Discipline in the 21st Century
The parents smiled fondly at their three year old child. This child was very precious since the parents had her after several years of fertility treatments. This was my first visit with the family and I was truly happy for them. As the exam proceeded though, I watched a little disappointed as this three year proceeded to totally misbehave and twist her parents around her little finger. I was at my wits end. Mom watched amused and said to me, “she is our only one so we tend to spoil her.” I looked at her gently and said, “You should discipline her because she is your only one.”
Every parent has their own ideas about what discipline means. Over the years, so many parents have expressed frustration with how to discipline their children. Especially now in the 21st century, discipline seems more difficult than ever before. Parents tell me discipline does not work, you just have to use the switch or belt. My answer to such parents is always how do you think a teacher sits in front of fifteen to twenty five children and is able to discipline them and get them to do what they want? It all starts with knowing exactly what discipline is.
1. What is discipline?
If you look up the definition of discipline in the dictionary, it gives you several meanings, from training by enforcing a set of rules to punishment inflicted by way of correction and training (dictionary.com). In my mind, disciplining your child is not equivalent to punishment. Discipline is teaching your children to make right choices and teaching them to respect themselves and other’s property, whether you are present or not. This may sound like an oversimplification, but don’t we really ultimately want our children to be able to live and make right choices on their own without us being there to constantly police them? A time will come, when we have to let them go. We need to take the time now to discipline them and instill the ability to make right choices, on their own, every time. This will serve them very well and ultimately help them live disciplined lives that will keep them out of trouble.
2. When should parents start disciplining their children?
Discipline is important as soon as your child is old enough to understand. Have you seen the two year old who attempts to spank you even after you’ve said no? They look at you with that knowing look on their face, slap you and see what you will do. Obviously, they know what they’re doing is wrong. Parents should use age appropriate tactics to discipline their children. It’s important to start disciplining early because this is when you start teaching your children your values. Your children at this age are like sponges ready to soak up everything you teach them. If you teach them the value of discipline that is what they will know. They will see it as a normal part of life, and that is what we should all strive for. I truly respected this mom of five, whose kids were all so well behaved. I can honestly say I never heard her raise her voice. She was firm, and did not make empty threats. This lady had started disciplining early and consistently and that is all her children knew.
3. The parent’s behavior is important when it comes to discipline
Children learn how to behave from observing their parents, more than they do from listening to them. If you are not a disciplined parent, chances are your children will not be disciplined either. We are our children’s first role models and this becomes particularly important in the teen years. If we parents go to the grocery store and are rude to the attendants because we waited too long in line, do we think our children will listen when we tell them how inappropriate rudeness is? Parents have to learn self-discipline and then they can discipline their children effectively. There are parents who drink excessively and then turn around and tell their teens not to drink. Think about it, teens who are brought up in abusive relationships tend to be abusive themselves, no matter what their parents say to them. We parents must first learn to discipline ourselves and then we will become more effective disciplinarians.
4. Discipline, and respect go hand in hand
I always go back to the teacher in charge of several kids in the classroom setting. For the most part, there is always order. Why? Because, these children love and respect their teacher. More importantly what does the teacher do at the beginning of the school year that we parents can learn from? They tell the students their expectations upfront. They tell them the rules, and the consequences if the rules are broken and the privileges they get when the rules are kept. There are signs all over the classroom telling them the principles by which order is maintained. They believe the teacher. There is transparency and there are no surprises. They know that the teacher is consistent and will follow through on exactly what she says, and they love and respect her for it. We can learn a lot by watching the teacher’s interaction with her students. Teach your children your expectations and teach them to respect you by being consistent and following through. Be consistent about giving them the agreed upon rewards and this reinforces the good behavior and teaches them to respect you even more because you can be trusted. There are lots of parents who complain about their teen’s behavior at home and yet these same teens go to work in places like Chick Fila and are disciplined at work. It’s the same principle. They are given the rules upfront and they know the consequences for obeying and disobeying them. There is mutual respect and this bring out the best in them.
Obviously, the topic of discipline is very complex and so many books have been written about how to discipline your children. It is very important for parents to realize effective discipline must start early, and be consistent. Parents must respect themselves and be disciplined in their own choices before their kids will take them seriously. They must respect their children and teach them the rules upfront and then follow through with the consequences when the rules are broken and give positive reinforcement when the rules are kept. Discipline in the 21st century is not easy but effective and discipline ultimately leads to great rewards.