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Early Start: Thinking About Discipline

CEBU, Philippines - Discipline in the context of parenting has become a hot issue recently. Debates have highlighted differing views on discipline and the right of the parent to discipline his/her child in a manner that s/he sees fit.  

As one of the most difficult yet important jobs of parents, it is important to have a discussion about disciplining children. To start the discussion, in this article, we ask: what is discipline?

The word "discipline" comes from the root word "disciplinare", which is to teach or instruct.

Discipline in the context of child rearing can be viewed in several ways:

1) Discipline as a consequence. The use of discipline as a response to negative behavior. 

2) Discipline as a way to enforce obedience and to gain control of children and their actions.

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3) Discipline as a form of teaching and nurturing that prepares children to achieve competence, self-control, self-direction, and caring for others. 

All parents will use discipline for the reasons mentioned above. Children will make mistakes and must be made aware of the consequences of their actions. There are situations when parents or adults should be obeyed. Most, if not all parents, want to prepare their children to succeed in the world and this will require training them in skills and inculcating them with morals and values. 

There are differences, however, in the parents' use and focus on each?is the child constantly being disciplined for undesirable behavior without being taught the better way to act? Is the child asked to obey without question? 

There are also differences in the way each is enforced. One can enforce a consequence that is directly related to the infraction (e.g. returning a stolen item and apologizing) or one that is simply meant to hurt (a punishment) and teaches no lesson at all (e.g. pinching a child when he steals something). When a mother hits a child and says, "I told you not to hit your sister!" the impact of what the mother does overpowers the lesson that she is trying to teach.

For many parents, the way one disciplines is patterned after one's own experience. While this is not necessarily wrong, parents should understand that the way one disciplines can have long term consequences. For instance, constant focus on wrong actions leads to loss of self-esteem and a negative self-concept. Asking a child to obey without question will lead to a child who does not know how to decide/think for himself. 

Thus, for the sake of their children, parents must understand the effects of how they discipline and try to discipline with intention and purpose. This entails reflecting on one's role as a parent, one's goals for one's children and then linking these goals with the form of discipline that is used. They should think about questions like: What kind of person do I want to raise? Is my current behavior consistent with this? How can I discipline my child to realize this goal?

In the next two articles, we will be exploring different forms of discipline and the effect these have on children.

The FREEMAN and the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. is running weekly features on Early Childhood Care and Development to emphasize the importance of Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and to increase public support for ECCD.

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