Most parents equate "discipline" with punishment, as do many teachers and schools. "You will be disciplined" has all the earmarks of a threat and so it is understood by children and teens. Yet, the word has emanated from "disciples", and its proper definition is: the ability to focus our efforts on achieving an end. Originally, to discipline actually meant: To instruct a disciple or, nowadays, to teach children and teens. In other words, every teacher in public and private schools uses discipline every day with every student, whether they know it or not.
Social Discipline What's wrong with focusing our efforts in order to achieve a goal? Nothing, of course, unless the goal is antisocial and harms society. Ask any sergeant in the military whether the company can function without discipline and he will think that you have slipped a cog. In that case, instilling discipline has the ultimate purpose of saving lives besides achieving a precise goal, as my old First Sergeant used to tell me every day. However, in every day's life, talking of discipline raises hackles in most people's minds; they imagine whip wielding tormentors on their screaming victims. Parents misunderstand the need for discipline in many cases, as does society in general, resulting in a steady erosion of social and ethical values in our modern world.
Violence Is Not Discipline When I was in high school in Switzerland, I was once beaten by the priest who came weekly to talk about Jesus and misericord. That was his way of imposing discipline to unruly teens and yet I associated the beating with religion and the Catholic Church ever since.
Recently a judge was heavily criticized for allowing a teen to be paddled as punishment for his misbehavior. My father did not hesitate to use the heaviest belt to tan my hide "to teach me how to behave." All these instances are examples of "discipline" with a capital D. In other words, discipline means violence - whether physical or oral - to a lot of people, including children and teens who suffer the consequences. As we have learned at the top of the page, violence has nothing to do with using discipline and it's time we returned to the type of discipline that promotes learning and facilitates the achievement of worthy goals.
Essential Needs Abraham Maslow, the famed American psychologist, established the pyramid of essential needs:
Self-Esteem and Respect
Love and Belonging Physical
Body Needs (Food, health, etc.)
He clearly established that every level had to be satisfied before moving to the next one going from bottom to the top. In other words, what do I care about love if what I lack is food and water? Why worry about self-esteem if my personal safety is at risk? And it is my contention that most of the children engaged in destructive or defiant behavior are lacking one or more of the lower levels.
Allow me to explain: Once a child has satisfied his/her physical needs, food and safety, he or she must receive the love and appreciation they require if they are to develop the self-esteem and the confidence they will use later in life to become well-adjusted adults. That basic and unconditional love must come from the home, from the parents and above all from the mother.
Nobody else can provide that all-important factor in the first 4 years of life. If that is missing, there is still some hope if the children are able to receive substitute love through foster homes and/or counseling. The school can never replace the parents in that particular area, although it can do a lot to limit the damage once a proper diagnosis has been reached.
Back To The Original Meaning Discipline therefore must be applied in its original sense: The focusing of our efforts to reach a certain goal. A child can learn very early that disobedience and destructive behavior can only lead to personal danger and not to the achievement of desirable goals. In that sense, parents must be trained on how to communicate discipline together with love and respect, without stifling the natural curiosity and creativity present in all children.