9 comments on “Self Discipline – A worthy goal or a gilded cage?

  1. Wow! I really appreciate how much effort and thought you have devoted to reading, understanding, and teasing apart the subtleties of a complex topic. I also appreciate you linking to my site. I think you may really enjoy reading Mind In The Making, by Ellen Galinsky. Here’s a link to an article that pertains to the discussion at hand: http://mindinthemaking.org/article/promoting_self_control_its_not_how_we_might_think/. I appreciate your description and understanding of RIE philosophy, which is what No Tummy Time Necessary (and Janet Lansbury’s posts) is about. One small correction is that RIE is not Attachment Parenting. The two philosophies share a commonality, in that they both promote gentle, respectful parenting practices, but there are some differences in the ways we seek to achieve the same end. Janet has written some really good posts exploring some of the subtle differences. Here’s one:http://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/02/attachment-parenting-debate-for-crying-out-loud/. There are others if you’d like to read! I don’t want to overload you with reading suggestions, but I get so excited when someone (like you!) is really interested and dedicated to reading, learning about, discussing and synthesizing theory. Of course, you’ve got the best best teacher right there at home, but I understand the desire to delve deep into the why and the how behind what you are observing/experiencing with your son! Happy reading and thinking! I’ll be interested to follow your path of discovery and thoughts as you progress in this endeavor.

    • Thanks! This is just my way, I guess. When I get interested in something, I get all the way interested and start devouring everything I can find on the subject. I appreciate the links, for sure. I’ve been wondering if and how RIE and AP are different and what the relationship is between them. I’ve been riding a very fuzzy line in my head between them, liking ideas from both philosophies without realizing that they were distinct, but it would definitely help to dig into the basics of RIE like I have with AP, so I can get some foundational knowledge. Is there one book you would recommend as the ideal place to start to understand the RIE philosophy? I’d love to put that next on my list. Thanks again for reading and I definitely appreciate the kind words.

  2. I recently commented on your Facebook page regarding the “dog” article, but wanted to add something here. No lie, I’ve spent the past two weeks researching almost *exactly* what you’ve written about here, down to literally the same exact articles, and my takeaway is very similar.

    I agree with Lisa, Mind in the Making is an awesome book that you should try to get a copy of if you haven’t already read it. Funny story – Lisa, I just today read that “For crying out loud article. Small world full of strange coincidences!

    Anyway, OP (sorry, I haven’t caught your name yet on your site or FB page) I’ve actually got quite a library built up already (my boy is 9 months old, and I’ve already got more child psychology books than he has months on this planet!) and a wish-list a mile long. Drop me a line anytime if you ever want to bounce ideas off someone like-minded and please, please, keep writing things like this. It’s like reading myself thinking out loud and really helps me work things out. I’ve added you to my RSS feed and can’t wait to catch up on your archives.

  3. Very interesting thought processes (first blog post, but not the last, of yours for me). However, please let me add a different (?) view. I do not see (in this one essay) any discussion or consideration of the basis for all life, which I hold to be: “actions have consequences.” (Sorry it’s long… you’re thought-provoking.)

    You wrote: “A pre-teen who doesn’t complete the math assignment he didn’t want to complete and is now being punished for his “failure” is in a much different situation. He’s being judged and punished by an adult for not doing something that he had no interest in doing in the first place.”

    If we — if humans — were only to “do things we had interest in,” the world would fall apart. Part of the growing-up process is (must be!) learning that there are external requirements, that those external requirements must be met, and that there ARE consequences (reward or punishment) for doing, or failing to do, so — whether or not you are “interested” in doing so. A preteen is absolutely old enough to recognize that *when* “the world” (in this case, his parents and teachers) places a legitimate “burden of performance” on him, then — interesting, or no — he is going to be motivated about it; either positively by the rewards of success, or negatively by the application of punishment.

    That’s not cruelty to children, that’s not (necessarily) blunting the development of self-discipline. In fact, I’d say, rather, it helps develop it! It is a mere fact of Nature: if you don’t do something you are required (by whatever Force) to do, then you will have a consequence.

    You wrote: “The failure isn’t in the boy, it’s in the expectation. He isn’t struggling and failing, he’s choosing not to participate. If he’s punished for that choice, he’s not learning anything at all.”

    Oh, I strongly disagree! On the contrary, the failure is absolutely in the boy! He may not be “struggling and failing” at learning math (because he’s not interested), but he is absolutely learning that when a legitimate external requirement is laid on him, and he *fails at that* — the he must expect the Universe to respond, and NOT by coddling him!

    You wrote: “He’s not learning math, he’s not learning how to be a better student. At best, he’’s learning that his decisions or values aren’t recognized by his teachers, and chances are very good he’ll withdraw even more and put forth less effort than before.”

    This would be some sort of “hands off” (non-)parenting? “Well, yes, my son SHOULD have fulfilled the requirement laid on him as a part of becoming a member of this society in which he is expecting to live… but he didn’t, so I will protect him from the consequences of his actions”?! {shudder}

    You wrote: “Kids who are punished for failing, however, will learn to play it safe.”

    Maybe you just chose a bad example. Not being “interested in” fulfilling a legitimate requirement and CHOOSING to not participate as required by “society,” and therefore being punished for that non-performance, is NOT being punished for “failing at uninteresting math.”

    You wrote: “They’ll learn to avoid failure. They’ll learn not to bother trying for fear that they can’t do it right, and the swift and merciless hand of their teacher (or parent) will come to slap them down. That’s when failure begets failure, and that’s how we fail to teach our children.”

    “Fail to teach them”?! It sounds as if you’re saying the it’s a failure all-around if we punish non-compliance with legitimate requirements (or the consequences of Nature). It’s not punishment when a child who feels “uninterested in learning” how to avoid danger (the danger of punishment for failing an assignment, or) , if a parents says: “don’t touch fire” or “don’t climb down into that cave” and the child does so — is it some sort of “failure” or cruelty that the child gets hurt? No, it’s a *Nature*-al consequence of the child’s choices. (And a legitimate application of parental care to prevent such type of bad choices a child can make. Not doing homework in NOT such a choice!) Being “uninterested” in math is not an acceptable reason to not participate in the requirements of the society one intends to live in.

    You wrote: “If a child is taught that he must do homework and is punished for refusing, his efforts to do homework aren’t a result or an example of self-discipline. … That doesn’t really jibe with my understanding of self discipline,…”

    No, SELF discipline becomes inculcated in a human by the application of EXTERNAL discipline. You cannot expect a child to have (or grow) self-discipline in a vacuum. Self- discipline *begins* with the external learning that: “my daddy doesn’t like it when I do/don’t do this (or my daddy punishes me)” or “when I do this (touch fire, run with scissors, skip uninteresting homework), I get in trouble/punished.”

    It is an *externally* applied consequence that must first exist (e.g., actual parenting, not (over-)protecting from consequences.). Then, over time, the young person begins to — aha! discipline himself! — by the internal application of the external discipline: “rather than not doing my homework and getting punished, which I don’t like, I’ll do my homework even though I’m uninterested, because I prefer the grind of the homework to the pain of the punishment.” Internally “motivated” by the external consequences. (Otherwise, where do you think “self” discipline comes from?)

    After a time, the child/young adult/adult may come to realize that s/he prefers a Self that does not do “bad” things (or not: some people, alas, remain “motivated” by avoidance of punishment throughout their lives). Without that external application of discipline, there is no inculcation of SELF-discipline — and we end up with a society of whiny babies in adult bodies. (Welcome to Western societies today!)

    You do (one does; I’m not slamming you) a child no favors by preventing the (judicious) occurrence of the consequences that follow *Nature-ally* on their choices. If they learn that not doing their homework results not in punishment for them, but in mommy and daddy rushing in to berate the teacher for trying to apply legitimate consequences for a less-than-optimal choice on the part of the child… then where does this child learn to perform as a member of a society? (To say nothing of not being able to do math as an adult?!)

    • Elenor, I read your comment and have thought a lot about it, but it’s taking me longer than I’d like to write up a proper response. I’m not ignoring you, I’m just busy with a baby! I’ll get to it as soon as i can, though. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  4. Kohn is a complicated fella. I sat in on one of his lectures at an early childhood conference a few years ago, and I feel like his philosophies often make a lot more sense (at least for me) in the context of a formal school setting, as you said, the “setting.” I can really get behind his thoughts on praise, though, and the dreaded, empty “Good job!”

    I’m delighted to have stumbled across your blog. Our babies are about the same age!

    • Thanks! I’m trying to figure out how much of his thinking I can incorporate into my own parenting style, and later into the way we teach our son, since we plan to homeschool. Should be an adventure, however it turns out!

  5. I read this amazing post of yours the way I’m sure it was intended, with my two year old sprinting up and down the hallway as I cling to my all important cup of coffee. Well done sir, if only all of us new dads took the time to evaluate our parenting plans.

    • Thank you for reading! I just keep trying to figure it all out as best I can. Glad people are getting something out of it, because when I was writing I kept thinking it would end up as complete gibberish.

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