Compliance. Obedience. Discipline.
Feel into these words.
Do they feel strict and tight? Stiff, reluctant, and worn…strained and resigned?
What if instead the idea of obedience opened like a sun salutation — receptive, strong, and fluid?
What if discipline could feel like invitation, cooperation, and “yes”?
The real magic, where all Mary Poppins power lives, is in the gesture of expansion, not constriction.
My dear yoga teacher Anna taught me the secret purpose of a yoga pose was to create space.
“Space…to…Be” she would slowly intone over our opening hips and hearts.
The body, given the gift of space, will soften, release emotion, and open to new possibilities.
A child, given the gift of space, will also find new pathways and ways of being where before there was grinding, compression, and resistance.
What does it mean to give a child space?
There are many beautiful components of this artform — parenting spaciously. It is an entire philosophy; and the core of the parent by magic approach.
Even the most strong-willed child (and I have one!) can develop this state of suppleness and pliancy because it is a capacity.
As with other capacities — like learning a new language — fluidity and mastery are cultivated through immersion.
French immersion, tech-immersion, wonder-immersion….these are all formative, ontological landscapes that impart life-long identity.
The immersion that I chose for my children was simple old-fashioned, open-ended, spirit-led, loose parts free play.
I began training for spaciousness the way a dolphin-whisperer might work — intuitively. Humbly, diving into the supple “not knowing” of parenthood with a beginner’s mind.
And there, I cultivated this vast ocean — this liminal zone — where PLAY was teaching us all…
This gentle way I’ve raised my 4 kids — without threats, warnings, time outs, counting to three, nagging, or smacking the bottom — I took on as a parenting experiment.
I am by no means a perfect scientist! I flub up and yell. All goes to poop sometimes. But I’m outrageously authentic in both storm and calm and over these fourteen years my kids have rewarded me with sweet and true respect.
As far as personality profiles go, my kids are the full spectrum. All four temperaments — a flaming choleric, a brooding melancholic, a reluctant phlegmatic and a super-chill sanguine.
So I know a thing or two by now about using play and space to generate grace-filled character, whatever the predisposition.
Like my yoga teacher, I am here to help my kids build up buffers of space in their own hearts and minds. Like Mary Poppins I am here to lighten the mood, magic up the scenery…and bring them back to who they are.
Space can be opened with a sudden bit of song, nursery rhyme, or change of orientation — a quick turn of a child upside down — not for a spank, but for a giggle — or a ‘bumpy road’ ride on your knees. Creative Mary Poppins style interventions work because they speak the mother tongue of a child — musical in tone, sensory and visual, dreamy, non-linear, sanguine, and emotive.
You can often breathe space into a tantrum just by pulling out a storybook and beginning to read right over the crying (works almost every time!)
There’s this miraculous moment, just like in yoga — when the kid’s whole face and body melts into “story listening pose.”
They soften, let go, and lose themselves in the telling of the tale. This is pure pliancy!
If you just think like a child soon you’ll find you’re both on the same side — helping the peas cross the carrot logs to get over the gravy river! Vanquishing monsters all the way to bed! Conflicts dissipating left, right, and centre as common goals are conquered together.
What’s even better, these moments have exponential compliancy-building power!
Meeting your child’s authentic desire for side-by-side camaraderie in their quest makes them all the more willing to join you side-by-side in your real life missions. Like grocery gathering, being on time, and putting boots on!
Being a kid is a heck of a lot to bear sometimes so I let my kids know we are in it together.
I think small but genuine acts of playfulness are actually acts of compassion.
Yes, play can be a form of solidarity.
I don’t focus on the usual issues of discipline. Rather, I put my energy into pre-emptively enlarging the scope of high quality play in our home and honing my own Mary Poppins skills.
There are few storms that a magical intervention can’t dissolve!
I’ll take this kind of creative and fun investment of energy any day over the soul-wearying, impossible fight of holding up invisible battle lines that don’t even make sense to a child!
But how can play really work as tantrum prevention and real character development?
I have seen, and fully believe, that internal reservoirs of deep play are the wellspring of self-control, contentment, and agreeableness.
The satisfaction that comes from getting “lost in play” is substantive; it basically unleashes a power that is the very opposite of compulsion.
Play creates bandwidth.
It generates capacity.
Real play makes a child so spacious inside that they grow this enormous ‘pause’ button — a beacon of restraint and composure (again, the opposite of reactivity. Some adults could stand to grow theirs a little larger…)
I believe that regular, organically flowing deep play is the healthy diet that prevents ridiculous behaviour and bad choices from taking over.
It is a bit miraculous really.
The seeds of instruction and correction that I drop are received into the soft, supple soil of their hearts because they’ve been nourished by deep play.
All this would be impossible if we had to rise up and be Mary Poppins every day in every way. I know I do not have that kind of power.
Luckily, spaciousness is cumulative.
It builds up in the atmosphere of the home, day after day; in the body of a child, year after year.
Every time you prioritize their deep play, their soul registers that as honour.
(Don’t be surprised when you receive the same gift in return!)
Every time you find a way to gently stir the play forward another round, add a new variable, or extend their stamina by a few minutes you are expanding the rubber band of how far they can go.
You’re infusing space into their tender places, dissolving tension and, as we know from yoga — it is releasing into a pose, not forcing it, that creates true flexibility, motion, ease, and well-being.
This is what I call flow discipline and I can tell you — this little BOSS would be a full blown monster without it!
So the next time you experience a lack of compliance I want you to remember its root: pliancy.
Compliant:[com (with, together, completely) pliant (yielding)]
Wow. Yielding together. Ebb and flow.
This state of being flexible, loose, and open is my highest goal for my children.
Yes, because it makes my job so much easier, but more importantly — it is the foundation of a beautiful, resilient, adaptive, spirit-led life.
A child who has had this living experience of grace infused into the marrow of who they are will always have a sacred place of belonging, right inside themselves. A space to BE.
Which is what my new book Being With Wonder is really about.
One final thought.
I’d like to encourage you — if you’ve been feeling constrained — to find your own spacious heart again.
One of the ways I do this is by simply embracing this very same boundless permission to play!
All humans need space to BE.
So this is how I live my life!
I feel invited, allured, beckoned, and empowered to revel and play with immersive abandon.
And whenever something goes wrong, I fall back on spaciousness.
It is quite unusual, but ask the people who know me —
I literally sink into my spacious worldview, like a soft bed or delicious yoga pose.
I am not an obstinate woman!
I bow easily to guidance.
I am all “yes” when the wind blows.
I love to yield and grow!
Pliant as a willow, I’ll bend, bend, bend…
And I can’t help but think my children have noticed.