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The Art of Discipline

When my children challenge my authority, I have to remind them (and me) of what my role is as the parent. During this “parent/child tango,” it helps to clearly define our roles to contain emotionally volatile situations that could result an eruption.

“As your parent, its my job love you, keep you safe, and teach you. It is your job to learn and grow.”

Clear and simple… well, “sort of”…

While this statement keeps perspective in guiding the parent/child relationship, it places the responsibility of discipline squarely on the parent’s shoulder, where it belongs. However, discipline is an art – not formulaic matrix.

The word “discipline” originates from the Latin word discipline, which means “instruction” and derives from the root discere which means “to learn.”

“Discipline” is defined in modern dictionaries as:

  • Develop behavior by instruction and practice, especially to teach self-control and/or improves skills

  • Punish in order to gain control or enforce obedience

Inspired by Aristotle’s “Doctrine of the Mean.” The art of discipline entails a complex mix of the right form, at the right time, with the right intensity at the appropriate age.

For the perfectionists out there, you won’t get this right – most of the time. So relax into the fact that there is no perfect “right way.” Rather, being aware of our motivations is more important than “getting it right.” If we are using discipline from a self-centered perspective we maximizing the art of discipline.

For example, if a child is whining, any of us can admit we’ve firmly said “QUIET!” in an attempt to stop the annoying sound. If the motivation is coming from us not wanting to be annoyed instead of teaching children that whining is undesirable, there is a subtle difference in the way we are disciplining our children. If we are more mindful vs. reactionary we will have a higher success rate of guiding the behavior, teaching the lesson, and increasing the emotional intelligence for both the parent and child.

Let me paint an example of one of the many mornings at our house where I try to use this philosophy.

  1. I sit politely at the table to show how it is important to eat a healthy breakfast everyday while using my utensils (instruction and practice).

  2. My two-year old whines and shouts “no!”

  3. I demonstrate how I’m eating a healthy meal.

  4. He decides to challenge my authority.

  5. I warn of the consequences (time out) of that behavior

  6. He shouts “no!”

  7. He goes into time out (punishment).

  8. Repeat (3+ times).

  9. He decides to eat his oatmeal

  10. praise him for his good decision (instruction and practice)

Yes, this is tiring and I don’t always keep my composure. But I’m satisfied I’ve done my “job” and he’s done his “job” in the parent/child tango.