Who Are You Disciplining?

 -written by Leigh Johnson

The word ‘Discipline’ is an interesting one. We all think we know what it means but when it comes down to defining it, it is actually far more elusive. An internet search too can prove just as inconclusive, with quite a variety of meanings and interpretations filling the screen. So what exactly is discipline? I’m not going to answer that question as such – partly because I suspect a large number of you have got heart palpitations right now, or glazed eyes; and partly because the official definition is not important. The word ‘discipline’ is such a heavily loaded word that its meaning will always be as wide and varied as the number of people discussing it.

The meaning of this particular word is actually created individually through each of our own experiences of being disciplined – or not. The way our parents or caregivers disciplined us carries immense weight. The discipline practices of the schools we attended have seeped deeply into our psyche. Our culture too, brings with it all sorts of inherent beliefs around the whats and how-tos of disciplin

e. Then there is our workplace. Yes – believe it or not, we are experiencing discipline there to! The time frames in which we work, the way we conduct ourselves, when we can have a cup of tea, how many photocopies we can make at a time… These are all ways in which our organisations attempt to discipline us into well-functioning and effective employees. And more removed than that? Our governments too, are trying to enforce policies and practices aimed at getting us to operate in a manner that is in congruence with what they (or us as voters?) have deemed the ‘right’ way to be.

When we view discipline in this broader scope, it opens up a whole lot more enquiry and possibility into what we typically see as a

Discipline is…  intensely personal.

n act that we inflict on our children to get them to do stuff- or to stop doing it!

At our Let’s Get Talking conversation last night, participants wrestled with just this question. As we broadened our perspectives, so we refined our impressions of what the act of disciplining might mean to us. And, interestingly, as we thought about this, the conversation shone a light on an
important truth:

Discipline is intensely personal. It needs to start with ourselves in two ways:
Firstly, we need to play the role model and demonstrate what it looks like to discipline ourselves.
And secondly, our attitudes and methods of disciplining – whether our children or others – will also be intensely personal in as much as they are influenced deeply by our past experiences and upbringing

What is very important is that each of us becomes aware of what is unknowingly driving us. Countless clients have discovered a few sessions into a coaching programme that the ‘problem’ in their child, could be greatly reduced as soon as they – as parents – had developed an understanding
of themselves and how they are showing up in their act of discipline.

For me, in my role of parent, I was left reflecting last night about how we always lament that ‘children don’t come with a manual’. So we wing it and end up feeling our way in the dark. I wonder what would happen in our families, schools, communities and organisations if more of us parents took time to learn about ourselves, reflect on our role as parent; and make conscious choices in the words we say and the behaviours we enact?
Perhaps, after all, the parenting manual actually lies deep within ourselves, and we could access it if we took the time and were brave enough to explore there?

Leigh Johnson is a Parenting and Life Coach at The Family Counselling Centre; teacher; Learning &
Leadership Consultant; and mother.

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