April 27, 2023

The Therapeutic Parent: A Framework for Discipline

By Hannah Sedlacek
Identity Development

Have you heard the terms “gentle parenting,” “therapeutic parenting, “connected parenting,” and thought, “Yeah, that’s not really for me because I believe in discipline”? Maybe you’ve asked yourself, “Can I have both a connected, therapeutic approach to parenting AND create structure through discipline?” Yes, parent, you can.

As dear Matthew McConaughey would say, “Alright alright alrightttt.” Let’s get to the good stuff.


I want to introduce a framework for discipline called the IDEAL response, which was developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross in Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®).

Here’s the layout.

I – Immediate

D – Direct

E – Efficient

A – Action-based

L – Leveled at the behavior (not the child)

Now let’s break it down.


As quick as you can, catch that behavior or negative comment and provide redirection. Dr. Purvis shares that brain research shows us if you respond to a child’s behavior within three seconds, they will learn. This can be good or bad behavior, so make sure you’re directing plenty of attention and immediate response to your child’s good behaviors as well!


Get close to your child when you’re providing a response – close enough that you can touch them. Practice good active listening – keep your body and face towards them, maintain eye contact, and engage in what they’re sharing and feeling. If your child responds well to physical touch, go ahead and do that. Be fully present with them. Let them know they have your attention.


Dr. Purvis shares, “We have a lot of parents who are going after a mosquito with an elephant gun.” We need to identify where the child is at and match our response to the situation. There are four “levels of response” that are outlined for this stage of the IDEAL response:

  1. Playful Engagement. If your child’s behavior is at a level 1, we want to playfully provide redirection. “Let’s try that again with respect.” “Are you asking or telling me?” “Can you use your words for me? I want to understand.” We want to be in this playful engagement stage the majority of the time.
  2. Structured Engagement. In structured engagement, we might use a firmer voice, provide choices, compromise, or a re-do.
  3. Calming Engagement. When children are at this level, we want to work on regulation. We want to support our child as they navigate their big emotions and direct them towards coping skills.
  4. Protective Engagement. Level 4 is when the child is so escalated that they are being unsafe with themselves or others. We want to ensure the child’s safety and provide support. Please reach out to a therapist for more guidance on this if needed.

Efficient response is identifying what “level” a behavior is at, and providing a response at that same level. We want to catch a behavior low before it escalates, and we want our response to be matched with the situation.


We want to provide direction to our child that is action-based and something that involves their bodies. Our bodies have a memory, so if you can get your child to do the right thing, their body will remember that. Let’s say your child steals a cookie off of the counter and you see them. Instead of grabbing the cookie and putting it back on the counter, have them do it themselves.

Leveled at the behavior

Our response to a child’s behavior should be about the behavior, not the child. The goal of therapeutic parenting is connection, even in discipline. We want to address a child’s behavior and bring them closer to us, so they feel more connected to us.

The truth about discipline

A good thing to remember with discipline is something that Dr. Daniel J. Siegel says well in his book, The Whole Brain Child, “Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioral consequences.” To discipline is to teach. We want our children learning problem solving and emotional regulation skills. The IDEAL response helps provide that.

Hey, parent, you’re doing a good job. You can have a connected, therapeutic approach to parenting AND create structure through discipline.

Check out this video of Dr. Karyn Purvis herself explaining the IDEAL Response.

Written By

Hannah Sedlacek

Ready to set up your first appointment?

If you haven’t been in touch with us yet, you can get started by filling out our intake form.