03/06/2014 04:34 EST | Updated 05/06/2014 05:59 EDT

When Discipline Is Sandwiched in Love

You know those kinds of days. Another long day in a stream of long days. More issues to deal with, more meetings to be had. More testing to be done, more papers to be sent home. Just more of everything. And coming on the end of the school day, sometimes all you want to do is just let a loud, mournful bellow out.

Just roar with the frustration of it all. (Teachers are no exception.) Because that chocolate milk that never got finished at lunch time? It just got spilled all over the school memos which I forgot to pass out and there are still a couple of kids that are not dressed and ready for the buses even though it is past time. And did I mention the email I forgot to write? Or the parent-teacher interview I have scheduled for two minutes past the bell?

Life. It's all getting to me. The days, they seem like hurdles to clear, mountains to climb.

These are the moments when patience wears thin and tolerance breaks down. And just about the time you think that every reserve you have has been used up, you remember: this life we live is not about the stuff we do. The amount we get done in a given day. The jobs we tick off our endless lists. No, it's not really about all that stuff, as important as it might seem in a given moment.

It's about the living we do. The people we love.

And as teachers, it's about the students we care for. The connections we make. The real life moments in which we see "our kids" as people. It's about the time we take to share a smile. The moments we steal away from the regular grind to cut loose and relax. It's about relationship and caring. It's really about love when it comes down to it. The love we offer and the love we are given back from the ones who love us just as much.

I watched a video segment this evening edited from a television talk show on the subject of pre-teen behaviour problems. This particular segment concerned a young boy whose mother was considering sending him away to "boot camp" so as to deal head-on with his negativity.

He had apparently been disrespectful to his mother, and so she agreed to a drill sergeant intervening so as to "wake" the boy up from his reverie. To give him a taste for what life could be like if he should so continue on this path of disrespect and insolence. As the drill sergeant questioned the boy regarding whether or not he wanted to have a drill sergeant breathing down his neck for the next eight years, essentially acting as his makeshift "daddy", the boy paused for a second. And he responded simply, 'yes, sir.' To which, the drill sergeant was completely taken aback -- what kid would agree to having a drill sergeant on his case until they became an adult? The drill sergeant momentarily lost his composure and then turned to the boy and asked him 'why?' Why would he agree to this proposition. Agree to him (a domineering drill sergeant) being the boy's 'daddy'? The answer offered left him speechless. For the boy responded simply and honestly: "Because I haven't got a daddy."

We forget (and often): what our students, what our kids (both young and older) need from us as parents and teachers is not simply more discipline and rigidity. More chastisement, correction and punishment. They don't need us to continually nag on them about what they are doing wrong. They don't need more rules and structures to follow. What they need is committed, loving people who are willing to constructively invest in their lives. Yes, sometimes this is about discipline, but it is more about relationship than anything. It's about building time into our children's lives so that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt: they are worth it.

Our children need us to remind them continuously about what they have been doing right. What little things have we noticed about their "person" that are beautiful and admirable. What can we commend them on throughout the day? What is noteworthy? What praise can we lavish? What credit can we offer? How can we build them up so that they know their intrinsic worth as human beings? This is what it's all about: acknowledgement. Affirmation.

I confess. I sent two children to bed tonight without so much as a bedtime story. It was a 'rough mommy' night coupled with that aforementioned busy workday at school. There had been constant whining (the kiddos) and repeated warnings issued (Hubby and myself). And through it all, I had stood my ground.

Whining/crying = early bedtime. No second chances once the final decision had been made. And while there is nothing wrong with taking the hard road once in a while, sometimes hindsight makes you wish for a 'do-over'. Because the little note I found on my bed from my Middlest one made me wish I could turn back time.

Here's part of what it said: "I'm sorry...please don't hate me. I'll never forgive myself." Which only served to remind me: while our children need that discipline we must offer them as part of our parental love, they need it always cushioned in gentleness and empathy. Sandwiched in love. And if we as teachers can find it within our hearts to offer love, we must do the same. Sandwich discipline in between great big slices of compassion and empathy. We have no idea what ways that intentional decision to show caring concern might be the turning point in a child's life.

Love -- for the sake of our children. Discipline gently, lovingly, through word and deed. Be there for the children in your life even when it's the hardest choice. Because we don't ever truly know who needs a gentle word of compassion alongside that constructive advice. And sometimes it's the ones we least suspect would ever want it who need it the most.