The value of discipline today
Are you kidding me? Are we still talking about rules and the value of discipline?!” If the topic makes you snort and you’re about to click elsewhere, wait a second! Think about the last time someone blocked your car in the parking lot to avoid walking 10 meters more. Or when your child didn’t want to do his homework, and you justified him in front of the teacher. Then, however, when he once again refused to put his dirty socks in the laundry bin instead of leaving them around the house, you couldn’t take it anymore and you yelled at him.. The problem today is that there are no more rules! Kids don’t have any boundaries! Ever heard those sentences? No panic. But if you dream of a bright and satisfying future for your children, then it is worth looking at the value of discipline a little more closely.
Photos of: Neonbrand
When does the need for discipline arise?
Let’s start from the beginning. Do you know when, about around 8-10 months and up, your baby starts crawling around, proudly exploring his world? At some point, he turns to you, and he looks at you with an inquisitor eye.
Not by chance. It’s called social referencing. Your child is implicitly asking you: What should I do now ?
Will he find a terrified face, a semi-threatening look, or a great, encouraging smile?
Come on, we do it automatically! Remember what we saw about the baby’s brain? Since such a young age, if their brains depict a smile on us, some chemical reactions take place, releasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which makes us feel so good. The repetition of this connection between action and positive reaction reinforces it – that is: if I try to put on my feet, my mom looks ecstatic and I feel like a hero, so let’s do it again! The brain will try to reproduce the same situation to have the same positive answer.
This process applies to any learning. Children have no idea how they should behave in the various situations and places they encounter, and they look at us to figure out how to do it.
Because in the world there are different social and geographic situations, which require very diverse adaptations, we are born with a brain that still largely needs to develop : it grows on the basis of the social and relational experiences that it faces.
A yes or a no it’s no more than very important guidelines to know where and how to move, and they offer an extreme sense of safety.
Just this once
Now, let’s imagine the same baby for one year later. After a full day at the office, you come home dead-tired . You feel guilty, because your child was in day care all day. You want to hold him tight and play with him.
After a few minutes of sitting down to read a story, he doesn’t listen to you anymore, he goes around and starts to get agitated.
You find him in the kitchen, with his hands and mouth dirty with chocolate, that he found who knows where and how.
But it’s almost dinner time! No! You would like me to return the loot: not only did not ask you anything, but eat sweets and sugar before dinner..
And of course, desperate tears burst. Because he finally knows what he wants; he had to control himself all day at the nursery. And now that you’re there, he can let go of all the tensions.. That chocolate becomes a matter of life or death.
What shall you do? You just want to spend a nice, quiet evening together. You’ve been discussing all day with your colleagues. It’s just a chocolate, it has never hurt anyone.. Come on, all right, just this once.
What do you mean, my kid needs discipline?
Let’s think about it for a moment. In this interconnected world of diametrically opposed needs and desires, we need rules to live together. It would be very difficult to see our rights respected if there were no rules! Don’t forget that behind a no, there’s a yes to something else.
We also need discipline for ourselves, when we want to achieve a goal and we self-impose ourselves to follow certain steps to achieve it. Hard to learn to play an instrument if we never play it, in short. Or win a football game if we never train.
Has it ever happened to you to find yourself in a new situation and put your foot in it because you didn’t know the conventions of the group? But why didn’t they tell me?!
I happened to be invited to dinner a couple of times by people of different culture and nationalities. Should we bring something? Can you go help in the kitchen or do you let yourself be serves? Are there any taboo topics? Guys, but wouldn’t it be easier if we just knew these details before doing something embarrassing?
For our children it’s like being invited to dinner on the other side of the world all the time: they don’t have a clue of how to behave until we tell them.
We shouldn’t always see the rules as something bad, because they are guidelines that give us infinite security. And also freedom : You can move as you want within a certain boundary.
When the value of discipline rhymes with the value of respect
I spent months before realizing that my daughter at school could get dressed completely by herself, while at home she looked like a fatigued rag doll and “I had” to dress her.. “I had to” because I wanted to have it done quickly; because I didn’t want to start the day with tears; And also because it was my way to pamper her, to tell her that I love her and I take care of her..
So unconsciously I chose but felt compelled, and was complaining about it.. How is it possible that at 5 years old you are not yet able to dress by yourself? Which, by the way, is not even a nice message for her young self-esteem.. I did not realize that I was actually saying: “I don’t think you can do it, so I do it for you.”
The day went on. “Today we can’t stop at the playground”,I would say while the children were already at the top of the slide. Ok I’m going! I didn’t even believe it myself.
“You can only look at one cartoon! And when I call you for dinner, no stories or I won’t let you watch them anymore . “Please, Mom, there is one more episode please !” And 3 episodes later, like every day, yet another desperate cry because they’d have to turn off the T.V. to come and eat.. The pasta I had prepared on purpose, knowing that they would not even want to taste the vegetable meatloaf.
How could it amaze me that my daughter treated me so badly? If a 5-year-old already spoke to me as a teenager in hormonal crisis? Her nerve was telling me between the lines: “Mamma, I don’t know what I have to do, I’m scared, you tell me! How can I feel safe if your words are empty? What you say never happens. What certainties are you giving me? But I’ll try again to challenge you, and I’ll find your limits sooner or later”.
The reason why you’re struggling to believe that there’s a value of discipline
That would be nice, huh?, if our little angel would say, “You know, mom, when you told me I couldn’t eat more chocolate I was just angry; But thank goodness you prevented me, otherwise you know that tummy ache! You know those future eating disorders! I’m really lucky to have a mom like you who imposes rules on me, I really need discipline!”
Maybe she’ll tell you in about twenty years. Maybe. In the meantime, she’ll make you feel guilty. She’ll look at you with the eyes of Shrek’s cat. Else, she’ll find the most appropriate cry to get straight to your heart of loving parent. Surely enough, she’ll figure out where to hit.
The needs of children have not changed. We, parents have, in a good and bad way. I remember when I was a child, only a few of my school mates’ moms worked. Today we want and need to feel accomplished also outside the domestic walls, and in more areas, not just professionally; and this is a great opportunity for happiness and balance.
Only, it is tiring to enforce the rules, especially in that little time that we have available; which our minds idealized as “little but quality time”. Smiles, cuddles and play, before eating and going to bed, so as to leave some time to the couple as well.
For me, it was much easier to play the good mom, rather than risking the dreaded conflict (I hate conflicts in general..)
Your kid needs discipline, you know why? He wants to know that you love him
Then, slowly, I realized that instead of investing in my children’s future, I was wasting an opportunity to teach them some basic skills.
When I finally refused to put my son his shoes on, at first he couldn’t do it alone. He would fail, and get angry.
But what a smile when he finally did it! By telling him that “NO, I won’t put your shoes, you can do it”; by accepting those first cries, I allowed him to face a failure, and the later satisfaction of trying again and succeed.
Respecting the rules means being patient, understanding other people’s rules, setting goals; It also means trying to break them, make mistakes, and experience the consequences.
Of course it’s not easy! But that’s an exercise too.
Think of all the neural connections that are forming in your child’s head. Every time he falls off the tricycle because he hasn’t slowed down in time, he gets hurt and cries. With each fall, however, the brain learns to better control the movements. Better to learn it on the tricycle than on the motorbike!
Growing up, the limits will expand. And your kids will always try to see how far they can go.
Your no, after all, is a (painful) reassurance : My parents are here to check that I don’t go beyond my possibilities. I know that as long as they don’t intervene, I’m safe. But if these boundaries are not set.. Who’s keeping an eye on me?
After I’d re-tighten the rules, once my daughter could ease her anger, she was totally another girl. Much more serene. I should have put the limit before it went so far as to unleash a crisis; Wanting to be loving, I obtained the opposite effect.
How can you give and reinforce rules: practical advice to respond to the need for discipline
On the paper, it’s (almost) easy.. But then, there isn’t a single strategy that always works. The relationship between you and your child is unique, and your reactions are unique.
But there are some guidelines that can help you!
Age counts. It may be obvious, but we often forget that children’s abilities evolve with their age.
Fewer is better. Especially as long as they are young, it’s better to reinforce a few rules at a time. It will be easier for your children to remember them, and for you to strive to enforce them.
You do what you say Personal experience here. Consistency is key. If you present a rule and the consequence of its infraction, then keep your word for it. All the time. To gain value, your words must be true. So think carefully before you talk! Build a plan 🙂
The rules apply to everyone. When I told my children they could eat only in the kitchen and then I went around the house with bread-sticks in my mouth, I wasn’t very credible..
Tell me first! We read the rules of the game before the game starts. And if we don’t play, for a while, we need to refresh them.. This also applies to the discipline to be held in various situations. Before taking the bus, or going to the library, and so on, we explain what’s a good and a bad behavior. Always think of those little neurons running around 🙂 If the connection is not repeated, you lose it!
Positivism wins. Instead of using denial, explain what can be done. And when the children behave well, let them know! Celebrate them, and they will know that they have your attention not only when they misbehave.
Life is a game. Play to teach the rules!
What can a small concession make?
Only common sense and your experience can tell you how to find a balanced flexibility.. Otherwise it would be too easy! I’m still trying 😉
But it is worth it. Think about the satisfaction of knowing how far you can get, after trying and trying again.
To the security you gain when you know exactly how to behave.
How good it feels when you really come into a close relationship with a person, because you could understand how he/she felt.
To the increase of your self-esteem when after various failures, you don’t give up, but you try again and make it!
At all times you can keep a commitment to yourself, and crush your goal.
Respect for the rules teaches all this to your child, who will be an adult tomorrow.
I’m not telling you you should let your kiddo cry alone in a corner. You can lower yourself, look her in the eye, and help her understand what happens. I see you’re angry because I didn’t give you chocolate. It makes you angry when you don’t get immediately what you want.
I don’t even think that it is possible to remain calm and master the situation at all times. Needless to aim at perfection. But even when we lose our temper and patience fails us, we can say it out loud, “I got angry because you didn’t respect the rule.”
At least that will teach us something about our emotions.
Do you want your child to be happy today or tomorrow?
I know you love your kid desperately. I understand it : When you see her despair, it hurts; You feel challenged.
For this reason, if a teacher gives you a negative feedback about her behavior, your first instinct is to defend your offspring and throw you against the school. For the same reason, your first instinct is to give in. All right, but only this time… Restoring the harmony.
But since you love this creature of yours, think of the future you want for her. Not for you, for your recognition, or your happiness. For her.
Unless she goes living on a deserted island, she will need to learn to recognize other people’s needs. To wait. Negotiate with others. To make concessions, to be within the group.
She will need to know what her skills are, the consequences of her actions and how to remedy when she makes mistakes (because she will, like everyone else)!
Better to make mistakes when the consequences are small; and accumulate tons of small successes that will sustain her when facing failure : “I made it yesterday, I can do it today” (think of all those reinforced brain connections!!)
Loving does not always mean getting along.
To Love means (also) to respect one’s own limits and those of others.
Your child needs discipline, of your so difficult NO.
So she will learn to respect you, to know that she can count on you. She doesn’t need your perfection… But a guide to be able to walk alone.
Useful Resources and references
I share with you some articles that I have taken as a reference, and useful readings as always! Links to Amazon are affiliate links.
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A concise and clear list of 5 reasons why rules are important for kids
This is your ultimate guide for rules setting, with a real-life example and summary tables of the key sentences to use. Brilliant.
The vision of the value of discipline as seen by a discouraged teacher who still loves children and her work.
And finally, , a point about family rules : how to involve your kids in the rule-setting process (I need to test this!).
'How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk' Even though I haven’t yet read it, this is like the best-selling, ultimate guide for parenting. Definitely in my wish-list!
If your child is like mine, then this can be of help : Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child; or Parenting the Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven Five-Week Program for Parents of Two- to Six-Year-Olds. I just finished reading this last one, and I’ve found it very practical and rich of great advice. It’s really helping me understand a few wrong patterns in my behavior with my daughter.
'Parent Effectiveness Training' is a long-time studied formula, devised by Dr. Thomas Gordon more than 30 years ago and recently updated. I haven’t personally read it, but heard so many good things about it!