By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant / belizeguidance.blogspot.com
“If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”
What constitutes effective discipline? Why should we raise our children subject to some form of discipline? How do we properly enforce discipline everyday in our homes and schools? If we do not continuously discipline young people how will they comprehend that there are always consequences to any bad choices they make? We cannot address these questions comprehensively in just one article; however, we can discuss what discipline is about vs. what it is not. Most parents and teachers think of discipline as the system of (self) control that we use to bring out the best behaviour in children and in ourselves. Schools focus on discipline mostly as a system to prevent and/or cope with students’ behaviour problems. However, no matter which definition we use, I feel strongly that we should not consider discipline to be merely a system of punishment for adults or children, or have punishment be its major purpose.
Unlike half a century ago, and before Belize became an Independent country in 1981, today we are an increasingly multicultural and multiclass society with ever-growing and changing needs. The largest and most notable change throughout our jewel today is that now we are very much part of a digital and global society in a fast-advancing Age of Technology. Consequently, to the dismay of many (older) adults and schools, and very unlike the past, there can no longer be a simple approach to raising children and providing them with effective discipline at home and in school. Nonetheless, despite whichever age we live in, if we want to raise and teach our children effectively and responsibly, we cannot ignore their unwanted or unacceptable behaviours. From the time our children start to creep we should start administering some form of discipline to them in order to introduce and keep structure and order in their lives. Adults who provide no form whatsoever of discipline to children only increase and multiply the chaos and frustration that already exist in every home and classroom throughout society.
As young Belizeans struggle to develop from infants into mature adults, one of their very important daily needs is for adults (society) to guide and monitor their healthy physical and emotional growth. We can effectively nourish their emotional growth by providing and exposing them, from a very early age, to some form of structure in their lives, and by spending quality time with them. We provide discipline and structure simply by setting clear limits and expectations for them, not by continuously overindulging them with food and material things, or giving them every new technical invention/gadget sold for entertainment. On the other hand, if we ignore our children’s daily behaviour, whether good or bad, or constantly overindulge them as if to make up for ignoring them or not spending quality time with them, we add to and multiply the existing chaos in which we live today. A harmful extreme that some adults choose is assuming that they have the right/duty to punish and humiliate children/students in the name of discipline. Adults who do this, not only stunt children’s emotional growth, but also risk losing control of themselves. Humiliated children, and the adults who administer harsh punishments/humiliation, will end up feeling helpless and frustrated.
Parents and teachers/educators share one very important thing in common, even though many times they are each others’ worse critics: they discipline and guide children/students toward healthy emotional growth. On one side, some adults (many from the older generation) insist that only the “spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophy or corporal punishment works when it comes to disciplining and correctly raising children. However, when put into practice whether at home or in schools this form of discipline can at times become extreme, repressive, cruel, and abusive or violent. On the other side, some of today’s more academically educated adults, especially new parents, prefer a more psychology-backed “timeout and share feelings” version of how to discipline young people. In between both widely-differing extremes there are hundreds of other alternatives and guides offered to parents and teachers on “the right way to discipline young people”. Is there, though, a right or wrong way to discipline our children and set a foundation for their healthy emotional growth in this rapidly-changing global and digital world?
There are countless resources available today on “discipline”: hundreds of books have been and continue to be written on discipline based on various (scientific) studies of young peoples’ behaviours; dozens of interactive “how to” websites exist to promote forms of discipline that work at home and in school vs. those that do not; hundreds of seminars and workshops of all lengths and prices are offered by professional speakers to parents and educators on the subject of effective discipline and how to use it with/on our children. With so many differing options and opinions available, how do parents and educators/teachers reach a consensus on what discipline really is about, or how best to enforce it to raise better-behaved children?
No matter which resource we (parent or teacher) choose, let’s make every effort to set a strong foundation of good behaviour in our children and in our families. How? Let’s try to teach them (our) values, and show them from an early age how to positively express their feelings instead of whining or throwing tantrums. Very importantly, let’s make every effort to ensure that our children always feel safe, physically and emotionally, both at home and in school. There may be times when we are unable to eliminate their bothersome behaviours. However, the solution is not to keep changing methods of disciplining children/students or keep trying alternate methods offered in the most-recently-published book or study. Rather, from a child’s earliest age, let’s focus on trying to prevent behaviour problems, i.e. stealing, lying, cheating, talking back, bullying from ever surfacing. How? Let’s start by accepting them, from day 1, for who they are not only for who we/others may want them to be or become. Let’s respect and support each child’s/student’s integrity by trying to help him/her build a strong sense of purpose and self-esteem.
Finally, let’s try to deal with behaviour problems that may exist in our children or students in a practical and constructive/positive way, not in a purely punitive way. After all, the very purpose of effective discipline is to nurture, not weaken, a healthy sense of one’s self-esteem and emotional development. We should use various forms of discipline to strengthen, not weaken, our bodies and souls.
These articles are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They do not offer simple answers to complex problems. Rather, they are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, parents, and the community. These articles are written to encourage readers to discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the many ways in which we currently try to educate them, at home and in school. We can learn from our mistakes as well as success. Way to go, parents and fellow educators!