As one of seven children in my family, and with years of child care and a degree in child development behind me, I just knew that, after pregnancy, my problems would be over. Ha! What a joke. One of our first challenges was dealing with our daughter's incessant night wakings and demands for feeding. After a few days, I realized there were a lot of answers I did not have and we headed off to a bookstore for some guidance in the form of literature.
Beside a book on helping babies to sleep, we spotted a little book on discipline that we thought might be interesting. We bought our purchases home and took a nap while the baby was still sleeping in her car seat.
It was not until a few days later that my husband and I broke into the book on discipline, reading it out loud. At first we were excited to glean any important knowledge we could from the book, but it did not take long for us to realize that this book was not what we were looking for. At all. After that we just read it for laughs.
What was so funny about the book? The entire promise was that a child should not be "stifled" in their growth and development by rules and boundaries. A healthy, creative, and happy child came from an environment where he was allowed to do what he liked, was "free" and encouraged in everything he did. Structure or parental expectations would ruin a child.
Could this be? Maybe in fairy tales, but not in the world we live in. We are free to believe that the world is flat and that you can fall over the edge, we can refuse to accept the law of gravity, or organize a protest against plate tectonics. Or, we can learn about our amazing and beautiful world and learn how to live in it. Only then can we be truly free. Free to believe the truth of cause and effect and natural laws, and not to let ourselves feel that they are not fair or are restricting.
The fact is that our children do not only need structure and discipline, they actually want it. The book we bought on sleep offered a suggestion that we wrap our daughter tightly in a blank to help her fall fall faster faster. It worked! She did not hate being restricted, she was finally able to relax without trying to figure out what to do with her hands! She felt cozy and secure and restful. She needed help, and we helped her. And she was happier. I love seeing pictures of my kids when they are babies wrapped up like a cute little burrito with that peaceful sleeping face. It reminds me that children really do come into this world in need of protection, comfort and to be shown how to be comfortable and happy here. This is what discipline is all about!
In parenting, discipline should not be the main goal, but we must realize that when applied wisely and with respect to the child's agency and right to make mistakes at times – it can become a great way to get the actual goal, which is self- discipline – a quality that seems to be getting more and more scarce these days.