What pictures does the word “discipline” bring to mind? You may have grown up with one or more parents whose favorite sentence was, “If you don’t behave, I’m going to have to discipline you”—which meant some hard swats on the rear or an indefinite stay in time-out. Kids raised on this approach may learn to be conscientious and respectful, but mostly they learn that the power to make decisions is reserved for those in authority.
Assuming you’d prefer your children learn to value right action for its own sake, here are a few ideas for nurturing the power of self-discipline.
- Involve your kids, early on, in making household rules. Ask for their input on bedtimes, chore distribution, homework hours, respecting privacy, and consequences for disregarding agreed-upon boundaries. You may worry they’ll demand all the privileges and none of the responsibilities, but this almost never happens in families that value mutual respect. Especially if you implement this principle from the beginning, most kids are eager to be responsible.
- Limit the unequivocal “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Of course, there are a few areas where the head of the household must hand down unchallengeable decisions. The key word is few. If you try to regulate every aspect of the children’s lives, they’re likely to be paralyzed when faced with the need for independent decisions, or else they’ll develop the habit of breaking rules out of spite.
- Don’t ever lecture. If you’ve “told them something a hundred times,” you’re both lost; insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing while expecting different results. If you talk and talk and talk, you’ll simply be tuned out. Try not to say more than one breath’s worth without pausing to listen for a response.
- Always listen to the kids’ point of view. Even where you feel the rule-making responsibility is yours, avoid developing “because I said so” syndrome. You don’t have to let the conversation drag on if the counterargument stops at “I don’t want to,” but you do want your children to feel valued as thinking human beings. And they likely have valuable input for the parent who’s willing to listen.
- Don’t allow complaining, especially behind others’ backs. There’s a difference between healthy disagreement and bitter whining, and well-disciplined people avoid the latter, because “I’m a victim” thinking is the antithesis of mature responsibility.
- Emphasize gratitude. Undisciplined people never feel they have enough, so they develop the habit of impulsively grabbing for more. Self-disciplined people find contentment, and the ability to work for sound priorities, through appreciating what they already have.
- Exemplify self-discipline. If your children see you regularly following foolish impulses, or breaking rules when authority isn’t looking, they will do as you do. The attitude “I’m different from others; I deserve to always have my way” is seriously contagious—and the world can’t afford to have too many people carrying it. Be disciplined yourself, and set an example for your children and the rest of the world.