Monday, January 12, 2009

Teaching Children Self-Discipline

Power tends to corrupt - absolute power corrupts absolutely.

There is no handbook out there on how to be great parents. Each book says different things - one says this and the other says that. And at the end of the day, after reading so many books, we try to do the best we can. That said, Thomas Gordon's methods are very interesting and appealing in that the child and the parent become equals. Problems are solved so that not only the parent is happy, but also the child. It is an equitable method that we have found useful even when our son was less than 2 years old. Now that he is 2, more opinionated and a better negotiator, it seems appropriate to review and remind ourselves of Dr. Gordon's methods. Some people believe children are innately malicious, and consequently believe in 'setting them right' by control, restriction, restrain and discipline. With this in mind, it is easy to see how people can justify punishment - mild or severe, and the powerful use of rewards. For one, I believe children are innately good and wish in my mind for an alternative way of guiding my son through his life.

Book Excerpts from Teaching Children Self-Discipline at Home and at School: New Ways Parents and Teachers can build self-control, self-esteem and self-reliance by Thomas Gordon, Ph.D. author of P.E.T and T.E.T.

Dare-to-discipline proponents assert with confident conviction: "Kids need limits and kids want limits." But this is a dangerous half-truth. It is necessary that kids feel there are limits on their behaviours, for the sake of others mostly. But what a world of difference there is between the way youngsters react to limits imposed by an adult and the way they react to limits they have a voice in determining!

Given the opportunity, children are quite capable of participating with their parents or teachers to set rules and policies that will govern their behavior.

To be strict or not to be strict, that is the question - in fact, it's the number-one question among child-rearing authorities... Seldom do I meet parents or teachers who understand that it's not necessary to make a choice between these two leadership styles. Few adults know it, but there is an alternative... which... is being neither authoritarian nor permissive, neither strict nor lenient.

I have come to believe that praise as a method for controlling children is grossly overrated, because it is usually ineffective and is often damaging to the adult-child relationship... the intention of adults when they use praise in not solely the benevolent one of making the child feel good. It's a desire to engineer a behavior change that will make the adult feel good... Kids usually see through such praise and recognise the adult's hidden agenda.

Praise, then, is often meted out for the convenience, pleasure, or benefit of the praiser. When a parent or teacher praises, the attitude may be "I want to make my child feel good," but it can also be "I want to change the child so I'll feel good." Parents and teachers who use praise in this way may come to be perceived by youngsters as manipulative, controlling, and not completely honest.

One alternative to praise is a clear message that expresses to another precisely how his or her behaviour made you feel... Called Positive I-messages, these are accurate, self-disclosing, self-revealing messages that clearly share what is going on inside you:
I feel good when...
I was pleasantly surprised when...
I was relieved when...
I enjoyed it so much when...
I got excited when...

[versus]... praise will logically come out as You-messages... You did a fine job. You are so well coordinated. Your speech was excellent. You have such beautiful skin.

Situation: Your 7 year old played quietly and happily all the time your firend was in your home visiting this morning:
"You were such a good girl while Mrs. Jenkins was here." (PRAISE)
"I really liked being able to talk to Mrs. Jenkins this morning without any interruptions." (POSITIVE I-MESSAGE)

Of course, Positive I-messages must be believable to your children. Therefore, they must be honest and genuine...

Advocates of punishing children never fail to rationalize that their punishment is mild, benign, loving. Severe punishment, they maintain, would be cruel and inhuman (and unloving)... researchers consistently have found that mild punishment fails as a deterrent. Every parent or teacher has had the experience of administering a mild punishment to a child, only to watch in exasperation as the child repeats the unacceptable behaviour as if nothing had happened... [some negative behaviour] will probably be reinforced... rewarded with her parent's attention.

Most parents and teachers want, above all, to have a strong positive influence on children. They want to teach children right from wrong, to convince them of the value of a good education, to influence them to live a healthful life, to help them learn to get along with others, to get them to drop behaviours that interfere with others... to raise them to be happy and productive... By choosing to use punitive discipline, however, adults greatly reduce their chances of exerting positive or constructive influence on youngsters.

It's a paradox: Use power, lose influence...

Give up using power, gain more influence.

[power language of adult]... the traditional language... authority, obey, demand, permit, allow, set limits, deprivations, discipline, restrict, punish, prohibit, enforce rules, respect for authority...

[nonpower languagge of adult]... take on a completely new role... as facilitator, consultant, friend, listener, problem solver, participant, negotiator, helper, resource person.

Alternative to discipline:
1. find out what the child needs
2. make a trade
3. modify the environment
4. the confrontive I-message: When the TV is on so loud, I can't carry on a conversation with your mother.
5. the preventive I-message: We are going on a field trip to the museum next week, so I'd like us to decide what special rules we'll need to prevent any problems.
6. shifting gears to reduce resistance: children find it easier to change if they feel the adult understands how hard it might be.
7. problem solving: define problem, generate possible solutions, evaulate each solution, make a mutual decision acceptable to both of you

...the Cluster School, established in 1974 by the late Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard. Called a "just community", the school incorporated self-governance, mutual caring, group solidarity, moral development, a democratic community, and the use of anturally occurring classroom and school problems as a basis for moral discussions and moral decisions... In a study of 18 "schools within schools," or "alternative high schools" in California, the investigators found that both teachers and students reported fewer and less serious behaviour problems than in conventional high schools... Both the Cluster School... and the nonauthoritarian alternative high schools are very promising new models of how to get students to discipline themselves - by developing their own standards of what is right and wrong and behaving in accordance with those standards.

Psychologist Raymond Corsini had developed a new model of schooling, first called Individual Education and now called the Corsini Four-R system (C4R). In a 1988 article in the journal Holistic Education Review... describe their model:
C4R is a learning environment based on mutual respect in which children are treated as equals with adults... The C4R system advances... responsibility... respect... resourcefulness... and responsiveness.

Children won't want to be helpful to you when you tell them you have a problem with their behaviour, unless they feel you've generally tried to help them when they have had problems.

To summarize: Most people have been hoodwinked into believing that everything wrong with kids today is the fault of permissiveness and the only remedy is strong authority and strict discipline backed up by punishment. But there are two problems with this belief: first, permissiveness is rare, not rampant; second, all the hard evidence shows that it's authoritarian, punitive treatment that is damaging to children and cuases them to go wrong, not permissiveness. What is needed then, is a completely new and different way to deal with children - one in which parents are neither dictators nor doormats.

Please look under Parenting on the right hand column for more information we have come across.

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