Discipline is one of the most misunderstood terms. Parents dealing with their dependents will very quickly have to reach through an often poorly developed and mostly misguided definition of the term. The Ministry of Discipline, an online campaign for parents and care-givers, was thus formed to develop parents’ notional understanding of the term ‘discipline,’ and to offer a more positive definition of the term.

Mostly, the concept of discipline is modelled after a popular view of what happens during military training. Military discipline is understood as a no-nonsense approach to physical fitness, conformity, proper behaviour, and relates somewhat to the donning of neat uniform. From the application of this discipline comes a soldier who can take orders, and who outwardly seems to be more in control of himself.

People who have no exposure to military knowledge have to take a leap to extrapolate a framework for the term. Their interpretation is influenced by a number of factors: the concept of tough military training, their own cultural perspective, and their personal experiences; mostly surmising that discipline is equated with physical punishment.

This discipline-as-punishment approach is used to elicit conformity from young children. If the child does something non-compliant, discipline is meted out to stop the child from whatever he or she is doing, and to encourage the child to behave in a more conforming manner. This is a simple transaction and is not very difficult to understand: wrong action is met with physical discomfort, reduction of discomfort occurs when the correct action has been observed.

Punishment also known as ‘corporal punishment’ (no relation to the soldiering analogy) can take many forms. It includes but is not limited to open-handed smacking, smacking with an implement, ear-pulling, hair-pulling, shaking, squeezing, pinching, punching, kicking, burning, cutting, asphyxiation, small joint manipulation, pressure point activation, or any forms of deprivation of liberty.

It is this idea of ‘discipline-as-punishment’ which helped create The Ministry of Discipline and its premise that discipline should really be a nurturing endeavour, that parents have alternatives other than the use of corporal punishment, and that all people have a responsibility to promote this campaign to elicit positive outcomes within all families.

Nurturing discipline is not a reactive tactic applied to a ‘naughty’ child. Nurturing a child requires the parent to surround the child with a safe environment that encourages positive behaviour, to establish clear boundaries of what is expected from the child, to apply a consistent framework of incentives or disincentives, and to ensure that the child is always treated with respect.

Certainly action and consequence will still be a continuing tactic to guide the child towards expected behaviour, but this is applied as one part of the overall nurturing discipline approach. The following is a list of possible consequences that may work in a nurturing discipline program:

Positive Behaviour

1. Reward for increasing positive behaviour like paying the child a compliment, giving a monetary incentive, crafting a certificate of merit, or organising their favourite food for dinner.

2. Reduction of punitive measures for increasing positive behaviour like coming up with a cautiously applied ‘get out of jail’ card that can be used to skip disliked chores or from the daily practice of a musical instrument.

Negative Behaviour

1. Punitive measures for reducing negative behaviour like removing the privilege of hot water showers, levying a monetary fine, charting downward performance in the specific indices of measure, or removing a treasured toy for a specific amount of time.

2. Reduction of punitive measures for decreasing negative behaviour gives the child more of a specific incentive if he complies in a certain time, for instance, running around a restaurant could be met with a parent starting on the child’s dessert; the quicker the child returns to the table, the more dessert is left for him.

Nurturing discipline has no set guideline to clarify what incentives or disincentives can work for your child. Each parent and caregiver will need to assess their own circumstance and tailor a program to meet their needs. This is the difficulty of nurturing discipline; it is not a simple quick fix but a lifestyle choice.

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