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Yesterday after school a teacher pulled me aside and said, “Ms. Smith, I was listening to my kids in first period talk, and they love you!”

My response was, “I don’t know why! I’m mean, hard as hell on them, and I [insert everything I can’t put on paper] (lol).

Later on that night, I realized what was going on. I teach a group of kids who come from households with little to no structure and discipline. They come and go as they please. They do what they want. And no one is checking for their grades. Contrary to what most believe, kids, especially those who lack structure and discipline, really desire it. They want someone to set boundaries on what they can and cannot do. They want their parents to show interest in their education and life outside of school. They want to be around people who set expectations and high standards for them.  

That’s what I do for kids. They fuss, complain, and talk about how mean and hateful I am, but they keep coming around. Because deep down, in the place that they don’t want to admit exist, the place where they store up all the adult advice they get and swear they will never use, they know they need it.

So here’s advice to parents, teachers, mentors, and any and everyone who comes in contact with children:

1. Set high standards and expectations. Make your expectations clear. They should always know what is acceptable and unacceptable to you. This gives them something to work toward. If you expect little, you will get less. And if you have no expectations, your kids we wander through life lost and aimlessly.

2. Have consequences. In the real world there are consequences for your actions, and it is important that kids learn this while they are young. Hold your kids accountable for their actions. Don’t be afraid to discipline them when they break rules. If this doesn’t begin when kids are young, it will produce a generation of kids who feel the rules don’t apply to them. And that would be detrimental to all of us. And remember, it’s always easier to get nicer than it is to get stricter.

3. Be consistent. Once you develop a discipline plan, stick to it. Don’t allow kids to persuade you to change your mind or lessen the consequence. Kids will take advantage of your kindness as weakness. Don’t let them off punishment early. Don’t make exceptions. Rule with an iron fist.

4. Love them unconditionally. No child will accept discipline or expectations from you if they do not feel that you love them. That has to be number 1. And in your love, remember that they are kids. They will make mistakes. They will screw up. And while it is your job to discipline them for their mistakes, it’s also your job to love them despite of their mistakes.

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