Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #4

September 30th, 2010 by Dionna | 20 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

Today’s gentle parenting post is a success story. Please share your own gentle parenting successes or questions – read the italicized text at the end of this post for more information on the series.


Kieran loves popcorn, and when I make some (using kernels and coconut oil on the stove – yum!) I always make extra to keep around for a few days. Recently, Kieran was eating some day old popcorn from a bag on the floor. We were both in the dining room – me at the table, Kieran on the other side of table out of sight. I was type-type-typing away when I heard . . .

shake shake shake

sprinkle sprinkle sprinkle

What in the world? I poked my head around the table and saw (not to anyone’s big surprise) that Kieran had emptied the bag of popcorn onto the carpet and was eating it like a dog.


A voice in the back of my head said:

How DARE he dump popcorn onto the floor?! Surely he’s smart enough to know we don’t spill things intentionally! He is going to clean that up RIGHT NOW!

But I took a breath, thought, and said:

“Oh wow! Were you having trouble eating the popcorn from the bag?”

Because I didn’t come at him in anger, his response was equally calm; there was nothing to stress out about – he wasn’t “in trouble.” I dare say he was even happy: “Yes! I want to get it out of the bag!”

I said, “well, how about we get your little bowl or a plate. I’d rather you not dump the little tiny pieces of popcorn and kernels all over, see?” And I got down next to him on the floor and pointed out the tiny bits.

“Ok! I want my little bowl, please!”

2010-08-27 01
Calmly, and now almost smugly (because I had handled that so rationally), I got the bowl and asked him if he would like to help me vacuum the popcorn bits up.

Not only was he happy to help me, but he also wanted to vacuum the rest of the house! I’m quite serious – we spent the next twenty minutes vacuuming.

I am so glad that I remained calm. My first response was to jump to invalid conclusions. I assumed he had the same life experiences I had, and I assumed he had bad intentions – I figured he wanted to make a mess, or maybe that he didn’t care that I would have to clean up his mess.

In reality, he didn’t even think about the mess factor, he was just having a hard time with the bag – so he handled it the best way he knew how. He was problem-solving, he wasn’t “misbehaving!”

I am also thankful that I did not expect him to clean up, I merely asked him to help. Since I didn’t expect him to, I wasn’t setting myself up for disappointment if he had said no. I gave him the opportunity to be helpful – it made us both feel good. I didn’t force him to vacuum as a “consequence” for making his mess (regardless of whether he’d made that mess intentionally or not). If I had forced him to clean the popcorn, it would have completely blown the gentle way I’d handled the mess initially.1

What would have happened if I had come at him with accusations of intentionally spilling or of being careless?

Would putting him in time out, forcing him to pick up the pieces under duress, or otherwise “disciplining” him (in the traditional sense of the word) have had better results? Worse?

Do you think he “learned the lesson” that popcorn does not go on the floor?

Do you think using an alternative discipline method would help teach him that lesson in a better way? Why or why not?


There are two resources that have been the most helpful to me in my own gentle parenting journey. First, reading about others’ experiences: real-life examples of challenges met with respect and compassion can be both educational and inspirational. Second, when I face a challenge of my own, I have always been able to turn to my local AP group for a fresh perspective and creative ideas.

I’d like to provide a resource like that here at Code Name: Mama, so I’ve introduced a series that will feature your stories and questions. In particular, I’d love to feature stories that build on consensual living principles or the techniques and ideas discussed in books like Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids; Playful Parenting; Unconditional Parenting; and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

I am not looking for stories about parenting techniques such as time-outs, negative consequences, coercion, or punishment.

If you have a gentle parenting success story or a question on how to gently handle a challenging situation with your toddler or preschooler, please read the contributor guidelines and contact me. Let’s not go through this journey alone!

  1. And I must admit – that sometimes happens in our house. We get through an upset calmly, and then when I ask him to help me clean (because cleaning is important to me), I get upset/angry when he refuses. I must make a mental note of this for next time!

20 Responses to:
"Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #4"

  1. Olivia

    That is such a great example. Similarly, when my daughter was about 12 months, she was given a snack cup with a mix of crackers and cheerios, and she kept grabbing handfulls and throwing it on the floor. My husband was really getting frustrated with her, but then I watched her for a moment to see what she was doing. She was picking out only the crackers and leaving the cheerios. She was just doing the only thing she knew how to separate the snacks. Once we gave her a cup with only the snack she wanted she stopped dumping it on the floor!

    That day taught me the value of observing before correcting her behavior. Some days I forget that lesson, but when I remember it always brings about much more peaceful results.

  2. Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes   sheryljesin

    This is fantastic! It’s so wonderful that you acheived the results you wanted (a clean floor, and teaching that popcorn doesn’t go on the floor) without getting mad or shaming Kieran. Yay to gentle parenting! It’s amazing how smoothly things can go when we as parents don’t assume the worst of our kids.

  3. Totally agree. How you handle the small stuff matters. Because our lives are the sum of our days which are built from moments like these.

  4. Sarah

    I had a mommy meltdown recently, that involved my son smashing the hard shells I’d just set out for us to eat some tacos for dinner. I walked away for 30 seconds, and specifically asked that he not play with the shells. As I walked back to the room I heard some crunch noises and found he had smashed them to smithereens.

    I did get upset. And his Dad walked in and was not happy either. I’m embarrassed how I handled it. He’s not a bad kid, and he always responds wayyyy better when we treat him with respect and remain calm and pleasant.

    It’s nice to read about others who strive to parent gently, because sometimes, on bad days, I remember the way my parents treated me (spanking, yelling, etc) and I begin to question myself.

    TY for the success story!

  5. Cassie

    This experience so sounds like what goes on in my house. I’m pretty good with the gentle discipline except when I’m tired or it’s been a long day. My oldest is now 3.5yo, and it took a couple of times “reminding”, well suggesting really that we use a plate/bowl/cup before she started just getting one out herself. Sometimes I do ask for help me, but other times it’s “Mama will help you pick up the mess.”

    I try to remember with I’m at my weakest moments, that toddlers are in the moment and are deliberately setting out to make my life more difficult.

  6. That is a great success story.

    My 2 year old really responds to gentle interaction. He likes to play ball and so throwing things is one of his favorite past times. As a result he often throws things inside that should not be thrown around a house.

    If I catch him throwing I’ll walk over and squat down and invite him up on my leg. Then I’ll talk to him about how throwing a spoon in the house can damage the house and there are his soft toy balls for throwing indoors. He’ll sit there and listen and when I’m done he’ll say, oh.

    That’s it, he gets the message, we have a hug and off he goes to play.

    Thanks again for sharing your story.

  7. Sarah

    This was nice to read today. It’s been a long rough day filled with 2 very tired girls and an equally over-tired mommy. And I’m afraid I wasn’t so calm today. But even after the yelling and the threats and then the guilt I had two little girls come over and give me hugs and say “Mommy you look angry. I love you. Do you feel happy now?”

    First it made me smile, and really did make me happy, but most of all it reminded me that b/c we focus on being respectful and gentle most of the time the times when I’m not just slide right over them. And we all come out relatively unscathed. I think it also helps that I humbly apologized for my poor behaviour and we talked about things I could do differently when I feel like that. Basically we ‘lectured’ myself the way we do them after a rough patch.

    Not a gentle parenting success per se, but for me it helps to know that even when things go horribly wrong we can still move closer together.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I think it was a success – the success was that they talked about your emotion and comforted you – they are modeling just what you do :) What wonderful life skills they are learning!

  8. Ann-Marie Horsley

    My son has tipped milk from a cup into a bowl on the floor before because he wanted to drink like his friend Daisy the dog (our friends’ dog). Every so often he likes to do this and have other slightly unusual (to adults) experiences with his food. We see it as part of his curiosity and learning about the world around him.


  9. MomAgain@40   karentoittoit

    Wow! This is a great reminder. I think we should handle all our interactions with our kids in this way. Try to look at WHY they are doing what they are doing, and NOT that they are doing something wrong.
    Thanks for the post

  10. Fiona

    Great post! My daughter is only 13 months and so can’t yet explain exactly why she might have done something that I might read as “misbehaviour”. But this reminds me of exactly why I shouldn’t jump to that conclusion in the first place. Often our kids are just working things out for themselves and it’s us who impute the malice.

    On an unrelated note, every time I see your footnotes at the end of posts it makes me smile. I’m a law professor and understand that once we’ve encountered the world of legal footnoting it’s very hard to go back :-)

  11. Sarah

    First, let me say thank you for this post, and for the entire blog – I think it’s a spectacular resource for attachment parents (and all parents!).

    That said, I have a question I hope you don’t mind if I ask. I am honestly asking this, not trolling. My little guy is still a toddler/baby, and so we’re not quite getting to situations like this yet, but I’m trying to think about them now so I’ll know how to deal with them later.

    My question is: was your decision to let Kieran decide whether or not he wants to help clean up the mess an age-appropriate measure, or was is based on something else? If Kieran were several years older – say, six or seven – would cleaning up his own mess (or at least helping to clean up his own mess) be a requirement, rather than an option? (I do understand that the idea is that kids will *want* to help in these situations when they’re securely attached – my mind is just playing devil’s advocate, and I’m wondering what I would do if I had an older child who did not want to help, and was completely content to have cleaning up be mama’s exclusive job [I know someone else’s child who fits that model, but whether or not they’re attachment-parented is up for debate].)

    Thanks again.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I kind of answered your question in response to Janine, but I’ll expand a little. Yes, definitely age-appropriate here, and I can’t tell you exactly what I’ll do in 4 years since I don’t have an older child at home :) But here are my thoughts right now: I do not want to skip right to punishment when Kieran doesn’t want to do something that I want him to do. It’s my hope that we raise him in a way that we are modeling for him (and therefore teaching him) things like responsibility and helping others – and one way we will do that is to make sure everyone’s needs are addressed.

      Think about it this way – has your husband or child ever asked for your help, but you just have no desire to help at that moment? Or you are in the middle of something and can’t help? What would make you want to help – your husband (or child) screaming at you? Or discussing your needs and your husband’s (or child’s) needs at the moment and coming to an agreement about how things could be done?

      And sometimes, I am just going to accept that my need for the house to be clean is not shared by my son. I won’t be able to create that need in him by punishing him. I’ll try to post some more about our journey – it’s definitely a new concept to me too!

      • Sarah

        Dionna, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I think I’ve clarified my thinking on this! I guess I’m feeling that a requirement (or, in Dr. Sears’ language, an ‘expectation’) can be distinct from punishment. It is an expectation of behavior that the child (of appropriate age) is to clean up after him/herself – an expectation that has been communicated by a lifetime of modeling by adults and positive discipline interactions like the one you describe here. I think it’s a goal of mine to have in hand a figurative toolbox that will contain a lot of positive ways to encourage the fulfillment of this expectation before the mood becomes punitive.

        Intellectually, I love these concepts; practically, they are definitely foreign concepts in that they’re very far from anything I’ve experienced in my own life – and so I very much appreciate anyone willing to discuss questions about the practicalities! I’m very dedicated to parenting in a way that is different than I was parented, and I’m continually surprised at how hard it is to completely ‘de-program’ myself. I will definitely await with anticipation any more you write on the subject!

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        I completely understand Sarah. I was raised in a much more authoritarian “do what I say or else” household ;) If you’re up for reading, Aldort’s “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves,” Hart’s “Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids,” and Kohn’s “Unconditional Parenting” are really helpful to read to start de/reprogramming your way of thinking. I think we’re doing Hart’s book next in our online book club series – you should read along with us!

      • Sarah

        I will certainly try! A few friends and I recently formed our own AP book group – we’re starting out with the Sears’ Discipline Book, but all of the other titles you mentioned are on our list for future reading! I would love to take part in an online group as well – I hope my schedule can swing it! :)

  12. Janine   AltHousewife

    I love this story but I wonder what you would have done if he had not wanted to help clean up. Would that have been OK? Responsibility is different than punishment, IMO.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I agree that responsibility is different than punishment. But I don’t think responsibility has to be learned through punishment. If he wouldn’t have wanted to clean, I would have done it myself and then talked to him later about how much I appreciate it when he helps me clean – especially when he makes the mess. (Ideally that’s what I would have done, although I have been known to clean it myself, muttering the whole time about how I wish I had help. Those aren’t my finer moments.)
      There are times that I can wait for him to help me clean (times when it’s not popcorn kernels underneath my feet), times I can make cleaning into a game — those are the times that he is learning responsibility, and he is learning in an age-appropriate/pleasant way.

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