Discipline & Children: Our Children are Our Disciples

by beth on May 27, 2011

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).

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Candy Lawrence June 4, 2011 at 2:41 am

How interesting… we have completely different belief structures (I am not religious) but we have come to the same conclusions about discipline. This is great- a really clear precis of how to make discipline work (or at least how to have the best chance of it working).

You might enjoy a wander over to my blog- we seem to be living on the same planet philosophically :) .



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