011 – Chapter 1, Part 7

Toward More Effective Discipline

To reach the goal of teaching children to take more complete responsibility for their own behavior, we must understand how responsibility is learned. Discipline is central to this process. Therefore it is essential that we start with a clear understanding of what discipline is and what it is not.

Throughout this book, discipline is understood to be the process through which children learn to take responsibility for their own behavior.

The emphasis here is not on what we do to children but rather on what happens inside them, so that they control and manage their own behavior.

Building on this conceptualization, we will establish a constructive and effective approach to discipline which:

  • Respects the specific needs, attributes, and developmental levels of children;
  • Accepts that it takes time and patience for children to learn what is appropriate and to comply with adult expectations;
  • Acknowledges that adults are the ones to guide children to age-appropriate levels of responsibility for their own behavior; and
  • Recognizes that teaching children that responsible behavior leads to beneficial consequences prepares them to function as effective members of society.

This approach lays a solid foundation for children to learn how the society actually works:

  • People who are productive can expect benefit from their efforts: You do your part, and you get a payoff;
  • People who cooperate with or help others are likely to receive thanks and praise: You take the needs of others seriously, and you get noticed and appreciated; and
  • Generally no one gets paid in anticipation that they may someday do something productive: You don’t benefit from making promises; you perform first and then benefit.

Whenever you see a boy whining incessantly for a toy in a store, you can be almost certain that he has gotten what he wanted by whining in the past. Children, just as is true for adults, strive to meet their own needs in whatever ways they can, doing what they sense will work. We must show them they can best meet their needs by doing what we consider appropriate so that they no longer have reason to misbehave.

Teaching responsible behavior requires the patience necessary to provide the time, effort, and focus central to true learning. Teaching discipline requires that we maintain discipline for ourselves, both with respect to understanding what we must do and with respect to doing it consistently. Be assured, however, that the approach presented in How to Raise Disciplined and Happy Children does not demand perfection! It is based on realistic responses from typical people working with typical children.

Over many years this approach has assisted many parents in guiding their children. No one did things perfectly. Those who succeeded did so by working day by day to be more effective, finding ways to succeed when progress bogged down and recovering from any slips into less constructive reactions. Just as we must forgive ourselves for our human inconsistencies, we must be prepared to understand and to forgive our children for theirs. Successful parents expect the same thing from themselves and from their children: do better tomorrow when things don’t go perfectly today.


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