What does it mean to "discipline" a child? Does it mean some kind of punishment? Not necessarily.
The word “DISCIPLINE”, when in relation to children, many times automatically brings negative thoughts to the minds of most people. It means spanking. It means putting a child in “time out”. In other words, it means a punishment of some kind.
Before we go any further, let's remember the three crucial pieces of information all children must know in order for effective parenting to take place.
1. You love them.
2. You know what is best for them.
3. You will use your authority to make sure what's best is done.
When you think of the word DISCIPLINE, what thoughts come to mind? If I were to ask you about how you discipline your child, how would you answer?
Let's look at the difference in what "discipline" used to mean and what it means today.
Webster's 1828 Dictionary definition:
NOUN - first definition...
1. Education; instruction; cultivation and improvement, comprehending instruction in arts, sciences, correct sentiments, morals and manners, and due subordination to authority.
VERB - first definition
1. To instruct or educate; to inform the mind; to prepare by instructing in correct principles and habits; as, to discipline youth for a profession, or for future usefulness.
Here is today's dictionary definition of Discipline:
NOUN - first definition...
1. the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
VERB - first definition
1. train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience
As I have raised my own children, I have thought of discipline much more in line with the 1828 thinking. Instead of thinking of it as a punishment or a way to get them to do what I want them to do, I have thought of it as a pathway to their success. It is an opportunity for them to grow, learn and achieve.
In other words, discipline is the means by which they can become the kind of people and have the kind of success in life both they themselves and we, as parents, want for them. I do not believe punishment is the main way to get them there. I believe the way is discipline.
A quote I saw and loved: “A disciplined person is able to postpone pleasure, is considerate of the needs of others, is assertive without being aggressive or hostile, and can tolerate discomfort when necessary.”
Yes, sometimes discipline takes on a form of punishment in order to help the child recognize the importance of obedience. But that is only a fraction of what discipline is all about. The main goal of parental discipline is to instill self-discipline in the child.
Think about that for a minute. Isn’t it true that when you give them a spanking or cover their mouth, or send them to sit on their bed… your ultimate goal is for them to regulate their behavior themselves the next time? To have self-discipline? The idea here is to apply that thought to all the things you are doing in their lives as you apply disciplines in other areas… not just punishments.
In other words, discipline is not a punishment to get them to stop doing something or start doing something. It is a means by which you guide them to success. It means striving for them to become self-disciplined.
What specific hopes and dreams do you have for your child? Do you hope for them to become a concert pianist? An accomplished athlete? A farmer, doctor, lawyer or teacher? What about character traits? Take a few minutes to write down some goals you have for your children.
When we think about each of the things we have put down on our lists, one thing all of them have in common. They all take self-discipline of some kind. Self-Discipline is denying yourself of your momentary wants in order to accomplish a bigger goal.
For instance, if one of your goals is that your child is orderly, they will have to learn to make their bed, clean their room and arrange their belongings in an orderly way even when they would rather not bother with it.
If a goal is for them to be honest, they will have to learn to tell the truth even if they might get in trouble...to return an item they found that doesn’t belong to them even if they would rather keep it…to hold their tongue when they would rather speak. They have to learn to do something against their first inclination and sometimes against their own carnal will.
If you have earned a college degree, you know sometimes you had to deny yourself time with friends or family in order to be in class, write a paper or study for an exam. You probably had to work at a job that you didn’t necessarily enjoy to earn money while you were also attending college to achieve this goal.
Think about any accomplished and successful person. An Olympic athlete has to work on their “discipline” every day, rain or shine, tired or not, even when they are in pain. They go and work out because denying their physical wants is necessary to achieve the bigger goal they have set for themselves. Same with a concern pianist. Usually starting as children, they may be denied play time with others and activities that would take away from their practice time. These desires are given up for the bigger goal.
As a parent, I do not necessarily see these disciplines as good ones. My belief is that the disciplines that matter are the ones that build character and wisdom. Not those that accomplish some degree of public admiration. The only time goals such as these would be acceptable, in my view, would be if the child is the one who is instigating them. And, if the parent has warned over and over of the dangers of losing a part of their childhood in the process of this achievement. But, the parent has to make the determination about how far a child should be able to go with these kinds of goals in relation to the effect on the rest of their lives.
But the method of discipline is the same for character building goals. The child has to learn to regulate their own desires for the good themselves and of others. So, when our children are toddlers, how are we teaching them “discipline” when they want a toy someone else is holding? When they are young children, how do we teach them to tell the truth when they think a lie might get them out of a punishment? When they are teenagers, how do we teach them to stand up for what is right when it could cause them to lose friends?
One of the biggest obstacles to becoming a well disciplined person is FEAR. Fear of what others may think, fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of rejection. It is very important to help your children overcome fear. Remember to work on social skills and do not allow your child’s fears to rule their conduct… or yours. If you haven't yet, read "Teaching Your Child Social Skills: Enjoying Your Child in Public" from this blog.
I know a family who does not ensure their child learns to swim because he is afraid of water. His entire life will be altered because of this fear unless his parents demand he overcome it. He cannot go on canoe trips, swimming parties, boat excursions, or any other activity that involves water because they have allowed his fears to rule his conduct. This spills over into other aspects of his life as he learns that his fears will control his behavior and his social interaction.
Remember this… “On the other side of fear is accomplishment.” So true. To overcome fear, you must apply discipline…. “denying yourself a momentary want in order to accomplish a bigger goal.” Teach your children to make this a way of life.
Let’s discuss some practical suggestions that can instill discipline in our children.
Infants/babies – teach your baby that they have boundaries and must regulate themselves by staying within them. The things we teach them in the physical world are windows into the spiritual. Teach them blanket time (as discussed in our previous session) and do not be their entertainment during it. Help them learn to stay in one place and have patience. Do not immediately answer their every whim but have a routine that helps them learn to wait for the next thing in order. Conquer bedtime. Very important!
Toddlers – Leave things you do not want them to have in place if they reach for them. Say “no” in a low tone if they reach and if necessary, bat their hand away if they do not obey. Do not remove the item. (Of course, stay safe and do not leave items that could be dangerous unless you are there to watch them.) Let them learn to have a desire that they have to deny. They can see the item but must keep themselves from reaching for it. Remember you are teaching them a skill that will bring them success in life!
If you haven’t yet, conquer bedtime.
Make sure they are using their social skills regardless of their fears.
Preschool children– Put a reward in view. (A special book you will read to them, a treat, an activity such as tickets to the movies, your car keys meaning you will take them to the park, or a picture of ice cream meaning you will take them out to get a cone… etc.) Give them goals for the day that they must accomplish. Have a chart with pictures that they can check off as they accomplish each goal. Help them learn that they must have things in order and at the end they receive a reward. Don't do it for them. They will not know the "thrill of victory" or the "agony of defeat" if they are not the ones doing the work.
If you still haven’t, read “How to Create Calm in Your Child:No More Bedtime Battles” and follow it. They should be able to regulate their nighttime routine without any fussing. This is very important in the goal of learning self-discipline because it is a daily occurrence.
Elementary aged children – Have a chores chart and expect them to self regulate their time doing their duty each day. Only allow free time after these duties are accomplished. Have a consequence and reward system in place that they can regulate themselves.
For instance – in our home, the children must do their daily chore, feed /water animals, have room straightened, do homework, read scriptures, do exercises and take their turn at KP in order to ASK to use the computer in the evening. If they do all this, they are allowed computer/TV time. If they do not and ask before any of these things are accomplished, they lose their screen time for the evening.
They should be able to read a clock by now. Have them come to YOU at bedtime and allow them a reward if they come on time! If they are late, they lose the reward. (A reward can be their mommy tape, a snack, personal talk time before bed with mom or dad, etc.)
Jr High/High school children – By now, it is likely your child has many of their own disciplines in place and is able to regulate on their own. Now is the time to watch and be sure they continue with those disciplines to take them into adulthood. Building a good relationship with your child throughout is very important, but taking an interest in their goals and accomplishments is of utmost importance at this time in their life.
One of the most important disciplines besides their educational goals is that of making sure they are self-regulating their desires for attention from the opposite sex. If you are able to get them into a *“Smart Dating” class, do so. Disciplining themselves in this area can mean the difference between success and failure as the consequences of not reigning in their carnal desires can change the course of their life. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about this.
Moms, you’ve got this! You can do it! Keep in mind that your own disciplines in the area of child training can have a vast and lasting effect on the success of your children as they become adults. All the hard work and effort will be worth it as you watch them grow into mature and accomplished adults.
*Smart Dating classes are available to be scheduled for a youth group. For more information, contact Holly McLean 816-206-0690