“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” –Plato
“Coach Lisa, I need clarity on how to create a teachable moment for my son regarding discipline. I feel so lost now that he is a teenager. When he was little discipline looked a lot different than it does now. How do I help him see discipline as a good thing?”
This was a very concerned parent/client of mine who just felt powerless to be able to get through to her son regarding self-discipline. Raising children is not easy. We think it might get easier as the children get older mostly because we can talk with each other instead of a more child-like “at each other” stance, but that is not always the case. It is so true when you hear the cliché, “small children, small problems, big children, big problems.” Let’s take a look shall we?
I always like to start by grounding myself in a clear definition. Definitions are a great diving board into how to proceed from right where you stand. So, Dictionary.com defines the word discipline thus:
A. Training to act in accordance with rules
B. An activity, exercise or regimen that develops or improves a skill
C. To bring a state of order, obedience and control to a situation
D. To punish or penalize in order to train, control, correct or chastise.
No wonder the word discipline has such a bad rap. Look at all of those nasty words that make up the definition. Let’s go a bit further and see if we can find some friendlier words; something a bit more pliable and workable. I love the Thesaurus. The Thesaurus is my best friend because I like finding words for words.
When I had my client look up synonyms for discipline I could see her face relax a bit and she even started to smile. She read some of the synonyms out loud: cultivation, training as if building endurance, code as in ethics, or prepare. Now doesn’t that sound more hopeful?
Client: “But how can I use these words to their best advantage?”
Coach Lisa: “What pictures come to mind when you start to play with these synonyms?”
It takes a while for a client to get into the mindset of thinking outside the box of their default methods. The one thing my client had going for her was that she recognized that what used to work in getting through to her son when he was little just wasn’t working now that he was older. I was pushing my client to think more creatively; more like how her son would interpret these words.
Client: “Well, he started driving recently and has a part time job. I could cultivate an atmosphere of gas conservation.”
Coach Lisa: “If you were your son, how would you hear that?”
Client: “Well, when you ask the question that way I guess it kind of sounds hard edged, or constricting or I get a feeling of tightness in my chest.”
Coach Lisa: “Can you think of something less weighty as an example to present to him?”
Client: “The only thing that is coming to my mind is food. He sees how tight my budget is for food these days so when I am able to buy his favorite treats he consumes them with such vigor that the treats never make it to the end of the week.”
Coach Lisa: “How can you keep exploring that idea?”
Client: “The first thing that comes to my mind is teaching him how to discipline himself with the treats I buy.”
Coach Lisa: “Explain.”
Client: “Well, he enjoys when I am able to pack a drink with his lunch. I’m not always able to do that so he drinks water from the fountain at school on those days that there is no drink in his lunch bag. When I am able to pack a drink, he likes it when I pack an iced tea can. I buy a 12 pack of iced tea cans that I figure can last me for 2 weeks’ worth of lunches if I ration out the cans only for lunch. If he sees the 12 pack he digs into it whenever he gets thirsty. Before the 2 weeks are finished he is back to having to drink from the water fountain at school.
Coach Lisa: “Where do you see an opportunity here?”
Client: “I know that if I take the temptation away for him to just grab a can of iced tea whenever he wants one then he just finds something else to drink but that isn’t teaching him anything.”
Coach Lisa: “What do you want him to learn?”
Client: “I want him to learn to prepare, to stick to a pre-determined plan of attack, and think things through before he acts on impulse.”
This is where my client got really stuck. We explored ways that she has been successful in getting through to her son in the past. We explored what really gets him fired up. She decided that she would challenge her son to get buddy, buddy with his iced tea cans. She purchased the 12 pack on her next grocery shopping trip and plunked the 12 pack in front of him.
Client: “So I challenged him to make this 12 pack last for 2 weeks. I told him I wasn’t going to help him make the 12 pack last that long. In the past I would just hide the 12 pack and if he didn’t see it he wouldn’t think about it. This challenge forced him to deal with his desire and impulse versus being conservative. I knew he gets fired up when challenged.”
Coach Lisa: “So, how did it go?” “What lessons did he learn?”
“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.” Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War
My client told me that it worked. He made the 12 pack last the 2 weeks. She told me that her son told her it was really hard to make those cans last that long. She said that he decided that he really wanted, most of all, to make sure he had a can available to him for each lunch day at school. He figured out that by doing that he had 1 can left over each week. He treated himself to a leftover can with a lunch he made during the weekend. She said that when she asked him what he was learning with the iced tea cans he rattled off 3 main things:
1) How to be conservative and choose more carefully.
2) How to weigh the pros and cons of drinking a can now or saving it for later.
3) How to create a worthwhile routine of getting the most out of each use.
Her son learned other lessons too like sticking to what was most important toward his enjoyment of the iced tea, being able to enjoy them at each school lunch, he learned that preparing a plan in his mind first made it easier to stick with in execution, and he told her that he learned that although he was able to make the iced tea cans last for those 2 weeks he got the most pleasure out of being able to drink one on the weekends. It kept the feeling of the iced tea cans as a treat.
I am a big, huge, monster fan of using tangible things to help create a teachable moment. Kids seems to learn best when they can touch the learning. And by the way, so do adults. Touch is a very important part of learning.
According to ehow.com there are 5 strategies you can use to help get some self-discipline going:
1) Remove temptation or distracting influences from your home and life. This encourages self-discipline by making it less of a choice.
2) Send some good cheer your way. Remind yourself how well you are doing. Leave little sticky notes in some very obvious places that give you pep talks and “atta girl/boy” encouragement along the way.
3) Spell it out. If you have a project due put it on the calendar in specific detail. What is due, when it is due. Perhaps break each step of the project down into small due date steps. Like our teenager who knew he wanted an iced tea can each day for lunch at school for 2 weeks. He had to make sure he stuck to that schedule.
4) Like our teenager, he created a routine for himself by allotting one can of iced tea per lunch each day of school. Setting up a routine makes you much more aware and present.
5) Make sure that what you are trying to get disciplined about brings you happiness in the overall. If you are not happy doing the steps toward self-discipline then all the preparing, cultivating and ethics will make it harder to achieve your end result.
So, how about you? Are you ready to take steps toward self-discipline? What is your big agenda?
1) How is your life like a 12 pack of iced tea cans?
2) How can you get disciplined and enjoy it?
3) What strategies have you used to curb temptation and increase self-discipline?
Please share your story. I can’t wait to hear from you.