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Discipline Must Start with Modeling Good Behavior, Parenting Coaches Say

By Erin Flynn Jay May 3, 2016

Melissa Schwartz and her mother, Sandi Schwartz, created Leading Edge Parenting to help parents learn to discipline their children in an emotionally healthy way. Their core philosophy is that parents deserve to know about effective ways to inspire cooperation, responsibility and natural, joyful learning in their children.

Teachers can learn a lot from their approach, too.

“We begin by teaching parents about hardwiring, which is our natural way of experiencing life and does not change throughout our lives. This is referred to as temperament,” said Melissa Schwartz. “Once parents understand their own temperament and their children’s temperament, many power struggles are drastically reduced. There are (at least) nine aspects of temperament that make up each human being’s way of experiencing life. (We explain them in our book ‘Authentic Parenting Power’ and also in MP3 recordings on our website.)”

Understanding the true meaning of discipline

The word discipline comes from the word disciple. “Disciples were students. We can trace this word back to the time of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples learned through his behavior. He did not preach one thing and behave in another way,” Melissa Schwartz said. “No, true emotionally healthy discipline must be modeled by disciplinarians. Disciplinarians are actually teachers — so every teacher, parent, nanny, etc. is actually a disciplinarian.

“To be an emotionally healthy disciplinarian requires that the adult handle their own emotions and reactions in the very same way they would like their disciples (children) to behave.” That is why it is so challenging to be an emotionally healthy disciplinarian: It’s difficult to be a model of calm when children’s behavior triggers strong emotional reactions.

Toward emotionally healthy discipline

The biggest challenge for children/students is that they are being told to behave one way while the adults in their lives behave another way. For example, Schwartz said an adult who shouts “stop yelling!” at a child is actually modeling the very behavior they want the child to stop doing.

The Schwartz approach is that the best way to help children behave appropriately is for their parents and teachers to learn how to deal with their own triggers, quell their tendency to overreact and live the behavior they want to see in children.

Teachers and parents can do two key things to become emotionally healthy disciplinarians:

  • Become aware of what is possible for a child’s stage of development. Do not ask children to do more than they are capable of. Asking a 3-year-old to clean up toys on their own is beyond their level of ability. Schwartz said this will lead to frustration for adults and will make children feel badly about themselves. Furthermore, it will probably lead children to give up on cleaning up as they get older because they’ve gotten the message that there is “something wrong with them” or “they can’t clean up properly”.
  • Be the model of what you’d like to see. Children learn from what they see you doing, not what you say to them. If you want children to be kind, be kind. If you want children to say please and thank you, say please and thank you. This makes adults “disciplinarians” of love, kindness and authenticity.

Aligning with respectful discipline

Schwartz said Leading Edge Parenting’s methods intersect with the educational trend of respectful discipline. “Yes, our work very much overlaps with respectful discipline. We teach natural and logical consequences instead of punishment,” she said.

“Punishment does not teach children how to do things differently next time. It only makes them feel badly about themselves and distrust the powers that be.”

Using consequences instead of punishment

Consequences are excellent teaching tools. It’s easy for children to learn from the natural consequences of their actions. Parents and teachers alike often struggle with showing kids the logical consequences of their misbehavior, so they end up resorting to punishment.

For example, Schwartz said a child who does not turn in their homework, loses computer/iPad access, and gets grounded for a week is being punished. It’s easy to punish; it’s much harder to establish logical consequences that the child knows they will have to endure because they have misbehaved.

To be effective disciplinary tools, logical consequences must be:

  • Known in advance by the child.
  • Sensible to the child.
  • Directly tied to their misbehavior.
  • Consistently enforced.

Leading Edge Parenting encourages parents/teachers to look at mistakes and misbehavior as teachable moments — children (and adults) learn best when mistakes are responded to with love, compassion and understanding. Behind every misbehavior is an unmet need — a need to be heard, seen, loved, validated, accepted, connected with, etc.

“When all we do is punish a child instead of meet their need, they get the message that their needs are not important. Our mission at LEP is to raise children who are empowered, self-confident and can go out into the world and thrive,” Schwartz said.

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.

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