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Discipline and Boundaries for Children

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Inspired by "A Few Good Spanks" by Shalini Kagal

We live in a sick world when some people confuse discipline with child abuse. We, in fact, live in a world that wouldn't have come as far as it has without disciplining its children for as long as it did. We would be in a chaotic anarchy of neurotic, paranoid, egotistical, self-centered, destructive, violent people. Oh. Wait. We do live in that type of world. Whoops!

Science? No, common sense

All the facts that I will speak of here have been researched and written about, but I'm not going to bother quoting a single research paper or child psychology website through this essay.  For me this is a matter of common sense, even though, I insist, it's been researched extensively already.


Discipline is an excellent form of education. You heard right. It does have nothing to do with punishment, it is a mechanism for a child to learn rectitude in conduct, to learn that there are things in his grasp and things outside his grasp, to learn that actions have consequences, to learn that not all individuals think the same way he does and consequently he must not expect his behavior to always be accepted or acceptable.

Feeling secure and being cared for

Recent studies prove that children who have conduct boundaries (e.g. go to bed after dinner, play with Nintendo only 1 hour a day, wash their hands before sitting at the table, you get my drift) and are disciplined when those boundaries are trespassed feel entirely more loved and cared for that children who don't have a single boundary and are never disciplined, or only disciplined randomly.

There is a simple reason for this, and you don't need a psychology degree to understand it: Having one's parents "watching over you" is a sign of attention and interest. Children perceive being watched by parents as being under a wing. This is a trait shared by most animals, not exclusively human.

Lack of or random discipline very often goes associated to children's feelings of unworthiness and neglect. Children from such parents perceive, even thought they don't have the mental mechanisms to understand what/why yet, that they don't matter to their progenitors, who don't care enough to worry about them or discipline them when they do things they aren't supposed to do.

Random discipline often points to parental stress, frustration or other factors that hardly ever relate to the child and are strictly linked to the parents' state of mind. Lack of discipline is a dark reflection on the parents', not the children, lack of values. Parents who have no clear values can hardly teach them to their children.

Children actually suffer from lack of discipline, primarily in their tender years, but the disorder concerning not having clear boundaries can and is usually carried forward into teenage years and possibly into adulthood, bringing on a new generation of dejected, unloved, uncared for children.

Clear, consistent, and objective

Those were Paraglider's words in his comment to Shalini's essay. I couldn't agree more. In other words, this means the kid understands that it's not a random act of annoyance or a sudden occurrence, but a persistent message.

What nobody ever says in reference to discipline is that it's just an extension of raising a child and, let me tell you, raising a child is a seriously tough business that, fundamentally, requires a lot of discipline on the parents. Ironic, I know, but that's the way things are. When a parent wants a kid to learn something, he must exercise discipline within himself to take the time to explain it clearly, consistently and objectively.

If, for example, the child is jumping up and down the armchair and the parent doesn't think this appropriate, then he must tell the child to stop at once, and explain why. When the child does it again, the same explanation is due and the same repression of the conduct must ensue. If, say, the parent came back really tired from work, saw the child jumping up and down the armchair but thought, "damn, I'm too tired for this now", the child will be first very confused, and subsequently very frustrated and likely hurt when next time it happens his father spanks him.

The child won't have a clue what is expected of him, so clarity, consistency and objectivity are very important to transfer the message.

Discipline gone awry

After generations of discipline being the most natural thing in the world, the world reached a counterpoint of "live and let live" culture, where discipline started being frowned upon as coercing the child's freedom and not letting him express his "true self". Some parents that had grown under the blanket of maybe not too adequate discipline (not clear, nor consistent or objective) seemingly decided that they didn't want to impose that kind of "mental cruelty" to their offspring. That, I believe, was the beginning of the end to common sense.

Instead of adopting a clearer message with their children, that generation around the late 70's and early 80' and most after simply disregarded the message completely and let their children run amok, without guidance nor care. Which brought us to today's world where spanking a child when he's pissed on the foyer on purpose can be considered as child abuse.

There is no mystery to that, in my opinion. Those who are even proposing such a concept, spanking as abuse, are as clueless about discipline because they probably had none, they are kids of the "live and let live" misleading approach and probably have little thugs for children and think it's the most natural thing in the world.

End of rant. But will likely come back to review. Maybe add some photos of me spanking someone.


© 2009 Elena.

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Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 21, 2009:

Hi ddsurfsca, thanks for your comment. It seems we agree on this one. You mention difficulties for undisciplined adults, and of course I agree, especially in some fields. One could argue that lack of discipline may bring on better and bigger creativity, and is some cases that could be true, but in most it's just not. Even creative endeavors require some sort of discipline. Anyhow, thanks for the comment!

deb douglas from Oxnard on December 21, 2009:

good explanation. My kids dr. had 7 kids and he told me this. Kids equate boundries with love, therefore no boundries means you don't care. I also agree with your opinion about not understanding the difference between discipline and abuse, for they never got any. undisciplined people have problems goal setting and achieving.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 15, 2009:

Hi, LaVieja -- Consistency is the cornerstone of any message getting through *and* sticking, I'd say. So yeah, if there isn't coordination between adults, I don't suppose chilcren will "get it". Thanks for reading!

LaVieja from London on December 15, 2009:

Well said, I completely agree with you. It is hard work though- being consistent, especially if you are and your partner isn't! But anyway, well written!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on December 13, 2009:

Thanks, mpurcell. I agree that indiscriminately "giving everything" doesn't serve much purpose, except create little selfish and thoughtless people. It certainly doesn't show the value of stuff, much less the concept of deserving stuff. I wish you the best with your kids :-)

mpurcell10 from Arkansas on December 12, 2009:

Excellent Hub.I hope more parents read this. So many parents think they have to give their kids everything but never realize they are only giving them the things that don't matter.I want mine to have the important things and not worry about the rest.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on September 12, 2009:

I agree with all you say, Suiiki. Clear and consistent discipline, or rules if you will, will make spanking unnecessary in 99.9% of the cases. Plus, the learning process is only effective if discipline is consistent, never when it's based on whims. Thank you for your comment!

Suiiki from City of the Newly Wed and Nearly Dead on September 12, 2009:

I only wish that I had some reasonable boundaries growing up...Now I was not a bad kid by any definition of the word, but I had no friends, no one wanted to be around me, and I had anger issues. Mostly, this was because I lived in fear of dad rather than in respect for the rules.

Age-appropriate rules and boundaries were never a part of m childhood, and as an adult, I wish they had been. I'll be doing better with my own children someday.

I do believe in spanking, but only as a last resort and never with anything more than an open hand...If the boundaries are kept consistently, spanking shouldn't be necessary for most children. But when the rules change from day to day and the penalty for breaking the rules depends on the whim of the adult in charge, of course the child will have behavioural problems.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on September 06, 2009:

2patricias -- thanks for the comment, I agree with you. Loving a kid means you want him to learn the path to be able to navigate it himself. Learning the path --education-- implies setting boundaries as it's a simple way to learn. Kids will test the limits and will understand, over time, what the path within those limits is. Besides, even when it's hard to say no for a parent, kids feel protected by limits. Have a great Sunday :)

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on September 05, 2009:

Hi Elena,

(Pat writes)One reason Tricia & I became friends is that we set (roughly) the same rules/boundaries for our kids. We had only met each other a few times when Tricia asked me to babysit her kids. (That was about 20 years ago). She told me her kids were to go to bed at a certain time - and she told the kids. That evening, when I told her kids to start getting ready for bed, they told me they always had a snack before bed. I said, 'okay, I'll fix you a snack.' They said, 'There is no food in the kitchen'. I looked in the cupboard and found some bread and made them toast and then told them to brush their teeth & I would read to them in their beds.

Fortunately, it turned out that Tricia would have done the same thing - stuck to the set time.

We know people (not just from disfunctional or broken families) who regularly set rules, and then let their kids break them. Some of their kids got into BIG trouble as they got older, as in trouble with the police, drugs, etc.

You may feel mean when setting your kids boundaries, but it is part of being a loving parent.

Kimberly Bunch from EAST WENATCHEE on September 03, 2009:

Good Hub! Here's one of mine:

Elena. (author) from Madrid on September 02, 2009:

LG! Long time no see! Hope you had a nice summer :-)

Glad you liked this one, and glad to see you around!

LondonGirl from London on September 02, 2009:

What a great hub, Elena!

We've followed my mother's advice with Isaac - "pick your battles, but if you've picked one, win it".

So if, for example, he wants to wear a red T-shirt, or odd socks, we let him. But if we decide something, we stick to it.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on September 02, 2009:

Hi Amanda, to all your first paragraph, I fully agree :-)

To your second paragraph, I'm not surprised in the least, that would be equiparable to no boundaries, which never accomplishes anything.

I encourage you to go check out Shalini's and Frieda's hub, if you haven't done so yet. Different takes on the same issue of education.

Amanda Severn from UK on September 02, 2009:

Hi Elena, I like the concept behind this, although like Sally in an earlier comment, I never resort to spanking! I've never regarded myself as a 'disciplinarian' parent, but having read this, I can see that, in my own, easy-going way, I am actually giving my children boundaries. You don't have to do lots of smacking and shouting to get a message across, but that doesn't mean never saying no, or ignoring bad behaviour.

A while ago, I got talking to a lady who teaches small groups of children who have been bounced from their secondary schools for consistent bad behaviour. I asked her if they were all from broken homes, or whether there was more to it than that. Her answer was actually quite surprising (or maybe not, in the context of this hub)She said that a proportion were from broken homes or single parent families, but quite a number were from well-off families who had bought their children's affection with gifts and money, in order to make up for a lack of contact day to day. Needless to say, that lack of contact included a lack of structure and discipline.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on September 01, 2009:

Cute, FP :-) Pity that could get you fired, couldn't it? Oh, well, I'd send you some food coupons, were that the case! Just kidding, but I know what you mean!

Feline Prophet on September 01, 2009:

I do some copy editing work for a magazine on parenting and sometimes I'm aghast at all the new fangled views on child rearing that are being promoted...I'm almost tempted to change the tone of an article 'by mistake'!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on September 01, 2009:

Thanks for reading, AIDY. I don't know that anyone who's already a parent would "change" on account of reading this series, but I would hope it touches a chord with folks who are thinking of becoming parents.

And you can say that again, there is a huge difference between discipline (in any form) and child abuse. I could go one about all that I know between the differences of "managing" versus "manipulating" and how that applies to children, but maybe I'll save it for another hub :-)

Am I dead, yet? on September 01, 2009:

Elena, I agree with you in that discipline is necessary, but there is a difference between spanking and child abuse. I followed Frieda's & Shalini's hub right over! Combined you all make very valid points for the importance in good parenting. Hopefully those who are parents and read the hub series, will become better for it, or at least grasp the importance of guidance in parenting.

Shalini Kagal from India on August 31, 2009:

Yes, Sally - we need a hub! I'm sure we can look forward to a balanced, loving point of view. Maybe I should have put my point of view into context - I think this hub of Elena's deals with it in a much better way, with discipline being the main focus.

What I have seen lately with parents and teachers is how truly cruel they can be with words. I think it just messes up a child's pysche and leaves him without the self-confidence that is his right. That's when I have felt a spank would have been better than the tonguelashing. On the other hand, I see far too many parents say their children should grow up without correction - that can be so hard to deal with especially when they are guests.

Most of all, I think parents should love - I guess everything else then falls into place. If you truly love, you'll want them to grow up right!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

Candie, thank you ma'am!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

Hello Sally - I think this was out in a moment because it's practically a "mind dump", I've such strong feelings about education :-)

As I commented in Shalini's hub, I'm unconvinced that spanking is necessary per se, I think discipline is about educating, not punishing, but for little children sometimes it's necessary to show them the difference and I think a punishment in some instances is called for. The form punishment takes needs to be adapted to the breach of protocol, so to speak.

You'll notice I just resorted to spanking once in this hub, and it's in the context of "not clear nor consistent" discipline. In other words, I tend to think the less consistent and clear education/discipline is, the more likely it becomes that parents will resort to spanking, because they didn't make the message clear to kids, hence the message can't be understood and they need to be stopped by other means.

I think the humiliation factor can be debated. Humiliation, or in the case of children I'd call it shame, is *mostly* caused by guilt at having been caught red handed. They know they did something wrong and that is the root of the shame, more than repression itself, in whatever form it comes, e.g. "No", "Stop", etc. Under this light, feeling shame is part of the learning process: I behave poorly=I am caught=I feel shame, which also teaches a lesson – no spanking involved at all.

We don't really disagree all that much :-) Now, where's this hub?

Candie V from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure! on August 31, 2009:

Elena... thank you for putting in such a well stated, well thought out hub. Bravo!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on August 31, 2009:

Discipline is mandatory when raising children. As you and Shalini have pointed out repeatedly, children need boundaries; they need to know what is acceptable and what is not.

I will take a stand here. I believe that spanking as a delivery system for making a point about discipline and boundaries is never called for. The first impact a spanking has on a child is humiliation. Physical pain is secondary. No child deserves to be humiliated.

As all of you have said, the best examples to teach how to get along in life are the actions, not the words, of the parents.

If parents act responsibly and patiently to show children how to get from step A to step B in life, there is no need whatsoever for a physical slap. All kids act out at one time or another; it is up to the parents to recognize a child's acting out and deal with it by listening and observing, by reinforcing the boundaries that have been set, and by bringing to the fore their own abilities to not act as children. When parents resort to spanking, then they show their children that this authoritative, controlling act of aggression is acceptable.

I'm almost thinking I could write another Hub on this topic, but frankly, Elena, I'd never do it in a turnaround time of just a few hours, as you did after Shalini wrote hers!

Despite my difference of opinion, thumbs up here!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

free4india, I completely agree with you. It's difficult to educate children, and correct their conduct, the older they get. That is why parenting is such a challenge, it should start the moment the little thing enters the world :-)

alekhouse, thank you, and sorry to hear about the trouble with your granddaughter. It's like Shalini said in her hub, it's not possible to love a kid and not correct him, so that's why I find it so difficult to swallow the way things are done with some kids.

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on August 31, 2009:

well, you certainly did a great job of putting a never-ending issue on the right track...and so succinctly. I'm in total agreement. Wish my daughter was too, so that my granddaughter would have a better chance of getting along with others. She's only 10 and has problems already. No one wants to be around her. It's very sad.

free4india on August 31, 2009:

Definitely it not beneficial for anyone to have people who have no discipline....

As age increases so does it become difficult to adjust things. Actually discipline make things easier. Childhood is the best time to fine tune. As we grow older, habits are formed so deep and molded that habits cannot be changed even if we wish.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

Glad I don't sound totally bongers :-) Matter of fact, I heard Mighty Mom say something alone these lines the other day in a hub by pgrundy. Seems there are a few of us, I wonder what's wrong with the rest of the world! :-)

Shalini Kagal from India on August 31, 2009:

Elena - ditto! That's the kind of law that should come into effect - have a child only when you're qualified to. We pass tests for everything else except two of the most essential states - marriage and parenthood!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

Hi Shalini! How could I not mention you? :-) Would you know that when I'm in full rant mode I often say that I wish humans were born with the reproductive capability turned off and it could only be turned on after passing a test or something? A bit radical, I know, but sometimes I do get my knickers in a twist about this!

Shalini Kagal from India on August 31, 2009:

Thank you for the mention Elena - I think you've taken this hub to another level. I wish more parents would realise that discipline isn't a bad word - not when it's the right kind. I guess parents need to be trained before they have kids!

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

Thank you, Anthony. I wasn't spanked that often, if three times in my whole childhood. I seem to recall a distinct one by my aunt because I'd simply been terribly obnoxious after several "verbal warnings". She only spanked me once, and was it a wake up call that she wasn't kidding AND that she was boss. I was instilled that very oldfashioned concept to look up to my elders, and really think I'm a better person today for it. I'm also really glad for the boundaries my parents put on me, which came with values attached. Cleaning my hands was not to get sick with little bugs, going to bed early was for growing up strong and healthy and be able to play more the next day, etc etc.

Anthony James Barnett - author on August 31, 2009:

An excellent tribute to 'common' sense. Unfortuntely sense is not quite so common as we think.

Good for you for talking so openly about a subject that seems to have become taboo. I was never afraid of delivering a deserved spanking to my children - and they've grown up to be honest and balanced - no drugs - no crime - no anti-social behaviour - and no havoc.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

Thank you, bingskee! Some children may be influenced by external parties to use the "abuse" excuse, but then that would be because they aren't properly educated to begin with, in my humble opinion :-)

bingskee from Quezon City, Philippines on August 31, 2009:

love this hub very much.. it's an affirmation.

bingskee from Quezon City, Philippines on August 31, 2009:

but how ironic that some children use the concept of abuse when they are disciplined.. must be the influences outside the loving shelter of home.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

Hi, Jodi, I'm so glad to hear that it works with your son. It's not that I doubted it, it's just very nice to have a mom say so :)

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

I'm glad you read this one, Frieda, thank you!

I know what you mean with many not agreeing with this, I've really no sympathy for them, althought I may have some commiseration for their children, if you get my drift. Besos!

Jodi Hoeksel on August 31, 2009:

Awesome, Elena! I so agree. I had tried both with my son and consistent disciple with clear explanations is what he shows to feel more confident and secure in.

Frieda Babbley from Saint Louis, MO on August 31, 2009:

Fantastic Eleni. You cover so much in here. And yes, it is all common sense, but I'm afraid that to so many, it isn't.

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

Thank you, Annie! I encourage you to stop by Shalini's hub, if you have a moment, as it's really good.

annie laurie from England on August 31, 2009:

An excellent hub and I totally agree with you

Elena. (author) from Madrid on August 31, 2009:

My pleasure, Paraglider. It was a perfect section title, besides being so very true :)

Dave McClure from Worcester, UK on August 31, 2009:

Having agreed with Shalini, I have to be consistent and agree with you too ;) (Thanks for the mention)

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