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What role does discipline play in parenting?

Tiernan McKay is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. Her writing has appeared in magazines such as Alive!, Occupational Health and Safety, Restaurants and Institutions, Tampa Bay and Arizona Woman. Right now, she is either ridi...

The discipline debate

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines discipline as a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity. Discipline is a concept that both kids and parents grapple with on a daily basis. Although the expectation of discipline seems to change with each generation, parents still find themselves asking, “What role should discipline play in my household?”

mom disciplining her daughther

Elizabeth Berger, M.D., is a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character. Her unique perspective on this issue gives all parents something to think about when it comes to disciplining their children.

Discipline

According to Dr. Berger, discipline "allows children to function in an impersonal environment with impersonal rules and demands, such as glee club or math class." In these environments, the expectations and order created by a strict leader helps children feel secure, allowing them to excel. "Discipline is always impersonal," she continues. "The minute the administrator gets involved with someone on an intimate level, discipline falls apart because there is emotion involved."

Self-Discipline

On the other hand, self-discipline is created when kids are taught to control their own behavior in the presence of a deeply intimate love relationship -- the relationship between a parent and a child. "Self-discipline allows parents to help their children grow up to be responsible, caring, hard-working adults," says Dr. Berger. "Parents don't play the same role as the glee club leader. They provide children what they need in order to grow: safety and security, love and inspiration, and intimate trusting communication. It's a completely different agenda."

The power struggle

When parents adopt the glee club leader style of discipline, they often find themselves in a struggle because kids want to resist. Rather than trying to figure out a way to make a child behave, it may be more useful to consider how you can help your child establish habits that will serve them for a lifetime. "Parenting is providing children with the safety, structure, love and support they need to slowly and gradually take over the immense job of managing themselves, of being self-disciplined," says Dr. Berger.

The take away

Every parent looks at discipline differently, just as every child responds differently. Obviously, you are the most qualified person to determine what works best for your child and your family. As you work through your decision process, it may help to consider the differences between discipline and self-discipline in light of your child's developmental stage and age. Then, you have the option of adjusting your approach accordingly if you see fit.

Kids and discipline

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