Discipline comes from the Latin word discipulus or disiplini, which means a follower of truth, principle, or venerated leader. – Jane Nelson, Ed.D.
How many of us think of punishment when we hear the word “discipline?” I know that I do. That’s how many of us were raised to think. In fact, most of us think that there are two options for parenting: punish or step back. What I’m learning through Positive Discipline is that neither are very effective for developing character. The thing about character is that it sticks with us no matter who is watching. We call this having an “internal locus of control.” Unfortunately, punishment (and rewards) rely on an “external locus of control.” In other words, someone else is in charge of how I act- I’m being watched to be good. Stepping back, or being too permissive, on the other hand doesn’t create good character either!
So… how do we know what makes for good character?
Here are the Significant Seven Perceptions and Skills (or the things we want our kids to think about themselves):
- “I am capable.”
- “I contribute in meaningful ways and I am genuinely needed.”
- “I can influence what happens to me.”
- “I understand my emotions and am in control of myself.”
- “I’m a good friend. I can understand the emotions of others. I can work well with others, listen to their needs, and be flexible.”
- “I understand the limits and consequences of everyday life. I will do what’s right even when no one is looking.”
- “I can make wise decisions.”
We all want our kids to be “followers of truth” whether we’re watching or not right? I don’t know about you, but when I was young, my behavior wasn’t always consistent. I acted one way when my parents were looking, and another when they weren’t. Punishment has been proven to teach “sneakiness, low self-esteem, violence, and other negative skills.” And when they say punishment, they don’t just mean spanking, we’re talking about time-outs too! What?! Stay with me!
The problem with punishment (and rewards) is that they require an authority of some kind to determine whether a kid is acting right or acting wrong. That puts a heck of a lot of pressure on the adults in the situation and unfortunately, doesn’t teach kids to have integrity when we’re not around. What if I told you there’s a way to guide kids that will promote their internal sense of right and wrong?
As a parent, I have been so thankful to learn about Positive Discipline and now, as a Certified Educator, I get to share this philosophy with other parents too!
Here are the Four Criteria for Effective Discipline:
- Is it kind and firm at the same time? (Respectful and Encouraging)
- Does it help children feel a sense of belonging? (Connection)
- Is it effective long-term? (Punishment works in the short-term, but has long- term negative results)
- Does it teach valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation)
So, if we don’t punish bad behavior and we don’t reward positive behavior WHAT IN THE WORLD do we do??
Here’s what we, as discipliners, can do:
- Involve children in setting limits
- Ask curiosity questions
- Use kind and firm phrases
It’s important for us to understand that lack of punishment does not mean permissiveness. In fact, permissiveness teaches a lack of compassion and increases irresponsibility- among other things. Through positive discipline, kids learn that there will be consequences for their behaviors, because that’s real life. We as parents, however, don’t need to waste time and energy trying to replace natural consequences with those we create.
There’s just so much to share and I couldn’t possibly cover it all in one article. What I’d really love is to work with you to share all that I’ve learned about Positive Discipline. But until then, here are some tools you can start using today:
- Establish a weekly family meeting to increase and model good communication. (Make sure you talk less or at most, equal to, the amount your kids speak)
- Remember: “when we feel better, we can do better.” Give yourself a chance to calm down before reacting to disappointing behavior.
- It’s important to be kind so the child is respected but also firm so that you are respected. Both children and adults deserve kindness and respect.
And remember, if we want to raise compassionate, autonomous, and respectful kids we need to:
- Eliminate Punishment
- Eliminate Permissiveness
- Give up the crazy idea that in order to make children do better we have to make them feel worse.
- Give up the crazy idea that in order to be a kind parent we need to make sure our kids always feel good.
What do you think of all this? Sound crazy? I get it, it’s different. However, this is not a new philosophy and many parents have had great success with it. If you want to enjoy parenting more, I recommend giving it a shot for at least two weeks. I can attest that it is already changing my relationship with my kids for the better. I was the parent who could be too permissive. By setting firmer boundaries, I’m finding that I’m actually enjoying being a parent more now! It’s not surprising because, according to Positive Discipline philosophy, I wasn’t being kind to myself before. Now, both my kids and are being treated with kindness and respect, and you know what? It’s pretty awesome.
Please don’t hesitate to email me with any questions you may have, I’d love to help however I can. Better yet, make an appointment and we can go in-depth to create a parenting game plan for your situation.
Thanks for reading and please note that much of this content was adapted from the book Positive Discipline, an excellent resource!