Toddler Discipline: The Power of Firm Love

In the book “The Complete Secrets of Happy Children”, Steve Biddulph talked about the importance of “firm love”.  In essence, firm love is basically parenting with set rules and structure.  It was found that children whose parents provided firm love were generally better behaved than parents who were permissive with their children.

Biddulph explains that children often act up to observe the reactions of their parents.  They need to know that their parents are strong enough to contain them, regardless of their actions.  The reassurance that their parents are in control provides security to a child.  Regardless of their behaviour, children are aware of their inability to control themselves at times.  They look to their parents as authority figures to provide that control.  When parents fail to live up to that role, it makes a child feel insecure.

In the chapter “Firm Love”, Biddulph relates the scenario in which foster children often play up the most when they are first sent to live with a new family.  He explained the importance of that family to provide firm rules and regulations for the foster child during that critical settling in period to set the scene for future behaviour.  During this settling in period, the foster child is attempting to gauge whether the new family is “strong” enough to provide the care necessary.  Foster parents who are permissive will be deemed “inadequate” by the foster child.  If the foster parents are able to maintain the boundaries, the foster child very often falls back into line.

While reading Nurture Shock, there are constant mentions of the importance for firm parenting.  Bronson and Merryman also agree that permissive parenting is what leads to children with poor discipline.  Parents who are firm and able to set appropriate boundaries and rules raise better behaved children.

Nurture Shock explains that children of parents who are permissive often view their parents as uncaring.  For instance, “They don’t care about me so they let me do whatever I want.”  Whereas parents who do enforce rules and regulations are perceived to be more caring.

As parents, therefore, it is our responsibility to set the rules, be firm and be the villain from time to time.  As Biddulph puts it, sometimes we have to pull the parenting trump card – “because I said so”.  We can’t be our children’s “best friend” because the role of a parent is so much more than that.  We are responsible for guiding our children and sometimes that means making them do things they don’t like.

I’ve generally taken the softer approach with Gavin and used calm reasoning, deals and rewards for good behaviour.  I learned fairly early on that Gavin didn’t take well to scolding, screaming and threats, because he just responded with equal volume, if not more so.  Since I am usually able to get his cooperation using the “soft” approach, I have never felt the need to step up on the aggressiveness.

Lately, however, there have been times when none of these have worked and I find Gavin pushing the boundaries.  He is beginning to test my word and force my hand by calling my “bluff” (which of course is never a bluff because I have always been fully prepared to act upon my words).  Though I have had to be tough on Gavin (as much as it breaks my heart), I have been surprised to see how quickly he falls into line when he realises that I am not going to budge and that he isn’t going to get his way.  Not only does he fall back into line but the manner in which he does so surprises me.  From headbutting each other, he suddenly transforms into a cherubic little angel.

Unfortunately, there are periods of peaks and troughs.  Though he often falls back into line, it isn’t long before we can expect another confrontation during which I have to remind him what happened the last time he decided to behave poorly.  I have to attribute it to his poor toddler recall and the need for repetition to get the message hardwired.

Although he gets terribly upset, I always explain why he’s being punished, why I refuse to budge on the rules, even when he tries to negotiate too little too late.  The good news is that I can see understanding in his eyes so I know my message has been processed.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop him trying to gain sympathy by forcing out extra tears with a cry that I know isn’t real.  Eventually, he gives up the whole charade and complies with my requests.

Yes, it’s tough being a parent and I think it’s harder to say “no” than it is to say “yes”.  Times like these, I finally understand my mother when she used to tell me, “It is because I love you that I have to say ‘no’.”


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: