Empathy: A Great Discipline Tool

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I’ve been told that I’m a strict mama and I can’t say I disagree.  My kids are awesome; therefore, I hold them to the high standards they deserve.  I rarely give into a temper tantrum…I’m far too red-headed for that.  But the trick I learned early on, and need to remind myself of often, is that strict doesn’t have to mean hard or unkind.  Firm discipline can be well-served with a soft voice, a loving touch, and a bit of empathy.

Recently my just-turned 3-year-old and I were off to pick up her brother at school.  She asked to bring a snack to go.  Sure, no problem.  Well, no problem until I only filled her baggie half full with goldfish.  That was a big problem worthy of epic whining. 

Have I mentioned 3 is not my favorite age?

Okay, step 1: Take away the snack (aka root cause of all that it terrible in the world) that is currently flailing in my daughter’s hands.  “I’m sorry honey, I’m not willing to fight with you over snack.  You are welcome to have this back when it won’t cause an argument.”

And, that just sent her right on over the edge. 

Step 2: Begin my lecture about it being close to dinner time, that goldfish really aren’t that good for you anyway and certainly aren’t worth tears this big, and that “you get what you get and you don’t get upset”.

Except, I was exhausted.  My youngest is back to her non-sleeping ways and I didn’t have it in me to lecture.  Not that she would have heard it anyway with the screaming and stomping and all.

So I decided to sit down and invite her into my lap where we snuggled for a bit.  In lieu of my lecture I offered, “I’m sorry you are upset”, “I understand”, and “Everything is going to be okay, sometimes it’s just hard to learn new things.”

She calmed, I relaxed, and somehow we ended up in a tickle war.  Goldfish forgotten in a stolen special moment. That’s about when she looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I really like you.”

In.the.gut.  Words I will never forget and can only hope to hear again (and again, and again, and again.  I’m sure I’ll hear it a lot when she’s 13, right?)

Thank goodness I didn’t just give in and fill that bag with goldfish.  Thank goodness I was in a place to deliver the consequences with a softness that allowed a special moment to happen. 

*       *       *

Last night my son was in a mood.  Holidays, storms, and schedule changes are all hard on him so when it was determined that his sisters would get to choose our reading books for the evening, he lost it.  As I was making my way from the kitchen into the living room to address the issue, I was low on patience and my mind was swirling with thoughts of, “This is not worth having a fit over. You know it’s not your day to pick a book.  If you don’t stop you are going to miss reading entirely.”  But before I had a chance to utter a word, my daughter marched right up to her brother and threw her arms around his body.  She laid her head on his chest and said, “I’m sorry buddy.  It’s hard to forget it was not your night.  Ev-we-fing is okay.”

*       *       *

Time will tell if my daughter learned not to throw fits over goldfish, but she definitely learned something that day.  

12 thoughts on “Empathy: A Great Discipline Tool

  1. Awwww!! 🙂 Now I feel terrible for yelling. Ugh. You are right; kids need empathy, and I have to keep this in mind more when I’m fed up/angry/stressed. What a great story!!


  2. Love this story! Put this memory in the “I’ve made a difference” file of parenting! Pull it out often. It will get you through those “terrific threes!”


  3. Empathy: A Great Discipline Tool
    by Elise
    This post really made my day. After dealing with hurricane Sandy, I truly needed to smile. Thank you! I can now take something from your lesson learned and use this technique with my daughter.


    1. Taheera, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been affected by hurricane Sandy and I hope that you are through the worst of it. Thank you for your comment – it means a lot to me!


    1. In the craze of life it can get hard and I’d be lying if I said I handled every single situation with full love and empathy, but when I do, I’m reminded about how worth it it is 🙂


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