Why We Don’t Need to Feel Guilty About Disciplining

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I used to feel mean when I disciplined. Part of this was because I hadn’t learned effective techniques, but I still sometimes felt a twinge of guilt even when I did discipline with love. I didn’t like to make the kids upset. I often wanted to be “nice” by saving kids from consequences. Here’s how that played out:

When I caused problems for myself by being “nice”

I had a rule in my class that my students were not allowed to talk with each other while I was explaining how to do an art project. After I finished, they were allowed to talk while they worked. As I gave directions one day, one of my students broke my rule. I told him, “Bummer, you won’t be able to do art today. I’ll find something else for you to do.” He looked like he was going to cry. “I’m sorry!” he said, “I won’t do it again.” I felt so guilty. I didn’t want him to miss out! I felt like maybe I had been too strict. So I gave in. “Alright, but next time I won’t give you another chance.” What do you think happened the next time we had art? You guessed it, he talked with his buddy instead of listening to the directions.

If we look at the big picture, had I really been nice? I don’t think so. All I did was postpone his consequence to the next day. He also learned that I only sometimes stick to my boundaries, which led him to test my limits more often, which then strained the relationship.

When I was nice by sticking to my boundaries

One day during P.E, one of my students broke a rule to the game. I called him over to me and said, “This is sad. You aren’t playing safely, so you’ll need to sit out today.” He was so bummed that he had to miss out.

After a couple of minutes he asked, “Can I go play now? I promise I’ll keep the rules.”

I responded, “I bet you would, but you’ll need to sit out today.” This was so sad! It would have been so easy for me to go back on what I had said and let him go play. Then he wouldn’t feel sad, and I wouldn’t feel sad for him! This would have been really nice, right?

Actually, having him sit out was the nicest thing I could have done for him. Why? He learned that he needs to be respectful in order to have fun with the group. This lesson will serve him well for the rest of his life! He also learned that I mean what I say. I had a boundary – kids who play safely get to play with my class – I stuck to that, so he learned to respect the boundaries of others. Again, this will help him in many ways throughout his life.

In the short term, he didn’t appreciate it. And honestly, this one incident wasn’t going to be life-changing for him. If we put many of these types of interactions together though, he will grow up to be a thoughtful, respectful person! So no, discipline doesn’t feel nice in the moment. It will often involve crying and anger on the part of the kids. When we feel guilty or mean for being firm, we can remember the big picture. If we enforce our boundaries in loving ways, we set kids up for a successful life. That’s probably the nicest thing a person can do for someone.

Looking for more discipline help? Some tools to make discipline less dramatic are using empathy and avoiding warnings.

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  • Angela Workman
    5 months ago

    What a great post. This was exactly how I used to feel when I started teaching.

  • Anitra
    5 months ago

    You should never feel guilty about disciplining your child. They have to be disciplined but in a nurturing, loving way

    • firmhappymom
      5 months ago

      I completely agree!

  • KrisBeeMama
    5 months ago

    i’ve found that if I tell my son to listen to me and give the consequences if he doesn’t, enforcing the consequence is much easier. We both knew the rules. He decided not to do as I said. I always make sure the consequence closely relates to the action (like if he doesn’t stop drawing on the table instead of the paper he doesn’t get to draw).

  • Amanda W.
    5 months ago

    I think every parent of young children needs to read this! Having to discipline your kid is not fun and I hate when my daughter doesn’t get to do what she wanted because she didn’t follow the rules. After she throws her fit and we talk about it though, it makes communicating with her and getting her to follow the rules so much easier the next time. Therefore, no guilt. While she was upset, I did what was best for her as she grows up and not in the moment. Great post!

    • firmhappymom
      5 months ago

      Thank you! If we have a long-term perspective, it really does make life easier for everyone!

  • I love this and totally agree. As a former middle school teacher I felt guilty all the time for no reason. Thank you for sharing this and opening up peoples ideas.

  • Caroline
    5 months ago

    This is so true in parenting too! I often need to remind myself of this!

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