Spanking. Yelling. Grounding. Punishment. Rules. Any other words that come to mind when you think of discipline? Do they all have negative connotations? So maybe there’s nothing more to say. Maybe “discipline” is a dirty word. The idea of sparing the rod and spoiling the child has gone out the window along with the wonders of Wonderbread. Modern parents are caught somewhere between the age-old tradition of having silent, “whippable” children and allowing their children a lot of control over their own lives (i.e. giving them free reign). So, should discipline be tossed out the window with the white bread? Or are there merits in it if is re-conceived as something besides hitting and fear mongering?
You may have guessed my feelings by now. Coming from a life as a teacher in chaotic public schools and then working with special needs kids to explicitly teach them certain behaviors, I have experienced first-hand the necessity of discipline, structure, routine and follow-through. Obviously in all of these roles, I did not spank. I never grounded anyone. I did refer to rules. And I will admit to yelling sometimes. Amazingly, the days that I yelled were among my worst.
Let’s start at the beginning of the path that has lead me to my newest venture, starting a behavior management company to help parents learn to deal with unruly, disrespectful, messy or abusive children. My first year of teaching in my own classroom was a bit of a disaster. Some days were manageable, but I often had no control over whether the day would go well or whether it would go horribly. I tried to be consistent, but didn’t police myself enough to make that goal a reality. So when consistency in dealing with problem behaviors is nonexistent, then problem behaviors continue and my reactions to them were sporadic and ill-planned. One of the things that makes me much better at teaching behaviors now is that for a while, I did just about everything wrong. So I know what bad moves on the parts of parents look like. 1) Arguing 2) Threatening 3) Belittling 4) Ignoring egregious behaviors 5) Meeting outburst with outburst
By my second year at that school, I had more systems in place. I had mapped out routines for myself and my students at the beginning of the year. And I knew that if I wanted them to be successful, I had to be their biggest proponent and enforcer. One goal I had was that no one would talk out of turn. Difficult to achieve when it’s the norm to talk at anytime most other places in life. So my simple way of reaching this goal was to be diligent in not responding to a student who spoke without raising their hand and being called on. Never. When I asked a question that I wanted the students to answer, I would raise my hand as I finished the question. This prompted them to remember to raise their own hands, which they did and to wait to be called on. This small success helped make that year smoother and helped to set up expectations and structure in my room that enabled kids to hear lessons, work together and police their own behavior. It wasn’t quite a miracle (though it felt like it at the time), but it was the beginning of my education of how important discipline is.
Without it, we run the risk of driving ourselves, our children, our spouses and our extended families crazy!
“I asked you to get dressed for school 3 times already! How many more times do I have to say it? Get dressed! Get dressed! Get dressed! Was that enough?”
“No running in my house! I don’t care what you do at your own house, but that’s not allowed here!”
“Are you deaf? I said it was time to set the table! It is your turn! I’ve done it for the last week! It’s time for you to stop being lazy and do as you’re told!”
Without discipline, structure, consistency and boundaries, we find ourselves at the end of our rope much more often than we’d like. And our children don’t know how to proceed because they don’t know what’s expected of them. If nothing happens if they don’t set the table, then why, initially, would they do it?
Discipline may not be a dirty word, but the things that we say to our children out of anger and frustration just might be. So which would you rather use?