Discipline is often thought of as something we do to a child when they do something that we do not want them to do. In this sense, punishment and discipline can become confused, and the opportunity for true discipline is lost or misguided.
The root of the word discipline is disciple. Disciple refers to someone who is a student or follower, one who is taught by someone who is wise. Discipline is the art of teaching with wisdom. The function and role of a parent is to teach. Parents are always teaching children through example, whether considered wise or unwise.
In moments when a parent feels the child has done something inappropriate, something that needs correction or guidance, the art of discipline is what determines the outcome for both the parent and child. Parents feel various ways when a child does something they would prefer the child not do. Some are sure of how to respond, but many parents feel doubt, frustration, anger and sadness about how to properly teach the child to live amongst society’s expectations while honoring the child’s need to be a unique and innovative contributor to the same society.
There are only a few ways a parent or caregiver can respond to a child in moments of question or in need of discipline. These methods first take place within the mind of the parent and lead to the actual interaction between parent and child. I have placed them into three common categories: punishment, permissiveness, and discipline. Punishment and permissiveness can have similar underlying qualities of dis-empowerment for the child and parent, but permissiveness can also be a bridge from punishment to discipline at times when a parent is learning new techniques for teaching.
Punishment seeks to impose a negative outcome in response to something a child has done, so the child feels bad and will not repeat the action. In spiritual terms, the parent believes a child has a sinful or otherwise harmful nature that must be taught out; the primary experience is parental power/authority over child. When a parent chooses punishment, they may:
- Tell the child no, to stop engaging in the action, moving to shame, anger or punishment to stop the action if necessary.
- Verbally shame the child, make him wrong for the action through verbal or non-verbal communication, words, ideas.
- React in anger, blame and punish the child for the parent’s experience of anger, embarrassment, etc. in relation to the behavior.
- Punish the child through withdrawal of love, remove child from the situation and put child in a place without access to a loving parent/caregiver.
- Punish the child through false abandonment, pretend to or actually leave the child.
- Punish the child through physical means, switching, spanking, slapping, hitting or otherwise inflicting pain on/harming the body of the child.
- Punish the child through other means with the intention of making the child feel bad for what she has done.
- Force the child to apologize and/or do something else before she is permitted to interact with others, receive love.
- Threaten the child in some way if the child does not obey.
Permissiveness seeks to allow the child to be autonomous and free of punishment, but may lack conscious teaching which is a mutual parent-child search and exploration of inner and outer power/strength/value/worth. A permissive parent may:
- Withdraw emotionally from the child, numb out, while not providing guidance for desired/appropriate behavior.
- Ignore the behavior and the child, hope or trust that the behavior will go away without attention.
- Allow the child to continue the behavior/not provide guidance while knowing it is socially unaccepted, potentially harmful to another in any form or dis-empowering for the child to not be aware of its social impact.
- Explain away the behavior based on a child’s development, personality, what he had to eat or not eat that day, other characteristics of the situation and the child, without providing guidance to the child. (The explanation may be pertinent but does not negate the need for guidance in the particular situation).
- Blame another for the way the child is without providing guidance to the child.
- Refrain from teaching the child anything when inside the parent there is a gnawing sense that the child could benefit from some loving guidance.
Part 2 discusses discipline that works for everyone involved.
This article has been edited from a previous version published at Innate Wholeness.
Photo Credit: Author
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