Defining Discipline

As we begin our discussion of effective discipline, perhaps we should start by defining what it is and isn’t. Since I often hear parents discussing what they do to get their children or teenagers to comply with rules or change behavior, I also hear how much diversity exists in the understanding of discipline.

Discipline is a process

I think it is appropriate to regard children as the followers and parents as the teachers.

The term actually comes from the Latin root disciple which means follower of a teacher. Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines discipline as “Training or experience that corrects, molds, strengthens or perfects.”

The concept of discipline should include a level of respect from the follower for the teacher. I think it is appropriate to regard children as the followers and parents as the teachers. It is out of respect for the authority of parents that children will follow the rules set for them.

The goal of healthy discipline is to promote healthy self-discipline.  I always say that this process begins with total dependency of the child on the parents and ends with parents setting their child free so he or she becomes independent. Obviously this is a process that takes many years.

Think of it as implementing healthy boundaries

Another way to describe effective discipline is to consider it as setting and enforcing healthy boundaries.

Another way to describe effective discipline is to consider it as setting and enforcing healthy boundaries. Authors Cloud and Townsend in Boundaries with Kids see setting and enforcing healthy boundaries as a process that allows a child to take what was once external (such as rules, limits, and consequences) and make them internal. Further, the authors state that if boundaries are clear, children develop several healthy qualities:

  • A well-defined sense of who they are
  • A well-defined sense of what they are responsible for
  • The ability to choose
  • The understanding that if they choose well, things will go well, and if they choose poorly, they will suffer
  • The possibility for true love based in freedom

Cloud and Townsend state that, “The essence of boundaries is self-control, responsibility, freedom and love (pp. 18-19).” So, parents really have the role of boundary-setters and enforcers.

Setting and enforcing boundaries does not mean that parents should take it personally when their children do not comply with the limits set for them, but rather, parents should be committed persevere in an almost clinical way. That is, parents should be calm, clear, forgiving, loving and firm in their expectations.

Effective discipline promotes healthy character development

It is important for parents and caregivers to understand that there is a strong connection between effective discipline and character development.

It is important for parents and caregivers to understand that there is a strong connection between effective discipline and character development. As parents become more adept at effective discipline, they are simultaneously promoting strong and healthy character traits in their children.

So, when we talk about discipline, we are really describing a practice and a process of creating character in our children.

There are many dimensions to this process that we will be discussing in future posts. With this information, it is my hope you will gain awareness and understanding, be better equipped as parents, and better help develop children of strong character who will be capable to face and handle life’s issues as they grow and develop.

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Preventing Violence through Effective Discipline, 2006, Diane Wagenhals. Licensed Materials. All rights reserved.

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