Love and Logic Magic: Using Empathy for Discipline

How empathy is actually a very powerful parenting tool. Learn how to add this into your discipline methods for amazing results.

Mom and son face to face

Let’s take a moment to imagine something.

Imagine you are a child–let’s say four years old. You just got a soccer ball for your birthday. Your mom explained very plainly that you were not allowed to play with the ball in the house.

Temptation gets the better of you and you eventually start to play with it. Play gets more and more intense until you eventually hit a picture on the wall that comes falling down–breaking the frame.

Imagine how you feel right now.

Mom comes in the room and instantly sees what happened. Mom can respond in many ways, but let’s say mom is very consistent with her rules and you know she will follow through with her warning about what would happen if you disobeyed the rule to not play in the house. 

Considering Mom will follow through, there are basically a couple of ways she could go about it.

Scenario One

Mom’s voice raises and she says something to the effect of:

“Oh my goodness! Billy! Why did you do that!! Do you see what happens when you don’t follow the rules? Now my frame is broken! I can’t believe you just didn’t listen. I hope this teaches you to listen to me in the future. Give me your ball. You aren’t getting this thing back mister.”

Mom is frustrated, and she shows it. She provides some lecture for you so she can make sure you know you just messed up big time. 

Imagine it. 

Now imagine how you feel. How do you feel toward Mom? How do you feel about losing your ball?

Scenario Two

Mom speaks. She is firm, but does not raise her voice.

“Oh dear! Looks like you decided to play with the ball in the house. That is too bad. You remember the rule right? If you play with the ball in the house, you lose it? That is too bad. I know you were looking forward to playing with that ball outside this afternoon.”

Mom is firm and sticks to her rules, but she shows you empathy. Maybe she even gives you a hug.

Imagine it.

Now imagine how you feel. How do you feel toward Mom? How do you feel about losing your ball?


I hope you were able to feel how children tend to feel in these two scenarios.

In a situation like scenario one, the child often turns his disappointment and shame over what he has done and what that means into anger toward the parent.

Instead of accepting that the situation was caused by him and is his fault, he feels anger toward the parent and blames the parent for losing his ball. 

In a situation like scenario two, however, the child understands he brought this on himself. He just made a mistake. He knows mom feels sad for him–he isn’t angry at her for his choices. She isn’t rubbing it in. 

The consequence in each scenario was the same. The actions that led to each scenario were the same.

The difference was the attitude of mom when she responded. 

Your Response is Powerful

This is why your response when your child does something he or she should not do is incredibly powerful.

Your response can make the difference in whether or not your child accepts personal responsibility.

The disappointment over the situation remains on the child’s actions rather than transferring to the angry adult.

Whether you are an adult or a child, you will appreciate your mistakes being met with empathy rather than anger.

A child is small and is often scared when he or she messes up. Children want to please and when they do something that will disappoint mom or dad, it makes them sad.

They are also sad to receive consequences. The love you can show them helps them see mom and dad will be there and love them even when they mess up. 

Love and Logic Magic

This principle is discussed in  Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood  right around page 15/16. Here are some tips I wrote down from the pages on this topic:

  • Share empathy before delivering consequences
  • Be strict and loving
  • Allow mistakes and allow child to learn from them (this means you don’t take back your previously laid out consequence just because your child is sad)
  • Don’t respond in anger, frustration, or lectures
  • Deliver consequences with empathy instead of anger. You share the same message but put empathy in place of the anger

My Experience

I tend to respond with empathy rather than anger. I read Parenting with Love and Logic when Brayden was just about to turn two, and this is a principle that rang very true with me.

I have seen this to be true. I haven’t always been perfect at the empathy (like, for some reason when a child spills milk at every meal because she is goofing around makes it hard for me to show empathy).

So I know that the empathy path is much more effective than the frustration path. 

I encourage you to try it and see what kind of difference it makes. If this is a principle you have tried, how do you like it?

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8 thoughts on “Love and Logic Magic: Using Empathy for Discipline”

  1. Thank you for sharing this! My oldest turns two next week, so we've already run into quite a few situations where lecturing has been a real temptation for me! This was a great reminder.

  2. Great to see this as I've been reading "Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood" this week. In the second scenario, as I understand it, we also need to hold the child responsible for the actions by asking them what they will do to reconcile and work with them so they think about an appropriate consequence. For instance, parent can say, "So sad you broke the frame, what do you think you should do?" Child says, "I don't know?" Parent says, "Well, the frame can't be fixed, but maybe you could do chores to buy a new one." Child says, "that's a great idea!"Does that actually work? My LO at 8 mos is too small to actually try this with.Thanks for all of the time and teaching you put into your posts. They are great teachers!

    • Dnvrmama, it works with maybe 4 and up–if the four year old is mature. It works great with 5 and older. "what do you think is a fair consequence for that action?" Brayden is always harder on himself than we would be. So we offer the more appropriate consequence and he is happy with it. But the child isn't all sunshine and smiles about the process :).

  3. What happens when you make an exlamatory remark at the beginning as a reflex, then catch yourself. For exmaple, a child knocks down a cup off the kitchen counter and you see if falling and spill and make an exclamation. Then you are calm and say "Now you spilled the juice so you can take a towel to wipe it up". Then the child refuses to do so in part because I think this child is embarassed as they know they shouldn't have been swinging from the counter as told before and they shouldn't have spilled the milk. So then she resists I guess because of this. Parent may say since you spilled the juice it is your responsibility to clean it up. there is the towel so clean it up and let's move on.My question is what happens when the parent is startled by whatever action and makes an exclamation, do you think this affects this? It seems like it does, especially if you have a sensitive child. But on the other hand it's just sometimes instinctive to blurt out. But I see totally how being calm gives a different reaction and response…… what are your thoughts on this? I think Dads can definitely struggle more with this too-depends on their temperament but i know DH does this a lot and catches himself,etc. But it seems like the very first reaction kind of sets the tone.

    • Yvonne, I think it definitely sets te tone. If I were to burst out, I would apologize for it before moving forward. I don't think you can realistically expect a child to improve on his impulses if he doesn't see the parent working to improve their own. A sincere apology will help the situation.

  4. yes, that's a good idea. I am discussing this with DH. I think it's pretty natural response in some cases and I understand how it can happen, so I think this is a good idea. This accepts responsibility for the parent and then hopefully the child will accept their responsibility as well. It is absolutely right that we have to model good behaviour or it's just hypocritical. So in many ways being parents have made us work on ourselves and improve ourselves too!

  5. For sure Yvonne! One time when Brayden was 18 months old, I took him to a photo studio to get his pictures taken. He had always been great at taking photos, but on this day, he just cried. Finally, we left without getting any shots off. I was very frustrated that we didn't get pictures done. Christmas was coming and I wanted photos. When we got home, I put him in independent play and went to my room and literally laid on my bed and cried (I should add I was about half-way through my pregnancy with Kaitlyn—just in my defense of my hormones 😉 ). As I lay there, I pondered and realized I was upset with him for throwing this little tantrum and refusing pictures, but in the process, I was actually throwing my own tantrum just because I didn't get my way. That was my first moment as a parent throwing my own tantrum (adult version) because things didn't go my way. So I have always kept that in mind since then and tried to catch myself.


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