When did the word discipline become so negative? Isn't its root the same as Disciple, one who abandoned the attractions and comfort of tradition and chose the follow the doctrines of Christ?
I don't know when it came to mean punishment instead of good character, but I do know that discipline is a primary requirement to achieve any goal. Any gymnast, or surfer, or mathematician knows that disciplined behaviors are the only way.
Discipline implies doing what needs to be done, even when inclination or aggravation incline towards negativity. Wanting something for myself, or wishing the best for my family or friends, is insufficient without commitment to do the work involved to achieve it.
All the creatures in nature are disciplined--bees, ants, birds in flocks, killer whales. The source is their instincts, but those shaped behaviors mean survival. Humans, however, resist sacrificing momentary comfort for future health. Ask any child ensconced on the sofa in front of the television whether he actually wants to take a bath or finish his schoolwork!
I watched my son learn to ride a bike and use a skateboard--both activities that I dreaded because of the blood and scrapes. But even a broken arm did not quell his passion to succeed. He invested a great deal of time--and skin--in the process. Convincing him that similar efforts towards cleaning his room or doing chores required more parental input, however.
The arguments his father and I used were along these lines:
* If you want to be a winning athlete, discipline means keeping in shape, training, watching your diet and putting in the practice hours.
* Working at Taco Bell means getting there on time, remembering the recipes and routines, learning to work the cash register, and always being polite, even with difficult customers.
* When you participate in sports, you have to listen to the coach. He's not being mean when he tells you to do something hard; he just knows you need to make that effort if you want to win. The same goes for us when we tell you to brush your teeth, clean your room, or do your school work before riding your bike. We want you to be a healthy and successful human being.
* It takes work every day, whether you are developing muscles or math skills or virtues.
Cesar Millan, TV's Dog Whisperer, defines discipline in a way that makes good sense to me as a parent, because he is not focusing on disobedience. "To me, discipline is not punishment. It's the rules, boundaries, and limitations that exist for the good of the dogs and for my relationship with them." Cesar's Way, p. 216
As parents, we set the rules and the boundaries for our children. We give them a structure they can depend upon and praise at least as often as point out mistakes. Without that foundation, children will be left to raise themselves, without the perspective provided by people who love them and which is necessary in order to make good decisions.
Perhaps the most difficult parental task is to be role models of self-discipline for our children. Children observe everything, and they soon mark the difference between words and actions. (By the time they are teenagers, they are going to tell us so, too!)
But parents do not have to be perfect. When we fail in some effort, we can share that experience and help our children learn how to profit from mistakes, and to persevere anyway. "Thus shall these tender infants be nurtured at the breast of the knowledge of God and His love. Thus shall they grow and flourish, and be taught righteousness and the dignity of humankind, resolution and the will to strive and to endure. Thus shall they learn perseverance in all things, the will to advance, high mindedness and high resolve, chastity and purity of life. Thus shall they be enabled to carry to a successful conclusion whatsoever they undertake." - Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 124