Saturday, December 16, 2017

How Should We Discipline Our Children?

July 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Articles, Education Articles

This question is probably the one most frequently asked by parents. Not only is this generation of parents concerned, but each preceding crop has been plagued by the same blight. Some time ago, while preparing a speech on the topic, I cam across a statement summarizing fifty years of advice from child psychologists:

1910–Spank Him
1920–Deprive Him
1930–Ignore Him
1940–Reason with Him
1950–Love Him
1960–Spank Him Lovingly

Do you suppose that for 1970 we will add “Teach Him?”

To discipline literally means to educate or to train, yet most of us use the word synonymously with “to punish”.

Perhaps one of the reasons we get in such a dither on the subject is that we are concerned over infraction of rules which we have not really taught our children to understand. Are we angry with the children for disobedience or with ourselves for being inadequate teachers?

Not long ago I was topped by a policeman. Although I knew the law and the speed limit, and was fully aware that my foot was heavy on the gas pedal that afternoon, I gazed up at him contritely, remorsefully, hopefully. A useless effort! He calmly and politely handed me a ticket. With equal grace the judge accepted my payment of the fine. The only remarkable part of this story is that neither the policeman nor anyone in the traffic court yelled, screamed, nagged, or spanked. The teaching was through: The law was fully known and understood and there were even signs along the road to remind drivers of the speed limit. The penalty for breaking the law was also known and understood. I was aware that I was violating the law. The penalty for violation was administered quietly, without anger, and I learned that I had to pay for my own actions.

Ever since that ticket I have tried to remember the calm, unruffled policeman when disciplining my own children. With very little success at emulating him, mind you, but I do remember him!

In Proverbs 6, Verse 23, we read, “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” Thus, there are rules of conduct which, combined with instruction, can light our way. The “reproofs of discipline” are the guard rails which help us to stay on the path.

Rules of conduct define the specific limits of liberty allotted to the various members of the family. These limits should be determined, of course, by each individual’s ability and understanding, as well as the collective good and interest of the family community. Obviously, specific rules for the three year old will differ from those for the ten year old or teenager, but every member of a given family must respect the rights and privileges of the family as a whole.

The nature of such rules will vary from one family to another depending on the values and characteristics of those in authority (the authors of the rules) — mother and father, together. These rules should be based on principles which the parents have taught the children – principles which the children can understand and respect. Children who are taught to obey principles rather than parental whims are less often confused, rebellious, or misled by temptation.

Instead of asking “What shall we do about discipline?”, perhaps we should examine first the rules of conduct we have set within our family (not the Smith or the Jones family, but our own). Does every member of the family understand and know the rules? Are they based on principle or parental whim? Is the correction for infraction of the rules (the reproof or guard rail) clearly understood by all and can it be applied consistently, without anger? (Remember the policeman). Most important, do we as parents have self-discipline?

Plato has said, “The best way of training the young is to train yourself at the same time; not to admonish them, but to be always carrying out your own admonitions in practice.” This may be the best answer.