Why being consistent with discipline is so hard

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As a parent, you must know this already: you have to be consistent when educating your child, otherwise the lessons won´t stick.

There are two difficult things about being consistent with discipline. First of all the word “discipline” gives the creeps to many people (to me it does). But, hey, what is discipline anyway?

Second, well, it´s simply hard to be consistent. ;)

I´ll go over these two points.

In Wikipedia, we find that “In its most general sense, discipline refers to systematic instruction given to a disciple. To discipline thus means to instruct a person to follow a particular code of conduct “order.” Usually, the phrase ‘to discipline’ carries a negative connotation. This is because enforcement of order – that is, ensuring instructions are carried out.”

“In the field of child development, discipline refers to methods of modeling character and of teaching self-control and acceptable behavior”.

Let´s keep on Wikipedia just a bit more: “Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for motivation, when one uses reason to determine a best course of action that opposes one’s desires. Self-discipline refers to the training that one gives one’s self to accomplish a certain task or to adopt a particular pattern of behavior, even though one would really rather be doing something else. Self-discipline is the assertion of willpower over more base desires, and is usually understood to be a synonym of ‘self control’.

This last bit is exactly what I would like to teach Luísa more than following a code: self control. Sure I can give some examples on how to be disciplined and accomplish tasks, but I think I´m going to have to trust my kid at some point.

You can give the example, but you can´t make a kid have self control. For that patience must be in place. Depending on what you are teaching, you might have to wait for months or years to see it being accomplished, and you have to be consistent.

I try to give examples to my girl. I set myself a few hours a week to study the guitar. Luísa can see that I won´t stop before I´m finished. I would love her to play an instrument, but I´ll just trust that she will do it with time. She will eventually choose her favorite instrument and then I can help her structure a daily routine of x-minutes (it doesn´t really need to be an instrument, it can be anything that requires practice doing annoying tasks too). I´ll encourage her to keep her practice and see the results, but she will have to find her strength to do it alone.

Now, what usually goes wrong about discipline is when parents use military discipline which might not work in certain (or should I say all?) kids. Parents are too strict about the follow-my-rules-and-my-command part, which screws everything up.

Take learning an instrument for an example again. Some parents will make their kids study it no matter how much the kid wants to quit it. These parents will do it with the benefit of playing music and learning to accomplish something in mind, but it can result in a battle for who has the stronger will. And the parents might win the battle, but what was really learnt by the kid in question?

We all use some military discipline anyway because there are some good aspects in it and because it´s in our culture. It´s about organization, having your work done, sharing tasks, respecting a leader living in a society and so on. But there is some bad stuff as well. I take authoritarianism as the main point of the downside.

And when parents use some military methods, it´s easy for them to fall on the authoritarianism side and act like being obeyed is more important than the tasks asked to be done.

Another difficulty in establishing good discipline is understanding that some tasks depend solely on one´s maturity or development to be achieved (like demanding a kid to be potty trained when he isn´t ready to go to the bathroom by himself).

We must keep in mind what we want from them and how this is connected with their needs and capacities.

When you are very consistent on discipline, you might be taking some bad actions too, not only teaching your kid how to have “self-control” and have “acceptable behavior”.

We tend to discipline others the very same way we were once disciplined. Unconsciously we might be doing some harm though, by not being aware of other better forms of discipline.

The subjectivity of this subject can be huge though. The discipline you learn and teach it based on your culture and personal reality. It would be impossible to define a discipline that would work for everybody.

Moreover, it can be greatly beneficial to search for other kinds of discipline. It can be very positive to look for different resources of knowledge and wisdom and see how they could change the way you do your things at home.

This is why I want to travel long term with my daughter soon. I want to see how another culture deals with their discipline concepts, among other things.

Now let´s talk a bit on how hard it is to be consistent. I´ll talk about me here. I teach Luísa the basics of discipline (“acceptable behavior”) like brushing her teeth. I do my job to make her fit in hygienically acceptable patterns.

But not every single time. Maybe less often then I´d like to admit. Many times I´ll let her go to bed without brushing her teeth. The reasons vary from having her sleeping in the the bike seat on the way home, to a lazy day when I think it´s ok to let pass an annoying task. So yeah, she does brush her teeth 3 times a day (most days), but still I´m not fully consistent as the word says.

I even chose to be slack on some educational matters. I use the excuse of being alone with her all the time and therefore unable to teach everything. I´m wrong, our potential as mothers and teachers goes way further than what we are aware, but maybe it´s just human to be inconsistent.

Another common thing for parents out there is to give in to some whining, spoiling behavior. Everyone falls for some degree of whining. Kids know how best to get to their parents.

It´s so easy to see how other parents fall for whining and so obvious when it´s not your own kid doing it. This is also related to genre. Usually moms will fall more often to whining than dads.

It´s also hard to find a good balance between consistency and flexibility. Sometimes I find it convenient to be flexible, like when it´s the end of a long day and the kid is too tired to learn any lesson (and I am myself too tired to teach). That would be a good time for flexibility, don´t you think?

How about you? What excuse do you use when you are being “slack” in your child´s discipline? What kind of military discipline do you apply? Have you ever caught yourself being too harsh? What are your best tips to keep a sane discipline?

I´ll finish this with a quote from the Dalai Lama: “It is worth saying over and over that ethical discipline entails more than just restraint. It also entails the cultivation of virtue.”

Photo Credit

This article was originally posted on Tripping Mom by Marilia Di Cesare on September 30, 2010. Republished with authorization. Click here for all other posts.


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