Ages One to Three

Strong Boundaries vs. Permissiveness


My 22-month-old son gets away with way more than other kids, but I feel I have to let him have lots of freedom. He flies into such a rage when he doesn’t get his way! Am I a bad mother if I don’t spank him?


I’m going to suggest that you’re being more permissive than you realize. At this age my children do not have “lots of freedom.” In my book, I talk about the four stages illustrated by the GBD window, and 22 months is definitely leaping into the toddler stage. This stage is classified as the teaching stage and is marked by you being in the role of “parent as authority,” and you being primarily firm (still kind, but more firm) but respectful of them.

What this means is that, at this stage, I am cementing the foundation of the standard for our family. I don’t say things like, “Oh, honey, Mama doesn’t want you to do that. It’s not really safe.” I very firmly say, “Absolutely not! That is not safe. You need to get down from there right now – or do you need my help?” And then, protest or not, I move them.

I fully expect my children to challenge me at this stage, and I take it on full force, showing them that I am the authority and not them. They don’t have to like what I’m saying will happen, but it will happen and they can feel however they want about it.

I am very gentle with them; I validate feelings and encourage them and clap and laugh and play with them. But I am not nice, as in, my children liking me isn’t my motivation! I know they love me; I know they like me. But suggestions in behavior or words that they don’t like are not taken personally by me.

Children CRAVE firm boundaries! Not tons of rules and limits, but knowing what the expectations are and being held to them. Routines, having their needs met, firm boundaries and tons of love are the recipe for healthy and thriving children.

Avoiding punishment doesn’t mean avoiding authority. In fact, them understanding that you are confident as the authority is what will cause them to stop challenging you. And even those highly spirited children who keep challenging you will not be as intense as if you’re being permissive.

It takes a while for you to feel confident in your authority, especially with your first. The reason the Babywise books are so popular is that they validate your role as the authority. The reason they are so problematic is that they suggest you go on to abuse it. You can feel confident with GBD, just remember that kind and nice are not the same thing.

Many people are surprised to spend time with other GBD-experienced moms and I and hear us with our children. For some reason they think I’m a flowery hippie momma who is always gentle and flowing. I assure them I’m that way in my heart, but my words are strong and confident and most people end up saying, “Oh, this is so not permissive! Now I see.”

Please don’t gauge your success on his reaction. He won’t always like what needs to be done. Gauge it on when you can set and enforce the boundary early, with confidence, and without feeling so overwhelmed that you slip back to punishing. It will take time, but it will come.

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