Control and dominance are ineffective strategies to child discipline because human beings are programmed to resist it with everything that they have.
“Discipline” is one of my favorite examples to the degree to which we stopped considering the words we use and their actual, underlying meaning. Taken from Old Latin, the word discipline simply means punishment for the sake of correction. The underlying understanding of this word is about weak and strong, big and small, good and bad; someone who needs correction (thus – wrong), and someone who can correct him (thus – right). By virtue of disciplining (punishing) the weak, we become strong. As we grow stronger, we believe that we are better, that we know better, and that our idea of better has to be followed by the ones we categorized as weak, small, or “bad” – our children among others. This is the way it has been, until now.
It’s the Language that Counts
About 300 years after the first documented use of the word “discipline” that meant “punishment for the sake of correction”, the meaning of the word began a gradual change. Its use evolved into instruction and regulation, rules, and training. During the last couple of years we’ve witnessed the Attachment Parenting, or Gentle Parenting revolution; physical punishments are not so common as they once were (thank God!) and there are even countries (Germany, as far as I know), that outlawed corporal punishment. Looks like more and more parents are looking for ways other than force to utilize their power over children.
This is a blessed change, but it’s not yet enough. Take a look at the world we live in today – there are wars everywhere, violence, depression, suicide. All these maladies stem from one fundamental rule that is passed from one generation to the other – they are not as good as us, we are not as good as them; they are weak, we are strong; we are weak, they are strong; we must fight to survive.
But what if all if this, is not even true? Right, this is how we are programmed to think, this is how we’ve been acting for hundreds and thousands of years, but what if this rule of thumb isn’t even true?
The Real World is a World of Good
Young children, who are not yet blinded by society’s teachings tell us the forgotten truth; all we need to do is listen to them and let them teach us.
When toddlers try to take part in everything we do around the house, they do so because they -internally- want to help us. When they look at us looking for praise after doing something they find pride in, they do so because they want us to feel that marvelous feeling as well, because their happiness light our happiness, that lights their happiness again. It is so easy, yet so lost in modernity. Life is meant to be a cycle of happiness.
Making our loved ones happy is an existential need shared by all human beings, it is the core to building attachment, which is, too, an existential need.
Let’s face it, babies and children are not easy, the planners of this world know that, too. Babies and children are “designed” to light up our hearts, otherwise no one would be making babies, right?
Even Gentle Discipline is Control
When we talk about cooperation, natural consequences, bribes and non-punitive times in (or out), we are still looking for ways, even if gentle, to assert control over our children, to make them do as we want them to do. Just that now, we expect them to be happy about it. Even though some aspects have changed, not too much had changed. They are still weak as we are stronger; they are still wrong, as we are right, they need correction and we have the power to correct them. This is control. And control doesn’t work. Resisting control in an instinct of survival we are born with, there’s nothing we can do to change it. Oh, right – we can understand it, and put it aside. Terrible, right? Twos and so forth.
Terrible Twos – are they Really?
Disciplining toddlers is a thing, a wide ranged concern that starts, not surprisingly at around two years if age because at this age our little ones are starting to understand what they want. And what they don’t want. And when they want it and how. Not only that they start to understand this, they are also now able to communicate it. And this is where the power struggle begins. We say something, they say “NO!”, and then we fight. Because we are stronger, they need to do as we say, they need to cooperate, they need to comply, they need to follow the rules. But the truth is, that they don’t “NEED” all that. Needs are what we are born with; they need autonomy, they need freedom of choice, they need peace, meaning, and connection. Everything else is a myth.
A toddler whose needs are met, who knows himself to be a respected, understood, and loved individual follows our lead – because he trusts us to lead him to good. He operates from joy and love, from compassion and empathy; he is good to us because being good to us meets his internal needs; making us happy makes him happy.
A toddler who is constantly shushed, paused from doing whatever it is he is doing, who is forced to go places he doesn’t want or do things he doesn’t want to do, who is yelled at and denied of attachment, is a toddler who WILL RESIST US WITH EVERYTHING HE HAS because he is designed to do just that – resist control.
This oppression of self, the silencing of existential human needs that is passed from one generation to the other is the reason for the world as we know it. While everyone are fighting to be right, to be strong, to be better (than someone else), no one seems to be fighting for happiness. We are controlled, and ruined, by our imaginary need to control, to discipline.
So How Can You Discipline a Child Who won’t Listen?
Understand that he doesn’t need to listen to you; he needs to listen to himself, only. Find a way for your need to communicate with his needs, rather than communicating with his counter will. When my little one is refusing just for the sake of refusing (because autonomy is an existential need) I either wait for a better time to ask the same, or find a way of asking that doesn’t clash with his current needs. It is actually much more simple than it sounds.
Change Discipline to Leadership
Our world doesn’t need disciples nor further disciplines. It needs leaders. Leaders are made of children who are encouraged to follow their hearts, who are led to listen to and meet their needs. No learning is one sided – children who listen to themselves will listen to others. Children who are respected will grow to respect. Children who are unconditionally loved will grow to love unconditionally. Children who aren’t coerced will not coerce.
Children who grow outside the binary social structure of good and bad, right and wrong, who learn through love rather than through fear are the future leaders of our world.
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Hope to meet you soon 🙂