DISCIPLINE (literally, “to learn”)


Discipline is the process of learning to adapt one’s behavior to the requirements of society. It “arises from the need to bring about balance between what the individual wants to do, what he wants of others, and the limitations and restrictions demanded by the society in which he lives or by the hazards in the physical environment.” (Jer- sild, 1960)The child cannot be counted on to teach himself to curb his impulses and to conform to rules and regulations. He has to be taught by others. This teaching, however, satisfies many of his own inner needs. It helps him learn what is expected of him, it protects him from his own destructive urges, and it gives him a sense of security by letting him know how far he can go and what he must do to win the approval of others.There is considerable agreement among psychologists on the question of good versus poor disciplinary techniques. In general, good discipline cultivates inner growth, understanding and self- discipline. It is scaled to the child’s level of maturity and encourages him to seek desirable behavior because it is satisfying and not merely because it’s required. Poor discipline, on the other hand, rests entirely on external authority and restraint. It utilizes disapproval more than approval and coercion more than education. This contrast can best be clarified by outlining three quite different approaches to discipline: the authoritarian, the permissive, and the democratic.Authoritarian discipline is characterized by strict rules and regulations enforced by severe punishment. Some of the restraints imposed on the child are reasonable, others are arbitrary and oppressive. But in either case the restraints are issued as commands and little if any attempt is made to explain or justify them. The emphasis, therefore, is almost entirely on obedience. In families where authoritarianism is most extreme parents seldom relax their control or abandon corporal punishment as their children grow older. In less rigid authoritarian families, older children remain subject to the parents’ decision, but their own wishes are not wholly ignored and the number of irrational restrictions diminishes.The permissive approach can hardly be called discipline at all since the parents make little attempt to set limits to the child’s behavior: “Some parents see in their relationship with their children only the necessity to make them happy as each day goes by, not recognizing that this treatment may deprive the children of the strength that comes from wise restriction, and that it is likely to give them a false idea of what to expect from life outside the home.They give him a minimum of guidance, and may even consider guidance as domination of the child’s personality” (Vincent and Martin, 1961). Mothers are considerably more likely to use this approach than fathers since they feel more guilty about restricting or punishing their children, and more often give in when the children call them “mean” (Rosenthal, 1962). The avowed purpose of permissiveness is to encourage the child to assume responsibility for his own behavior and to avoid the psychological damage which some psychoanalysts have attributed to inhibition* and repression.Those who favor democratic techniques approach discipline from an educational point of view. They make use of explanation, discussion, and reasoning to help the child understand why he is expected to conduct himself in certain ways. Good behavior is generously rewarded with praise and encouragement, and bad behavior is punished only when it is willful. The punishment,however, is never harsh, and usually takes the form of scolding, deprivation, or a quick slap. Some democratic parents tend to be more lenient than others, but even these parents do not follow an extreme laissez faire policy. The aim of this approach is to encourage self-discipline by showing the child that there are good reasons for controlling his behavior, and that he will win approval if he does so.A number of studies have been made of the effects of the three methods of discipline. The authoritarian approach produces outward conformity but gives rise to rankling resentments. If discipline is harsh and punitive, one child will become timid, resigned, or apathetic, while another will be rebellious and hostile—but in either case the world is likely to be viewed as a threatening place. The timid children tend to express their resentments in fantasies; the hostile children may become bullies or, in extreme cases, juvenile delinquents. Both types are likely to lack genuine self-confidence and security.Overpermissiveness also leads to feelings of insecurity and resentment-—but in this case these reactions arise out of too little guidance instead of too much. The insecurity arises from feelings of anxiety and uncertainty due to the fact that the child does not know what he is supposed to do or how to cope with situations that are difficult for him. The resentment arises from the feeling that his parents do not care enough about him to give him the attention and guidance he needs. Moreover, he takes advantage of their leniency and becomes extremely egocentric and self- assertive. As a result the child feels that he can do exactly what he wants outside the home as well as inside, and he soon becomes labeled as a spoiled brat or a little monster. This makes him resentful toward other children, but even more resentful against his parents for causing him to have such a hard time (Henry, 1961).Democratic discipline provides guidance without domination and freedom without laxity. When the child is respected as an individual and is encouraged to develop internal control, the outcome is more favorable both at school and in the home than with the permissive or authoritarian approach. He is more co-operative, friendly, resourceful, and self-controlled, and on the whole is better adjusted both personally and socially. He also tends to feel more secure, to have a healthy, confident attitude toward himself, and to be more active, spontaneous, and outgoing than children whose discipline has been too strict or too lenient (Gei- sel, 1951; Mussen and Kagan, 1958).Now for a brief look at three specific questions that arise in almost every discussion of discipline: How important is consistency? Is punishment necessary? How far should rewards be used?The need for consistency is stressed by almost all child psychologists. If the child is given different directions at different times or by different individuals, he becomes confused and fails to learn to control his own behavior. Moreover, he loses respect for parents or teachers who are unsure of themselves, plays one off against the other, or acts as he pleases because he does not know what is expected of him. In general, mothers—especially young, inexperienced, middle-class mothers—tend to be more inconsistent than fathers. They are frequently ambivalent toward their children, tender at one moment and annoyed at another, and consequently they will threaten but not carry out their threats, slap and then hug the child, impose restrictions and then apologize, or punish for a misdeed at one time while overlooking it entirely at another. The most destructive type of inconsistency, however, is open disagreement between the parents, since it tends to undermine discipline completely. Parents do not have to agree on every detail—and with older childrenthey can explain their differences—but they should avoid criticizing each other in front of the child, and should resolve their differences in private and support each other wherever possible.It is impossible to raise children without resorting to punishment of some kind and on some occasions. Even though punishment does not itself show them the right way to act, or alter the impulse that motivated the misdeed, it can often curb unacceptable behavior. It is therefore more effective as a deterrent than as a corrective. There is also evidence that children do not feel right if their misbehavior is persistently overlooked. They develop a feeling of guilt and sometimes invite punishment in order to relieve it.The most effective and reasonable punishment is the kind that is directly related to the misbehavior: isolating a child who fights with his playmates is more sensible than putting him to bed without supper. Since punishment should be appropriate to the situation, there probably is no single “best kind.” In so far as possible it should also be appropriate to the child—that is, one child will be more responsive to a stem warning, another to scolding, and another to deprivation. Finally, there are two worst kinds of punishments: first, harsh and repeated corporal punishment, since this is a form of brutality that either breaks a child’s spirit or makes him resentful and defiant; and second, any form of humiliation and rejection such as sarcasm, belittling, general disapproval, or withdrawal of love, since these will corrode the child’s self-esteem and belief in himself. But in any case punishment should not be given without letting the child know why it is necessary, otherwise it will have little if any educational value.The parent who gets into the habit of using punishment is likely to lose sight of the value of approval in disciplining the child. Many experiments and observations have proven that approval is a more constructive instrument than disapproval and that praise is more effective than reproof. These approaches not only build up pleasant associations with the desired act, but build up the child as well. Moreover, positive motivation has greater educational value than punishment because it shows the child what is right, not simply what is wrong. And at the same time it helps him satisfy his desire for recognition. Generally speaking, encouragement and praise should be enough, although an occasional free gift might be given as a token of admiration or appreciation rather than as a bribe. Naturally praise should be given judiciously, not indiscriminately, but it is probably better to err on the side of giving too much than giving too little.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "DISCIPLINE (literally, “to learn”)," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/discipline-literally-to-learn/ (accessed September 30, 2022).


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