This is a longer article...I don't mean to drown you in words here...certainly there is much that has been written on this topic already, and there are very few new ideas here. I hope that putting them into this form will be helpful..it is the topic that I am most frequently asked about...and seems to require careful consideration.. We all know on some level that how we set boundaries in our homes, sets the tone of the entire family life.
I can say with confidence from my own experience, and from the experience of other families I have seen, if you can master a good sense of discipline when your children are younger you will not only have a deeper relationship with them as they grow but you will also cut ahead of some many of the teen challenges that arise as they revisit this "testing" at a later stage.
Creative Discipline and Clear Boundaries
The Waldorf approach emphasizes deep respect for the dignity and development of the child, together with the importance of a good internal sense of discipline, self-control, and a respect for the boundaries of others. In our current culture there is much emphasis placed on creative self-expression, when this expression is harnessed and directed by a strong inner sense of discipline, it can be quite powerful. Good discipline is not a response to a specific situation; it is a whole framework that surrounds the child. It is the way we nurture the faculties that eventually will enable the child to discipline himself without external rules.
Discipline “challenges” fall into two categories. The first includes those phases that every child passes through, phases that are both necessary and healthy. Within the first seven- year cycle these phases generally fall around the ages of two, four, and six. During these times, our children tell us in a variety of ways, (some extremely unpleasant), “No I am not you! I am ME!” These are often very insecure times for children, even as they are loudly declaring their independence. It is exactly at these times that they most need our clear indication of the boundaries that they must live within. If during these times we choose not to enforce the boundaries, or if we enforce them inconsistently, we can often leave our children feeling very insecure and angry. On the other hand, our anger at their healthy growth toward genuine independence can be deeply confusing to them. When they do find the boundary calmly and consistently enforced, they are free to relax. In fact most children will keep pushing until they find the clear limit.
The second type of discipline difficulty stems from a child’s response to a temporary or chronic problem. Here we usually find a child telling us that something isn’t working for her, or that she is unhappy with a change. Young children can’t verbalize and explain their discontent; they act it out for us.
A child’s behavior may reflect a major transition or time of stress, like a move or new sibling. There are other areas we can look at as well, to try to understand what isn’t working for the child.
Sometimes a relatively small change can be just the thing needed to alleviate difficult behavior:
A. Are there food allergies?
B. Is she getting enough protein?
C. Are meals and snack consistent and healthy?
A. Is the schedule predictable, with regular meal and bedtimes?
B. Is there enough time for transitions from one activity to another?
C. Is there a good balance between focused quiet activities and free play?
D. Is there plenty of outside time each day?
E. Does the child have sometime each day to do nothing at all, if she chooses?
F. Is she getting enough deep sleep?
A. What is the noise level in the child’s environment?
B. Is it a beautiful and soothing space?
C. Is it orderly without much clutter?
D. Is there an outdoor space where the child can play?
A. Are any classes or playgroups a manageable size for the child?
B. Does she have opportunity to play with friends one-to-one?
C. Does he have some time alone every day?
A. Have the parents established clear and consistent behavioral limits?
B. Are these enforces in a calm direct way?
C. Is there always care taken not to embarrass or shame the child?
When dealing with specific forms of inappropriate behavior, we always walk a delicate balance. We know that adult anger leveled at a young child, especially anger that the child sees as arbitrary and unpredictable can be very damaging. On the other hand, our children need honest feed back from us. If my child hits me in the face, and I respond very calmly, he will be shocked the first time he tries that out on a peer. The balance between striving to control our own anger, and working to express our honest feeling is of the utmost importance to the child.
Our expectations of them and our behavior in front of them, teach them how people, who love one another, behave toward each other. We are also teaching them how to get their needs met in the world…what works and what doesn’t work. Allowing them to treat us in ways that they cannot treat others, is harmful to their healthy social development.
Rudolf Steiner, (the founder of Waldorf Education), defines faithfulness as the ability to hold the most radiant picture of the other person’s goodness in mind, even when you experience difficult time with that person. This seems vitally important when working with young children. When they test us, as they must, it is deeply confusing to them if we respond by questioning their basic goodness or health in that process. They can feel, on a very deep level, the image that we hold of them.
Here are some ideas that may be helpful in dealing with specific behaviors:
1. Choose carefully when to say “No” and be prepared to follow through
2. Rely on the child’s natural ability to imitate: If you want the child to stop
yelling, whisper. Or model the appropriate behavior yourself: Pet the
3.Try using gesture and physical touch rather than verbal commands. Often
the verbal command, “Go and get your shoes.” will invite rebellion, but
gently taking the child by the hand and going to get the shoes tends to
4.When something does go wrong, say one child hits another, try to find a
way for the resolution between to two children, for example a hug or
5. Some children lash out and hit simply because they have lost control of
their energy. It is often very helpful to hold a child in this case, to help
them pull their energy back into focus.
6. Many children become overwhelmed and angry when given too many
choices or questions. If we observe the child closely and have a well
developed sense of what they need and like, we can take charge with
confidence and make the appropriate choices for them. Young children
feel deeply insecure if they feel that they, and not the adults are in charge.
7. Music and rhythm can be extremely helpful. One bedtime song that we sing
every night can ease the transition to bedtime. Rocking in a rocking chair
with a child who has lost control can be a great help, try rocking fast in the
beginning and then slowing it down to a calm pace.
8. Definite statements often work better than questions in gaining a child’s
For example, “Dinner is ready for you.” may be a more effective invitation
to the table than, “Are you ready for dinner?”
9. It also works better if we tell the child what she can do rather than what she
can’t. For example: “We can use our inside voice.” may work better than,
10. Try to have a clear sense of the child’s intention before you respond. A
child can hit another for many reasons: She is pretending to be an airplane
and ran into him accidentally, she was angry that he took something of hers,
she was angry at something unrelated and he was the nearest target. Each
requires a very different response. In the first situation the child who hit
may be more hurt and surprised that the one who got hit.
11. Modeling the behavior that we expect is better than trying to explain what
we are looking for. When they are older and more rational the
explanations will be very helpful. For young children keeping it short and
sweet, “We never hit.” And modeling our own gentleness if the most
20. Finally, it is important, as we travel through difficult phases with our child
that each day contains mostly praise and positive feedback. Even in the
trying times, it is helpful to give the greatest part of our energy and
attention to their accomplishments and to the
sweet things that they do.