Behold! Your Line of Acceptance

Behold! Your Line of Acceptance

As one of my courses ended recently, a father remarked that the Line of Acceptance was his most helpful takeaway. I realized then how grateful I am for its help in my own emotional self-regulation

So what is this Line anyway?

An essential part of the Behavior Window (the concept that hit Dr. Thomas Gordon one day as he stood in his kitchen looking out), the Line of Acceptance distinguishes between those things our kids (or others) do or say that we accept from those we do not.

The thing is, it's not always smack dab in the middle. Lately, I've been blessed with a much lower L of A:

Most of my life, however, has looked more like this:

What are we to make of this movement? It's not always subtle or slow either; the Line can really travel within a day or, even, within a half-hour!

Dr. Gordon asserts that such fluctuations are simply a sign that we are human and he encourages us to be honest about them, because our children get it. They understand, for example, that a certain loud toy might be fine at 9 in the morning but not at 9pm. 

In Session 1, reflecting on our reasons for a high or low Line at any given moment, we find they can be categorized in one of three ways.


  • Being on vacation -> low
  • Close quarters of Hong Kong versus the wide open living in other countries -> high
  • People are watching to see what I'll do -> high
  • The in-laws are in town! -> high

We ponder for a moment the audience issue: Why is behavior that we might tolerate one-on-one suddenly unacceptable in the presence of others?

Parents admit, some sheepishly, that in that moment we are concerned for our own self-image. (As a class we send ourselves some self-compassion because -- let's face it -- it's hard not to care! Who wants to be labeled the "bad parent" raising a "brat?")


  • She's my "difficult" child so, yup, she's at it again! -> high
  • My eldest child has a school interview coming up; I'll let anything slide so as not to upset her -> low
  • He's my "charmer" -- when he asks me in that sweet tone, I just have to cave in -> low
  • This particular child has skills or characteristics that make me more, or less, willing to give the green light -> low or high (see Janine's comment below -- thank you!)

We find that, depending on their age, gender, personality or past record, we have different Lines of Acceptance for each of our children.  


Well, we already have a few from above:

  • Expectations -- these often share a common word:

She SHOULD know better by now!

Older brothers SHOULD be more understanding and mature.

Girls SHOULDN'T behave like that.

That's how a request SHOULD be made!

  • Judgments/labels -- lazy, ungrateful, spoiled, addicted, good for nothing, bully
  • Thoughts & beliefs -- People are judging my parenting based on what YOU do so stop that! Sure, selfish just like your father! 
  • Emotions -- disappointed, burnt out, livid, impatient, relaxed, anxious

Add to this the contours of what's going on in our own lives:

  • I've had a good day -> low
  • I'm so exhausted that I've decided to let it slide - no energy to care or say a darn thing -> low 
  • I haven't gone to the gym! Ughhh! -> high
  • Bad review from my supervisor -> high
  • I fought with my coparent -> high
  • Feeling "thangry" -- tired, hungry and angry (my spin on hangry)

Something comes into focus as we consider the groupings on the poster we have drawn up:

It is primarily the many factors within ourselves -- TOTALLY INDEPENDENT of the child's behavior -- that affect our receptiveness to it. 


This is a huge reckoning for the many of us who have been in the habit of blaming our children for our response to them: "You are making me so mad!"

But it is also most freeing because of what it implies . . . 

We Are In Charge of Our Line of Acceptance

We have a choice of what to believe, right? I'm not saying that that's always an easy undertaking, but it IS within our power to choose our thoughts, wouldn't you say? 

Well, there is a lot of support for the fact that what we think affects the feelings we have which, in turn, determines how we act in response to others.

Read more  here

Read more here

Consider this example: Your two year old son wants to trick or treat this Halloween as Elsa

Thought Stream 1:

What the hell! No son of mine is going out in a dress. I'm NOT raising a ___!"

Resulting emotions might include outrage but also -- recall there is always a primary emotion under an angry reaction -- powerlessness, fear and anxiety. 

Read more about this  inspirational post !

Read more about this inspirational post!

These emotions might be felt in the body as a racing heartbeat, a red face (depending on who just heard your son's request) or momentary speechlessness -- all variations of the fight-flight-freeze response.

Contrast that with:

Thought Stream 2:

Hey, well good for him. Way not to be boxed in by gender expectations! Don't know where he is going to go with this but I want him to know I love him ALL THE WAY.

Emotions that result might be compassion, empathy and openness. The body is more relaxed and able to hear and engage with our little toddler.

If you agree that we all have the ability to choose what to think -- and, as a result, how to respond emotionally and behaviorally -- you can see how this is truly liberating:

What this meant for me personally back in 2011 was that I didn't HAVE to respond the way I was with my children. I wasn't their victim.

Instead, knowing where my Line of Acceptance is and why helps me to choose different, more healing responses, ones that lead to connection rather than rupture.

The Line of Acceptance, when you think about it, can be some Pretty. Deep. Stuff.

I'm soooo grateful it has helped me to be more mindful as I parent. And I'm not the only one jumping for joy!

I'm so grateful to Harrison (17), Jake (15) and Claudia (12) for letting me share our family's experiences. I use pseudonyms to limit their digital footprint.

I'm so grateful to Harrison (17), Jake (15) and Claudia (12) for letting me share our family's experiences. I use pseudonyms to limit their digital footprint.

Credits: Elsa Facebook post story (; Thoughts/Feelings/Behavior visual (; Victor Frankl quote (; Frankl quote (