Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where are you going?

Apparently we're trying a new font today.  I have no idea why--my mac just decided it likes it, so we'll roll.

When I was a kid, nobody used the word "discipline".  You were either doing the right thing, which you were supposed to do, or you weren't, and you got punished.  At least that's the way it always worked in my house.  I don't remember ever being rewarded for good behavior but I do remember being punished for poor behavior.  Life as I knew it was pretty cut and dried in that respect.

As I've worked in the early childhood field I've seen a lot of different discipline ideas fall in and out of favor over time.  The term discipline actually means "to teach", and that's exactly what discipline should be doing--teaching children (and adults!) appropriate limits and behaviors.  Nowhere in that definition do we talk about punishment, rewards, consequences, or strategies.  Teaching is about learning and understanding.  The definition, then, is very broad and doesn't do a very thorough job of defining our end product or the specific means to employ to get there.  You can look at that in one of two ways--either it's a benefit, because it leaves lots of room for interpretation, or it's a drawback, because it leaves lots of room for interpretation.  :-)  Like most things, it's all in the hands of the user.

I think the first thing, as a parent or a teacher, that is critically important when you're thinking about discipline is to define what you want your end product to be.  I know that sounds very...well, sterile...but it's important to know what you think kids should be doing.  What are your goals for your child, both long- and short-term?  What are you hoping your child will turn out to be like?  That's where you're going.  Consider your values and what you think will benefit your child in the long run.  

As a teacher, one of the most important times of the year is the first few weeks of school.  This is when you're setting your rules and expectations for children so that they understand how the rest of the year will go.  Teachers who do this successfully will have fewer discipline issues for the rest of the year in general than teachers who don't.  But in order to do that, you need to know what your expectations are and if your expectations are appropriate.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that discipline starts at a specific age or time, with a random start and stop point.  Discipline actually begins as soon as your relationship with a child begins.  If you're a teacher, it's the first time you meet that child; as a parent, it's the day you give birth.  When you respond to a baby's needs, you're teaching him to trust.  That's discipline.  When you greet a new student warmly, you're teaching her respect.  That's discipline too.  All of your interactions that teach children, either directly or indirectly, are linked to discipline.

I wrote once before about the importance of rapport with children both in and out of the classroom; rapport, in my opinion, is a basic building block of discipline.  If you can't relate to someone or s/he can't relate to you, you're going to have a very poor teaching and learning relationship.  Since discipline is about teaching and learning, it's critical that positive rapport is established through stable, consistent responses and boundary setting.

The main difference that I see between parenting in the seventies, when I was a kid, and now, is a push toward helping parents and teachers treat children more respectfully.  We've moved away from a "seen and not heard" mentality to more mutual respect. This idea, in and of itself, is terrific.  Unfortunately, a lot of people don't know how to execute and have misinterpreted "mutual respect" to mean "level playing field."  If you ever tune in to shows like "Supernanny" or "Nanny 911" or even "It's Me or the Dog" (if you're a big pet lover), you see this in action over and over.  Overall, many adults just lack the knowledge and skills needed to understand and execute proper discipline.  Think of it this way:  can you really have a group of children learning anything in school if there's no teacher?  Children know there needs to be somebody in charge.  If the adults in their lives aren't going to step up and do it, by golly, I guarantee there's at least one kid in every group who will!  

Defining what a disciplined person looks like to you is a starting point for developing a strong relationship with your child(ren) and figuring out what your a big part of your role as a parent will be.  My hopes as a mom are for my children to be respectful of themselves and others, and responsible--for themselves, for their environment, and in a myriad of other ways.  Figuring out how that looks at different ages can be tricky, but I know where I'm going, and the rest is a map I'm creating as we move along.

Tomorrow--the much-loved and touted positive discipline approach.  Thanks for reading, click the links, share with your friends!

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