Why Firmness Doesn’t Require Harshness

parenting skills

When it comes to disciplining children, one of the most important parenting skills a mom can learn is summed up in these few words: firmness doesn’t require harshness. We can get our kids to obey without yelling, shaming, or arguing back and forth.

Dr. Scott Turansky says that too many moms tell themselves, my kids won’t do anything unless I get angry. “This parent,” he says, “is confusing harshness with firmness and they aren’t the same thing.” Firmness says that a boundary is secure and won’t be crossed without a consequence. Harshness, on the other hand, uses angry words to make children believe parents mean what they say. Ask yourself an important question: What cues do you give your kids that you mean business? Is it anger or is it firmness? If you find yourself being harsh, take the time to reevaluate your response. More action and less yelling can go a long way toward bringing about significant change.”

Here are four ways to get good results using firmness instead of harshness.

For some, this is such a new concept that they have trouble grabbing onto it. One mom said, “The thought of separating firmness from harshness is like listening to a foreign language—it sounds nice but doesn’t make any sense.”

How do you make the change to using firmness without harshness? These ideas will help:

1. Dialogue less.

Don’t misunderstand; talking to your kids is good most of the time because it strengthens relationship bonds between parent and child. However, in an attempt to build a relationship, some parents spend too much time dialoguing about instructions. They try to defend their words, persuade their children to do what they’re told, or logically explain the value of obeying. This is often counterproductive and teaches children how to resist more. Parents then resort to anger to end the discussion, complicating matters further.

“But,” one mom said, “I thought talking and showing emotion are signs of a healthy family, leading to closeness in family life.” That is true when they’re used in the right way. Unfortunately, when added to the instruction process, these two ingredients confuse children and don’t give them the clear boundaries they need. These are two good things, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Making sure your children understand their boundaries, regarding their behavior, helps too.

2. Show less emotion.

Anger works—but at a price. It quiets children, moves them toward the car when it’s time to go and motivates them to clean their room. But anger and harshness have a downside. They build walls of resistance in children and distract from the true issue you’d like to correct.

A good correction routine teaches children that they must change. Unfortunately, the clear message that the child has a problem and needs to work on it is sometimes missed because of parental anger. A parent’s harshness can confuse the learning process. Instead of thinking, I’m here taking a break because I did something wrong, the child thinks, I’m here taking a break because I made Mom mad. Simply put, anger confuses the issue.

3. Firmness requires action, not anger.

Having a toolbox of consequences is important to help move children along in life—it’s not optional. {Tweet This} Some parents use anger as their only consequence and wonder why their children never really learn and adapt their behavior in meaningful and lasting ways. Take the time to study and pray–outside of the stress and emotional charge of an immediate problem–about specific areas of challenge with your children and what particular consequences would motivate them to change and grow. Having better solutions at the ready will decrease the temptation to default to anger to solve the problem next time.

4. When you make a mistake and correct in anger, it’s important to come back to your child and talk about it afterward.

Clarify what was wrong, why the consequence was given, and apologize for your harshness. The inner strength of emotional control not only guides children and builds them up in a positive direction, but it creates greater closeness in relationships.

Proverbs 15:1 is equally perceptive. It says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Keep in mind that harshness gets in the way of the growth you want to see in your children and in your relationships. Choose firm, but loving words, and avoid these 15 things mothers should never say to their children.

What’s your advice for being firm without being harsh?


  • Jasmine Beaudoin

    I really struggle with this.. 🙁

  • sophia

    I believe we all could use a little more kindness and a little less harshness, especially our children. GOD BLESS YOU and thank you for sharing about this very important but sometimes overlooked topic. I know I struggle with this as well and can use all the reminders I can get.

  • wow what about me..i often give my 1 and 5 mo. year old son a spank if he doesn’t go to sleep when i said so, and spank again whenever i said to stop touching dirty things. i had reevaluated myself and i am a monster mom..Gosh, i love my son and i just want him to learn to obey.

    • anonymous

      Why would you spank them if they don’t go to sleep? He’s not old enough to understand that.

    • Sarah Joy Hipple-Spence

      Peaceful parenting books like Dr. Jane Nelson’s books have allowed me to stop spanking, and I have children who are WAAAAAAY more obedient, respectful, attentive, and happy now. And I don’t feel guilty for the way I’ve treated them.

    • Olivia

      Not to be harsh here, but spanking a child that young is ridiculous and terrible. A child that young would basically see his mother, someone he only loves and wants to be loved by, as someone who hurts him. You think hurting him before bed makes bed seem like a good thing? One year olds do not obey. They just need to be redirected/distracted from harmful things. And comforted when they struggle going to bed. Some are really afraid of the dark at that age. My heart aches for your son who’s had to be hurt. I hope you can find the help you need to stop this. Maybe some counseling on child development or a seminar on effective parenting would help. You can Google for help in your area. There are a ton of resources that can help by talking to In person to a parenting expert.

      • Mom of 6

        Wow….how is your attacking her any different? She is being honest and has self-evaluated. She is reaching out because she loves her son, not because she is seeking condemnation. No one is a parenting expert after less than a year and a half and by no one I mean no one. Couching your attack with “not to be harsh here” doesn’t make it any less harsh or offensive. Women need the support of other women not for yet one more person to point out how they aren’t enough or in your case – that she needs counseling because she’s abusing someone she loves deeply. Shame on you!

  • lele

    I really struggle with yelling It like I have to yell in order for my kids to even know I am talking.

  • leigh anne

    This is great, but I’d love to know what to do instead of becoming angry. What “tools” should I have in the tool box???

    • Becky

      I use time out. Instead of becoming angry because I can’t handle it anymore, I just pick my child up and put him in time out, letting him know with simple words, like “woopsie” that it was a mistake for him to disobey me. Then I let him do his thing. Sometimes he’ll screen and cry, but that usually happens only when I haven’t been consistent, which really isn’t fair to him to discipline him one time for doing something and ignore it the next time. The next thing to do is wait. If it’s very quiet, after a little bit of time (sometimes just one minute)- he knows if he is shouting or angry he’s not ready- I’ll go into his room and ask if he’s ready. If he’s still angery and says yes I’ll calmly remind him that he’s not ready if he’s angry, and then I walk out for another bit of time. Sometimes I have to do this a few times, (which can be so hard and make you feel guilty, but trust me, I have always regretted getting him out early, and have always been so glad when I’ve waited for him to be calm. The goal is to wait until they are calm). Then I stand him up, give him a hug, and tell him how much I love him. He is usually pretty happy at this point. One point I should make is that when I am consistent he is very obedient and seems happy to be doing well. I rarely have to use time outs then. Sometimes I become inconsistent, and that will happen, but I just have to do the time out thing again, calmly, (you want to teach them to be calm when they are stressed, not angry), and work from there. After every time out I evaluate myself in two areas. 1. Am I being consistent? 2. An I spending enough time with my child so he knows my love is sincere, and that I don’t just love him, but I like who he is, and I WANT to spend time with him because I like him. Reading books together or running around are great. These two things have been the biggest life changing factors in my discipline.

      Something wonderful that I’ve discovered after switching to the no anger method is that my child had started to respond to me with calmness and not shouting!

      Don’t give up if you get angry! This is like leaving to walk! It takes some time, but walking is totally worth it, so just fight through it! You can do it! I still make mistakes, but this has really strengthened my relationship with my child.

      You’re child may not be a toddler, but I hope this might help someone who is reading this.

      Read the article again. You may have missed some things the first time. This is worth leaning. Trust me.

      • Becky

        Also, don’t forget to pray! I could not have done this without prayer! Ask God for what tools to use. That is how I leaned what would work best for my child. Keep praying as you go. Sometimes the answers well come slowly as you work on one thing at a time, but keep praying!

      • Mom of 2 boys

        thank you for this comment. I have two boys, 2 and 5 and we are having a hard time controlling their anger. Maybe because we get angry (Especially dad) when they misbehave. I think your suggestion will help with this. Thanks again.

    • Sarah Joy Hipple-Spence

      This book, and other books by Jane Nelson, have been AWESOME at giving
      me simple, sensible, specific things to do, think, and say as I am
      trying to parent my kids. Dr. Nelson has books for each age level too
      which have been so helpful! The books are easy to read, and I’ve been
      able to check them all out from my local library. I hope this helps you
      as much as it has/is me and my children!

    • Cor

      Same here

  • Donna

    This is great, but I need concrete responses to use for various situations that arrive for an 11 yo girl and a 9 yo boy…. I know you can’t give examples for every situation, but some would be good.

    • Alexis Zumbado

      What do they love or hold value in? We have a child that loves her STUFF! if its on her desk, toys, laptop, collection’s of you name it. All things we buy and work hard to provide. We quiety, not in anger likely while she is in school. We box it all up, ALL of it. its opens their ears to listen to how hurt we may be for being disrespected after giving so much to them. It starts a conversation that involves you mentioning they are loved by you and mostly a GOD that has blessed them with parents who care how they end up. Get creative, and yes pray. His still small voice can be large. And as for our kid! You can really see the wheels turning as she puts away all her belongings, she even appreciates them more. In turn appreciates us.

  • Lisa

    The article gives examples of what not to do and why, but not one example of alternative behavior. It keeps mentioning firmness and consequence rather than giving a real life example that would be useful for those who struggle with yelling.

    • Sarah Joy Hipple-Spence

      I have not read any of L.R. Knost’s books yet, but I plan on getting them soon. They appear to be very practical and biblical, and encourage parents in specific ways to make their home respectful, loving, and close knit. I’ve been falling in love with the interviews and book excerpts I’ve read, but since they’re not at my library, I haven’t been able to read them yet…

  • Hides727

    Yep,I agree, please list some tools to have at the ready. Thanks

    • Sarah Joy Hipple-Spence

      Check out the links to the Dr. Jane Nelson books I commented with above. They were a life saver two years ago when I was at my wit’s end with parenting. I hope they help you as much as they have been helping me!

  • sarrah joy Hipple-spence

    Good day ladies..i am interested on this bcos i have a kid 2yrs & 9mnths,i knw that at thier age they are very curious,inquisitive,hyper,love doing or playing when they get messy,love to play water all the time they love to get wet..but my question is:how to handle this kind of kid,how to descipline w/o anger?i am a high temper,easily get mad and i dont wanna hurt her..i love my kid..i just want her to listen to me..and obey me..oh please help me!!!

  • Kris

    What do you mean with correction ?

    • Layla

      I think it’s explained under number 3 where it says “…what particular consequences would motivate them to change and grow” I think it’s finding a consequence that is effective with your child (it’s different for different children) that can be administered without being harsh and angry.

  • Ana Maria Marinescu Temple

    I love this article and I use this specific advice in my daily pediatric practice. I would love to use this post on my Blog – MC2Charlotte.com. How may I proceed without infringing on your copy rights. I would like to copy and paste your words with full credit to your blog and a link to your blog. I am not sure if that is within your parameters or it is acceptable. Please let me know how I may collaborate with you. Thank you for your great posts. Warm Regards, your fan Ana-Maria

    • Dr. Temple – We are pleased to grant permission to republish this content , in its entirety, for non-commercial, non-profit purposes only. Please provide the following credit at the end of the content:

      “Copyright 2016. iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission. For more inspiration and resources, visit iMOM.com.” as well as the iMOM logo.