If it is time to say good-bye to time-out, then what is it time to say hello to?
I believe it’s time for all of us educators, parents and children lovers alike to say hello to healthy discipline. Through my education and my experience of working with children, I have found that many educators and parents have a huge misconception of what the word discipline actually means, and how it can effectively be implemented in a child’s life (and also, our own).
The etymology of the word discipline is incredibly ancient. It has roots stemming from Latin and Greek languages. Greek has the longest documented history of any indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Latin is also a close cousin in terms of its rich history and the impact it has had on modern English.
In tracking the early stages of the word discipline, we see that in Latin, the word “discipulus” was used. This word translates as ‘student, pupil or friendly follower.’ In Greek, the word “mathetes” was used. This translates as ‘one who learns from a teacher.’ From these two roots, the word discipline was born, and is now widely used in modern English.
By tracking the roots, we are able to see that the word discipline is actually a derivative of the word “disciple.” Disciple literally means ‘a follower.’ We can trace the use of this word all the way back to the Biblical era. It’s said that Jesus Christ had many disciples, or people who believed in his teachings, or people who followed him.
As adults, ideally, we want our young children to follow us. As stated in my first article, a child’s mind is completely absorbent until around the age of three, when the rational mind begins to develop, and then becomes fully developed around the age of six. What this means is that if children are our followers, they will be absorbing every single behavior we do and word we say until approximately age six. What does this mean in terms of disciplining children? This means that we must discipline ourselves if we want our children to follow, learn and grow.
I view disciplining ourselves as following our own highest good, listening to what is best for each of us and then implementing that. During the times of Jesus Christ, his disciples weren’t following his physicality or egoic nature. They, I imagine, were following the teachings of the highest flow of energy frequency that exuded from his being. Some call this “God.” Our children are our disciples, except that until the age of six, they have no filter for discernment of what is in their highest good, so they naturally follow everything. It is our job to be the filter for our children until they are capable of doing it for themselves. There are many ways this can be done:
• Being aware of our language.
This is so huge. Our language, the way we speak, and the words we choose to use, all give clues as to what is going on internally for us. If on the inside we don’t like ourselves, chances are our language will reflect that and we will be negative. We will use words that subtlety, or sometimes, not so subtlety, put people down. We might tell our child, “that’s not nice,” or, “be nice.” Meanwhile, we just verbally raged, “Jesus lady, learn how to drive!” at a driver for cutting us off in traffic. Have you ever caught yourself in an example like this? I sure have. The first step is awareness. Be aware of the words that pour from your mouth. How are you treating other people? What words are you choosing to use on a regular basis? Your children will absorb this. Once aware, we can work on changing the habitual patterns of how we speak. Have the intention of speaking with love and kindness and you are well on your way.
• Being aware of our actions.
Along with what we say, how we act is also huge. In addition to our language giving us clues as to how we are feeling on the inside, so do our actions. Our children can intuitively sense this, although their lack of logic at an early age is what keeps them from using proper discernment when it comes to learning and integrating new things. I’ve seen parents, myself included, tell a child not to do something, and then we go right ahead and do that very act — often times, in front of the child!
For example, a mother and her child are at the park playing. There is a group of children playing together having fun, but a couple of children are left out. The mother tells her child to include the left-out children because that’s the right thing to do. All of the mothers are sitting together on the designated “mom bench” on the side of the park. One mother brings up the mutual friend, Cindy. “Oh you wouldn’t believe what Cindy did last night! We were supposed to meet for dinner and she totally blew me off. This is the third time in a row that’s happened. That’s it!” All of the other moms chime in, “Yeah!” “Yeah, Cindy’s a flake!”
Meanwhile, your child is playing 10 feet away, basking in all of the energetic inflections around him or her. You told your child to include someone, while you were gossiping about a friend, which is totally an exclusive act. We all do this in our own way. This is nothing to feel bad about, but rather something to be aware of. Are you asking your child to behave in a certain way that you, yourself, aren’t even doing? Dig deep for this one. I guarantee there are some jewels there for you to discover.
So many people view discipline as ‘punishment.’ It actually has nothing to do with punishment. It’s about being a leader for your child. It’s about following your highest good as a person in the human race. It’s about teaching your child to follow this goodness until they are able to follow their own.
I had a friend ask me the other day, “Do you ever believe in hitting a child?” I said, “No, never.” She said, “Well, what if it’s not out of anger, but rather to teach a lesson. What if your kid hit someone and you want to teach them that it’s not good?” I said, “No, never.” Personally, I believe what Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” We cannot teach children not to hit by hitting. I believe the same is true for the death penalty. We cannot teach people not to kill, by killing. When we hit children (no matter the reason or intention behind it), we are only teaching them to hit. If we want to teach our children not to hit, or not to say mean things, or whatever, we must, as parents or care-takers, embrace the quality inside of ourselves that we are trying to teach our children to invoke. This, for me, is the cornerstone of discipline.
Did Jesus lie, cheat and steal and then tell his disciples not to do these things? No. He acted like his kind, loving, compassionate, healing self, and his followers were struck by that, and thus, naturally wanted to emulate his behaviors. The same goes for parenting.
If we alter our behavior, through time, our children will alter theirs. This is the best advice I can give on how to change an undesirable elicited behavior in a child. Ask yourself, what is it about your child’s behavior that isn’t working for you as a parent? I would then urge you to find the same behavioral quality inside of yourself. Keep in mind, it may not manifest for you the way it does for your child, but I, with near certainty, can guarantee it’s there, somewhere (it could be a subconscious behavior acted out that we aren’t even aware of yet). Be gentle with yourself through this process, as I know it can be difficult as well as painful.
While this process unfolds for you, there are some practical, in the moment tools that could be very helpful. In my last article, I wrote how, in my opinion, time-out can be emotionally damaging to young children. Instead of this, what to do for your specific child depends on their age, developmental level and temperament. You can combine this information with what science has given us in terms of early childhood development and your own maternal or paternal intuition.
If you are a parent who is used to using time-out and is looking for another idea, then I would suggest a slightly different spin on time-out. I would come at your child with love and kindness versus anger and punishment. With using a loving approach, I would say that sometimes children need to be physically removed from their environment. I’ve found this to be true for children who are particularly sensitive or highly energetic or spirited. With the sensitive or spirited child they often need a break from their environment because it becomes overwhelming for them and can cause them to act out in undesirable ways.
The approach a parent or care-taker uses to remove a child from the environment is key. Are you punishing your child for being sensitive or spirited by angrily removing them from external stimuli? Or, are you guiding your child to a fresh environment out of honor for the needs of your child? Are you abandoning your child in some far off part of your house? Or, are you going with your child to a new environment to help him or her regulate their emotions? The distinction between the two ways of approach is extremely important in regards to the emotional health of your child.
When it comes to children, in my opinion, there is no need for punishment, but rather a need for guidance. I find it important to remember that we want our children to be friendly followers of us until they learn how to follow themselves, their own heart. In order to help our children follow our highest good, we must actively be working on following our own highest good, whatever that means for you. Remember this, if you want your child to change a behavior, the key lies within yourself. Change yourself, and, inevitably, you change your child.
edited by Greg Eckard