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An Alternative to “Discipline”

July 2016

Discipline is one of the most important elements for you, as a parent, to consider carefully as you think about how to raise your child.  Because discipline has both healthy and unhealthy connotations, you might be confused about what it is, and how to apply it.   The unhealthy picture many parents have often uses fear, guilt and shame as motivators.  If that is what discipline means to you, it is no wonder you wouldn’t want to think about it, much less use it. 

 On the other hand, deeply loving, courageous, and compassionate discipline actually facilitates the health and well-being of your child as well as increases his capacity to regulate himself.   This kind of discipline is best supported by being mindful and present to him.   It is from this place of centeredness and emotional clarity that you can best learn how to make the ‘disciplined’ choices that facilitate fulfilling relationships and promote your child’s highest development. 

This kind of mindful discipline has five key elements to keep in mind.  The first, unconditional love, is especially important because it will preserve trust between the two of you.  Whether it is shown through your words and deeds, or simply through that look in your eyes which reflects how much you treasure him, your unconditional love will help to maintain your child’s inherent value as a separate person, no matter where he goes.

The second key element to remember is to offer your child space.  He needs room to grow.  If his mind and body are too crowded with stimulation and information, including your ideas and perspectives, he will not become able to know, and to be, himself. Your child was born with a desire to be autonomous and to become competent in the ways of the world.  Your part in the equation is to give him the space to experiment, to problem solve, and to learn from these encounters.  Then he will develop those qualities naturally.

Offering your child mentorship is the third key element.  To be a mentor basically means that you are a trusting guide.  In this role, you promote healthy habits and strong values.  Your intention as a mentor should be to guide your child toward greater harmony and flow, and to support her in steering her own ship.    You will be most effective if you are a learning companion rather than a teacher. This will facilitate her in her process of discovery and learning

Healthy boundaries – the fourth key element -  encourages impulse control in your child.  Boundaries are most effectively set when your child needs your help to make a more healthy decision.  Then you can tell her what you would like to see happen and give her space to step into the decision.  Remember, when a child does not have a parent who is clearly in the lead, she will feel uncontained and unheld.  That is how she begins to feel out of control.  Creating a container of safety will help to guide the flow of her instinctual energy into safe and appropriate expression.  

Allowing for mistakes is the final key element in establishing a relationship centered, mindful approach to discipline.   Contrary to what we sometimes think, mistakes are actually very nourishing.  They help all of us learn how to move beyond rigid idealism into humility, which is grounded in the truth of how things actually are.   Allowing for mistakes counters the shame and pain we all feel when we make them, as well as teaches the gifts of compassion, humility, and forgiveness. 

Mindful discipline is an intentional, yet flexible approach to raising your child.  As you begin to attune to your child, you can incline your attention to what is actually happening with him, rather than reacting on autopilot.  This will enable you to find your way to an appropriate response, one that supports the well-being not only of your child, but of yourself, and all the other members of your family. 

For further information:  “Mindful Discipline,” by Shauna Shapiro, Ph.D., and Chris White, M.D.



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