A Child’s View of Discipline

There’s a lot of talk these days about meeting children’s needs. And rightly so. We know that not meeting children’s needs – whether emotional, physical, or cognitive – can have a devastating impact on development.

But when I talk with young parents, I often hear confusion about the subject. It seems in their eagerness to provide adequate nurturing, they’re forgetting that children still need discipline. 

Some of the confusion may be due to how they were raised. Perhaps their own mothers and fathers were overly strict, or weren’t present in their lives. Now they feel the need to carry permissiveness to the extreme.

But being nurturing isn’t the same as being permissive. First of all, please understand that during infancy a child’s wants and needs are one and the same. An infant that wants to be held, rocked, changed, fed, etc., also needs those very same things. In fact he must have them.

But as they get older, around the age of two, children’s wants and needs begin to separate. The individual “will” becomes stronger. You’ve heard of the terrible twos?

The child may cry for things he sees in the store, resist his parents’ efforts to bring him in from play, or insist on having ice cream before dinner.  

A parent may think, “If I’m a nurturing mother (or father) shouldn’t I give her what she wants? If for no other reason, only to keep the peace? After all, we got up and fed her and rocked her in the middle of the night when she was an an infant.”

Here’s where the misunderstanding arises. Being a nurturing parent is not inconsistent with providing loving discipline. If fact, not providing discipline actually keeps the child an infant much longer, and incapable building tolerance for healthy stress. Enabling a child by giving in to every whim, or doing for him what he can do for himself, can be terribly crippling. And then when parents and teachers require something that is the least bit difficult or taxing, he or she will not be willing or able to do it. No wonder parents are exhausted!  

To be capable of dealing with the healthy stresses that occur in daily life, children require discipline. It can’t all be a bed of roses. Or they won’t ever learn to delay gratification, pick up their toys, dress themselves, or cooperate with any simple directive – either for their own good or the good of the family.

Here are two scenarios that depict positive discipline – words and actions that make a child feel secure.

Three year-old Emma yawns. It’s seven o’clock p.m.

Emma: I want some more cake, Daddy.

Dad: That cake sure is yummy, but I’m positive it will still be there tomorrow.  Now it’s pajama time! Then we’ll read a story. Let’s go pick one out.

Emma: (She’s already forgotten about the cake.)

Dad: (Takes Emma by the hand and guides her to the bookshelf.)

End of discussion. Dad gives Emma what she needs, not necessarily what she wants.

Here’s a scenario with a mother and her five-year-old son:

Mom: Time to wash up for supper, Jonathan.

Jonathan (playing video game): Just five more minutes! I have to reach my goal.

Mom: I already gave you a warning. (She puts down her potholder, goes to Jonathan, removes the remote from his hand, and takes him to the bathroom.)

End of discussion. Mom is consistent. She follows up on what she said she would do.

Quite a few years ago a university professor provided me with this collection of insights on discipline from a child’s point of view. I think the list pretty much says it all.

1. Don’t spoil me. I know quite well that I ought not have all I ask for. I’m only testing you.

2. Don’t be afraid to be firm with me. It makes me feel more secure and I prefer it.

3. Don’t let me form bad habits. I have to rely on you to detect them in the early stages.

4. Don’t make me feel smaller than I am. It only make me behave stupidly “big.”

5. Don’t correct me in front of others if you can help it. I’ll take much more notice if you talk quietly with me in private.

6. Don’t make me feel that my mistakes are sins. It upsets my sense of values.

7. Don’t protect me from consequences. I need to learn the painful way sometimes.

8. Don’t be too upset when I say I hate you. It isn’t you I hate, but your power to thwart me.

9. Don’t take too much notice of my small ailments. Sometimes they get me the attention I need.

10. Don’t nag me. If you do, I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.

11. Don’t make rash promises. Remember that I feel badly let down when promises are broken.

12. Don’t forget that I have trouble explaining myself as well as I would like to. That’s why I’m not always very accurate.

13. Don’t tax my honesty too much. I am easily frightened into telling lies.

14. Don’t be inconsistent. That completely confuses me and makes me lose faith in you.

15. Don’t put me off when I ask questions. If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere.

16. Don’t tell me my fears are silly. They are terribly real to me. You can do much to reassure me if you try to understand.

17. Don’t ever suggest that you are perfect and infallible. It gives me too great a shock when I discover that you are neither.

18. Don’t ever think that it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me. An honest apology make me feel surprisingly warm toward you.

Don’t be afraid of your child, or that he or she won’t love you if you discipline them. Just the opposite is true. Thanks for reading Family Field Guide. Now go hug up your kids! FFG



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