Discipline – Do’s & Don’ts

“Rewards and punishments are the lowest form of education.”

Definition of Discipline
Discipline is one of those words that can have many meanings depending on the individuals involved and the circumstance. Merriam-Webster covers the possibilities by including the harshness of punishment as well as the usefulness of development:

1: to punish or penalize for the sake of enforcing obedience and perfecting moral character
2: to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control
3a: to bring (a group) under control
b: to impose order upon

Threats and Punishment
Threats and punishment do not work. They are the product of a culture that favour domination, manipulation, and hierarchical control. Most people, and especially children, respond in one of three ways:

  • Fear – the child is afraid to fight back or to make a mistake that will call down greater wrath from the parent. Children will obey the adult only until they are able to get what they NEED themselves, or until they grow big enough to strike back or leave.
  • Fight back – the child becomes angry and attacks the adult, verbally or physically or both. This adult may respond in an even more severe manner and the cycle of violence escalates.
  • Flee – the child runs away mentally or physically. If the adult’s threats were “idle” with no intention of following through, the child quickly recognizes this and learns to ignore the adult. The child is now in control.

Bribes and Rewards

 “The troubling truth is that rewards and punishments are not opposites at all: they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that doesn’t buy very much.”
Alfie Kohn, American author of Punished by Rewards, 1993, (1957- )

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”
John Ruskin, English art critic, social thinker, poet, and artist (1819 – 1900)

Coloroso’s Backbone Family
In “The Backbone Family” discipline is based on:

  1. rules that are simple and clearly stated;
  2. consequences that are RSVP – Reasonable, Simple, Valuable as a learning tool, and Practical;
  3. showing children what they have done wrong;
  4. giving them ownership of the problem;
  5. helping them find ways of solving the problem and;
  6. trusting the child to learn to handle situations on their own.

Both Coloroso and Rosenberg recognize that feelings are a critical part of communications. They are always there, but not necessarily understood by both parties. In “The Backbone Family:

  • They acknowledge their own feelings and label them.
  • They admit their feelings, for example, that they are angry, or hurt, or afraid, then do something responsible and purposeful to address these feelings.
  • They make assertive statements about themselves.
  • They acknowledge their children’s feelings as real and legitimate, without passing judgement on those feelings.
  • They teach their children to handle their own feelings assertively.

Giraffe … not Jackal Language
Rosenberg’s Giraffe language extends the feelings to needs to provide the “language of respect” called for in his Non-Violent Communications. Using this natural step-by-step progression through four stages helps to express as honestly as possible:

  1. Observations: ”when I hear … “
  2. Feelings: “I feel … “
  3. Needs: “because I need … “
  4. Requests (asking for what will meet my needs): “Right now I would like … “ or “If you are willing …”


“Building a conscience is what discipline is all about. The goal is for a youngster to end up believing in decency, and acting – whether anyone is watching or not – in helpful and kind and generous and thoughtful ways.”
James L. Hymes, Jr., A Sensible Approach to Discipline in Children

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1 Response to Discipline – Do’s & Don’ts

  1. Pingback: You Can Discipline! | Feeding an Army

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