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Whether you are horrified or can't help laughing, be kind. "No, you, you can't come in the house and you have to hose off before you can take a shower."

Mary Poppins

453 words


Discipline must be kind, but very firm
by Dianne Roth


I was young when I saw the movie, “Mary Poppins”. She was smiley, warm, adventurous, beautiful, and obviously loved being a nanny. She was perfectly perfect.

As a young mother and teacher, I was not perfectly perfect. I would get frustrated, angry, demanding, and dogmatic. I thought I was doing what was necessary to raise up perfect children.

In those early years of teaching I ran into Mary Poppins again. In the story she is applying for a nanny job, reading from the job description the children had written. “She must be kind”, it said, but their strict father wanted a disciplinarian.

“I am kind!” says Mary Poppins with a smile. Then, noticing the father’s frown, adds seriously, “But very firm.”

It is interesting that first she says, “I am kind,” and secondly, “but, very firm.” I took that to heart.

Kind should come first. Firm should follow.

I practiced with the children in my classroom, I tried to first be kind, and secondly, very firm. Kind alone was easy, but would turn me into a doormat if I wasn’t careful. Firm alone turned me into a disciplinarian, strict without heart.

To begin, I stopped writing children’s names on the blackboard. It is a common practice that makes discipline public and humiliating. What would you do if your boss wrote your name over the water cooler? Would you feel more compliant, or less?

Then, I stopped disciplining in public. It is just as easy to walk into the hall to give out choices and consequences and the child does not have to submit to me publicly. Think of your boss pointing out your mistakes in front of your colleagues. Would it make you more willing to obey the rules, or less?

More difficult for me was to reduce the length of my rants. I heard once that you can say what you need to say in under three seconds. Tough? Yes. But possible if you take time to think about just what needs to be said. Time allows you to distill rules, choices, and consequences before you speak.

The hidden challenge is still the most difficult. I had to learn to be kind and very firm with myself. I am no less prone to mistakes than the children. I fall into old patterns, snap angrily, and use too many words to say what could be said in under three seconds. And, of course, I then harangue at myself for my failures.

The truth is, I will never be perfectly perfect. But, now I pause before I act. That pause gives me time to breathe and remember that, ultimately, what I really want to be is “kind, but very firm”. Thank you Mary Poppins.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.



Last updated on September 17, 2013