Harsh Discipline

I always try to explore why certain ideas resonate with me emotionally. I believe in reason and that it is our only means of knowledge, but emotions are equally important. Emotions are automatic responses to values (thanks, Ayn Rand!). Emotions are ways for our subconscious to take in vast amounts of information and experiences and boil them down into feelings that help us make decisions (thanks, Malcolm Gladwell!).

I read a book called Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (which is a great book, by the way) and came across the following quote:

Instead of fostering the development of internal controls, harsh discipline reinforces the idea that discipline comes from external forces – from parents, principals, the cops, or the courts. Instead of leading a boy toward better decision making, it prevents him from internalizing the values – and learning the lessons of empathy, respect, and reason – that lead to responsible, moral behavior and emotional accountability. Those lost links weaken the chain of conscience as a boy moves through life.

This passage really moved me and stuck with me. It also got me thinking about how we raise Henry. I’ve been drawn to a two particular philosophies, namely Montessori and Positive Discipline. Both of these foster the independence of the child. They both are a wonderful principled approach to raising children; very scientific in a certain way. I also think I was drawn to these things because of the cultivation of that internal value system.

I’m constantly cultivating my own values and learning how best to do that. I try to ask myself the following questions: “Does spending time on this pursue a value of mine? What value is this action related to? Does spending time on this take time away from a value that I’ve been neglecting?”. It’s really easy to get distracted with TV and social media and other things and these questions help me stay focused.

It took me a while to learn to do this for myself, which is why I want to start early with Henry. It’s not just easy to get distracted by technology, it’s easy to get distracted by what other people value. Highschool is a great example of this. I remember my days and many of my peers days being filled with the question “Will this look good for college?” versus “Is this pursuing my values?”. And I’ve encountered many people who get spit out of the college system, look around, and realize they’re lost.

How is this related to discipline? Think about how we normally discipline children. We punish and reward. We reward them when they do things we like and punish or shame them for the things that bother us. It’s all based on the values of the parents and on other external forces. Positive Discipline is a non-reward and non-punitive philosophy. Montessori is an educational philosophy that focuses on learning the child’s will. And both of these move from putting external pressure on children towards giving them a framework to make their own decisions.

Something to think about the next time you deal with your toddler that’s hitting and throwing everything in sight!

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