Discipline in a parent’s view is crucial.

What seems to differ though is what the word “discipline” actually represents. For many, it means controlling and correcting through punishment, either physical or emotional.  If you read my blog, or look back in the archives, you know that I believe that discipline means to model behaviour, to be a guide and facilitator and to teach self-discipline. I don’t believe in using physical force (hitting, tapping, etc.) or emotional force (time-outs, ultimatums, threats, etc.)  as forms of effective teaching, or “discipline”, I actually think that they do more harm than good and they are steps back.

Over the years I have read many articles, blog posts or discussion board posts and have had conversations with people that critique natural discipline, positive parenting, non-coercive parenting.

All seem to repeat the same thing:

If I don’t  ______ (give a bedtime/force to eat/limit computer/put in time out/tap his hand) then my child would always/never_____ (never sleep/eat anything but pizza/never get off the computer/learn that what they do is wrong/understand not to run into the traffic).

The thought, of course, is that people look at all of this as being one or the other. If you don’t punish then you are letting kids do whatever they want. If you don’t force kids to do things, then they will never do it. If you don’t put limits, then no one will.

The defining moment of course is when the controlling parent tries to do the opposite and the child fulfils the prophesy. The theory that “no limits, no punishment” doesn’t work is etched into stone, and those parents that do such a thing are seen as neglectful parents with kids doing whatever they please and running amok.

Of course, for those who do live consensually, don’t put arbitrary limits and don’t punish, their kids are not doing what those people are afraid of, the kids are eating well, getting enough sleep and are happy, well adjusted kids. So why such a gap?

I think it comes down to that definition of  ‘discipline’ and what results with the way it is interpreted. Controling is not teaching self-limitation. Punishing doesn’t give them the tools to make the right decisions.

If you punish a child for hitting, they may stop hitting but they don’t learn anything else besides the fact that love is conditional to behaviour and that it is better to not be caught. Not punishing of course doesn’t mean that you let the behaviour continue. In the case of hitting, it is most likely an impulsive symptom of an initial problem. If you want to teach the right behaviour, the focus needs to shift from the actual hitting, to teaching alternative solutions that can replace the hitting. Children know that hitting is wrong, but they might not know what to do instead. That is what discipline is all about.

If you don’t have a bedtime, then you are more likely to follow your own schedule and sleep when you are tired. If you have always had a bed time and then suddenly you don’t, then you might not know your own cues or self-limits because you have never learned how to. Add the lack of self-knowledge to the mystique of staying up late, then you have a child that will seemingly not go to bed if you don’t tell them to.

What we need to be doing as parents is to teach our kids self-limitation and self-discipline and to maintain individuality and have a voice. I don’t believe that this can be done through controlling and punishment but instead through ‘discipline’ in the other sense of the word.