Discipline has a negative side as it relates to
rules, boundaries, and to the life-circle. Somewhat simplistically, this has to
do with making your children mind and assuring they avoid unnecessary risks.
Discipline also has a positive side. It encourages your children to participate
in those activities and experiences that are good for them, even though this
Sometimes means insisting.
Here are the most important principles
underlying effective discipline.
Your discipline should be reasonable,
fair, and effective.
Encouraging your children is a good example of
reasonableness. You may encourage your child to try harder. If, however, you do
this after it has become obvious he really cannot conform or perform, your
encouragement is excessive. Encouragement implies expectation. To
over-encourage is to expect too much. Alternatively, if your encouragement is
insufficient to get your child to try a little harder when he really does have
the ability, your response is inadequate.
Reasonable discipline is in proportion to your
child’s age and abilities and is directly related to the action or behavior at
issue. For example, responding to your child who carelessly puts a muddy hand
on the window is different from responding to your child who intentionally
fingerpaints all over the living room wall without permission. Dealing with a
three-year-old who leaves his toys in the family room is different from dealing
with a sixteen-year-old who drives too fast or recklessly.
Your discipline should be reasonable and related to both your child and his
Your discipline should be fair. This point is
all too obvious but is also very important. For example, children in a family
or group aught to have a sense discipline applies to them in the same way it
applies to other children. When your children complain about unfairness, listen
to what they are saying. They are often right.
Your children may complain about having to do
things today they did not have to do yesterday. They may question not getting
to do things they previously got to do. Fairness means having rules,
boundaries, and expectations that are reasonably consistent and predictable.
Also, fairness means your discipline should not
be arbitrary or capricious. For example, it is really quite unfair if your
child is first told he can stay up to watch a TV program and then is made to go
to bed fifteen minutes before it is over, when his behavior was satisfactory.
This is a fairly simple issue. Things are not always fair and people do not
always behave fairly. Your children have to learn about and live with this fact
of life. Even so, they have a right to expect you to discipline them fairly and
Your discipline should be evaluated in terms of
its effectiveness. Has your negative discipline decreased or prevented whatever
you do not want your child to do? Has your positive discipline encouraged and
increased desired behavior? If it has and if it also has been reasonable and
fair, then your effort represents appropriate discipline. If your discipline
has not achieved the desired outcomes or if it has not been reasonable and
fair, your discipline has been inappropriate.
Appropriateness is a principle governing all
aspects of being a parent, including discipline. When considering how to best
discipline your child, first consider not disciplining at all. Parents
frequently say, “I have tried everything and nothing seems to work.”
If “everything” has been tried, the child must indeed be confused. It
is more likely, however, “doing nothing” has not been tried.
This is one of the most difficult issues with
which parents have to deal. They want to respond but they know their child
needs to be allowed to fail, to get hurt, to work out the problems. Just
because your child broke a rule, did not meet your expectations, got into
trouble, or had difficulty does not automatically mean discipline is
appropriate. Perhaps nothing should be done. Similarly, just because your child
is making an effort does not necessarily mean praise is appropriate. Sometimes,
just stay out of your children’s experiences. If you do decide positive or
negative discipline is appropriate, then whatever you do should be reasonable,
fair, and effective.