Kids Don’t Need Discipline, German Shepherds Do!
Feb 01, 2017
How many times have you heard people say “That kid just needs some discipline?”
When I hear a parent say this, I usually respond by saying “Kids don’t need discipline, German Shepherds do!
So what do kids need?
Kids need love, support and a feeling of safety. They need guidance. They need to know that their parents are always there for them so that when they make mistakes and fail, they can be comforted, supported and empowered.
Let’s first look at the dictionary definition of the word “discipline.” Mirriam Webster defines it as:
‘Control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior.’
Children also need to learn what works and what doesn’t; what may have a harmful consequence or a beneficial consequence. It is our job as parents to teach this to them in a loving and supportive environment.
Discipline usually involves scolding, punishment or lecturing — all of which leave children feeling powerless. Powerlessness is the most common cause of all human anger.
Let me give you an example. Jamie’s mom brought him to me when he was 12 years old. He just wouldn’t sit still in class. He was fidgeting, day-dreaming and not paying attention. When I asked him about this, he replied “Learning is boring.”
So where did this belief come from? He went on to tell me that when he was young, his father lectured him all the time. One day he just tuned out, and when he came back to the present moment, his father was still talking. Following this, tuning out became what he did in learning situations.
Another client, Tom, who was 15, was getting into trouble a lot. He was getting into fights at school, was becoming a bully and getting increasingly rebellious. When he was little, his mom would always say “Young man, you’re going to do as we say or get a spanking.” There were also lots of rules in his home. He concluded “I’m powerless” and “When I grow up, no one is going to tell me what to do.”
As mentioned above, anger is almost always the result of powerlessness. If you could do something about the issue at hand, you just would. You only get angry because you feel you have no other option. Children who feel powerless may become rebellious to prove that they have power, but they also can become overly compliant, which in some ways may be worse. Having an overly compliant child puts them at risk of doing things because others tell them to, not because it’s a positive thing for them to do.
Children need to be able to express themselves. It is useful to teach them how best to communicate with you and others. “I” messages are just respectfully telling you what they feel. “You” messages are character assassinations, and should be handled with care. For instance, it is not ok to say “You are an idiot and I hate you,” but saying “I hate it when you yell at me, or won’t let me do what I want” sends a completely different message and is okay. Feelings are temporary and will pass. Acknowledging them like this allows them to disappear.
Drs. John S. Dacey, Ph.D, and Alex J. Packer, Ph.D, conducted a fascinating study in which they interviewed highly innovative children who had manifested their creativity in the world. One child they featured had written an opera and another had started their own business. This study resulted in a book called The Nurturing Parent: How to Raise Creative, Loving, Responsible Children, where they shared their findings.
All of these highly creative children grew up in homes where there were very few rules. Rather, children were treated with dignity and respect and were allowed to participate in decisions that impacted their lives. These children were not disciplined by their parents, nor were they allowed to run free. The difference was the paradigm from which their parents came from. These children had an inner discipline which emerged from being allowed to express themselves and follow their dreams.
What I’ve learned from many young clients over the years is that, when you treat children with dignity and respect, they will respond in kind. I am not saying that children should never experience consequences for their actions. Consequences should evolve naturally and should never be given in anger. For example:
“If you don’t take care of my things, I won’t lend them to you anymore.”
Punishment is making someone suffer for what they did, such as:
“You didn’t do what I wanted you to do and now you can’t watch TV.”
If you teach children about consequences, they will learn to think a step ahead before they do things. For instance, if you hit your friend, they might not want to play with you anymore, or they might hit you back. Whereas if you punish them their goal will switch to not getting caught, but they won’t learn not to carry out the negative action.
I believe in the distinction that you are your child’s guardian angel rather than their boss. Remembering this can engender cooperation without the need for discipline. Learning good communication skills helps as well. Sentences like “I feel frustrated when you …” and “What I would like is” or engaging them in finding a solution teaches children that they are valuable and valued. It teaches them that they have an opinion that matters and provides them with the ability to problem solve, learn and grow.
So, if you enjoy disciplining, get a German Shepherd. If empowering is what you want to do, get a child!