Love Is...

Love Is… Kind (Part 1: Discipline)

After looking at Love Is… Patient, I jumped ahead in the list to Love Is… Not Self-Seeking, which was pretty helpful at the time. But I have to be honest, going out of order from the original list has been eating at me, so today I’m going back to attribute number two:

Love Is… Kind

At first glance, this is an easy one. Simple kindness is one of the first things we teach to our kids: no hitting, share your blocks, remember the Golden Rule, use please and thank you… these are basic concepts for preschoolers, so you would think that, as adults, we would all be pretty good at them by now, right?

And honestly, as a general rule, I don’t find it difficult to be nice to people. Actually, I think it’s quite fun to show more kindness to people than they expect, and it makes me very uncomfortable to see anyone around me being treated rudely; it’s just not that hard to treat people with a basic level of respect.

But nonetheless, I have noticed that when it comes to responding to my kids in a situation that is highly frustrating or stressful because they are misbehaving, I have to make a very concerted effort to discipline with an attitude of kindness.

Don’t Use That Tone Of Voice

A typical discipline failure for me: a condescending or exasperated tone of voice. I catch myself doing this and immediately regret it, because it does not help at all for my kids to know that their current behavior is making me want to jump up and down with my hands clasping my head like a monkey at the zoo. I’ve seen it in action a hundred times: If I remain consistent and calm in both my requests and the consequences of not listening to them, it usually takes some time and attention, but in the end, things are getting done, there’s no fight, there’s no whining less whining, and the next time around it’s just a tiny bit easier.

This really does tend to work:

“It’s time to pick up your blocks.”

“But I’m playing with my pony right now.”

“You may play with your pony after you pick up your blocks.”

“But I want to play with my pony.”

“If you pick up your blocks, you may play with your pony. If you do not pick up your blocks, you will have a time-out and you will not play with your pony.”

Either the blocks are picked up, or there is a short time-out and then the blocks are picked up, or there is a series of short time-outs and eventually the blocks are picked up. But next time, there’s a much better chance of the blocks being picked up at the first or second request, and each subsequent time, the chances are higher and higher. It’s a time committment, but it has rewards down the road.

But if I’m short on sleep, or late to turn something in for work, or haven’t started dinner yet and it’s getting late, or I just tripped over a dozen sharp toy cars left in the middle of the hallway, or the phone is ringing and the kitchen timer is beeping and a diaper needs changed somewhere, it could easily go something like this:

“It’s time to pick up your blocks.”

“But I’m playing with my pony right now.”

“I don’t care if you’re playing with your pony. I told you to pick up your blocks so you are going to pick up your blocks.”

“But I want to play with my pony.”

“If you don’t pick up your blocks right now I’m going to take your pony and you’re not getting it back. Pick up your blocks!”

“But I –“


This might bring about some action in the end — the blocks will probably get picked up — but if I don’t want my children to speak to me or their siblings so abruptly and — let’s be honest, rudely — then I can’t expect to get away with it myself. And although I may have won this little battle, I made absolutely no progress towards averting future battles, and have actually probably managed to encourage them. The exact same scene will play out again and again and again, because instead of setting a reasonable standard with a reasonable consequence (a.k.a. discipline), I only got what I wanted by basically throwing a bigger tantrum than my kid.

Mom Of The Year, right here.


So why do I find it difficult to maintain kindness in discipline? Often I think I set myself up for failure by making a request that I know will require some follow-through, even though I don’t have the time at that moment to follow through properly.

But it a more general sense, I think we find it easier to speak unkindly in a relationship where we have the rightful authority. Our little peanuts are, after all, supposed to be listening to us! It is part of my job, if I love my children, to teach them to respect and listen to adults,  and to provide structure and standards of behavior, and to follow through with appropriate discipline when necessary. But if all this is truly done in love (instead of, say, hasty exasperation), then it will be done with patience, with kindness, and with selflessness.

We must remember that even though our children are under our authority, as people they are equal to us in dignity and therefore even in discipline deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, the same kindness and respect that you would appreciate if you were in their shoes (that pesky Golden Rule again). And don’t pretend like that would never happen – we’ve all made our share of mistakes, and most of us know exactly what it feels like to be in their shoes.

The short version: Love and kindness in discipline means no raising my voice, no responding to kid tantrums with grown-up tantrums, and no sarcasm. For the record, it does not mean giving into every demand and having a complete lack of boundaries or discipline, but exercising our parental authority can absolutely be done in a way that is true to the kind nature of the love we give our children.

So when I hear my voice headed into the forbidden register, I have a new goal: Rewind. Be Kind.

And enjoy this beautiful Sunday,



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