1) Set clear limits. One day my son was looking through my bag and making a royal mess. I said “stop”, to which he immediately replied “stop what”?

We don’t always clearly communicate what we’d like our children to do or not do.

In my example, did I mean “stop looking through my bag”? Or perhaps “stop making a mess“? Or did I mean something completely different and unrelated to his looking through the bag?

Children don’t always know what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. When you tell your daughter “you can’t go out like that”, what do you really mean? Is she aware of your boundaries when it comes to dress codes, make up, etc.?

Communicating your boundaries is essential when applying boundary-based discipline.

2) Be consistent. Being 100% consistent means consistently following through with the consequences of bad behaviour.

3) Use natural consequences. Using natural consequences means tying behaviour to the consequences of that behaviour: “If you don’t stop making a mess, I’m going to take the bag away”.

Providing choices makes your child responsible for his/her behaviour.

Let’s look at another example: Your child often refuses to eat lunch then asks for a snack 30 minutes later. A parent using the boundary-based discipline approach will explain to his/her child that there will be no between-meals snacks and will follow through.

Sometimes, tying behaviour to consequences is easier said than done. We’re trying to stop our son from jumping on the sofa and we’ve been unable to tie his behaviour to the consequences. Your ideas are welcome!

The book Parenting With Love And Logic advocates natural consequences, especially when dealing with older children.

The authors of the book argue that by letting children deal with the consequences of their behaviour, they learn to think for themselves and better understand why certain behaviour is unacceptable.

You can read my book-review of Parenting with Love and Logic here.

Border-based discipline is about clearly explaining your expectations to your child then letting him/her learn from mistakes.

4) Pick your battles. Boundary based discipline is also about picking your battles and standing firm in your priorities.

Every time I’d see my son swinging his legs while seating on a chair, I’d go half crazy! Especially in the evenings when I was tired and low on patience. I let it slide because when you think about it, it’s not really that big a deal.

Not so with safety issues. We have made it clear to our children that safety is the number one priority in our home: there will be consequences if you deliberately hurt yourself. There will be consequences if you deliberately hurt your siblings. There will be consequences if you deliberately hurt animals.

5) Have high expectations. Evidence suggests that children whose parents are assertive and hold high expectations (neither too high nor too low) are more likely to succeed in life (you can read about some of the studies here).

What can you do?
  • Be clear about your expectations and communicate those to your child.
  • Focus on positive behaviour and teach your child to see him/herself as a well-behaved child. According to the Pygmalion effect, people are likely to behave in line with what they believe is expected of them.
  • Try positive affirmations with your child.

Further reading: Positive Affirmations for Kids: 6 Things You Should Know

6) Be democratic. Authoritative parenting is not an “all-or-nothing” approach. It’s not a “because-I-said-so” approach.

One of my friends whose daughter just recently began high school wanted to start wearing makeup to school. Her partner said “no way!” but she thought there could be a way around it.

She still had clear memories of her high school years – she would wear her “normal clothes” and leave the house early with no make up on, then change into her “funky attire” and put on makeup once she got to school.
I laughed when she told me the “real” reason behind why she didn’t want to ban her daughter from wearing makeup: “I’d lay it on so thick, some of my friends would ask ‘is that you Camille?’”. She didn’t want her daughter to go through the same experience. So after listening to her daughter plead, she said “yes, but only if your wear light makeup and if I can validate your makeup every morning”.

Parents who use boundary based discipline are willing to provide their child with the reasons behind their expectations but are also willing to listen to their children’s points of view, even when they know the final response will still be “no”.

7) Encourage your child to express him/herself. When your child is acting out, it’s more common to tell him/her to “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!!!” rather than ask why he/she is acting out.

Adopting boundary-based discipline means encouraging a child to express him/herself and understanding the reasons behind his/her behaviour.

Our daughter loves to whine which, I’ve been told, is common behaviour for an almost 4-year-old. We initially ignored her when she asked questions in her “whining voice”. Didn’t work. Asking why has helped us respond more appropriately: propose a break when she’s tired, a snack when she’s hungry, a 10-minute reading break when she’s attention-seeking or a time-out when she’s just behaving badly.

Do you identify with this discipline style? Let me know about the strategies you already use in the comments below.



The Science of Discipline Workbook will walk you through the process to establish a mindful and effective discipline strategy.

This workbook will help you:

a) Understand the reasons behind the failure of your discipline approach
b) Identify an effective discipline plan based on your values
c) Understand and reflect on your parenting style
d) Identify the characteristics of effective discipline strategies
e) Identify the different effective discipline tools and understand how you can use them effectively

Product features

  • Over 100 pages presented in an easy-to-read manner
  • Quizzes and exercises to help you reflect on your parenting and discipline strategy
  • The workbook weaves scientific research, personal anecdotes and practical advice