What do you think of when you think of discipline?
The origin of the word discipline comes from: disciplina ‘instruction, knowledge,’ from discipulus (see disciple, a follower or student of a teacher, leader or philosophy). What if we thought of discipline like that? Discipline is instruction or the sharing of knowledge. We are the leaders and our children are the students or followers. We would be working together rather than feeling like Us vs. Them.
To work together I think we must see children differently as well. We must recognize in them one of their most basic needs, the need to understand their world. Imagine you are dropped on a foreign planet. You know nothing of this world but you are eager to explore and discover. If we think of our children as little explorers then it is easier not to get frustrated when they try to eat the dog food for the 100th time. After all, the dog eats it -- surely it can’t be that bad. But that is were we come in. If you were dropped on a foreign planet and knew nothing about this world, what you would need most of all is a calm confident and consistent leader to show you the ways of the world. Someone to keep you from eating things that really aren’t the best food for you.
I describe us as calm, confident and consistent leaders. Think about it. So again you are on the foreign planet, who would you rather have showing you around Abraham Lincoln or Miley Cyrus? Children take comfort in knowing that you their caregiver set limits that keep them safe and understand the do’s and don’ts of the world.
Calm -- why must we be calm? Well, for two reasons. First, since they don’t know much about this crazy world, if you are freaking out, they will freak out. When you are looking at someone as your leader and they start to loose their cool, you get scared. -- surely something bad is happening. The second reason is that our children are not just trying to understand their physical world, but they are trying to understand the people in it as well. So when they push your buttons and you loose it, they are both intrigued and scared by this. On one hand they are amazed at what they can do and will repeat the offending behavior to see if they get the same result. On the other hand it is scary for them to know that they, a small person who doesn’t quite understand this place, have the power to turn the leader into a raving lunatic. So yes we must be Calm.
What about Confident? If you seem to doubt your choices they will doubt them too. And then they will test your limits, over and over again. “She didn’t seem really sure whether or not I could have one more TV show, so I will just keep asking and asking.” If you do make a choice that you regret. Then tell your child you have changed your mind. Tell them why. And if you feel it is warranted apologize. But do it all with Confidence.
Consistency is probably the most important quality. If your child gets out of bed after you say goodnight and then is promptly, gently and quietly walked back to bed every time she gets up, she will learn that after “goodnight” you stay in bed and go to sleep. Getting out of your chair 12 times in a night may get old, but after just a few nights your consistency will be rewarded. If sometimes they get more singing and other times there is some snuggle and other times they get yelled at to get back in bed, well then chances are they will continue to get up to see what is going to happen next. And your lack of consistency will mean that they will consistently test that boundary.
So if we can be their calm, confident and consistent leader, guiding them through their discovery of this world, how is that better than more standard discipline ideas? There is simply more peace. There is less screaming by everyone. Both the children and the parents feel more respected because you are working together rather than opposing one another. Whether you are one or 64 you respond better if you feel respected and part of the solution rather than the problem.