One day I was watching a family in my waiting room. The child played happily a few feet away from the mother, frequently returning to her lap for a brief emotional refueling, then darting off again. As he ventured farther away, he glanced back at her for approval. Her nod and smile said "It's okay," and he confidently explored new toys. The few times the child started to be disruptive, the mother connected eye-to-eye with him and the father physically redirected him so that he received the clear message that a change in behavior was needed. There was a peace about the child and a comfortable authority in the parents. It was easy to see that they had a good relationship. I couldn't resist complimenting them: "You are good disciplinarians." Surprised, the father replied, "But we don't spank our child."
Our understanding of the word "discipline" was obviously different. Like many other parents, they equated discipline with reacting tobad behavior. She didn't realize that discipline is mostly what you do to encourage good behavior. It's better to keep a child from falling down in the first place than to patch up bumps and scrapes after he has taken the tumble.
Discipline is everything you put into children that influences how they turn out. But how do you want your child to turn out? What will your child need from you in order to become the person you want him or her to be? Whatever your ultimate objectives, they must be rooted in helping your child develop inner controls that last a lifetime. You want the guidance system that keeps the child in check at age four to keep his behavior on track at age forty, and you want this system to be integrated into the child's whole personality, a part of him or her. If your child's life were on videotape and you could fast-forward a few decades, what are the qualities you would like to see in the adult on the tape? Here is our wish list for our children: