Thursday, September 14, 2017

Discipline: Key to Maturity

Does anyone use the word discipline anymore?  It seems to have fallen into the "politically incorrect" category; words we shouldn't say because they're offensive.  Discipline has become equated with punishment, and we don't talk about punishment.  The word punishment is harsh. It's too close to "abuse".  Modern psychology teaches us to treat children kindly, with respect and empathy.  We use positive language and methods to shape behavior, not punishment.  But confusing discipline with punishment is hurting our children.   Discipline means training.  Disciplining children is the act of setting appropriate limits so that they learn to develop self-control.  It's about raising our children to be responsible adults.  

Participating in a civilized society means accepting the limits imposed by a governing body.  We have a system of laws in our country, states, and cities.  We follow codes of conduct prescribed by our workplaces and schools.  We agree to terms and conditions before joining clubs and online sites.  As a microcosm of society, the limits set at home by parents predict a child's development as a capable, responsible citizen.

Though it may seem counter intuitive, living and working within established limits is actually liberating.  Only when we know the do's and don'ts are we capable of making a choice. If there are no rules, there are no ethical decisions.  That's not freedom, it's licentiousness:  unrestrained behavior; every man for himself.  On the other hand, behavioral guidelines give us the power to make our own choices and most importantly, to live with the consequences of those choices.  

Any set of limits is accompanied by consequences.  We know in advance the consequences to expect from breaking a rule . For example, if a driver speeds, he knows that he is liable to get a ticket.  If we come to work drunk and curse out our co-workers, we won't be surprised to get fired.  These are not punishments, they are consequences. The same should apply at home.  If a child uses her markers to draw on a wall, she is showing that she is not yet ready to play independently with markers.  It's fair to take them away and only allow her to use them with supervision.  A child who pops a water balloon in the house will have to mop up the mess. As children navigate the limits at home and school, they become aware of the consequences of their choices.  They learn to internalize limits and control their behavior.

I recently went to a lecture where the speaker described an example of discipline.  A young child climbed on the kitchen table and threw a glass on the floor.  His mother came into the kitchen, gave him a quick spank, and swept up the glass.  The next day, a chicken jumped on the kitchen table and knocked down a glass.  The little boy was delighted.  He couldn't wait to see the chicken get spanked.  But when the mother came in the kitchen, she simply shooed the chicken away and swept up the glass.  "Why didn't you spank the chicken?", he asked.  A chicken is just a chicken.  A boy can learn to be better.

Limits and their consequences are set by parents, and vary widely from home to home.  To be most effective, limits should be reasonable.  Each rule should have a clear, logical purpose.  For example, we limit the amount of candy our children can eat because they need healthy food to grow.  We don't let them handle fire or machinery because it's dangerous.  We set an early bedtime because sleep is essential to their well-being.   Before deciding to impose a rule or limit, it is important to ensure that it aligns with our values and goals in raising our children.  Too many, unreasonable restrictions can be harsh and cause  children to rebel and  lie.  On the other hand, parents who don't set limits risk raising selfish, rude young people.  Our goal is to find a balance.  To insist on behaviors that lead to a healthy mind, body, and spirit. 

As parents, we have the monumental job of raising a new generation. We love our children more than anything in the world.  But they are not our equals.  They are not our friends. They are our responsibility. They have been entrusted to us.  Children need us to create an environment with healthy limits and consequences so that they can grow to be principled, self-disciplined adults. Self-control is the mark of maturity.  What better gift can we give the world?

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