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Discipline the Waldorf Way

There’s a myth about Waldorf Education and discipline. I’ve read some comments saying Waldorf kids are not disciplined and are allowed to do what they want. My experience has been the opposite, and I cannot say enough how grateful I am to Bella Tan, from  whom I was fortunate to learn everything I know about discipline.  She showed us, with very little words, just how to do this effectively. Here’s what I learned:

1. Little children learn by imitation — If you have little kids, you will see this. So, as parents we have to be worthy of their imitation. If we want them to be calm, that’s what we need to be. Pretending doesn’t help. Kids are sense beings and they know (often even better than you) what’s really going on inside you. If you’re trying to show calm but your thoughts are jumping from one subject to the next and you’re not all there, they will show you that they know it.  One of the toughest things about being a parent is that your children will show you who you are. We have to be prepared to always look within first when a behavioral issue shows up in our kids. It’s easy to blame external factors, but it will hardly ever produce results. Oh, and yelling at them to calm down will teach them a few things, but not how to calm down.

2. Actions are effective, words not — Small children don’t respond well to words, words, words. But we can very effectively steer them away from potentially explosive situations through action. Early Childhood Waldorf teachers are experts at this. They will take a hyperactive child by the hand, give them some beeswax or thread to work with, all the while just humming and working. No words, just actions. Or they will hold them by the shoulders and sit behind them when they’re disruptive during a story. Sometimes all a child needs is an adult’s full presence and they will know to settle down. Constantly moralizing and explaining right conduct, telling the children “No”, will only teach them to do the same to you. Silent, swift and calm action does wonders, though.

When I was new to conscious parenting, I witnessed this magic through a fellow Waldorf mom. We were all in her living room when two little kids had somehow gotten hold of sticks and were starting not only  a “swordfight”, but becoming more and more out of body and hysterical. This mother was in the middle of a sentence but she got up, confiscated the sticks calmly and said thank you to the children. She did it so quickly and calmly that it took them a few seconds to figure out they’d been taken. She put the sticks on top of a cabinet and brought them to a table where there were paper and crayons. I was amazed at how swiftly that was done. What struck me the most was that because she was calm, the kids followed suit. She did it without words. She didn’t say, “stop” or explain why she took them. She just did it and she offered an alternative. It was a profound and useful lesson. Show them. Don’t tell them.

3. Consistency and follow through are your weapons — If you tell your kids to put away stuff and then let them get away with not doing it, you’re setting yourself up for problems. To me, this is where integrity begins. If you have a policy about no sugar then give in to sugary treats when you’re tired and think it’s going to buy you precious alone time, it’s going to bite you back so badly. Your children will only learn to tire you out to get what they want. Teach your children that your word is gold and that their word should be the same, by walking your talk. If you say it, do it. Consistently. If you can’t follow through or couldn’t care less anyway, just don’t say it. Children know when you mean business. If you want them to value your word and to be the kind of adults who will speak the truth, follow through.

4. Rhythm is the foundation of discipline — children thrive when there is a sound rhythm at home. Rhythm doesn’t mean rigidity, but it means that an ebb and flow is followed. Meals should be more or less at the same time each day, as well as bathing, outdoor or indoor play. Sleep time is also sacred time. Children become out of sorts when they are hungry and sleepy. Make sure you respect that and your days will go more smoothly. This is key, especially if you have to travel with your little ones. Replicating this rhythm is like bringing home with you wherever you go.

5. Change will always bring upheaval — before you bring change into the children’s life, think it through. How necessary is that trip, playgroup or worse, outing to a mall? Most of us think kids can be dragged anywhere because they’re just so resilient, but you will see in their behavior that it can be disruptive for them and counterproductive for you. Again, children are sense beings and if they are over stimulated, you will feel it. When it comes to little kids, prevention is everything.  It’s hard to pull them out of a tantrum. It’s easier to create the space and environment that brings calm, rather than do damage control later.

Some parents also project their own desires on their kids and then use that to blame a situation they put themselves into, “Oh I took him to the mall because he had cabin fever, and then he was in such a bad mood I couldn’t put him to sleep.” A short, quiet walk would be more helpful than a trip to the mall. And who had cabin fever? Children will always be content wherever their parents are. That’s really all they need, especially when they’re very little. Be honest and clear.  Is it really your child you’re doing it for? There is definitely a connection between a mother’s well-being and that of her child. It’s direct and shared, so if you feel cooped up then by all means take your child for a short walk. Or maybe to the park. Or out in the garden. But try to choose an environment that will be peaceful, rather than one that is overstimulating, like a shopping mall. Parenthood entails giving up a lot of things, but knowing why you’re giving them up makes it easy. I don’t mean foregoing self-care, but I do mean simplifying to essentials. For that, we all need to be much more honest with ourselves.

6. Resolve — if you feel in your heart that you are doing what you think is best for your child, then you won’t budge. But if you’re unsure of what you’re doing or simply mimicking something you saw that doesn’t really make sense to you, give it up. If you keep denying your child soda, but don’t really see what the big deal is and then give in, deny, give in, what’s the point? Be inwardly clear about what’s important to you and stick to it. You have to know why you’re doing things to be able to do them effectively. If you have resolve, you won’t waver. If you’re clear and strong inside, your child will feel it and nothing more needs to be said.

7. You are the authority, not them. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you had to give into your child because you were powerless and he wanted something so badly. You are the adult here, not them. You know better. They are children. When my kids were little and a yaya would say to me she let them have something I precisely told her they couldn’t have because they were forceful, her days were numbered. I knew she did not have the ego children need to have around them. You know what’s best for them so don’t blame them if you give in. You are the authority after all.

8. Love takes the long view. When you are fully aware that you are raising your children to be fine adults long after you’re gone, it gives you perspective. You know that the things you do today inform and shape the kind of adult your child will become. That always helped me make decisions. Thank God I’m not the type to care what people say, as people did say things about the way I raised my little ones. Well today, I have received some unsolicited praise about how I must have done something right by them and I’m glad I went full force with my convictions, even if it meant going against the grain.

Love is making the difficult decisions, and most often the unpopular ones. If you’re big on being liked, this won’t be easy (but raising a child is not meant to be). Parenting is personal. Do not let other people’s opinions pressure you into doing something you don’t believe in. Pressure comes when you feel unsure of yourself, or if you want to impress others. Who has the time for that? Focus on your children and what you know in your heart you want for them and then follow through. Love is not fluff; it is hard work. Your children are born to you not so you can please them 24/7, but so that you can provide the boundaries they need to grow into healthy, balanced adults.

Finally, no parent is ever perfect. We’ve raised our voices, lost it, raged when we swore we never would. Everyone has been horrible (or thought himself horrible) to their children. Every mother has painful memories of times she was less than she should have been, but I was also taught that as long as we strive to do better by them and in our own inner work, the children will feel that as well. They will feel us striving with all our might to be better. That is the gift of being human. It is not to excuse our bad behavior, but to help us pick ourselves up, look at ourselves honestly and create room for improvement.

47 Comments

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  1. @skiparoooo / Aug 26 2012 10:59 am

    Very well said!

    • panjeetapales / Nov 21 2012 7:21 pm

      Thank you very much.

  2. Danielle / Sep 9 2013 12:44 pm

    I just love this!! Well said indeed! It’s so hard for me sometimes, I’m trying to raise my one year old this way but was raised completely opposite. I am struggling with having time for myself as there isn’t anyone in my life to give me a little break from baby girl. How do I find balance?

    • panjeetapales / Sep 18 2013 8:44 am

      Hi Danielle,

      It really is a process and doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes, when we’re tired and spent, that’s all we are. It’s difficult for me to say what might help you find balance as I don’t know your situation, but perhaps, in broad strokes, it might be good to keep it simple. Sometimes, in our effort to be a “good mom”, we try to do it all. Well, we can’t. Keep things simple and manageable. You don’t have to knit everything she wears, for example, or bake the muffins fresh so she can wake up to them. KNow what I mean? Do what you can without going over the top. I hope that’s helpful?

      Try to find the book “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. That might just point you in the right direction.

      All the best and deep breaths!!

  3. Irene / Sep 23 2013 6:09 am

    Excellent post. Every word resonates. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. panjeetapales / Sep 23 2013 4:53 pm

    Thank you for dropping by!

  5. Joe / Sep 24 2013 1:41 am

    I found your site and read this post just after a “rough” day with my six year old son. This really put things into perspective. The last paragraph especially hit home. Thank you so much for this wonderul post!

    • panjeetapales / Sep 24 2013 8:28 am

      Thanks as well, Joe. We all need help counting the “normal”, “uneventful” days as triumphs as well! Here’s to a good rest of the week!

  6. Deborah / Jan 20 2014 12:22 pm

    Beautifully written! Thank you.

    • panjeetapales / Aug 6 2014 7:54 am

      Thank you, Deborah.

  7. Risaline / Apr 24 2014 12:24 am

    🙂 salamat po…

    • panjeetapales / Aug 6 2014 7:55 am

      Salamat din, Risaline.

  8. Smartred / Jul 10 2014 7:59 pm

    What a fantastic post. I needed to read this right now. My four and a half year old has been having terrible tantrums (this is very new for her) and I have been struggling with how to respond to her tantrums which include head banging me and kicking me. This has all begun since commencing Kindergarten. I am going to try some of your loving and sensitive suggestions. Thank you.

    • panjeetapales / Jul 10 2014 8:57 pm

      Sorry to hear that. Tantrums are difficult. I remember those days! Sounds like being in Kindergarten (and all it brings) is the culprit. I’m sure you’ll find the right way. Deep breaths!

  9. Rhea R. Bailey / Aug 5 2014 11:37 pm

    Thank you for this, Panjee. This is exactly what I need tonight. Its not easy being a parent, all the more a loving parent, and, boy, a loving parent when your child misbehaves. It’s like how can you hum happy working songs while you grit your teeth in frustration? But, yes, every parent is in a journey. For some, the roads have been paved, others have potholes here and there but everyone has challenges that come in different forms. Thank you for helping me process my thoughts on my own parenting.

    • panjeetapales / Aug 6 2014 7:43 am

      Rhea, you are right on all counts. Conscious parenting is difficult and everyone has their own special journey. Happy to have helped and thank you for dropping by.

  10. Sylvia Millington Lyons / Nov 20 2014 9:45 am

    My oldest is now 27 and my youngest is 10 (8 kids total). I have never heard of the Waldorf Way but regardless I have done much of the same things. Consistency is key, as well as thinking of what is best for your child (not necessarily what is expedient at the moment, no matter how tired you are!), and no matter what anyone else thinks OR says to you. And I have had more than a few things said to me over the years, especially since we started homeschooling partway through the journey! Thanks for saying things that all parents need to hear, to reinforce what they already know but sometimes need to be reminded of.

    • panjeetapales / Nov 30 2014 2:45 pm

      Sylvia, thanks for your affirmation. It’s good to hear from a fellow conscious parent, Waldorf or not!

  11. Maria Teresa B. Isidor / Nov 30 2014 7:36 am

    Interesting and inspiring! I myself is at the outset of preparing my reflections on a visit to Tuburan, a Waldorf/Steiner-inspired school in Davao 🙂 Thanks!

    • panjeetapales / Nov 30 2014 2:46 pm

      Thank you, too.

  12. NIcholas / Apr 17 2015 1:22 am

    My little one is 3 years old and we are seeing she is excessive mimicking other children. In class for example a little boy stated he did not want to paint at first so neither did she. Its very challenging for us right now. Should we be concerned?

    • panjeetapales / May 30 2015 12:33 pm

      Nicholas, I thought I’d answered this before. Apologies for the late reply! Kids learn by imitation, so they will mimic what they see, so we can just counter with actions we want them to imitate and not dwell so much on those that we don’t. I don’t think you need to worry at all. 🙂

  13. Myrna sarthou mateo / May 30 2015 9:02 am

    Thank you so much for this article…hopefully it must be read by all families….and i thank GOD we were raised in HSJ …almost all is the same except that we are 100 chilldren in one DC NUN incharge. GOD bless all families with wisdom to raise children

  14. Katie / Sep 22 2015 5:33 am

    I can understand the mother taking the sticks and leading the children to a different activity, but isn’t taking things from children without saying anything first disrespectful to them? I’m totally new to this, so please explain it to me.

    • panjeetapales / Sep 22 2015 8:45 pm

      Hi Katie,

      At the time, the children in question were below 7 and were all getting kind of out-of-body with the sticks. At this stage, children learn best through imitation as they are in that stage of developing their will. Discipline is best done by doing and showing, but gently and purposefully. She didn’t grab the sticks and she wasn’t rude. She did say it was time for the sticks to go back to their home–something to that effect. The mother’s intent was to bring them back to themselves before all their energy went to places they could not manage anyway, so her intention (very important) was actually of deep respect for the children and having them be in a space that was healthy for them. As they get older and enter the phases where intellect and reasoning come to the fore, then it is time to explain but always with age appropriateness and their development in mind (and heart). If one uses too many words and over explains during this stage, it is really lost on them and what they learn is how to throw it back at you, then the forces needed to grow in the will are diverted early towards the intellect, which then has some developmental repercussions as well. I hope this helps.

      All the best,
      Panjee

  15. zsofru / Sep 22 2015 7:10 pm

    Dear Panjee, I love your article! Our community have just opened a new Waldorf Kindergarten and school in South Hungary. Would you allow me to translate your article to Hungarian and share it within our community?

    • panjeetapales / Sep 22 2015 8:45 pm

      Yes, please feel free to do that, and do share the website as well. Thank you very much and congratulations on the new school!

      Best,
      Panjee

      • zsofru / Nov 4 2015 10:04 pm

        Dear Panjee, thank you again for letting me to translate your article. We published it on our Waldorf School’s facebook page bit by bit for 5 days. These posts were the most liked and shared posts of our page. Thank you again. Fruzsi

  16. Abegayle Perez-Chua / Sep 29 2015 11:16 am

    Thank you for you personal experience as a Waldorf Mom. I cannot say that I have totally assimilate being a Waldorf Mom but I am trying. I have one child in traditional and two in Waldorf and I see the difference in them especially with their school experiences and what they learned. I just wish my eldest would have been able to experience it as well. You’re right, no parent is perfect we just aim at trying to do the best for our kids

    • panjeetapales / Dec 9 2015 8:44 pm

      Absolutely, Abeygale!

  17. sandracasey / Sep 30 2015 2:06 am

    I love this, I get tired of repeating myself and right now with our most recent move my life is just chaos and the children are definitely acting out, refusing to nap and sleep normal hours. Sigh

  18. sandracasey / Sep 30 2015 2:08 am

    I absolutely love this!

  19. Harriet / Dec 9 2015 12:46 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful words and guidance. Could you please explain why parents should not force a toddler to say “Sorry” for acting impulsively because of her stage of development?

    • panjeetapales / Dec 9 2015 8:58 pm

      Hello Harriet, thank you for your question and let me see if I can give this a go! Toddlers are still very much in the will. They’re not yet in the intellect. SO they do things out of pure impulse and forcing them to say sorry is something they won’t really understand. In pre-school, if a toddler hit another child, the teacher would gently make sure the hurt child was comforted and seen to, and then take the other child’s hands, perhaps caress them while saying “these hands are for loving”, or something to that effect. It’s not so much the words, even, but the gesture. It’s still a will gesture, but it brings focus to the hands that hit and giving it a different experience. IF you “force” them to say sorry at this stage, it is very abstract for them because they are learning through the will, which is why the teacher would address it through touch and a gentle hand. In this way, hopefully, a lesson for gentleness is instilled, rather than an abstract concept (saying sorry) that would bring him to his intellect before he is developmentally able to grasp it. I hope I have explained this clearly!

      • Amanda / Jan 18 2016 12:25 pm

        Oh thank you so much for this explanation. My daughter “hit” me today for the first time. I was so taken aback! She wasn’t intending to hurt me, but I was so bewildered that I reacted. I told her that it hurt me and that she could apologize and give me a hug. Immediately afterwards I felt that was not a helpful response on my end. Especially since it made her cry. The response you’ve posted makes more sense to me now, in hindsight. Thank you!

  20. rahel0304 / May 1 2016 11:37 am

    Beautiful post indeed! Very inspiring ❤

  21. Tammy Borg / Jun 11 2016 12:41 pm

    Hello, I have a child who attends my family day care and he bites other children. At present I give him an apple after he has bitten a child and tell him that apples are for biting. Can you suggest other creative ways to work with biting. Thank you.

    • panjeetapales / Aug 3 2016 8:31 am

      Tammy,apologies for such a late reply. First, I think that is a creative way of addressing the issue, as long as you make sure the apple isn’t given immediately after and might come across as a reward for biting. I still think calmly separating him from the child he has bitten and showing that child care and concern is a good first step. And then taking him (the child who bites) to do a chore with you. Later on, perhaps, when it’s snack time you can then say “the apple (or whatever food they are having) is for biting.” I think it would be good to have a conversation with the child’s parents to try and figure out where this behavior is coming from and how they are addressing it at home. I hope that helps.

  22. Stacy Getty / Sep 5 2016 10:21 am

    I am very happy to have found your blog. I just recently found this type of education and lifestyle. It represents my family’s morals as far as childcare so much that my husband and I are now going to an Open House this October in order to look further into Waldorf for our child, she is 19 months now. I look forward to taking the time to read your blogs as we already know that Waldorf is going to be great for our family and for our daughter, and it is so nice to have your blog as a resource as well.

    With Love,
    Stacy

    • panjeetapales / Sep 26 2016 8:10 pm

      Hi Stacy! I am also very happy you found this blog, too. Enjoy the journey. It is one of the best I have ever taken in my life!

      All the best and lots of love,
      Panjee

  23. Elana / Sep 10 2016 3:02 pm

    Thank you!

    • panjeetapales / Sep 26 2016 8:11 pm

      Thank you, too, Elana!

  24. Ping / Sep 24 2016 6:58 pm

    Hi Panjee, me and my daughter we are also on a Steiner education journey here in the UK. She is almost three and a half. A friend from her kindergarten plays with her at my home quite often since the new year started. They started fitting quite often over toys. She pushed her friend the first time yesterday and I took her away to tell her pushing hurts and asked her to apologise. She refused and stomping off saying she didn’t want to play with her or me anymore. Her anger lingered and she was in all ‘NO!’ Mood for about an hour after that. ‘d be grateful if you can share some views on how you would have dealt with it.

    There has been some changes in the kingdergarden since she’s gone back to kingdergarden this Month. I’ve also started my 3 full day study again after the summer while she’s having long days in kingdergarden and being looked after by different people (after school) throughout the the week. She is seeing more of her playmate at home and I think perhaps she’s tired and feels threatened and losing some attention from me and my husband when she’s with her friend.

    • panjeetapales / Sep 26 2016 8:14 pm

      Hi. I think your last paragraph says it all. Also, do scroll down and read comments and replies. It’s difficult to force little kids to apologise (I have explained below). But I see that you already know what is going on, so just seeing what can be done to limit too many changes and perhaps being patient in establishing a new routine that will make her feel secure is all that is needed!

  25. Carmelle Znow / Jan 14 2017 5:25 pm

    Thank you needed to read this today,

    • panjeetapales / Jan 15 2017 3:21 am

      I am glad you found it when you needed it, Carmelle.

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