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It’s not always about discipline

February 21st, 2008 / 8 Comments

This is the first article in a series on Discipline

Dr. Laura was asked a question by a mother about the proper method of disciplining her son to behave well when they go to the market.

Her response I thought was right on. Dr. Laura said, “It’s not always about discipline.”
kids on rope

Children do not behave the way we want them to for various reasons. They run wild inside the market, they scream inside a restaurant, they push another child at the park – Oh a parent’s nightmare! Our first response is usually, “How can I discipline him to behave?” But, is stricter discipline the answer?

There are many good approaches to discipline. But before we get into the methods, let’s talk about when it is not about discipline. When our children misbehave, does it always mean they are being “bad”? Not necessarily. There are many reasons why your child is a terror in the market. Many times, it has nothing to do with being bad.

Common reasons why children misbehave:

1. They are tired. Don’t you get short-tempered at the end of the day when you are exhausted? Children whine and cry simply because they would rather be taking a nap than be shopping at the mall.

2. They are hungry. Don’t you get grumpy when you are hungry too? Children are active and growing, they burn up calories quickly and need to be replenished with snacks and liquids more often than the three meals adults serve.

3. They have too much energy. Boys especially need to be moving and running. That is just their nature. If they are still, they might be sick! If you expect them to sit and be quiet for an hour, you face an uphill battle against their natural tendencies.

4. They are curious. Just like “Curious George” the monkey, children get into trouble because they want to explore the world around them. In many ways, we want to foster their sense of curiosity because they learn better that way. As children, they simply have not learned when it is appropriate to curb their inquisitiveness.

5. They do not know what the expected behavior is. As an adult, we often assume they know what we know. They should know it’s wrong to run up and down the aisles at the supermarket. But without much experience in this game of life, children really don’t know what is the accepted protocol for so many different situations.

6. They are forgetful. Even if you have told your children it is not acceptable to run up and down the aisles at the supermarket. They will still repeatedly do so because, like the best of us, they conveniently forget what they don’t want to remember. Isn’t that right?

7. They are impulsive. The process of maturing includes learning to control our human nature impulses, from potty training to not blurting out whatever comes to mind. Without the maturity of self-control, children will run and scream when they simply feel the urge, forgetting everything their parents said otherwise.

8. They think the world revolves around them. Children cannot see beyond themselves. What they want is the only thing that matters to them.

When our children do not behave the way we expect them to, much of the time is because they are just children. Yes, sometimes they are being willfully defiant and bad. But much of the time, they are just childish – acting like a normal child.

Do we punish normal? That would be bad parenting.

Does that mean we let our children continue their childish behavior? That would also be bad parenting.

Our job as a parent is not about punishing our children when they misbehave. Although when we are frustrated, we feel like a harsh punishment would teach them a lesson. But remember, sometimes their behavior is normal for a child. Should you punish what is normal?

Our job as a parent is to identify the immature behavior in our children, and to employ the methods that will help them grow into more responsible children and eventually, into responsible adults. Do you know any adults who act like children? I do! If we do not take the effort and care to teach our children, they end up as childish adults.

So the first step to discipline is to understand your children and determine if they are being normal. Do you see your children exhibiting one of the 8 above? Knowing this will change the way we approach discipline. I prefer to adjust my mindset from discipline to discipleship. It is not merely a matter of semantics, but our perspective. When we see our role as a discipler, we will maintain a more positive approach.

In this continuing series on discipline, we will explore more approaches to dealing with misbehavior in our children.

Photo by maveric2003

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  1. I recently read an article on the website of The New York Times. It says that setting rules is actually a good idea, and doesn’t push kids into rebellion like many parents fear. Maybe it actually is a good way to discipline.

  2. Setting rules is definitely a good idea. In later articles, I will be addressing that. Thanks for the link, Elliot.

  3. […] it is with our children. As I said in my previous article on discipline, the job of the parent is to disciple our children . The foundation of discipleship […]

  4. […] It’s Not Always About Discipline […]

  5. […] It’s Not Always About Discipline […]

  6. I have found riding in the car an excellent time to discuss where we’re going, and what’s going to happen there. Then I ask my kids what kinds of things they might be expected to do or say, and in what manner they may do it. For instance, I hand them coupons and send them hunting for that item in the store, and we have already discussed that running in the store could lead to accidents. This way, they are mentally ready to face the next environment. It really helps!

  7. Excellent idea and a good use of the car ride, Cindy. Having a plan and good strategy is the first step in discipline.

  8. […] techniques that are given focus on discipling the child, not demeaning or punishing him. The way we handle difficult situations with our children should […]


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