Power of Love


Big Idea: Choose to see the best in others.

Goal: Choosing to see the best in others keeps us in the higher centers of the brain so we can consciously respond rather than unconsciously react to life’s events. 

Skill: Positive Intent

Structures: Celebration Center, Wish Well Ritual, School Family Assemblies

Join me for a life-changing journey through all Seven Powers, including the Power of Love, in the new online course Powers of Resilience: Social Emotional Learning for Adults


The Power of Love is an extremely potent, largely neglected resource we can tap into at any time. It is the conscious choice to see the best in others. This Power stems from the principle that what we offer to others, we strengthen in ourselves.

If we judge others or see them as lacking or bad, we generate a state of irritation and lack within ourselves. We can’t harbor negative thoughts toward others without negatively impacting ourselves.

On the other hand, as we extend well wishes to others, we experience appreciation and gratitude. We define others and ourselves in the highest possible way.

The icon for the Power of Love is a pair of heart-shaped glasses. When we see children and misbehavior through this loving lens, we’re able to teach helpful new skills. We encourage children to take personal responsibility, build new skills and become willing to change.

How to Access the Power of Love

When others act the way we believe they should, it’s easy to access the Power of Love. Our heart-shaped glasses are firmly in place, ready and often willing to see the best.

It’s much harder to choose this perception when we think others have made poor choices. When we’re triggered by misbehavior, we sink into the lower centers of the brain. Here, our heart-shaped glasses are nowhere to be found.

From the survival state, conflict appears threatening and bad. It’s a threat to our authority, our ability to teach, even our safety. We feel that it must be punished. From the emotional state, conflict is irritating and upsetting. We feel that the offending person is deliberately making our lives hard. The behavior must be stopped.

In order to see the best, we must reach our executive state. From the executive state, you have access to all your best skills. That means you have a choice.

You can choose to see conflict as a call for help and a teaching opportunity. You’ll be able to discern the communication embedded in the child’s behavior and solve the problem by teaching new skills.

So, when you’re triggered by conflict and misbehavior, pause. Understanding you aren’t wearing your glasses, don’t say anything just yet. Smile. Take a deep breath, and relax. Take two more deep breaths, reminding yourself, I’m safe. Keep breathing. I can handle this.

Now, put on your heart-shaped glasses and prepare to see the situation—and the child—through a loving lens.

Judging the Intentions of Others

Every day, we judge the intentions of others. That person cut us off in traffic just to be rude. Our student is acting out for attention. Our dog only ruined our favorite shoes because he missed us.

Whether our judgment is accurate or not, it shapes the way we view and respond to every individual. Since we get to make up the intent of others, why not make it up positively?

When we’re in an upset state, of course, we tend to attribute negative intent. Our judgments are also influenced by automatic filters created from our past experiences. These “CD-ROM” filters are not based on the present moment or the person’s actual intentions.

Once we’re calm and wearing our heart-shaped glasses, we can choose to attribute positive intent instead. The Power of Love gives us the ability to see the best and respond accordingly.

Maybe that person didn’t mean to cut us off after all. Perhaps he was rushing due to an emergency, or maybe he had a bad day and was distracted. Let’s wish him well and move on instead of spending the day fuming about rude drivers.

Maybe our “attention-seeking” student really needs connection and doesn’t know how to ask for it. Punishing or isolating him would simply make the problem worse. Let’s set aside time for I Love You Rituals, provide encouragement and opportunities to be of service, and work to strengthen the School Family environment.

Attributing positive intent is the healthier and happier option. It leads to effective solutions and powerful results.

Judging the Intentions of Children

Through the Power of Love, the goal is to look at every child, no matter what their behavior, and open our hearts.

Children attempt to meet their needs through whatever skills they possess. Unfortunately, many children learn inappropriate ways of expressing emotions and meeting their needs.

This may be the result of direct teaching or the modeling of negative behavior from adults. Common strategies include screaming when angry, hitting when frustrated, manipulating when wanting something, and lying or appeasing others to avoid conflict.

Adverse childhood experiences also teach children coping skills like distrust, withdrawal and aggression. Until they learn new skills, children will continue to apply these strategies to every situation in an effort to feel safe.

We can judge these children as disrespectful or hateful and label them as “bad.” Or we can use the Power of Love to view these behaviors as a call for help.

Judging vs. Seeing the Call for Help

When we judge children and their behaviors, we:

  • Label the core of the child as bad.
  • Keep them stuck in the lower centers of the brain, feeling unsafe and unloved.
  • Teach the child to cope with abandonment and rejection instead of learning a new skill.
  • Leave the child with two options: Accept that they are indeed bad, or try to defend their self-worth by engaging in a power struggle.

Typically, children who make many poor choices are children who feel poorly about themselves. They generally have not experienced enough family support or social equity to develop trust or the perception that the world is safe. Many have also experienced trauma and operate from a defensive brain every day.

When we withhold love and positive regard from these children, we reinforce the negative beliefs they hold about themselves and the world. Remember, these same beliefs are at the root of their misbehavior. Unsurprisingly, the behavior remains the same or worsens. This explains why we often see the same children punished over and over, with no positive results.

On the other hand, when we see misbehavior as a call for help, we:

  • Define the core of the child as good.
  • Lift the child to the higher centers of the brain, where they feel safe, loved and ready to learn.
  • Place the child and ourselves on the same team, where they begin to trust us enough to cooperate and feel motivated to learn new skills.
  • Teach the child a new SEL skill they will need for the rest of their lives.

From this perspective, we see a call for help and a seed of potential in children who are hurtful to themselves and others. Love is our most essential, most effective tool for reaching oppositional, defiant children (and adults) who exhibit challenging or aggressive behaviors. Hurt, distrust and shame are at the root of these behaviors. To change challenging behaviors, challenging children need someone to see them differently. They need someone to look at them and see a seed of potential rather than a lost cause.

We must be willing to see these children differently so they can see themselves differently. That is our job, and we can accomplish it with the Power of Love.

The Language of the Power of Love

To attribute positive intent, say, “You wanted ___________” or “You were hoping ______________.”

For example, let’s say a child pushes her friend. Why did she do it?

A. She wanted to be hurtful.

B. She enjoys behaving disrespectfully.

C. She wanted her friend to move, and she didn’t know how to ask.

The truth is, we don’t really know. We now have a choice. We can make up a negative story or a positive story about why the child pushed her friend. Using the Power of Love and the Skill of Positive Intent allows us to make up the story in a positive way, setting us up for learning and problem solving.

Say, “You wanted your friend to move.” This statement acknowledges the child’s needs without labeling the child as bad. You now have the opportunity to teach.

Now say, “When you want your friend to move, say, ‘Excuse me.'” This teaches the child a new skill and an acceptable, healthy way to meet her needs.

Sometimes, parents and teachers ask me, “What if I guess the child’s intent incorrectly?” The accuracy of your guess is not important. The point is that you’re choosing to see the child in a positive light. In most cases, the child will correct you if your guess is wrong.

How the Power of Love Boosts Academic Achievement

We’ve discussed how the Power of Love helps children learn vital SEL skills. But that’s not all: It also helps children learn and thrive academically. When we see the best in children, we help them access the optimal state for learning.

All children internally ask, “Am I safe?” When their answer to this question is “No,” they remain in the survival state. There, they devote their energy to developing coping strategies that will keep them safe (e.g. hurting others before others hurt them, withdrawing from life and becoming invisible) instead of fostering curiosity for learning.

When children answer, “Yes,” they’re able to move to the emotional state. In the emotional state, children internally ask, “Am I loved? Do I belong?” If their answer to this question is “No,” they remain in the emotional state. They develop mental models like, “Negative attention is better than no attention” or “Perfection is my only hope.”

When children feel both safe and loved, they experience an executive state, allowing them to focus on learning. The question the executive state internally asks is, “What can I learn?” In this state, children have access to skills like task initiation, time management, decision making, self-regulation, organization and prioritization (to the extent that these skills have developed). These essential skills for learning are not accessible from the survival or the emotional states.

Some children come to school already feeling safe and loved and asking, “What can I learn?” We often label these children “good kids.” The children who are still asking, “Am I safe?” and/or, “Am I loved?” are frequently misunderstood and mislabeled as “bad kids.”

Unable to focus on learning, these troubled children struggle academically and are often punished and isolated, which does nothing to affirm their safety or lovability. They often leave school feeling discouraged. Eventually, many will give up and quit, while others will be expelled from the school system. Some will turn to gangs or harmful relationships in efforts to seek the safety and connection they couldn’t find at school.

With the Power of Love, we’re able to see the best in all children. This empowers us to help every child feel safe and loved enough to focus on learning. Now, every child can reach their highest academic and prosocial potential, regardless of family environment or life experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t the Power of Love permissive? Wouldn’t I be letting children off the hook?

No. It’s true that the Power of Love does not rely on punitive actions, but this doesn’t mean we’re being permissive. We set limits and teach new skills in a healthy manner. Seeing challenging behavior as a call for help allows us to teach children safe, healthy ways to meet their needs. This perception does not let anyone off the hook; it lets everyone win.

By showing compassion to a struggling child, we help the child take ownership of their actions and reflect on their behavior. Shaming, judging, or scaring the child does not facilitate ownership or reflection. Personal responsibility can only be cultivated, not coerced or forced, and it is required before a child can choose to change their behavior or learn new skills.

In addition, showing children compassion and acceptance only when they behave sends the message, “When you do what I want, you earn my love.” This links love with approval and leads to people-pleasing behaviors. Children then act appropriately not because they love others, but because they fear others won’t love them.

Can I use the Power of Love when I don’t truly feel calm or compassionate?

Not effectively. You can try to use the language, but children will sense that you aren’t genuinely composed. Composure is a prerequisite to effectively harnessing the Powers, including the Power of Love. Heart energy produces an electromagnetic field that emits and receives energy. Because of the energy we emit, children know when we’re faking.

They can sense when we fake calm and when we fake caring. To use the Power of Love in our interactions with children, we want to create an energy of pure love. Children will sense this energy as we approach them. The result is a more positive, more cooperative interaction.

How can I teach children to use the Power of Love?

In Conscious Discipline, we use an “adult first, child second” model. This means you can’t teach a child a skill you don’t possess. Hone your Power of Love first, and teach the children in your care by modeling positive intent. Creating an inclusive School Family culture also promotes empathy and kindness.

Read Shubert Sees the Best to help children see hurtful behavior from a helpful point of view. You can even create a free pair of heart-shaped glasses for the children in your classroom, like our friends at the West Washington County Head Start/Early Head Start. Remind children to, “Look through your glasses!” Offer helpful suggestions when they struggle to attribute positive intent to others.

Preschoolers at an Arkansas Head Start See the Best in Others

Final Thoughts: Power of Love

Finding fault in others means we are more invested in blame and punishment than in solutions, or that we are too triggered to problem solve. By taking a moment to compose ourselves, we can choose a better way. We can commit to seeing the best in others and in ourselves, promoting empathy, cooperation and positive change.

With the Power of Love, we can recognize the seed of potential in every child we meet. Children who have experienced years of negative intent may initially struggle against the idea that they are worthy, loveable and capable. But with patient and consistent use of positive intent, these seeds of potential will grow and flourish.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all wore a pair of heart-shaped glasses?

Next Steps

More Helpful Resources for the Power of Love