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Be an Emotional Intelligent Parent: 3 Keys to Balance Love and Discipline

As a parent, parenting can feel like walking a tightrope. Every hour we juggle a zillion responsibilities on top of raising little humans. In our busy lives, it's important to know how to discipline children successfully while building healthy self-esteem.

Parenting requires us to constantly balance love and discipline with our children. What’s too much and when is it too little? How can we be firm without being harsh? What is the difference between giving unconditional love and pampering or over-parenting?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

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Key Takeaways

  • Parents train their children to misbehave.
    (It's hard to hear, but true.)
  • Emotionally intelligent parents effectively balance love and discipline.
  • Unconditional love is foundational for a secure attachment.
  • A key to successful parenting is being firm AND kind.
  • Setting healthy boundaries is vital for children to learn self-control.

Let’s dig in and explore three effective ways to parent with love and discipline while building emotional intelligence in your children. Every parenting skill we add to our tool belts allows us to walk that tightrope with more grace and mastery.

The Foundation of Conscious and Intentional Parenting

Conscious parenting requires us to acknowledge and understand that children are only trying to be loved and meet their needs, even when misbehaving. Those core needs are:

  • to feel loved
  • to belong and have a place
  • to feel safe
  • to feel powerful
  • to feel valuable
  • to experiment and explore   

The truth is that children get their needs met in either appropriate or inappropriate ways, whatever works and whatever we train them to do.

Again, let me say, "Whatever WE train them to do!

That’s an amazing concept, isn’t it!?

Were you aware that you could be “training” misbehavior by your parental responses? (I know it was a tough pill for me to swallow years ago, too!)

As parents, if we can find positive ways to help the child meet their needs on the front end, misbehavior decreases. And wouldn’t that be fantastic while you’re walking the parenting tightrope!?

One of the foundational concepts that has helped me most in my parenting and while coaching hundreds of parents over the years is that all behavior communicates to us.

All behavior is communication. 

When we view our children's behavior this way, it empowers us as parents. If we remember this simple phrase, we can shift our frustration with a child’s behavior to one of curiosity and compassion.

So, how do you balance love and discipline?

Let’s first define discipline.

What Is Discipline?

What do you do when your kids are fighting? How do you handle misbehavior? How can you provide discipline without being too soft or too firm—or yelling? How do you teach self-control and responsibility in a loving way?

Many people view discipline as correction or punishment for an inappropriate act. However, the original meaning of discipline comes from the Latin word, discipulus, which literally means “learner or student." A related Latin derivative disciplina means to "learn or train.”

Therefore, in this context, a parent is simply teaching a child how to interact respectfully, be responsible for their behavior (response-able), and learn self-control. We are training our children in the art of life—either haphazardly or intentionally.

Okay, it’s time for a misconception buster before we go on.

Many parents are under the impression that children have to suffer to learn. It's an old philosophy: if we make children feel really bad about their behavior, they won't do it again.

It doesn't work, does it?

Remember the meaning of discipline: to learn. 

Brain science and research show that stress impairs emotional regulation and learning. That's one of the reasons why balancing love and discipline in parenting is so vital.

3 Critical Components to Successfully Balance Love and Discipline

Here are three critical components of loving discipline.

They may seem simple, but they are powerful when done consistently. Even though they are simple, they demand emotional maturity and patience.

heartmanity-icon Give Unconditional Love

Most of us grew up with conditional love. What makes love conditional?

Let’s define both unconditional and conditional love so we’re on the same page.

What Is Conditional Love?

Conditional love is a type of love that is dependent on certain conditions or behaviors. This condition means that love is given and received based on fulfilling specific criteria, expectations, or actions. We only give love when a child acts or expresses feelings the way we need or want them to be.

Love is exchanged for something in return, such as:

  • Meeting certain standards or expectations
  • Exhibiting desired behaviors or traits
  • Achieving specific goals or accomplishments

In conditional love, affection and support are withdrawn if the conditions are unmet.

Multi-generational family walking in nature.

What Is Unconditional Love?

Unconditional love is a type of love given freely and without any conditions or expectations. It is a pure and selfless form of love that does not depend on external factors or behaviors.

This kind of love is characterized by:

  • Acceptance without judgment
  • Forgiveness and understanding
  • Support and care, regardless of circumstances

Unconditional love remains constant regardless of the actions or situations involving the child or loved one. It is often seen as an ideal form of love, promoting security and acceptance and facilitating secure attachment.

As children, we felt loved only when our behaviors made our parents proud or happy. So, as children, that often meant being complacent and pleasing, which can result in children who are people-pleasers. We gave up ourselves to win Mom and Dad’s approval.

Making mom and dad happy = being loved.

Remember, you can give unconditional love and still not like or approve of the child’s behavior. It is essential, however, that we give our child both messages. For instance, “I love you and you may not hit.”

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How Unconditional Love Nurtures Emotional Intelligence

Unconditional love is a cornerstone for developing emotional intelligence in children because it creates a secure environment where they feel safe to explore and express their emotions.

When children know they are loved without conditions, they are more likely to develop a healthy sense of self-worth and confidence. This security allows them to regulate their feelings and empathize with the emotions of others.



Set Clear Boundaries and Follow Through

Keep in mind that it is a parent’s job to let the child know what the boundaries are and to enforce them. The child’s job is to test these boundaries so that they feel safe and know where they stand.

Since it is our job to set clear boundaries and consistently enforce them, it follows that children over the age of 3 years who test boundaries repeatedly have been trained to do so by their parents.

There’s that word again: “trained.”

How do we train children to “misbehave”?

For example, a toddler whines for some apple juice, and a parent gives the child the juice to quiet the whine. This parental response has now “trained” the child to whine to get what they want in the future.

It’s an easy and common misstep for parents because giving in is a short-term solution to harmony. If you want to lessen unwanted behavior, consider what responses might be reinforcing it.

Everything a parent does is a feedback loop, teaching the child how to get their needs met.

However, if the parent requires the toddler to say “please” in a normal voice before giving the juice, they are training their child to be polite.

Healthy boundaries are pretty simple, really, especially when it’s a way of life. Consistency is the key to fewer power struggles.

Here are the helpful steps for setting limits or boundaries:

Steps for Setting Limits for Children

  • Empathize and make the child feel understood, heard,
    and accepted.
  • Pause to ensure the child feels understood.
  • Briefly state the limit.
    Using the toddler’s request for apple juice as an example, a parent would set the limit: “Say please and talk in your real voice.”
  • Wait until the child complies before giving them what they want.
How Setting Firm and Loving Boundaries Builds Emotional Intelligence.

Setting firm and loving boundaries is crucial for fostering emotional intelligence in children because it helps them understand limits and develop self-control within a supportive framework. The limits set by a parent are internalized and enable the child to learn to delay gratification, calm frustration, respect the rights of others, and learn that their behavior influences results.



Be Firm and Kind When Disciplining

A common mistake we make as parents is being too kind for too long. If we tolerate an inappropriate behavior, we allow the child to reinforce that behavior. If we wait and think that ignoring the child will help, we may get irritated and lash out.

It’s common for a parent to become too firm when their child doesn’t cooperate. We want to be patient and refrain from yelling, but it seems as though children ignore us when we’re nice.

What if we were both firm and kind?

Being loving and firm when disciplining is crucial because it ensures your child understands the boundaries while feeling secure and valued.

When you combine affection and empathy with clear expectations, your child learns that rules are not about control but their safety and growth. This approach helps them develop self-control while learning respect for others. It shows that even when they make mistakes, your love remains unwavering (unconditional love).

By being loving and firm, you teach children accountability while reinforcing their sense of belonging and self-worth. This combination is effective while making parenting so much more enjoyable, too!

Get the Positive Parenting Online Course!

How Being Firm AND Kind Accelerates Emotional Intelligence.

Being both firm and kind when disciplining is crucial for helping children develop emotional intelligence. Firmness provides children with clear limits and expectations, teaching them the importance of self-discipline and responsibility. This structure gives them a practical way to understand the consequences of their actions, an essential part of self-awareness.

Kindness ensures that the discipline is delivered with understanding and empathy, helping children to also feel understood and heard. This aspect of limits encourages children to express their emotions freely.

By integrating firmness with kindness, parents provide opportunities for children to develop key emotional intelligence skills such as self-awareness, self-regulation, self-soothing, delayed gratification, empathy, problem-solving, and effective communication.

Closing Thoughts

Balancing love and discipline while raising children can be challenging as parents, but it’s worth it!

This positive parenting promotes a healthy and supportive environment. Parents can create a nurturing atmosphere where children feel valued and understood by giving unconditional love, setting clear boundaries with following through, and being firm yet kind when disciplining.

Unconditional love provides a foundation of security and acceptance, while clear boundaries teach children the importance of responsibility and respect.

Combining firm and kind discipline ensures that children learn valuable life lessons while still feeling their parents’ unwavering support. By implementing these recommendations, parents can effectively guide their children toward becoming confident, loving, respectful and responsible adults.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Parent CoachJennifer A. Williams / Parent Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity Founder and a parent coach and behavioral consultant with two decades of experience. She is a Parent Instructor and Instructor Trainer for the International Network of Children and Families and author of several parenting courses, including How to Bully-Proof Your Child and Hacking the Teen Brain. Jennifer is happily married and a mother to 3 fantastic grown children.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

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