Defining Discipline

In the last Family Connection we looked at the noun discipline and the verb discipline and the drastic differences between the two. We also proposed that disciplining children is the least effective way to achieve “discipline” at home. What is it that helps raise disciplined children?

Again, let’s take one more look at our language. Even as a verb, to discipline has two very different meanings. The first meaning (A), we looked is the most commonly used application, where disciplining is used for the purpose of controlling, as in correcting and punishing children. The second meaning (B) of disciplining has to do with the act of instructing, teaching and educating. In fact, all of the following verbs are synonymous to disciplining: train, coach, instruct, tutor, teach, inform, prepare, guide, familiarize.

While the first use of disciplining (A) causes much controversy, the second meaning (B) seldom does. Most of us would say it is the duty of effective parents and competent teachers to provide this kind of training, coaching, and guidance. Nobody wants to eliminate the teach-train-inform kind of discipline–we want to raise respectful, kind and “good” citizens, right?

Still today many, even after countless studies have shown that the punishment kind of disciplining produces aggression and violence in children, many parents continue to support the first (A) use, the control-restrict-punish kind of disciplining children. In fact many parenting books argue that kids not only need it but also want it; that they will feel insecure without it; that they will think you don’t love them if you don’t use it; that they will become unmanageable children without it. It is important to recognize that the teach-train-inform kind of discipline represents an effort to influence children, while the restrict-punish kind of discipline (B) is always an effort to control them. This fact is a key element in Dr. Thomas Gordon’s P.E.T.

The difference between influencing and controlling children is a crucial for gaining awareness about the effects of either: Obviously, most parents want nothing more than the ability to influence their children and thus have a positive effect on their lives. But in their zeal to influence, many parents unfortunately fall into a trap: rather than use only influence methods, they impose limits, give orders, send commands, punish or threaten to punish. Recall how you were raised–perhaps these concepts sound familiar (and sometimes aren’t the best memories). These control-type methods (A) don’t actually influence youngsters; they only coerce or compel them. And when a child is compelled to do something, that child is not really influenced; even if she or he complies, he usually does it out of fear of punishment.

To have a profound and lasting influence on the lives of children, adults must forgo using power methods to control children and instead employ certain new methods that will greatly enhance their ability to be a positive influence in the lives of their children. These methods, and we will explore them all in later issues of the Family Connection, serve to reduce the natural tendency of children to resist change, to motivate kids to assume responsibility for modifying their behavior, to influence kids to stick to agreements, and to foster children’s consideration of others. In P.E.T. we call this the difference between other-imposed discipline and self-discipline, and we’ll take a closer look at that in our next newsletter.