When I teach the discussion of discipline comes up regularly. It also comes up in daily life, my own & discussions with other parents. It was a profound experience for me as an educator, researcher & mother when I realized what discipline meant in the full picture of life. Because of this I am going to share some of my own reflections on discipline & parenting.
The Six Lessons I’ve Learned:
1. The word discipline comes from the root word disciple.
A disciple is one who follows to learn and to be taught. When we as parents discipline our children we are doing it ALL the time. Every moment of the day. In many ways, we can think of our children as our disciples in the family. How would we expect one to lead in this case? I, myself, as a Christian look to how Christ led His Disciples & the firm but loving approach He took with everyone. Of course, I am not Christ & I make mistakes, I do not claim to be perfect. Yet, when looking to how Christ lived I find the ultimate good model for me as I move ahead in parenthood & life. As I want my children (and others I meet) to see me being Christ-like (even if I fall short at times, I am only human doing my best).
2. Discipline is what we model, teach & help develop through our words, actions & touch.
It happens even when we think our kids aren’t looking. And yes they are always watching us (even in the car). Kids learn through our modeling as parents, when we model behavior we help teach them (discipline them) through what we are doing. What we do matters as much as what we say, in some cases more! I know I have had those “DOH!!” moments where I have said or done something that I realized moments later was not what I should have done, our kids are usually there to catch those moments. If that happens, correct it, explain it was a mistake, & move on.
3. Discipline is a guided process.
Similar to learning a discipline in education where students are guided through the process. When we think of a good educator we think of someone who is able to encourage, correct & guide with care. A good educator does not demean, ridicule or try to disrespect students to get them to listen & grow. Also, being a good educator does not mean praising every little thing someone does (kids will know we don’t mean it) but helping them see the larger picture of “why” behind what they are learning. Helping them grow as people in an age appropriate manner.
4. Discipline involves respect, mutual respect & it is not based on fear.
Children who follow based on fear are not learning respect for authority or expertise (which we parents have in many cases based on our life experiences) instead they are learning to fear authority & find authority suspect. It is why authoritative parenting is more effective than authoritarian parenting. Authoritative parents are also not permissive parents, which is the other end of the spectrum letting children do whatever they want whenever they want, instead authoritative parents are mid-road & balancing the needs for boundaries, discipline with helping foster self-discipline & respect for self & others. Good parents struggle daily on getting that mid-road, again it does not mean we will be “perfect” but we are striving to live an overarching philosophy of life. We want our children to love us, be bonded to us & feel they can trust us. We don’t want our children to merely do things out of fear of our reaction. Fear based living is not healthy, it can provoke anxiety, mistrust & insecurity in people.
5. Discipline may or may not involve punishment.
Too often in classes & in conversations I hear people say “Those parents don’t discipline their children, they don’t use XYZ punishment!” Yet, punishment is not the equivalent of discipline instead discipline is ALWAYS being done, it is part of being a parent & having a relationship with our children. However, all discipline (whether or not it involves punishment as a technique) should involve natural and/or logical consequences to actions helping us learn what is acceptable & not acceptable in how we treat others, ourselves & the objects around us. Natural and/or logical consequences are not punishments in the traditional sense. They differ from punishments because they are a direct result of an action one has completed & relate to that action. Consequences make sense related to the action completed, they are an extension of our actions. A natural and/or logical consequence it might also not be pleasant (we don’t always want to live out the consequences of our actions, even as adults!) but it is done with respect for the person, makes sense & is done to help them learn. While punishments may not be a direct result of the action completed, they don’t always make sense and are imposed by an external force to cause suffering, fear or loss over an action punishment may or may not cause a person to about their actions in relation to others. Here we can think of the many times we punish an individual, as a society, & they reoffend. Why? They didn’t learn they only experienced suffering, fear or loss. Consequences can be positive, negative or neutral & consequences are simply the next step in order, the result of an action by definition. Consequences help teach & are also woven into everyday life (every action has a consequence attached to it).
6. Discipline when done as parent properly will help foster self-discipline in children.
It is a process, they will not be as self-disciplined as we’d like at 2 or even 8 & even at 32 I am still cultivating self-discipline in myself (again it is a process of life). However, as they grow & mature in life they will understand the need to be self-disciplined not because we externally impose it but because they value it through what the results produce & they value the bonds healthy discipline gave them. In essence, our parenting discipline (they way we speak, act, & use touch) is an example of our self-discipline to children. Self-discipline allows us as people to persist, to do the right thing (even when we think no one is looking) & to control ourselves (we are not slaves to our wants or emotions).
In the end, how we discipline our children is a constant process. It is not simply a set of techniques we pull out when we want to “make” kids behave (that is reactive parenting) but instead discipline is the day-to-day teaching we do as parents (it is proactive parenting).