Sunday, February 15, 2009
The New Dare to Discipline
Methods and philosophies of discipline have been the subject of heated debate and disagreement throughout the past seventy years. Psychologists and pediatricians and university professors have all gotten into the act, telling parents how to raise their kids properly. Unfortunately, many of these “experts” have been in direct contradiction with one another, spreading more heat than light about a subject of great importance.
Perhaps that is why the pendulum has swung back and forth regularly between harsh, oppressive control and the unstructured permissiveness we saw in the mid-twentieth century. It is time we realized that both extremes leave the characteristic scars on the lives of young victims, and I would be hard pressed to say which is more damaging.
At the oppressive end of the continuum, a child suffers the humiliation of total domination. The atmosphere is icy and rigid, and he lives in constant fear. He is unable to make his own decisions, and his personality is squelched beneath the hobnailed boot of parental authority. Lasting characteristics of dependency; deep, abiding anger; an even psychosis can emerge from this persistent dominance.
Many of the writers offering their opinions on the subject of discipline in recent years have confused parents, stripping them of the ability to lead in their own homes. They have failed to acknowledge the desire of most youngsters to rule their own lives and prevail in the contest of wills that typically occurs between generations.
Much has been written about the dangers of harsh, oppressive, unloving discipline; these warnings are valid and should be heeded. Many well-meaning specialists have waved he banner of tolerance, but offered no solution for defiance. They have stressed the importance of parental understanding of the child. But we need to teach children that they have a few things to learn about their parents too!
The term “discipline” is not limited to the context of confrontation. Children also need to be taught self-discipline and responsible behavior. They need assistance in learning how to handle the challenges and obligations of living. They must learn the art of self-control. They should be equipped with the personal strength needed to meet the demands imposed on them by their school, peer group, and later adult responsibilities.
When properly applied, loving discipline works! It stimulates tender affection, made possible by mutual respect between a parent and a child. It bridges the gap which otherwise separates family members who should love and trust each other. It permits teachers to do the kind of job in classrooms for which they are commissioned. It encourages a child to respect other people and live as a responsible, constructive citizen.
As might be expected, there is a price tag on these benefits: they require courage, consistency, conviction, diligence, and enthusiastic effort. In short, one must dare to discipline in an environment of unmitigated love.
The most effective parents are those who have the skill to get behind the eyes of their child, seeing what he sees, thinking what he thinks, feeling what he feels. The art of good parenthood revolves around the interpretation of meaning behind behaviour. If parents intuitively know their child, they will be able to watch and discern what is going on in his little head. The child will tell them what he is thinking if they learn to listen carefully. Unless they can master this ability, however, they will continually fumble in the dark in search of a proper response.
The most vital objective of disciplining a child is to gain and maintain his respect. If the parents fail in this task, life becomes uncomfortable indeed.
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