Being Compassionate

Readers have been encouraged to consider what they might earn on a Discipline Report Card with the hopes that they would start with a number of “Cs”: remaining Calm, being Clear and being Confident. An important fourth “C” stands for “Compassionate,” an essential component of disciplining effectively.

What does compassion in discipline look like?

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and GrandmotherDevelopment

According to the online Merriam‑Webster dictionary, compassion is the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” And says that compassion occurs when “someone shows kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others.”

During the process of disciplining, in addition to being calm, clear and confident, parents are adding a relational dimension that expresses an understanding and honors the fact that being disciplined is not easy for the child. When parents are aware of how distressed most children are when faced with limits, they are showing them compassion. It shows a willingness on the part of the parent to work with a child and not against him or her. It can transmit a message of understanding and appreciation for the feelings of disappointment and frustration often experienced by children when they are disciplined.

Being compassionate should not communicate a message of, “This hurts me more than it hurts you!” Rather it should be an appreciation for the feelings a child might be having when told “No” or “You have to wait” or “You must not do that.” Showing compassion involves the body language of tenderness and caring, and a firm but gentle voice tone. The verbal or nonverbal messages can communicate, “I understand this is not what you expected,” or “You really want to do that and it’s hard to hear me say you cannot,” or “You’re very frustrated right now because you don’t want to do what I’m telling what you must do.”

Compassion is not wishy-washy nor should it feel like an effort to beg a child to comply or conform. Compassion is not harshness, being cruel or indifferent.

When parents allow themselves to appreciate how hard it is to be a child and to be thwarted doing whatever they want or forced to do things they’d rather not, they can project this understanding through messages of compassion. It can be interspersed with firm statements about expectations and the directives that are part of effective disciplining.

There are many benefits when parents incorporate compassion into their disciplining. According to author and child and adolescent therapist Signe Whitson, [who was quoted in a Huffington Post article entitled “8 Ways to Teach Compassion to Kids” posted: 07/10/2014], parents need to walk the talk and put the child on the receiving end of compassion as part the process of teaching compassion to them. By being compassionate when disciplining, parents are providing the opportunity for their children to experience it in the sometimes intense and stressful moments of discipline.

Steven Stosny, Ph.D wisely states the following, “Compassionate parents set firm limits about important issues of safety,health, learning, education, money management, and morality. With everything else, they encourage cooperation. The key to cooperation for children and adults is showing value. The valued self cooperates; the devalued self resists.”

By incorporating compassion while disciplining, parents can promote the emotional and relational health of their children even as they assume their role as the in-charge authority who needs to set and maintain limits, boundaries, rules and expectations.

Invitation to reflect:
1. When you discipline your child, to what extent can you incorporate feelings and behaviors of compassion?
2. To what extent can you be empathetic with your child even while you accept the responsibilities of setting and enforcing limits, boundaries, rules and expectations around behaviors?
3. If you struggle being compassionate when disciplining, what do you need to do to increase those levels of compassion?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network