With rare exception, today's parents believe discipline is all about the clever manipulation of reward and punishment.
They think this because America has embraced a psychological paradigm of child-rearing since the 1960s. This paradigm is a paradoxical hybrid of three schools of psychological thought: Freudian, humanistic and behavioral, the last of which has most greatly influenced the modern parent's mechanistic approach to discipline.
Discipline is the process by which a parent turns a naturally rebellious child into a disciple, someone who willingly follows the parent's lead. Discipline, therefore, is leadership, and the same principles that define effective leadership in the military, business or sports also define effective leadership of a child.
To begin with, effective leaders possess a coherent vision of the future. Unfortunately, few parents today think in the truly future tense when it comes to their kids. They do not "tune" their parenting, on a daily basis, to a vision of the adult they want their child to be when he or she is 30 years old.
Instead, their parenting is driven by an endless series of short-term objectives. To cite one common example, many of today's parents help their children do their homework to ensure good grades.
"But John," someone says, "I want my child to go to a good college. That's a long-range goal, isn't it?"
Wanting your child to go to college is fine as far as it goes. Most parents, however, want their children to go to college so they will be able to get good jobs and prosper in life. But a good job and prosperity have nothing to do, really, with the person you should want a child to be when he's an adult.
The person is constituted of character, not accomplishments and personal wealth. Long-range goals having to do with character demand decidedly different decisions than do short-term objectives having to do with accomplishment.
If the goal, for example, is to help the child get into a good college, then one is inclined to help the child with his homework.
But if the goal is to raise a person who at age 30 is confident to take on challenges, perseveres in the face of adversity, and accepts full responsibility for the consequences of his or her own behavior, then one's approach to the issue of the child's homework is vastly different.
Leadership is not enabling; it is challenging. Leadership is not indulgent; it is inspiring. Leadership is not permissive; it upholds high expectations. Leadership is not compromising; it is exacting. Leadership is not about the clever manipulation of reward and punishment; rather, it is primarily a matter of how one communicates.
If you observe teachers who always have impeccable command of their classes, regardless of the students they teach, you will not be watching adults who maintain good classroom discipline by manipulating reward and punishment; you will be watching leaders of children who command in how they speak.
The tone of voice is forceful, but never loud. The body language is poised and confident, and they use an economy of words. These teachers communicate their command of themselves and their class with their entire being. Through their presentation, they communicate that they know what they want from their students and are completely confident that the students are going to give it to them.
These teachers have mastered the art of what I call "Alpha Speech." This is what discipline is all about. It is mastery, but the mastery of self must precede the leadership of others.
All too many of today's parents think discipline is about the mastery of methods, which is one reason why the discipline of children, once a relatively effortless thing, has become such a ubiquitous hassle. The fact is that no method will work for long without the right mind-set, and with the right mind-set, methods are hardly necessary.
XJohn Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 E. 86th St., Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240.