An enraged mom pulls her son into my office. At her wits end with her 10-year-old’s acting out behavior at school, she demanded to come into his private counseling session without notice. Across town his dad had a different reaction – on his son’s weekend visit, while staying very calm, he put his misbehaving boy over his knee – and whacked him.*

Though parenting books and classes abound, it’s still very common to be at a loss for how to discipline children. Parents often tell me patience is lost and frustration is too high to even think about setting up a behavioral program. It takes too much time and seems ineffective. Some parents are naturally looking for a quick fix, while for others the idea of a regulated system is just too foreign. At times of stress it’s easy to forget a critical connection – the connection to our heart. Forgetting that love is not just a noun, but also a verb. And that means acting lovingly, with compassion and awareness.

My 25 years of working with families, plus my own personal meditation practice, have shown me the value of connecting to and coming from the heart, of stepping back – of time-outs for grown-ups as well as for children. Too often when parents “discipline” their child, it is done in a moment when their own “buttons” have been pushed. Whether it’s at home after a long and stressful day – or in public when we’re horrified that our child’s misbehavior reflects on us – we often react from our own inner kid’s frustrated position. We forget that our behavior is the best role model for teaching good behavior.

I find myself helping parent and child heal the wounds that they have inflicted on each other. Not so much with their minds – but with their hearts. Bottom line – parents must calm themselves. Kids tell me screaming is a close second to hitting in what they fear most from parents. So I start by inviting parents – and now you – to visualize the kind of family atmosphere you truly want, focusing on your heart’s desire – and the heart of your child. If you set your intention on having a more loving, calmer home, then you can take the steps to get there.
I teach families simple breathing techniques (a basic meditation style I call “the balloon breath”) to help center themselves and be able to respond, rather than react to a situation. The balloon breath is simply focusing your awareness and breathing two to three inches below your navel. Because it takes just minutes, balloon breathing is easily incorporated into a busy day.
To create an atmosphere of loving calmness, I suggest parents imagine a favorite place. You may want to try this too. It may be a coveted vacation location, a childhood memory, or a place you create on the spot. While you are in this special place, I propose putting yourself in your child’s position by remembering what is was like to be a young boy or girl, and what you would have preferred your parents doing. It’s an effective way to become aware of how your behavior is affecting your children. You can then re-evaluate and develop a new set of personal parenting goals.

Another simple exercise that has served many families to connect to each other is “sending love on a beam of light.” Pose the question (to yourself and your child) “If you would like to send love to each other, what color would it be? Then, while doing the balloon breath, imagine sending love from each heart to the other on a beam of light. You can practice in your home when things are calm to be able to use when a situation is tense. Play at who “feels” the love first. The idea is to make it fun like a game rather than a chore.

With a new intention and viewpoint, you can create a heart-centered, loving behavioral program that meets everyone’s needs. Although that may entail many traditional steps, from setting limits to focusing on the positive, the difference here is staying mindful and connected to your heart, with kindness and gentleness.

And the mom who dragged her son into my office? By her own admission, after our exercises, she left a changed woman. She told her son, “I’m feeling totally different – I feel my anger is gone and only love remains. We can work this out.”

That’s the heart of discipline.

Author's Bio: 

Charlotte Reznick Ph.D. specializes in helping children and adolescents develop the emotional skills necessary for a happy and successful life. A licensed educational psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA, Dr. Reznick is the creator of Imagery For Kids™: Breakthrough for Learning, Creativity, and Empowerment and is the author/producer of the therapeutic CDs Discovering Your Special Place and Creating a Magical Garden and Healing Pond. An international workshop leader on the healing power of children's imagination, Dr. Reznick maintains a private practice in Los Angeles, California. For information about her articles, speaking, CDs, and forthcoming book, visit, 310/889-7859.