Monday, January 17, 2011

What is discipline?

Now that my darling little girl has reached preschool age, her personality is developing at a furious rate along with behavior habits.  About a year ago it occurred to me that we needed to begin some form of behavior guidance and character education with Zoe.  I want her to be well mannered and, above all, to reject brat-dom.  Despite being a professional educator, I was really at a loss as to how to do it.  Honestly, I still feel very inept.

As a practitioner of responsive/intuitive parenting, the "gentle discipline" aspect is the piece I just don't have a handle on at all.  I know very little about what it means ideologically and even less about how to put it into practice.  We are solidly an anti-spanking family, but we do sometimes yell and the terms "being good" and "being bad" are used regularly.  We use threats of time out,. loss of privileges (TV, playdates, etc), and going to bed early without a story.  These threats usually garner compliance, but they cause a huge tantrum and a lot of tears and shame on the part of our little girl.  I began to wonder if the word "discipline" was automatically connected to guilt, shame, and power struggles or if inside the concept there lies the secret of a confident and respectful child.

According to, there are three definitions for "discipline" as a verb:
to train by instruction and exercise; drill.

to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control.

to punish or penalize in order to train and control; correct;chastise

I suppose the "gentler" definition is the first one.  To train by instruction and exercise.  In terms of developing socially appropriate manners, exercise and drill would be effective and gentle.  Of course instruction should come first (explain to the child why we say "thank you" when someone does something nice for us).  The exercise would eventually become a habit--instruction internalized.  

The challenge comes in imparting our values to our children without indoctrination.  In allowing the tantrums and tears over bedtime because it is developmentally appropriate for a 3 year old to melt down.  In teaching when and why to apologize rather than demanding a begrudging "sorry."

Expect to read more on this subject as I seek out resources to better parent my own children and navigate the dicey world of character education.


Elena Margo Gould said...

After almost 19 years of pondering the question of discipline, I wonder if a person can ever come up with any concrete answers? Each child is so different, each situation calls for its own approach, and every parent brings something unique to parenting. Even if we never reach a final solution, it is an area of required study for every parent, and I look forward to learning from your perspective and experiences!

Kristen @ Adventures in Mommyhood said...

Interested to read your posts as you progress through all this! I just finished reading Positive Discipline and just started Playful Parenting. I also have Unconditional Parenting. I'm hoping through reading I can garner some good ideas.

Another one that was highly recommended was Adventures in Gentle Discipline.

Swimming-duck said...

I've read both Playful Parenting and Unconditional Parenting. I think they're great books to challenge traditional discipline. Unconditional Parenting especially really really made me think. There's so much that I do that I feel is gentle because it's not spanking or yelling, but when I read that book it really made me wonder. I tend to turn to threats pretty quickly when I'm frustrated. Loss of bedtime, toy, you name it...and that book really challenged that idea. I'm not really any better at it after having read the book either. It's so hard to break out of that "need to control" kind of mindset. It sucked to realize that some of my techniques are more authoritarian than I initially thought they were. :( Perhaps we will all "get it" in time. You are not alone in your journey for sure!