Discipline isn’t easy, because discipline done correctly leads to teaching subordinates of some sort (i.e., children) how to do things correctly or better. I don’t care for the definition that aligns discipline with training using punishment as a consequence of misbehavior. To me, discipline requires patient teaching with the end goal of the recipient of the discipline growing and learning something new. There are consequences of not following the teaching, but it’s important to be clear about these from the beginning. That way, they are the consequences of choices, not knee-jerk punishments.
Given that discipline requires patience, consistency, and love, then it follows that disciplining someone is a fairly challenging task. As parents in particular, we risk dealing with push-back from children, the pouting, the drama, the pain on both parts. Well, we generally know that the pain of discipline usually rests solely on the shoulders of the parents (“This will hurt me more than it will you.”), but children will convince us that they’re mortally wounded because we want them to play outside instead of playing video games, or we’d rather they read than watch TV.
Some other ways we discipline our children is by setting appropriate boundaries on their behavior. This has to be immediate; otherwise, they’re just not going to get it. “That doesn’t go in your mouth!” <whispered> “No, you’re not ready for Communion, yet.” “You need to hang your wet towel up, because if you don’t, the cat will pee on it.” We know that these are simple boundaries that will have lasting consequences; they lessen the risk of putting bad stuff in their mouths, they’ll wait and go through the spiritual growth necessary before taking Communion, and they’ll learn to hang their stuff up (we hope).
But, heavens, doesn’t it seem to go on forever?!?! “Don’t leave your colored pencils strewn across the living room floor.” And didn’t I just tell her that 37 minutes ago for the eleventh time today, and it’s not even lunchtime, yet? Wouldn’t you think she’d learn after doing it so many times that it’d be habit? But, no. Consistency, but then comes consequences. “Daddy, you broke my pencil when you stepped on it!” “Well, sweetie, would Daddy have been able to step on it had you picked it up and put it away when you were done?” Damn Mommy logic!
Discipline means risking the anger and tears. I have a friend who suffers a lot of unnecessary headache because he doesn’t want to deal with the anger from disciplining his daughter. He just doesn’t “want to get into it with her.” She is learning she can get by with a lot that doesn’t seem to bother her but that only irritates her dad. My eldest can dish her own anger and attempts at manipulation. Just today, she was reading something and asked, “What does ‘venerable’ mean?” I replied, “Find the dictionary and look it up.” “But it’s the first day back to school! It’d be nicer if you’d just tell me what it means.” Sure, I could’ve done that, avoided the drama, and she’d remember the definition until… Oh, right around lunchtime. If I’m lucky. I grinned and said, “No, I’m not spoon feeding that to you.” She huffed and dramatically flung herself out of the chair and strutted into the office, slamming the door behind her. Ahhh… Tween drama.
What is so hard about teaching children how to behave correctly and guiding them as they learn what it will take to grow into responsible, productive, happy adults? Oh yeah. It’s work. Hard work. Seemingly never ending work. Work with no time clock, no paycheck, and certainly no vacation or sick leave. But the results are invaluable. Just the other night, my eldest told me all the way home and through dinner and after dinner about the opportunities she has this summer to break out of her comfort zone and do something different and independent and for others. Two of these somethings cost money, but she didn’t even think to come to us to ask for the money. (OK, so she’s having to ask for the deposits.) She immediately started coming up with a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timeable) plan for earning the money. She’s driven and excited, and these events will mean even more to her, because she’s working for them. Our work is far from done, but we can and will enjoy the small reward.