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Three Keys to Unlock Healthy Potential

Woman and young girl embracing outdoors smilingWe often approach parenting as something that simply occurs over time without much thought. We have daycare, both parents working, career building and long distance family members. And yet, we all know that parenting involves more.

Our kids need our time, not only to teach them how to abide by rules, respect others and learn to cooperate, but also to help them develop positive self esteem, socialization skills and responsibility.

The importance of being a good parent is oftentimes underrated and not fully appreciated. And yet, it is one of the most important jobs we will ever have.

Unconditional Love, Discipline and Grace

I believe there are three very important but basic things we can give our children as they grow up: unconditional love, discipline (structure) and grace. I like to think of it as 3 keys to unlocking the healthy potential for our children.

Unconditional Love

To feel good about himself, a child needs to feel acceptance and love. Unconditional love says to our child I love and accept you just as you are; you are valued even when I disapprove and am unhappy with your behavior.

It does not mean that they can do whatever they want to do, when they want, or to whom they want. It does not mean that bad manners, being disrespectful or inconsiderate is tolerated or accepted. We love the child but reprimand and correct the behaviors. Misbehavior or hurtful behavior is not acceptable, but they are.


When a child feels loved, they can work on correcting behaviors that are not up to standard and learn how to become responsible adults. It teaches a healthy shame and guilt for behaviors. It also teaches them they are not the center of the universe.

Q:  Did you know you were loved while growing up? Parents can be strict and at times removed; yet we can still feel loved.


Discipline means to teach. It is different than punishment in that discipline puts in place rules, structure, consequences and rewards. Punishment takes away or inflicts pain of some kind. While administering punishment can stop behaviors in the short term, it does not produce the long term results we want.

Punishment uses fear to control behaviors.

With discipline, the consequences associated with choices teach us that the results of bad decisions can have painful results.

Punishment uses power over someone. It takes away self-control, empowerment and choice.  It is something that is done to you.

Discipline teaches us that we have power over our selves by the choices we make.

Punishment can lead to power struggles, bitterness, resentment, revenge.

Discipline teaches that if you make bad choices you will suffer the consequences. It also teaches us that when we make better choices the consequences will be different.

Punishment is usually inconsistent and based on the anger and frustration of a parent. When punishment is administered in anger, we often strike or spank, which is modeling inappropriate behavior to our children.

As resentment grows in the child so does aggressiveness and revenge which can soon become a pattern. Punishment that is not consistent, or backed by both parents, sends a mixed or double message with the children.

Punishment usually does not include prescribed consequences ahead of time. It is reactionary and often accompanied with lots of threats followed by an angry retaliation. Not wanting to teach choice and consequences can also lead to lots of threats without a follow up.

Q:  What kind of discipline or punishment did you experience growing up?  Did you feel it was appropriate?  Did you understand why you were being disciplined?


Grace says we will not be able to fulfill all the rules and regulations.


Grace is that generosity of spirit that allows us to tolerate, accommodate and forgive ourselves and others and extend benevolence and understanding.


As children grow up they need to recognize that while we have rules, everybody will make mistakes, including parents. That is part of being human. We will lose our temper, say hurtful things and sometimes over react. Saying “I’m sorry” to our kids tells them that we too need grace and forgiveness. It does not diminish our role as parent.


It is important that our children be given grace when appropriate.  It does not replace the consistency of putting appropriate behaviors in place.


Grace says, I can forgive you and extends understanding and leniency. While there will always be consequences, grace can temper them. As a child experiences grace, they learn how to forgive themselves and others. It teaches them we are not perfect, and that we all need to say we are sorry and make amends when necessary.

Grace allows us to fail and know we are not beaten, or defeated – we can try again. As we support our kids through their trials and tribulations, that unconditional love and grace is a stabilizing force within a child’s life. They know they are not alone.

Q:  When were you extended grace while growing up that still makes you appreciate the gesture?  How did that help you in feeling you could try again and be okay?

Whether you are currently a parent, a grandparent or someone working with children, these same three things can be offered to the children we work with: unconditional love, discipline in structure and grace.


Marlene Anderson

You can read my past blogs on relationships starting with June 2015.

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