Meaning of the word discipline: In OED and Watkins it is said to be from discere “to learn,” from a reduplicated form of the PIE root *dek- “to take, accept.” But according to Barnhart and Klein, it is from a lost compound *discipere “to grasp intellectually, analyze thoroughly,” from dis- “apart” (see dis-) + capere “to take, take hold of,” from PIE root *kap- “to grasp.”
One phrase we do not encounter when we look at the earliest roots of discipline is “punish.” The assignment of such meaning came later.
Some common synonyms of punish are castigate, chasten, chastise, correct, and discipline. These words mean “to inflict a penalty on in requital for wrongdoing.”
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the use of discipline and punish interchangeably has become our primary cultural understanding. When someone say, “That child needs some discipline,” they’re not talking about “guiding and teaching.” Most probably, this is someone wanting a parent to “punish, correct” or “control.”
Now, with just a bit of research online, we’re invited to change that paradigm. Most importantly, we need to implement the new focus on “teaching and guiding” in our relationships with our children. If a young one does something incorrectly, we’re encourged to instruct them, check for understanding, model, and practice with them. We can provide a lot of positive reinforcement through discipline, promoting an increase in desired behaviors.
Punishment does have its place but, for maximum effectiveness in discouraging unwanted behavior, it should be a known consequence to the child, reasonable, close in time to the offense, and consistent. This does not mean getting physical with our sons and daughters. We can implement time out, which should be one minute per year of child’s age. This should be in an area with little stimuli. Parents may take away a child’s toy or activity to provide negative reinforcement. We can still approach this with a teaching attitude, instructing our child that the particular behavior is unacceptable. We don’t need to get mad or otherwise emotional; we are guiding them.
Other mothers I hung out with thought I was overboard in my practice of instructing my sons in expected behavior and regularly implementing consequences as warned. For example, my group of mom friends would take our kids to playland at a local fast food restaurant once a week, allowing us to visit while they got physical activity. One rule I had for my two boys was they needed to wear their socks. I didn’t want to lose socks every time we visited and I didn’t want their skin coming in contact with some unknown substance or bacteria. Week after week, when we drove to meet up, I’d restate that they needed to keep socks on or we’d have to leave. Some weeks we did have to leave, maybe after five minutes, maybe after 15. I sensed my peers thought I was too strict, but if I said there would be a consequence, there would be. I meant what I said and said what I meant. That, in fact, was the lesson I was teaching, more so than expectations about socks.
Contrast this with one of my friends who had a very hard-to-handle son, bullying, throwing fits, etc. At one of our informal meetings, she told me how they’d been at the mall and, when it was time to leave in order to go to the fast food joint, he pitched a huge fit, sitting on the floor and refusing to move. Caring for her infant simultaneously, she didn’t know how to get him to the car. Ultimately, she told him there was a secret candy shelf at the destination and she would let him pick one if he came with her. He did. They got in the car and, as she fastened him in his car seat, he asked, “Do I really get a candy?” She abrutly answered, “No, there’s no candy there.” My friend would also tell her three or four=year-old son that the police were coming to get him if he didn’t stop misbehaving or lashing out. Bless her heart, this was a challenging little guy to deal with and, unfortunately, it continued through his young life. I’m not in anyway saying her tactics were the cause, but seemed to be ineffective.
My children learned early on that I was loving, present, open, firm, and predictable. When they caused trouble on a Friday and received a consequence of losing lunch recess the next Monday, I called the office Monday morning and reminded them my sons were supposed to spend lunch recess in a “time-out” room. Another opportunity for consequences to be implemented was when my 12-year-old pulled down the shorts of a friend while the whole middle school student body was out front at the end of the day, waiting for buses or pick ups. He meant to “just” pull the shorts but the underwear came, too. The sleepover of a group of friends that weekend to celebrate his 13th birthday was canceled and I didn’t feel sorry for him. He chose this egregious behavior. He was suspended for three day and spent that time in his room, “following” the school schedule. Would it have been easier for me to let him hang out and play video games while I worked from home doing medical transcription? Yes, but my priority was to teach him that his behavior was unacceptable, not to avoid interruptions in my routine. My son, 22 now, lives in an apartment and that friend is his roommate! An important part of teaching, guiding, and correcting my children was being supportive of school authorities. I’ve been a teacher and I never understood parents who believed their child’s version of events without even checking with me first and remained uninterested, only fighting for the student’s “innocence.” I wanted my kids to know we were communicating and on the same page. My guys were rascals sometimes and I acknowledged that reality.
At one point, both boys were told by playground supervisors not to play with a particular friend, choosing a different part of the outdoor area, because together they were trouble. I called and asked the principal if it was okay for me to pull up to watch recess and ensure there weren’t any shenanigans. She told me no, it wouldn’t be okay for a van to pull up to the fence and watch the children playing. (duh, should’ve thought that through) but I was welcome to sign-in as a visitor at the office and go out to recess in order to monitor the behavior of my kids. This was much less convenient for me, having to park, sign in, go through the school, and hang out for 20 minutes or whatever it was then. I did it for a week. My sons knew I was in partnership with the school.
On another subject, spanking has been proven ineffective in shaping behavior. Think about when you were young. Being spanked provokes feelings of anger and an “us v. them” attitude. You’re not on a team, working together, if one party is receiving physical punishment. Hitting a child in anger also can lead to abuse, using a tool such as a belt, spanking longer and harder, or other forms of inflicting pain such as pinching, twisting, or manhandling. Best parenting practices exclude spanking as a consequence.
Indeed, effective parenting is a verb. Discipline should be thoughtfully considered and consequences, positive or negative, in place Many, many people revert to playing the parenting tape in their head from their childhood years and emulating those experiences, e.g. “My parents did that and I grew up okay.” I didn’t raise my kids perfectly but I did it intentionally. I’m proud of my sons and the choices they’re making as young adults.
***Abuse is any action that intentionally injures or harms a person and includes physical, psychological and verbal abuse. No matter the frustration level, we must never attempt to assert control by belittling or attacking.*** If you need help, talk to your doctor, clergy, counselor, etc. If you suspect someone of abuse or neglect, check online for guidance in your state for reporting; agencies and regulations vary greatly across statelines.
Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.