From Defiance to Compliance — Using Conscious Discipline

It’s happening. Again! I’ve asked nicely. I’ve counted to 3 really slowly. I’ve used my kind voice, my stern voice. Now somehow I have reduced myself to almost begging my child to comply. “I just need you to put your shoes on sweetie. Come on, can you do this for mommy please?”

Now what? Now people are looking at me and my child is standing 3 feet from me, arms crossed defiantly across their body with a scowl on her face. We have reached an impasse. I can’t believe my 3 year old is winning! Now do I go with the wrestle and forceful approach through gritted teeth. “You will put your shoes on!” or shall I give in. Is it that important? I could let this one go and try again next time?

Can you relate? I know I can. How did we get here? They are so small yet so strong willed. When we enter these power struggles we escalate anger and diminish the ability to access our higher reasoning and problem solving abilities for both ourselves and our kids. We end up in the part of our brain that only offers a “survival mode” of response and is confrontational and self-protective.

At TPK we have spent time learning the principles and practices of Conscious Discipline from the research and practices of Dr. Becky Bailey because we have found over and over again this really works. Amazingly works! It’s the most effective tool I have come across. It starts with us. We cannot help our kids reach calm and effective problem solving if we are not calm ourselves.

The following comes directly from the Conscious Discipline website and gives an example of getting out of an impasse and moving toward compliance.

  1.  Discipline yourself first and your child second. Take several deep breaths before you begin to speak. Make your insides as calm as you would like the child’s to become. Then say to the child, “You are safe, you can handle this. Breath with me.”
  2. Use empathy and reflection to help the child become aware of him or herself. Help establish body awareness by stating what you see: “Your arms are going like this (demonstrate) you face looks like this (demonstrate).” Then build emotional awareness by naming the feeling you believe the child is experiencing, “Your body is telling me you might be feeling frustrated. You wanted to buy something at the store.” More than likely, your child will be able to organize enough to say what she wanted, “I want a cookie!” At this point, validate the child’s desire and feelings, “You wish you could have a cookie. It is hard to not get what you want.”
  3. Shift the focus to what you want the child to do and offer two positive choices to help her successfully meet your expectations. You might say, “You have a choice. You can have a snack in your car seat or have a snack when we get home. Which would you choose?”

So now let’s try our initial scenario with the shoes with these same principles.

  1. Take some deep breaths and find calm within yourself. This is not a battle to win but a moment to teach. Breathe. Calm. Breathe.
  2. Approach your child. Get down to their level. Say: “Your arms are folded like this across your body (demonstrate) and your face is doing this (demonstrate their expression) your body is telling me you are frustrated. You don’t want to put your shoes on right now. You were playing and you don’t want to stop. (you have acknowledged their feelings now move on to instruction.) “It’s time to put on your shoes. Would you like to put the right one on first or the left one?” Or you could say “Would you like mom to out them for you or would you like to do it yourself?
  3. As you put the shoes on restate. “I know it’s hard to stop playing. You are making a good choice even though it was hard. Way to go!”


Acknowledging and labeling a child’s emotions and letting them know that you understand how they are feeling is so important in gaining calm and looking to move towards compliance. Young children are unable to label their own emotions and it is important to teach and encourage this emotional development.

Giving children two options of a positive response gives them some control within the set limits of your instruction. This is huge in developing positive and reasoned responses.

Relationship is at the heart of discipline. We are wired for relationship and respond best when we feel safe. Develop deep connection through focused play on a regular basis.

Adults practice interactions and rehearse lines, at times, verbally in our minds if we are aware of a threatening or uncomfortable exchange ahead. Children learn through visual input and repetition. Consider creating a visual chart of expectation and routine for some of the “problem” times of your day. Mealtimes, bedtime routine, morning routine etc…Our brains are pattern seeking so keeping daily routines as predictable as possible helps to eliminate chaos. This gives them information and tools to work with.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”- Jeremiah 29:11

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