This is the third article in a series of blogs that explores various aspects of parenting. This article focuses on the purpose of Discipline and together with Love, how it can be used to set limits and logical consequences.
The first article is called Ages and Stages, offering a glimpse into the various stages that notably the child goes through but also ways in which the parental role changes as the stages change. The link to the Ages and Stages article can be found here.
The second article is on Loving Our Children and explores various ways in which we love our children. The link to Loving Our Children can be found here.
The fourth article will explore the Power of Thoughts and the series will conclude with How well do you know your child.
It is our hope and objective that by raising the awareness of these topics, we will provide a platform for parents and children to share their experiences, to engage in a meaningful discussion on what works and what doesn’t and ultimately this would benefit us all from the shared wisdom.
“Parents are children’s first and most lasting teachers.” – Sathya Sai Baba
“Don’t do that!”, “Will you stop doing that?”, “How many times do I have to tell you?”… Sound familiar? Yes, as parents we have used those phrases may times. And do they work? They might in the moment but not as a long-lasting remedy.
And what about “You will never learn!” and “You’re always doing that!”. Are these statements effective? What does your child feel when they hear these words? Words like always and never imply permanency which creates doubt and feelings of failure in the child. This in turn destroys confidence and self-esteem. And sometimes these feelings can remain with the child a long time after the particular incident has been forgotten.
So what is the purpose of discipline and how should parents discipline their children? The main purpose of any discipline is to change future behavior. The intent is not to attack the character or personality of the child. Nor is it about demonstrating your power, physical strength or authority over the child. Instead, it is a dialogue about expectations, setting limits and the consequences associated with going beyond the limits.
Take the example of setting limits on the usage of a smart phone.
First, in a dialogue (as opposed to a unilateral edict), discuss and agree on what constitutes reasonable usage (setting the boundaries). This could be minutes per week, only after certain activities are completed, access only to certain types of content on the internet or a combination of all of the above.
Second, again in a dialogue, discuss and agree on the consequences (I prefer using this term instead of ‘punishment’). Not only this establishes an agreement, it also gets buy-in from the child to the whole process of limits and consequences.
And if the limits are not adhered to, then the consequences have to be followed through. There has to be consistency in the whole process. If limits and consequences are agreed but then not administered when the situation arises, the child will feel that the parent doesn’t really believe in the process and will deliberately ignore it in the future.
And when the desired behavior is modeled, then appropriate acknowledgement and encouragement has also to be provided.
Furthermore, discipline has to be child-centered and not parent-focused. There is a powerful segment in the Parent’s Prayer (by Garry Cleveland Myers) which states “Forbid that I should ever laugh at their mistakes or shame or ridicule them if they displease me. May I never punish them for my own selfish satisfaction or to show them my power”. As parent’s, we have the responsibility to ensure that any and all discipline preserves the child’s dignity and positive sense of self, and even enhanced, if possible.
In the famous article called “Children Learn What They Live”, Dorothy Law Nolte speaks to the effect various values have on the child’s upbringing. She writes:
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to find love in the world.
If a child lives with recognition, he learns to have a goal.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness, he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with friendship, he learns that the world is a nice place to live.
And ultimately, discipline provides parents with an opportunity to be role-models. Are we modeling the behavior that we are expecting from our children? Or is it a case of do as I say and not as I do? The parent’s prayer concludes with this statement: “Make me fair and just and kind, and make me fit, Dear Lord, to be loved and respected and imitated by my children”. Are we the best role-model that we can be?