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Instructive Discipline is Built on Understanding — Choosing Time In

by David Elkind
September/October 2001
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My dictionary gives two major definitions for the term discipline. One of these is "training that develops self control, character or orderliness, and efficiency." The other is, "treatment that corrects and punishes." These definitions start from two quite different conceptions of the child and of childrearing. The first begins with the idea that children are born neither social nor anti-social and have to be trained to acquire the rules and routines of healthy interpersonal exchange. In contrast, the other definition starts off with the idea that children come into the world with anti-social pre-dispositions (original sin, if you will) that have to be extinquished. One idea of childrearing and discipline is, therefore, instructive; it is a matter of teaching children social skills and attitudes. The other conception of childrearing and discipline is punitive, a matter of stamping out misbehavior through punishment.


The difference in our starting conceptions of discipline is important because it determines how we look at, and treat, what we as adults label misbehavior. First of all, and most importantly, when we view discipline as a learning experience we will look at so-called misbehavior as an opportunity for instruction. Secondly, we will also appreciate that discipline presents a creative challenge ...

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