There are essentially two broad focuses of discipline. There is self discipline and the discipline that is imposed on others. Self discipline, often involves making yourself do something uncomfortable with a view to achieving your goal and getting the ‘thing(s)’ you ‘want’. For example, eating less and exercising more to become slimmer. Or spending less to save money to buy a house, car, holiday or whatever.

There is also the discipline we impose on others through rules and punishments. You often hear people say things like “what that child needs is some discipline!” Meaning they require rules and ‘consequences’ or ‘punishments’ to shape their behaviour. Usually this is to shape their behaviour into something the ‘enforcer’ feels is more manageable or palettable.

I am rubbish at both of these. For the former, I can never trick myself into believing that I want that thing badly enough to do things I really don’t like doing. As for imposing discipline on others, well lets just say you should meet my children and then you would see that I am not great at the role of ‘Disciplinarian’ or as I see it ‘Enforcer’. It is this second form of discipline I would like to contemplate here.

To me, imposing sanctions on others for not behaving or doing what I want them to do is very difficult and artificial. I’m not saying I don’t do this. I certainly attempt to do this with regards to my children but I don’t find the imposing of sanctions as a form of discipline easy to do or maintain. When I try to explain this difficulty I have to friends they often respond that children need to learn that there are consequences to unwelcome or antisocial behaviour. But the imposed consequence, put in place by The Enforcer, is completely artificial. It has nothing to do with the real consequences of their actions which might result in people not wanting to be around them, the disappointment or anger of others, rather than ‘you can’t have your phone for  week’.

From a theoretical or philosophical stand point I lean towards the idea that what I want to do as a parent is try to engage my children’s own innate moral code. I guess that also means I think, that for the most part, people are ‘good’ for want of a better expression. And it is that ‘goodness’ that needs to be encouraged. So I wonder, can this be achieved through discipline? I’m not sure it can be.  I think the best way to do this is through example and a lot of communication. So you ask what happens when your child does something terrible? Am I suggesting we ignore that without any consequence? No, I am not suggesting that. I am putting forward the possibility that my emotional response is enough along with a lot of talking about it. When I have imposed a sanction such as grounding, it feels like I am saying to my child, you must agree with me and I will ground you until you do, until you see that what you have done is wrong. To be honest, I think most children do know what is right and wrong quite early on but if there are moments when they do not know the difference, or struggle with it at times, then why does a week without television teach them what is right or wrong more than explaining it to them? The grounding is based on anger, a use of power and just sets up conflict on top of a situation which is probably already conflictual. Additionally, neither of my children, at the end of being grounded, have ever given any indication that they have seen the error of their ways.

One approach I do use, aside from talking which probably drives my children crazy, is to take them out of the situation, or send them to their room. The reason I do this is because it seems to give all of us the opportunity to calm down and think about what has occurred more objectively. Once we have all calmed down then we can come back together again. This does actually seem to be far more effective then a ‘punishment’ which ultimately just seems to show them that I am stronger willed then they are.

So the question arises: What if they continue to engage in antisocial behaviours, particularly repeating the same bad behaviour? In my experience that occurs anyway, regardless of the the ‘Enforcers’ enforcement. I would suggest that maybe it will just take a bit more time for them to learn. It’s a bit like maths, you don’t know what you are doing, you struggle and struggle, you make loads of mistakes and then, one day you get it. Or a small part of it makes sense. Then you realise that you can apply some of that understanding to other maths equations and your understanding of maths greatly increases although there are still a few areas you struggle with. That kind of sums it up for me. Some people have a natural aptitude for things, some are slow learners, and some just don’t really get it. All you can do is try to explain it over and over again as best you can.

So I guess the final question is about crime: Does this mean that we should not punish criminals and instead give them a good talking to? Yes and no. The natural consequence of antisocial behaviour is that people will not want to be around you, or will shun you socially. So socially excluding a criminal because they are struggling with acceptable social behaviour and then doing a lot of talking (or what might be described as rehabilitation therapy) could work. So what about extreme criminal behaviour? My response is I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of direct experience with that but it does appear to me that prison does not work very effectively because most criminals r-eoffend when they are released. Is it possible that a slightly different approach could be considered, or trialled on a small sample?

You might cast your gaze back to the beginning of this post and note that I suggested that my daughters weren’t that well behaved.  As it happens, one is, and the other appears to struggle from time to time. But she always has. She wasn’t a really happy baby or child and her lessons seem to be hard ones. Yet in the last year or so, as I have noticed her becoming happier and a little more settled, her lessons seem to be coming more easily. My children are individuals. One seems to be more at ease with herself than the other and it is the other who struggles. I don’t think any amount of imposed consequences in the name of discipline will help her with that and ultimately that is what she needs to learn. Discipline doesn’t appear to be the answer for us. Sorry Super Nanny.