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Challenge: Parenting Resolutions

When Did Discipline Become a Bad Word?

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When did it become "mean" or "bad" to enforce rules, limits, boundaries, or consequences of any kind? When did setting restrictions become synonymous with lacking empathy?

I suppose some would say I'm pretty liberal when it comes to discipline with kids in the sense that I see misbehavior not as something to squash, but as a call for help--a plea for the adults in their life to dig deeper and give them the tools they need. They don't know what they don't know, so a child's behavior is the language they speak when they need help. I suppose this is true with adults, too. However, pain or ignorance is not a free pass--personal responsibility plays a role.

When my own child or a student of mine is acting out, I do not go immediately to enforcing a consequence; rather, I look underneath with the intention to connect. 9 times out of 10, there's something bigger going on and addressing that need takes care of the behavior.

And yet, at the same time, I also understand the need for discipline.

Discipline comes from the word "disciple", which is derived from an Old English word meaning "one who follows another for the purpose of learning". Discipline between adult and child is simply an exchange of teaching and learning. Somehow we've lost sight of this and the word "discipline" has gained a negative connotation.

As I see it, the job of adults--you know, those with a fully- developed frontal lobe and oodles of life experience to draw from--is to teach those who do not yet have those things, not the other way around. The ones with the still-developing brains who aren't yet capable of fully understanding the relationship between choices & consequences are not the ones who should be making the decisions. They need US to do that. And, often, that involves the setting of limits and restrictions.

Kids need the safety of structure--the container of our rules and boundaries--in order to feel safe. Do they realize that? No. Will they know they want it? Request it? Heck, no! Do they need it? YES.

Ask my six year-old if he'd like to brush his teeth every night and he'll say "no thanks". Ask my twelve year-old student if he'd like to learn the monotonous task of computer keyboarding and he'll say "no, I'd rather play games". If it's up to them, they'll have rotten teeth and will be hunting & pecking their way through college papers. Why? Because they are not yet capable of being the decision-makers. So we must be. To use a phrase that seems to be out of fashion, it's for their own good.

I hope you'll hear this: kids need your limits--your restrictions. They need to understand that, yes, they always have a choice...but that their choices aren't free of consequences.

They'll likely be mad and you may feel uncomfortable--it stinks to be the heavy. I know this because I struggle with it myself. By nature, I'm uncomfortable with confrontation and my tendency with anything is to take the path of least resistance. So I have to really remind myself of the things I know are best and breathe through the discomfort. My comfort comes from knowing that--in the long run--I'm doing right for them.

I remind myself that discipline helped me to accomplish great things in my own life. I remind myself that, without the enforcement of discipline (I did NOT want at the time), I never would've placed within the top 10 in the nation as a dancer--I hated getting up at 5am for practice. I never would've felt the accomplishment or reaped the benefit of finishing grad school (writing papers was hard).

I remind myself that discipline & restriction, while not easy, continues to help me. When the impulsive part of my brain wants to fire back that text while driving, the restriction of the law helps prevent me from doing something that could hurt me or someone else. When I don't want to exercise or when I want to eat the whole sleeve of Girl Scout cookies, I know I must exercise that discipline if I want to live a healthy, good life.

And yet, part of that good life I live is knowing I am loved and cared for by those around me. The loved ones in my life show me empathy and care and authentic connection. They forgive me and I forgive me when I slip up or fall short.

My point is this: you can have both and it takes both--restriction AND love; discipline AND connection. One without the other, either way, eventually leads to dysfunction.

It's not about being behaviorally liberal or conservative; being PC or non-PC; a boomer or being "woke". When the world wants us to join a camp, to follow the pendulum swinging to the opposite end--just remember, it's about balance. The yin & the yang.

Somewhere between "my way or the highway" and "the path of least resistance", there's a sometimes rocky, not-always-smooth middle ground that I believe--if walked closely hand-in-hand with those we love--leads to somewhere really beautiful.


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