Disciplining the self

Steven Paul Rudolph

When it comes to raising children, parents often struggle with getting their children to become self-motivated, responsible individuals. I am often surprised when parents can’t understand why their children just don’t “act their age” – why they don’t get up on time by themselves, keep their rooms neat, remember to do all of their work and so on. They seem to feel as though their children are like robots that came with a bug in the software that is preventing them from doing what they should. And if they could only find the right hacker or anti-virus software to fix the programme – then all their parenting problems could be solved in less time that it takes to reboot a system.

No shortcuts
Parents, take heart. There’s nothing wrong with your kids. Self-discipline is not some software programme that comes pre-installed with each unit, nor can it be downloaded as an upgrade for an additional cost. The fact is, all children are unique works in progress that must be developed from the ground up in a completely customized manner. And more, they are not mindless automatons, but sentient beings with their own identities, intellect and natures, who are co-creators in the course of their own development. There are no shortcuts in the path of raising a well-disciplined human being. And as any inventor or innovator will tell you, it’s a highly challenging, nerve-racking process, filled with stress, love, tears, excitement, sweat, disappointment and satisfaction.

So, the first place to begin is to realize that you can’t outsource this development to some guys in Bangalore or the Philippines. There is no human hacker who can give you an attitude algorithm that you can copy and paste into your kids’ brains that will enable them to limit their TV-viewing sessions to a reasonable amount of time or spend their pocket money wisely. You need to believe that there is no one more qualified or capable than you who can ensure that your kids get the right input that enables them to operate successfully on any platform, in any type of environment.

But where does one go to learn this art? While computer institutes teaching C++ can be found on every corner and colleges provide degrees in everything from Aeronautics to Zoology, where are the courses that guide parents how to succeed in bringing up their kids?

The solution
Because of this urgent need, I have developed a framework to provide parents with helpful guidance, culled from my 20 years of experience working with thousands of students, parents and teachers. I call this framework the 10 Laws of Learning – a set of principles, which when followed, significantly increase your ability to help your children become responsible, disciplined and balanced.

With respect to teaching self-discipline, one important law is Law #6: Teach your kids the rules of the game. This law explains that in life there are all types of rules, without which there would be chaos. This is true for all types of situations where there are a number of people simultaneously trying to reach their different goals or destinations. We find it true on roads, in sporting games, in school, in companies – and families too!

Start by taking some time to ensure there are clear rules in your home regarding various activities related to homework, watching TV, daily routines, eating and so on. I strongly suggest you have children write these rules in their own hand rather than you writing them so they feel ownership of them. As you have surely seen, kids tend to have “short memories” when it comes to rules. So rather than you being the rule-keeper, constantly having to remind your kids of the list of rights and wrongs, let them take up some of the responsibility. They can then keep the rules in a place that’s easy to access – either posted on a bedroom wall or kept in a folder in the family room, etc.

Rules should be regularly reviewed and modified from time to time to ensure they are effective and meaningful. You can also add in rewards and punishments if rules are properly followed or broken. Doing so makes the entire process much less arbitrary and dependent on your moods, where the issue of the guidelines only arises after kids have broken them and when you have crossed the limit of your patience. Dealing with rules in the heat of emotions and when situations have reached extremes is not nearly as effective as ensuring the rules are well-established, with clear results for how well your kids adhere to them.

Lastly, please keep in mind that this is a process that requires perseverance – you must be consistent in how you address and implement your rules. If the rules are not clear, or if you enforce them arbitrarily, your kids will not take your efforts seriously and the approach will not have a lasting effect. They will surely test you, but when they find there is a similar reaction and response each time they misbehave with a sibling while playing a game or each time they exceed their TV quota, they will slowly start thinking more critically about their actions ahead of time. Done regularly this will result in the development of their discrimination power (or buddhi), which is the cornerstone of self-discipline and good behaviour.

The epilogue
Once this happens, your children will learn to act in ways that demonstrate not just artificial intelligence, but genuine intelligence. They will possess integrity and scalability, enabling them to reach great heights without ever having to worry about their systems hanging or crashing. And best of all, they will need little maintenance from you, their chief innovation officer, who will be able to sit back and marvel at their miraculous growth with a sense of pride and accomplishment – all because of a few parameters you put into place that enabled the development process to flourish by itself.

The author is an American educator, TV personality, public speaker and bestselling author based in India. He can be reached at steve@jiva.com.

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