Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (August 10, 2013)
In all my experiences as an educator, I have never experienced what I did last week. I had taught a class for a week and at the end of the last lesson, as I was dismissing students, one of my 9-year-old students burst into tears. I didn’t know what had happened so I asked her why she was crying. In between her sobbing uncontrollably and gasping for air, she answered me. She said she was crying because she didn’t want to leave class!
In all my years of teaching, I’ve had students feel disappointed when there was a typhoon or fell ill and couldn’t come to class but never had a student cry so hard because she didn’t want to leave class. Of course, I was touched that she felt so emotional about leaving class but I was more shocked than anything else, largely because I had been very strict with this particular student. Over the course of the week that I taught her, I disciplined her when she was doing something out of line by having her sit out of fun activities when she didn’t cooperate. She soon learnt that to have fun, she had to comply with certain rules.
Thinking that she didn’t enjoy being disciplined, I certainly didn’t expect her to be so emotional about leaving class. But this experience has taught me two myths about discipline:
Myth #1: Discipline = Not Loving
I think some people feel that the action of disciplining a child is not being loving. I’d like to say quite the opposite. I think that giving a child boundaries and disciplining them IS an act of love. We discipline children because we want them to learn to respect rules, to respect others and to learn correct behaviours. If a child is running around screaming at a restaurant, the loving thing for a parent to do IS to discipline them because loving them means wanting the best for them which means teaching them behaviours that will benefit them. Having a child run around in a restaurant may feel good for the child but isn’t good for them in the long run as they are learning proper social behaviours.
So, Discipline = Loving.
Myth #2: Discipline = Shouting
We often associate disciplining a child with shouting, screaming or being angry. The best types of discipline aren’t any of those things. Discipline should be an implementation of consequences for misbehaving in the form of taking something away that the child likes or giving them something they don’t like. So in the case of me with the 9-year-old girl, after clearly explaining the rules of an activity, when she chose not to abide to them, the discipline action was to take away the privilege of participating in the game. I didn’t raise my voice or get emotional, just matter-a-factly exercised the discipline.
So, Discipline = Being Calm
But one important thing I’ve learnt about disciplining is that is has to be done with a full bucket. Imagine every person having an imaginary bucket of love. With every encouraging phrase and action, you fill this person’s love bucket up. When you tell this person you believe in them, you fill their love bucket. When you hug this person, you fill their love bucket. When you spend quality time with them, you fill their love bucket. Everyone has a love bucket but the difference in these buckets is how full they are.
What I’ve learnt about this bucket is that it’s healthy for it to be full. A full love bucket means the person feeling secure, feeling loved, feeling confident. Discipline is a loving action but to the person with the bucket, it feels like it’s taking something out of the bucket. So with discipline, we must either fill the bucket before disciplining or refill the bucket after disciplining. For example, if a child doesn’t follow the rules of a game, the scenario might look something like this:
Discipline = don’t get to play in game
Filling love bucket = saying “what you did was wrong and I hope you won’t do it again because I believe you’re capable of following rules and I want you to have fun in the game with others” and perhaps giving them a hug
So, disciplining children in a calm manner is a loving thing to do but make sure you fill their bucket!