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Today's Child: Guiding Self-Discipline

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I have found that the number one concern of parents and teachers, when it comes to children, is "behaviour".  The questions may come in forms of "discipline" or "behaviour modification" or "positive behaviour guidance" .... but my answer is always the same... 


Discipline means teaching, and we as adults want to teach children to be the best they can be.  To do this, children need four things:

  • Desire

  • Environment

  • Ability

  • Resources 

(notice the acronym DEAR)


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Where are We Headed?
As parents and teachers we sometimes get lost in the moment, dealing with whatever crisis might be rearing its ugly head at the time. It is easily done, and sometimes occurs just for self-preservation.  But to do the best job we can, at guiding the children's development, we have to know where we are  headed. Steven Covey speaks of putting your ladder of success up to the right wall, or you will never find success, no matter how hard you climb. Well this is true for parenting as well. How will you know what values and skills you want your child to have if you have never thought about it before? And how will your child achieve these if you do not give them ownership of their lives and assist them to make choices and handle the consequences of their actions?  This is self-discipline! 

What do we want our children to be like when they grow up?

respectful           independent

good friends  caring     happy

empathetic      responsible

family         goal-oriented


so, what DO you want your children to be like when they grow up?? 
What ARE the characteristics you want to be building?
Take a moment to think about what the 'perfect' teenager is like.  THIS is what you are creating, now... or is it?

imagine: a child tells you that they did something 'wrong';  you yell at her and send her to her room
If this is the pattern of interaction between you and her, will she talk to you about things when she is 16?



Building the DESIRE

... right from the start you are teaching kids to make knowledgeable choices, to become independent, to follow rules, to believe in themselves and to have good values and beliefs.  If we as adults always tell them how to think, what to do, and what decisions to make they will become dependent on others. If on the other hand we never set boundaries for them they may not learn how to set limits for themselves or learn how to deal with the rules in this society that need to be followed  And are you sure they are going to pick up on the good values without proper guidance?

But how do you know they will follow your guidance? How do we know they will have the DESIRE to do what we think is right? 

Think of someone in your life that you see as a mentor.  What are they like? I will take a guess and say that you knew what to expect from them.  They were honest, and dependable.  You could trust them, and you respected them.  Children learn by copying, and when we act in an honest and respectful way, they WANT to copy us.  The DESIRE to do what we do and say increases.  They need to believe in us, trust us, respect us.  If we break that trust, or we are so inconsistent that they don't understand what the rules are, then that DESIRE to copy us/ listen to us is diminished and perhaps even lost.   Or maybe they do indeed copy us, but the behaviours are "what they see, not what they hear".   

We are their role-models.  We know how quickly children pick up on bad habits, but they also copy good ones. Therefore, we, as their guides, need to talk self-disciplined, walk self-disciplined, and live self- disciplined, because..... 


Building trust and respect is a day to day process. Every moment, every action, is building the framework for this relationship. We need to be truthful in our words and actions; we need to have empathy for the other person's feelings, thoughts, and needs; and we need to be consistent so they know what to expect from us.

Consider: I am at a friend's house and the children are fighting. I tell them to stop or we will go home. They don't stop, but we don't go home. I repeat the threat but never follow through.  What was the message? -- perhaps that I don't really care if they stop fighting; that they don't need to do what they are told; or that what I say isn't the truth.
What have the children learned about themselves? They perhaps have learned that their feelings aren't important: I don't care 'why' they are fighting. I just want them to stop. And what if sometimes I don't stop their fighting, and other times I jump all over them for it? Have they learned that fighting is not an appropriate method to solve problems? I doubt it. If I want them to learn that fighting is not okay, then each and every time I need to stop the fighting--AND I need to teach them appropriate ways to handle disagreements. 

This is where, in my opinion, we as a society fail.  We forget to teach them alternatives.  So often it is "go to your room" or "go to time out" or "don't do that" and we leave it at that.  However, what we have failed to do is show them HOW to handle the situation.. We have the "what not to do" down pat, but we've left them in the unknown and the cycle shall continue. 

  • "We don't hit.  Why are you upset?  Let's handle this together.  How can we solve this without hitting?"

  • "Use a proper voice tone when you talk to people. I can see you are angry with me.  What is wrong? Tell me 'without attitude' and I can hear what you are saying.

  • "Did you pick up all the clothes and towels? What did you forget to do? What will help you to remember? Would a list  posted on the door help? When you are finished, then you can go outside."

Children don't need punishment, they need guidance.  When they act in ways that we find inappropriate it is because they haven't built the skills yet to be independent and self-controlled -- self-disciplined.  They need our guidance to develop these characteristics.  What can we do to help them?  Step back and look at why they did the behaviour and give the skills to deal with those feelings.  That is our role. 

Stay Calm
What is the problem?
Why did it happen?
What can you do to help with that?
What happens if THAT doesn't work?

(to be continued at a later date, when I have a moment of free time)

copyright, 1999: Debbie Roswell

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