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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.
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