Self discipline is the ability to make ourselves do the right thing even when we don’t necessarily want to do it. Having self discipline is supposed to start with being disciplined as a child. When you’re a child, it’s your parents’ responsibility to force you to do things you don’t want to do. It’s your parent’s responsibility to make you eat healthy enough, to go to bed at a good time, to go to school, to practice whatever interest you have in order to get better, to have manners, to be nice to wait staff and customer service workers, and to accept responsibility for their mistakes. Then, as an adult, it’s your own responsibility. At that point, whether our parents did a good job or not, it doesn’t matter; discipline is now our own responsibility. We go from being disciplined to being self disciplined. Self discipline is simply taking over from our parents telling us what to do and doing it ourselves… and sometimes that sucks. It can feel better being angry at our parents telling us to get up or to go to bed than to push ourselves to do it because we only have ourselves to be angry at. In many ways it’s easier being disciplined, but that’s the reality. It’s pathetic if you need your parents to parent you when you’re old enough to be a parent yourself.
Claiming that disciplining your child is the first step toward them having self discipline makes sense, doesn’t it? Discipline fuels discipline. Disciplining your child leads to them being able to self regulate their own behaviors one day; it’s to help them become a good person and have integrity. As a parent you essentially want to get your voice stuck in their head: “Don’t do it!” “Say please and thank you!” “Avoid wizards and anyone who can cast spells.” What’s great about this is by getting your voice of discipline into your kids’ brains, you essentially live on because your voice continues. Of course, this same voice also should remind them that they are loved.
Looking around, it’s hard not to think our culture struggles with having enough self discipline. That suggests a lack of discipline to our children – not a shocking concept. Then there are those who struggle with having too much self discipline. Arguably a much better problem, but it can lead to burnout and anxiety problems as you put too much pressure on yourself. Oddly enough, too much self discipline can also be the result of no discipline as the person overcompensates for what they lacked. Too much self discipline can also be from too much discipline, but overall, a lack of discipline as a child is much more harmful than too much because it’s easier to ease up on self pressure than to push for more.
The biggest problem with discipline and self discipline is knowing where the healthy middle is between too little and too much. Generally speaking, healthy discipline leads to healthy self discipline. Unfortunately, disciplining a child becomes even more confusing as every child responds differently to what’s used and there isn’t a one size fits all for disciplining. For instance, I was often spanked while my brother was never even yelled at (it’s weird that the better child was spanked… yes, the better child). My brother essentially learned from me getting in trouble. He owes me.
The one thing that parents should recognize is that disciplining your children shouldn’t feel good. You shouldn’t be punishing your children in your anger because anger makes us dumb. This is especially true if we’re taking our anger from other things like work and using our kids as our emotional punching bag. There are times we need to yell at our kids, but it needs to be yelling for their best interest and not because we’re venting our emotions at them. Disciplining your child should hurt you in some way as the parent, but you need to do it because you love your child more than your own comfort. What you do to your child will be a lot nicer than what the world will do to them if you don’t teach them the lessons first.
The one thing that bothers me is parents need to be careful not to assume their child is innocent. If other people tell your child to behave, you should thank them and possibly feel a little sad that you weren’t the one to correct your own child. Most parents today are quicker to defend their child instead of recognizing that their child is causing others issues. There’s a time to defend and a time to discipline. When your kid is frustrating others that’s not a time to defend because you’re teaching them it’s okay to be a jerk.
In the wisdom book of the Bible, it says, “Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” (Pro 13:24b) Discipline is a form of love – wow. In a culture that seems to see discipline as an archaic concept, this verse means those who discourage disciplining children aren’t enlightened like they want to think; they’re idiots. I’ve heard so-called experts claim that it’s better for kids to “self discover” and not have the parents put their biases or restrictions on them because it hurts creativity. Um, if you start a job, do you want to be shown how things work or be left to self discover? “You know all the knowledge we’ve developed that we can teach you in order to help you be better prepared in an efficient way? Forget about it. We don’t want to hurt your self esteem or make you feel controlled.” It’s such a dumb thing to me. Discipline is a gift. It teaches us what’s expected and gives us direction and motivation. It makes things more efficient and effective. As it’s been asked, why reinvent the wheel?
Another verse in the wisdom book states, “A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline; a mocker refuses to listen to correction.” (Pro 13:1) A wise person actually wants discipline. They want to know how to grow and be better. Discipline shouldn’t be seen as offensive, but a way to grow. Another verse claims, “Don’t fail to discipline your children. The rod of punishment won’t kill them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.” (Pro 23:13-14) I’ll leave that one alone, but it is fun to share at parties if you want to see certain moms’ heads explode.
So why would this so-called wisdom book be so big on discipline? Let’s consider some reasons:
- It can toughen the child emotionally. For instance, having seen a parent’s anger, other people having it won’t be as scary, but accepted as a repercussion of bad choices and/or the person lacking self control.
- Discipline teaches children socially acceptable behavior and helps them be less annoying to others, which can help them do better at work and have more friends.
- Discipline teaches there are repercussions for our decisions.
- Discipline helps children know their parents are in charge, which helps reduce their own anxiety as they know their parents are in control and will protect them.
- Discipline teaches children to respect their parents, and respecting parents helps children respect other authority figures, which helps society function in a healthier way.
- Discipline reminds parents that they need to be in control and not let their kids rule the house.
- The more you invest, the more attachment grows, which means the more you discipline your child, the more attached you can become and the prouder you can be of their accomplishments because you were involved (in a healthy way).
Bonus: How Do You Discipline a Difficult Teen?
What do you do when your child doesn’t see you as an authority? Here’s my rule: You’re either part of the family or a renter. I’m a firm believer that if you live under your parents’ roof, you live under their rules. If you hate the rules, you have motivation to work hard and leave. If you can’t afford to leave, be grateful you have a place to live and work with what you’re given. Are you thinking I’m old school? You got it. Old school helped raise me and my friends, and we are all functional adults contributing to society, so it did its job. There might be a few bruises along the way, but that’s life: Learn and be better to avoid the bruise causer next time.
Based on my belief that you’re either be part of the family or a renter, I have come up with the ultimate tool for dealing with difficult young people: You can follow the rules and do chores or you can start paying rent and be treated as a renter. Of course, even as a renter there are still rules to follow; you just have fewer rules. At the same time, you also have fewer benefits, so when the family goes out for ice cream, a renter doesn’t get to go and/or they have to pay their own way.
So how does this work? You provide two clear options to the child. Here is what it means to be part of the family with clear benefits and rules and here is what being a renter looks like with the clear benefits and rules (and drawbacks). You then have the child pick. This means they need a clear understanding that if they choose to be part of the family they need to follow the rules or they will be forced to be a renter. If they choose to be a renter, they need to know that means they can be kicked out if they don’t follow the rules – that’s how renting works. Of course, being a renter means they’ll need a job to pay their rent. Now, let’s say the child chooses to be a family member, but they refuse to do as their told or don’t bother doing their chores. Great. Charge them a fee. If they act like a renter, treat them like one. If they don’t have a job, take the fee out of their family experiences. They don’t participate in a family event? They lose out on pizza the next family pizza night. They don’t do their weekly chores? Take $5 off their birthday gift. You can make a deal where they do a chore or something to make up for their error, but there needs to be a serious repercussion. The bottom line is you have to be ready to out stubborn the child. That’s the key to a good parent: You have to know when to out stubborn your child and when to adjust.
This week may you consider what proper discipline and self discipline look like.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)