I was talking with a colleague the other day and the subject of discipline came up. This is a topic with a long history in parenting circles, as well as a lot of confusion.
The latin origin of the word discipline is to teach or instruct. But the first definition listed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is to punish. This is followed closely by “control gained by enforcing obedience or order.” How did we go so far off course?
This subject is endlessly fascinating to me, especially as I have learned, practice and teach conscious parenting. When we use discipline in the “modern” way to gain control by enforcing obedience, we are really disconnecting our children from themselves. I have come to believe this is one of the most subtle yet detrimental things we can do to our children.
When we try to enforce obedience through punishment, we are teaching our children to stop listening to themselves and instead follow only what we say. Then if they don’t follow what we say, they may experience shame as well as dread for the punishment that they anticipate.
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We are raising adults
If we agree our parental job is to raise adults, how are we helping them to become adults by using discipline in this way? When we heap a punishment onto our children, we essentially take the focus off of the choice that they made. They are instead left to focus on the punishment that they are about to get because of that choice. And odds are that they will not learn how to make a better choice through the “discipline” but rather simply to avoid getting “disciplined” again.
Typically, this is where lying comes in to the picture. When our oldest son was little, we used all the “conventional” methods of discipline including time-out, taking away video games, grounding him from friends, etc. It was a very punitive environment we were creating, all in the spirit of trying to “make” him follow our rules.
And it did not feel good at all.
Discipline side effects – to learn a better way or to avoid?
This is just about the point at which we noticed that our son began to lie. A lot.
Then we worried that we were raising a budding pathological liar. Turns out as I discovered through my conscious parenting journey led by my friend Dr. Shefali that he was learning that hiding the truth would help him to avoid punishment – IF he did not get caught. But if he got caught, his punishment was doubled (no video games for two days instead of one, for example). I suppose this risk was worth it in his young mind.
A Sure-Fire Method
Fast forward to how we handle “discipline” now. We stumbled upon this framework through much trial and error with our oldest son. He jokingly loves to tell people he is our “lab rat” as we have experimented with many different things with him in our parenting.
When our kids mess up, make mistakes, or use poor judgment (which ALL kids will do), we apply four steps.
First, we talk about what the mistake was. Then, we look at what damage may have been caused by that mistake (feelings hurt, something broken, etc.). Next, we discuss what our child may need to do to repair the damage caused by their decision or action. Lastly, we explore with them ways that they can make a better choice moving forward.
This method has worked wonders for us. It has caused our children to feel comfortable coming to us when they make mistakes. There is no reason for them to fear punishment. Rather, they know we will work with them to do better next time. When we know better we do better.
And isn’t that all part of growing up and our job as parents anyway?