I've been talking to some friends lately about discipline and how to start it so it seems a good time to blog about my thoughts on it. First you should understand that discipline is not the same as punishment. Discipline is learning to self-regulate your behavior and actions. A consequence is the result of an action and punishment is a consequence that is dealt by someone else.
Discipline really doesn't HAVE a starting place. From birth children learn discipline through experience. When a baby cries and receives a response they learn communication. From there they learn that your response to their cry leads to specific actions. When that same infant sees you unbuttoning your shirt and stops crying while waiting to breastfeed this is DISCIPLINE. (or sees you filling a bottle and waits for it). The infant has begun learning the must rudimentary form of patience (discipline) and attains the ability to control his/her actions.
Praise this! Foster it! That's where you begin to nourish your child's discipline. Then you continuously raise the bar as they achieve each new level of discipline to build on the last. When you feed a hungry child that child is learning the cues that tell him/her that she is hungry and that child naturally knows when he/she is full. An infant knows when they are full and will stop eating. If you stop feeding the infant when he shows cues that he is full he will carry the lesson through life and DISCIPLINE takes over when he learns to stop himself at that point. However, if you over-ride that cue and continue to feed after he is full you are teaching him to eat everything available and not to self-discipline his eating habits. It begins at birth.
As parents our goal is not only to keep our children safe and healthy through childhood but to prepare them for adulthood. This requires self-discipline, independence,strength and stability. They don't magically attain this at age 18 and they certainly don't teach it at school. That's YOUR job and you can't do it with a pretty speech at a sweet 16 party.
So now that we understand it's our job and it starts at birth the next question is HOW?? How do I teach discipline? If you've started at birth you teach by example. If you want your children to behave a certain way then YOU must show them what that behavior is. So your first step is to discuss between you and your spouse the things you feel are important behavior and habit wise for your children. Some things may seem illogical to discuss in regards to an infant who hasn't even found her fingers yet but it IS something that you should both be on equal terms about. Here are some common discipline issues that tend to evade parents' thoughts until you actually realize your child doesn't possess the discipline required for them.
Table manners - will you expect your children to eat at a table with the family? In a restaurant? What are your expectations? Will your children be expected to finish their plates, try two bites of everything offered, or eat whatever they want? Will your children be expected to remain at the table through the meal or free to go at any time? Will you expect them to say grace before meals or eat as soon as it's on the table? Ask to be excused or just leave when finished? Eat what's served or short order cook in the house?
Self-care - Will you expect your children to do age appropriate self-care tasks themselves? Or will you do it for them as long as they want you to? (for example: your teen is capable of washing laundry, will you expect them to do at least some of it or will you do it all? or If your 5 year old is capable of taking his supper plate to the sink will you expect him to do it every time or will you do it for him and only expect him to do it when specifically asked?)
Address - How will you expect your children to address other people? Mr and Mrs? Sir and Ma'am? Helen and Bob? buttmunch? Will their friend's parents be addressed as Tom and Martha or Mr and Mrs Doe or Jimmy's Mom and Dad? How about the cashier at the gas station? Addressed by the name on the tag, sir, ma'am, miss, lady with the funny hair?
Sex - Yes, I said it. Sure your baby is innocent. But eventually they all grow up and my how the time flies! Before you know it your child is in need of some answers. What will yours be? Discuss it now so you aren't caught off guard. What exactly do you want the final result to be? How much are you ready to discuss with a 5 yr old who asks why she's different from her brother? How about a 2 yr old who wants to shower with Daddy? Are you ok with that? Things to think about.
Chores - Let kids play and be kids right to age 18 and then tell them to grow up? Choose a set time to start teaching it? When will that time be? Age appropriate chores as deemed ready?
Gender roles - Will you encourage gender roles? dolls for girls, cars for boys.... girls in the kitchen, boys in the garage? Gender neutral everything until they 'find themselves'? Will your 2 yr old boys be allowed to have a pink doll and buggy if they ask for one? Will your little girls be invited to help change the car tire?
respect - for both people and possessions. What are your expectations for home? Home is where you let loose and it's ok to use the sofa as a launchpad? Ok to use the tv as a toy too? How about mom's make-up? Ok to climb on people? (Maybe your family is active and sports are common enough that this IS ok, or maybe someone in the family needs a more gentle approach so it won't be ok)
tv - Set time? Anytime? Only when a parent needs a breather? Anything they want or limited?
schooling - if they will go to school then is your view on discipline at school that it's the SCHOOL'S responsibility to ensure proper discipline while at school? or will you take an active part in it? (I know parents who think both ways)
These are a few of the many disciplines that begin being learned as infants. We'll spend the coming week discussing some of the HOW for these. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions!
TRAIN THEM UP IN THE WAY THEY SHOULD GO AND THEY WILL NEVER STRAY!