Do You Have A Philosophy About Discipline?

In my previous blog, I invited readers to consider a Philosophy of Parenting and suggested some ways to create one. Having a philosophy provides a kind of beacon from which parenting decisions are made. Today, I am inviting you to begin a journey that will allow you to consider a Philosophy of Discipline.

As a parent, how do you approach discipline?

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

Let’s start by acknowledging that part of the process of developing a Philosophy of Discipline involves understanding that jumping into the role of disciplinarian is not something we as parents choose to do. Rather, it is part of the long and complicated process of parenting that is driven by the growth of our children.

It was very helpful to me to learn from Ellen Galinsky’s Six Stages of Parenthood that, as a parent, I had different roles and responsibilities that Galinsky’s research indicates were typical for most parents. Somehow it was comforting to know I wasn’t crazy when it seemed like the parenting world that had become comfortable and familiar seemed to suddenly— or at times gradually—change. I then realized I no longer felt clear and confident about who I was as a parent.

My new job was to figure out how I needed to change because of the changing needs of my child. This was frustrating after having worked through my own process to become confident and clear about my role in parenting my infants.

As Galinsky points out, this is the nature of parenting.

As our children move through their stages of development, we as parents also move through our stages. And for each stage, we need a philosophy to guide us through.

When it comes to the role of disciplinarian, Galinsky describes moving from the Nurturing Stage to the Authority Stage as one of the transitions we as parents are forced to make.

Let’s look at a summary of each of these stages:

The Nurturing Stage

The nurturing stage begins when the baby is born and lasts until sometime into the second year. The major task for parents is to form a healthy attachment to the baby, among other related tasks. Parents need to reconcile their imagined birth experience with the actual one and their images of the baby with the actualities of their child. They need to take on responsibilities of caring for the child, developing a sense of caring and realizing that they are, indeed, parents. Their relationship needs to expand to include the baby, and they need to work out their relationships with their own parents. If there are other children, the baby needs to be included into the family network.

For many of us as new parents, the nurturing role brings much joy as we learn to fall in love with our babies, as Stanley Greenspan describes the process in these early months of a child’s life. 

Our Philosophy of Nurturing evolves as we realize how critical it is to comfort babies, provide a secure base, and learn how to recognize and then respond to their needs.

The Authority Stage

This stage usually evolves gradually as parents are faced with the need to set limits and establish themselves as disciplinarians in their child’s world. This occurs sometime within the second year of the child’s life, and issues of this stage center around power. The major task is to assume appropriate authority over the child as the child begins to challenge his parents and the world. Parents need to reconcile their images of how they expected to discipline with how they actually react to their child.

Parents need to address issues around anger, how they were disciplined and how they are going to communicate with their child. There is more distance between parent and child in this stage and the symbiosis of the nurturing stage lessens. Parents have to determine how much they are going to be involved in the child’s world, how much they are going to shield their child, and how much they are going to allow the child to experience the consequences of their actions.

Some of us may remember specific moments when we realized we had to become disciplinarians. For me it was when my 19-month-old daughter melted down in a food store, ultimately spitting at me in her frustration. All the nurturing in the world was not going to provide her or me with what was needed!

For me this was the beginning of the transition of being primarily in a nurturing role to understanding what it meant to also be in an authoritarian role. At that point, I needed to determine how to respond in ways that were healthy and respectful of both her needs and mine. I needed to create and follow a Philosophy of Discipline!

More about that process in upcoming blogs.

Invitation to Reflect:

  • What is your Philosophy of Discipline?
  • If you don’t have one, what are your thoughts now about what you might want to include in a Philosophy of Discipline?
  • What was your experience moving from the Nurturing Stage to the Authority Stage?

Diane Wagenhals


First Feelings: Milestones in the Emotional Development of Your Baby and Child by Stanley Greenspan and Nancy Thorndike Greenspan (Apr 1, 1989) (For more about Dr. Greenspan, check out