However, what does discipline really mean? Many would say punishment, which according to the mainstream is correct. Interestingly, discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina, which means instruction or knowledge. When I read that I completely changed how I viewed discipline and how I implemented it. It makes sense, we use discipline in order to teach our children to make better choices, but does punishment alone really achieve that? Originally when psychologists were learning about how to influence behavior by giving rats food or scaring them, they learned that the best way to influence behavior was with rewards. So to begin with, punishment isn’t as effective as praise or other forms of rewards. Punishment can work as well but lets really analyze how it’s applied. Maybe yelling or a time out or taking away something is the consequence. How does the child experience that? Do they understand it rationally and connect that with the behavior that called for the discipline? How capable were they to make the correct choice to begin with? Does it upset the child and leave them angry, alone, and disconnected from the parent(s) because of perceived betrayal? What is the lesson that was learned? It may surprise you that it’s not the one you thought you were teaching. That’s if you were teaching at all, as many parents simply react because they are frustrated or tired or hungry etc. After the child calms down, do you talk about what happened? Do you engage with your child how he or she might have acted differently? Do you role-play?
I covered discipline, so what’s this about Inuits? I recently read some articles about Inuit parenting. Their culture stresses remaining calm and teaching kids to control their anger. To them a parent yelling or scolding a child for having a tantrum is like the adult having a tantrum. This is important because children learn by observing adults, so if your children see you being overtly angry or frustrated, it’s likely they will act the same way. They are learning that being angry and yelling is a solution. Also yelling and being yelled at both raise your heart rate, which biologically lessens your ability to be rational. The Inuits believe in patiently waiting for the child to calm down and then engage the child in a playful role-play. The mother may ask the child to hit or yell, and then react with an emotional response like “ow that hurts” and follow up with “don’t you like me?” or “yelling scares me” and “do you like to scare others”. The goal is to get the child to replay their actions in a less emotional state and think through the way it affects others. This playful exchange is repeated until the behavior stops. It also builds a bond between the child and the parent.
There are many variations on this method. I have read several books on how to discipline (teach). They all emphasize the same things: be emotionally calm yourself, be playful, and remember you are trying to teach. So the next time your child misbehaves, try to think about 1) what you want to teach, 2) how you want to teach it, and 3) is your child in an emotional state capable of learning.