Little boy completing wooden puzzle at a desk

By Maren Schmidt, Author of Understanding Montessori

It has been said that the only true discipline is self-discipline. With self-discipline we take ownership of our own behavior. We take responsibility for our lives.

As we discipline our children we might consider that our goals should include these objectives of helping our children take ownership of their behavior and responsibility for their lives.

Too often discipline is delivered as punishment that creates feelings of intimidation, humiliation or embarrassment. If we want our children to learn to own their behavior and take responsibility we need to find a way to encourage our children, not discourage our children.

The word discipline has its roots in the word “disciple,” meaning “pupil” in Latin. As parents we are the teachers, and our children are our students.

The relationship of teacher/student, parent/child and leader/disciple must be based on respect and trust. Our children must know that they can learn from us in a safe, secure and consistent environment, free from intimidation, humiliation and embarrassment. When we react in a crisis-oriented manner trying to help our children learn to be responsible, respectful and resourceful, we often display the very behaviors that we wish to stop in our children.

If we are harsh in our reactions to situations, belittle our children or set arbitrary or inconsistent standards, our teaching can create an angry and frustrated response in our children, leading to distrust and disrespect.

Our challenge as leaders of our young disciples is to guide the whole child–body, mind, heart and spirit. We must model the self-discipline, the vision, the passion and the conscience we wish our children to develop.

Any worthy challenge requires mindfulness and compassion for a successful end. We need to be mindful of our thoughts and our actions. Do our ideas and deeds lead our children to take ownership of their behavior and responsibility for their lives?

Can we bring our passion and our love to every aspect of this essential work of guiding our children?
Take a few minutes to think of the strengths of character you wish to instill in your children. How can you lead to those ends with self-discipline, vision, passion and conscience?

Positive psychologists have identified six types of core virtues that appear in all cultures–wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence–comprised of twenty-four character strengths:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning and perspective.
  2. Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity and vitality.
  3. Humanity: love, kindness and social intelligence.
  4. Justice: citizenship, fairness and leadership.
  5. Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility and modesty, prudence and self-regulation.
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor and spirituality.

I encourage you to make a list of these twenty-four character strengths and brainstorm how you can help your children use these strengths to become responsible for their own behavior and their own lives using body, mind, heart and spirit. That is the nature of true self-discipline.