Embracing a Compassionate Discipline Mindset

Article by Wendy Snyder

One of the biggest challenges parents face as they learn & implement positive parenting strategies is letting go of the old school punishment mindset that seems to scream at us:  “In order to make our kids behave better, we must first make them feel worse”.

Over the last decade, I have helped families leave behind a discipline mindset and build effective, compassionate & grace-filled discipline toolkits instead. I can tell you with complete certainty that compassionate discipline WORKS”¦ but ONLY if you can escape the punishment mindset. Granted, this is easier said than done. 

How to Embrace a Compassionate Discipline Mindset

1. Commit to Focusing on the Future vs. the Past

When it comes to punishment vs. discipline, it’s great to start out by looking at the difference between the two. 

  • Punishment is rooted in past mistakes, vengeance, payback & retribution. (i.e. his punishment of 2 years in jail sure fit the crime well, he’ll learn his lesson now.)
  • Discipline is rooted in training for the future, teaching new skills & practicing consistently. (i.e. wow, her discipline to wake up early to exercise & eat healthy every day is inspiring & sure to get her results!)

Think of your favorite Olympic Sport & the athletes who dedicate their lives to training to be the best in their sport. We want to train our kids for the future, teach them “how to” & have them practice consistently. 

Focus on what your vision is for them tomorrow & next week vs. ruminating about how awful they were yesterday & your fear of them never changing unless they live in fear. You’ll feel empowered, they’ll feel empowered, you’ll see better long-term sustainable results by focusing on the future! 

2. Ask Yourself, What Do I Want My Kids to Learn

A lot of families get really stuck in thinking “My parents laid the smackdown hard raising me and I’m fine,” or, “Thank God my parents punished me hard because otherwise, I never would have learned.”

Warning, this kind of thinking can mess with you hard. 

  • Question: Do you want your children to be “fine” when they grow up? Or do you want them to be thriving, healthy adults with high self-esteem & great relationships? 
  •  Question: Ask yourself: what did I learn from the “punishment model” growing up? 
    • Most people, if they’re being honest, say “I learned to be scared of my parents, or scared of getting in trouble,” NOT, “I learned to work things out respectfully with my brother,” or, “I learned self-control when I’m feeling angry or hurt.” 

What’s Your Motivator?

Now there’s no denying that a punishment model is a motivator to get kids to listen to parents, but do you want it to be YOUR main motivator? Instead of just “learning to be scared of you or scared of their electronics being taken way,” wouldn’t you rather them learn things like: 

  • To prioritize taking care of their bodies (cross the street in a safe place, wearing a bike helmet, holding your hand in a parking lot to stay safe ) 
  • Respect themselves & who they were designed to be – kind, loving, patient, trustworthy, responsible
  • Having the confidence to talk to siblings & friends about how they feel & what they want vs. pushing/hitting
  • Resolve conflicts peacefully & effectively without overpowering or intimidating people to get their way 

 “What do I want my kids to learn?” is such a powerful thing to ask yourself and help realign your focus!

3. Surround Yourself with People Who Are on Your Wavelength

Just like it’s hard to eat healthy when you’re surrounded by people who eat ice cream and french fries all day, it is hard to practice positive parenting when you’re surrounded by people who have ZERO interest in learning more about modern ways to raise kids with integrity! 

Don’t sit idle if that’s you. Find mentors, educators, friends, family members, colleagues or neighbors who think positive parenting is the freakin jam & be in proximity to them. 

4. Discipline Your Mind with New Verbiage 

How many times have you caught yourself saying phrases like this: 

  • I am so done with you!
  • That’s it, you’re done.

Trust me, you’re not alone if those have flown out of your mouth like fire many many times. I’m right there with you, but what I’ve realized over the years is that these types of statements are toxic & paralyzing our ability to create positive change in our parenting walks. 

So STOP. Stop telling yourself you’re DONE. You’re not done, you’ll never be done. We can’t ship our kids off to another planet. They are ours for life, so we NEED to figure out how to work with them in a way that sustainably works long term. They’re not going anywhere & it’s our job to help them develop life skills. 

Instead, create some new healthy/truthful go to statements such as: 

  • We’re still learning this lesson & we are not going to give up until we get it.
  • I can feel my brain turning red, I need a second to chill.
  • I feel scared I can’t handle this, but I know I can. 
  • Trust the process, deep breaths, I am committed to my intention to teach you with integrity kiddo. 

5. Trust Your Intent 

Doing things differently than the way you were raised takes courage and vulnerability. Many of you are intentionally choosing to break painful generation cycles so you can build the family legacy of YOUR dreams and that sometimes comes with uncomfortable feelings or doubts of “Am I disrespecting my own parents by choosing my own path?”

The answer is NO! 

By choosing your own path & intentionally choosing to follow your own heart instead of just “doing what was done to you” or “following what everyone else does” is honorable for many reasons. 

Honorable to you & your children because this is YOUR family, YOUR little human souls, YOUR legacy you are creating, every moment of every day. You deserve to be supported & walk the way you feel aligns with your moral compass. 

Honorable to your parents because trust me, your parents wanted to raise kids who grew into adults who knew how to stand on their own feet & who stood tall for what they believed in. Kids who grew into adults who were courageous & willing to put in the hard work to build something incredible. 

Your intention is to respect your family, which includes your kids, your spouse AND your parents & by learning a “new way” ”¦ a compassionate discipline route that teaches with integrity & long term effectiveness, you are respecting everyone & doing a damn good job at it.

Goodbye Punishment Mindset

Hello, compassionate discipline mindset! We trust you, we honor you and we are committed to letting you shine so our family can thrive! I know because I still struggle with it to this day. 

8 years ago, the negative, defeating thoughts would pop into my head 30 times a day as I was navigating the many challenges of toddlerhood with a VERY strong-willed daughter. 

Thoughts like:

  • This kid is crazy ”“ she needs the level 10 kind of punishment
  • Oh gosh, we better flatten this attitude quick or she’s gonna think she can do whatever she wants
  • It’s not working, must go harder with fear, force, punishment
  • Oh great, here we go again, what can I do to really scare her this time so she finally stops? 

Now? Thank God, these negative toxic thoughts are far & few between, maybe 2 or 3 times a week, and milder like: 

Oh man kid, you are killing me right now kid, or, “I sometimes question if I should take you on our next vacation.”  

So I’ve definitely had some major improvements, but since I’m still a human mother (the last time I checked), those automatic negative thoughts still haunt me every once in a while! 

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