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Compassion, discipline not mutually exclusive

July 8, 2014 - Betsy Bethel
It is hard being a compassionate parent without becoming a pushover parent. I have to be able to say to my 8-year-old daughter, "I know you are upset because you aren't allowed to watch or play longer. But it's time to (whatever)." And then I have to follow through. No ifs, ands or buts. If I make a habit of NOT following through, I become a pushover, and my child has the upper hand. It then becomes harder to be compassionate because I feel bullied. It often doesn't occur to me that I created the situation. I feel angry that I'm not being respected or obeyed.

It's also hard to be compassionate and empathetic when my compulsion is to scold and shame when behavior is unacceptable. When I am lied to, I don't want to think about and try to understand why she feels the need to lie. I want to say, in a tone dripping with disgust, "Really? You're lying about not having to go to the bathroom? That's ridiculous!" And yes, I have said that. Multiple times.

Sometimes I have compassion for my errant child, and then I don't know the best way to react in order to 1) not be a pushover and 2) still get the point across that her behavior was wrong. When I find eight candy wrappers in the trash can, I feel betrayed because she knows she's not allowed to eat that much candy (she was in the care of another relative at the time). After the candy discovery, I reacted by distancing myself. I withheld our nightly "cuddling" ritual, and I told her I was "disappointed" in her choices. I felt truly sad ... and helpless. I can totally empathize with her compulsion to eat that much candy. But I don't know how to 1) get her to understand how bad it is for her and 2) teach her brain to flip the switch that says, even though I'm not around, "Mom would say 'No,' so I shouldn't do this."

I do believe compassion and discipline are NOT mutually exclusive. We CAN empathize with our kids and teach them right from wrong without shaming or shunning them. I just haven't figured out all the practical applications yet! I'd be interested in hearing how this plays out in your house.

I think the key for me is to remind myself every day, several times a day if necessary, that my child was created by God and placed in my and my husband's care to be raised LOVINGLY and RESPONSIBLY. None of us is perfect, and we shouldn't expect perfection — from ourselves or our kids.

Knowing I can't do it on my own power, my prayer for today — and every day — is : Lord, help me to teach, encourage and guide my child and to do so with compassion, avoiding words and actions that cause her to feel small, powerless and insignificant, so she feels safe to be who she is and so she'll grow up to be a compassionate, loving, responsible person. Amen.


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