One thing that interferes with setting boundaries is our views and history with authority. Think about your personal feelings with authority and how those feelings may or may not impact your relationship with your students or the children you support. For example, suppose you had negative experiences with an overbearing or abusive parent as a child, or you grew up in a culture of rebellion. In that case, you may shy away from holding kids accountable for poor behavior, concerned that they will view you as an abusive and/or oppressive adult.

When we hold others accountable, it can feel uncomfortable for us. In addition, many of our students with severe behavior are triggered by discipline situations and feeling that the adults are trying to control them. This often leads to emotional outbursts. Our feelings of discomfort with authority and our fear about the child having a fit can get in the way of us having expectations of our students and following through with consequences.

To help us provide the healthy discipline children need, we need to understand the following definitions. Understanding these definitions will help educators and parents know the difference between healthy and unhealthy expectations.

Authority: The power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, or judge.

Obedience: In human behavior, a form of social influence in which a person yields to explicit instructions or orders from an authority figure.

Compliance: The act of complying with a wish, request, or demand.

Coercion: The practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by using intimidation or threats.

With healing discipline, we are never coercive with our students or use shame when setting boundaries. Healthy compliance is NOT about authority figures taking advantage of their position or abusing their power.  Interestingly enough, those who have been taught healthy compliance and have healthy moral and conscience development are more likely to hold unhealthy or abusive authority figures accountable for their behavior.

Parents being compliant with their role is an essential part of the early attachment cycle for human growth and development. When we talk about a parent being “compliant to their role as a parent” we mean that the parent is taking care of their child’s needs (i.e. emotional, physical, mental, behavioral, and safety). It’s not easy for children to be compliant when they have had adults who were not compliant with their parental role. For example, the parent did not take care of the basic needs of food, shelter, or clothing, or respond to the emotional needs (i.e., did not respond to their crying in the middle of the night or was neglectful or abusive towards them). When this happens, the child learns they can not trust adults to take care of their needs; therefore, the child becomes controlling, trying to take care of their own needs and wants (i.e. lying, stealing, cheating, emotional outbursts, withdrawal, shut down, refusals, etc.). Not learning healthy compliance interferes with the Stages of Conscience Development. Adults and children who don’t learn healthy compliance can become sociopaths or “doormats.” Therefore, learning healthy compliance is an essential part of healing the disrupted attachment cycle when working with children that have severe emotional and behavioral issues.

Providing healthy boundaries and structure is as much a basic need as nurturing relationships. We understand the child will not always be happy with our decisions or choices, we recognize why the child responds the way they do, and we do not take the behavior personally. Most importantly, we have faith the child can heal through our supportive nurturing relationship, healthy boundaries, and consistent follow-through. Expecting compliance from a healthy adult can help children have better lives.

The bottom line is that school is about children learning. For this to occur, both the educator and the child need to be compliant with their role. The educator’s role is to provide an environment that is conducive to learning (by providing safety, structure, consistency, relationship, empathy, encouragement, boundaries, acceptance of the child, accountability, etc.). The child’s role is to listen, follow directions, and do their work. When we are compliant with our role as educators, it is not unreasonable for us to expect the child to be compliant with healthy adult directions and rules.  As children experience healthy compliance with a healthy adult they can learn to trust and bond with healthy adults – essentially rewiring the brain. As they do this, children improve their behavior, mature, and grow through the developmental stages. This ultimately allows them more freedom in decision making for themselves as an adult.  Each of us has a role and responsibility to be compliant for the world to work in healthy ways.

Healing Environment for Typical Behaviors
Healing Environment for Children with Severe Emotional and Behavioral Problems

© Healing Children, LLC 2018.   From the book: “Healing Discipline: Bringing Hope to Shattered Lives” by Traci Glover, M.Ed., LSW, LPC and Leena Weaver, Ed.S., NCSP






To Learn More: Take a live course  or an on demand course or purchase our book “Healing Discipline: Bringing Hope to Shattered Lives, A Guide for Educators.” or our book Raising Babies. We are also happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have via phone or email.  You can contact us at 1-888-311-1883 or email us at 

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