with Family Psychologist Ashleigh Warner
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
- The Pillars Of Conscious Discipline
- The Importance Of Boundaries With Our Children
- Working Together With Your Partner To Set Boundaries
- Setting And Maintaining Boundaries
We can all agree that children need boundaries, but it’s HOW we go about setting the boundary that makes ALL the difference. We can learn to set boundaries in a gentle and mindful way, while also preserving our connection and relationship with our children. Family Psychologist Ashleigh Warner is here to discuss conscious discipline, the importance of boundaries, tangible ways to maintain boundaries, and how to make sure your kids have a clear idea of your family’s boundaries.
Pillars Of Conscious Discipline
“Discipline traditionally was very consequence/reward-based, and I think a lot of us are moving away from that,” Ashleigh said. But as we move away from a consequence and reward-based discipline system, we need to move toward a holistic approach.
Discipline isn’t just one thing. It’s a combination of our ability to work through our own issues, meet our child’s inner needs, emotional regulation, maintain a secure connection, and set respectful boundaries.
Working through our own issues is an important pillar of conscious discipline. I feel like 95% of mothering is regulating ourselves and working through our own stuff, and it can be hard work. “There is no endpoint to this. This is just work we need to keep doing,” she explained. But we do this as we have space and capacity for it. You shouldn’t feel guilty about not having space to work on something at the moment.
Meeting inner needs is another pillar of conscious discipline, but we can’t just focus on the obvious needs. It’s easy to understand a hungry or tired child is going to have a hard time reacting appropriately to the world around them. They may need to feel they have some control over their life or a sense of power. Their emotional needs are important too.
Of course, another pillar of conscious discipline is emotional regulation. “We can’t really talk about behaviour and discipline without bringing in the idea of emotions,” Ashleigh states. Emotional regulation is a huge part of discipline. “If our body has too much energy in it or too many feelings then what happens is we are kind of dysregulated,” she went on to say. When a kid has too many feelings, it might look like a tantrum. Regulating our own emotions will help keep our children regulated.
Connection also has to be a part of this. “If we have a kid who isn’t feeling connected to us, they’re not going to be able to engage in the world in a way that is at their best capacity,” Ashleigh said. “This is more about how they feel connected to us than what we think they should feel. Connection is one very important piece, but it’s not the only piece.”
Now, connection doesn’t equal permissive parenting. People who hold very firm boundaries and people who practice gentle parenting often have the same goals. It’s just the approach that is different.
Last but not least is boundaries. We have to set respectful boundaries in a way that doesn’t damage the connection, and at the same time, we can’t just let everything go.
“I really like the word boundaries, because it is the word we use in adult relationships as well,” Ashleigh said. By setting and holding boundaries, we’re giving children an example of how to set boundaries in their own relationships as they grow up.
“There is no set boundary that everyone has to use,” she explained. Boundaries are really just what we’re willing to accept from another person. With kids, we’re often setting boundaries in a way to raise them in alignment with our values.
“The first thing is to really understand our boundary,” Ashleigh explained. If we’re not sure of our own boundaries, then our kids aren’t going to understand and be able to follow them. And to be able to enforce these boundaries without yelling requires healing. This is why conscious discipline means we have to work through our own issues.
Working Together With Your Partner To Set Boundaries
Working with your partner to set boundaries can be really hard, because we’ve each been raised in different homes probably with different parenting and communication styles. For me, I tend to be more flexible whereas my husband tends to have more boundaries. I’ve seen this in how we interact with other people, but I never thought about it in terms of our parenting. However, when your styles are very different like ours, agreeing on what should be a boundary might be difficult.
“The first step is really understanding where we lie on that continuum,” Ashleigh said. If one of us is very strict with many firm boundaries, we might need to work on being more flexible. At the same time, if we’re very loose with boundaries, we might need to work on moving more in the other direction. Knowing where you and your partner are each at is a good first step to work towards a middle ground.
“We have a tendency to look towards the other person or to look towards the other parent and say, ‘They’re doing it wrong, or they’re doing it differently,’ but the first step is always looking at ourselves and saying, ‘What can I do differently here?’” Ashleigh explained. These aren’t easy conversations to have, but they’re worthwhile conversations.
Communicating with your partner is so important. Even if we have different parenting styles, when we can get on the same page about what the goal is with the boundary, it can be easier to work toward. Since boundaries are going to be different for each person and each family, getting really clear on our values can help set clear boundaries. Working through the motherhood and/or fatherhood roadmaps with your partner can help you get a clear idea of what’s important to you so you can agree on some boundaries.
Setting And Maintaining Boundaries
Ashleigh uses a 3-step process for boundaries. The first step is getting clear on your values, deciding what’s important, and setting the boundary.
The second step is communicating the boundary. “We don’t take food upstairs,” or “If we throw our food off the table,” that means we’re done.
The final step is maintaining the boundary. For the toddler who threw food from the table, this might look like packing dinner up.
“I don’t advocate for consequences and rewards and punishments and praise,” Ashleigh said. For kids, this can feel conditional. “We want to try and maintain boundaries without our relationship being in jeopardy,” she explained.
“You can maintain the boundary in a really playful way,” Ashleigh suggested. If you can get the child laughing while you’re enforcing the boundary, you’re actually helping the child regulate their nervous system. It also helps them feel more connected to you rather than pushing them away. “The rest of the day we’re not going to have the same boundary issues,” she explained.
“You don’t want to have too many non-negotiable boundaries,” Ashleigh said. A few universal boundaries might be: don’t hurt anyone else, don’t hurt ourselves, and don’t damage anyone’s property. You might also include a few non-negotiable boundaries that are important to your values. It’s important to watch the number, otherwise, you could make life feel too restrictive.
If you’re struggling to find solid boundaries, or with what boundaries should be flexible and non-negotiable, the boundaries workshop will help with this.
Ashleigh Warner is a family psychologist from Australia who specialises in conscious parenting. She lives in a round house with her young family by the beach that she built with her husband and is waiting for her second child to arrive soon! Ashleigh runs workshops and online courses that help parents understand more about conscious discipline and emotional regulation and offers online consultations for parents.
- Ashleigh’s Courses: Conscious Boundary Setting & Beneath the Tantrum (Conscious Discipline and Emotional Regulation for 1-6 year olds)