Teach Discipline to Your Kids: The 2 Things You Need

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s the best way to teach discipline to children? What must parents do?

To support a child’s development, the most important skill a parent can pass on is discipline. That’s the view of M. Scott Peck, in his classic book The Road Less Traveled. To teach discipline, two components are critical: love and attention.

Read more to learn how to teach discipline to your kids.

The 2 Things You Need to Teach Discipline

There are two critical components to the development of discipline in a child.

Component #1: Love

Parents who improperly teach discipline often use abandonment as a threat to control a child’s behavior. What this tells the child is that they need to behave in a specific way in order to be loved and cared for. The parent dismisses love in favor of power. Children grow up in fear and engage with life from that fear (as if the world is not safe). Consequently, they have immense difficulty in becoming healthy, disciplined adults. For example, if a parent says loving words, but their actions don’t match, the child may consciously accept this. However, on a subconscious level, they can sense that they are not valued.

Alternatively, homes where there is chaos but some amount of genuine love produce children who can still become healthy, disciplined adults. For example, if parents truly love their children, the children will feel it even during times of struggle in the relationship. Love is crucial to teaching discipline because, when you love something or someone, they become valuable, and when we consider things valuable, we take care of them. Children learn their value by being shown by their caretakers that they are valuable. Knowing your value is crucial for mental wellness and for self-discipline because self-discipline is self-caring. 

Component #2: Attention

If you don’t take the time to truly observe your children, not only will you not accurately pick up on the subtle moments where healthy discipline is needed, but you will teach them that they aren’t valuable and ultimately fail to teach discipline. When parents aren’t dedicated to deeper awareness, they often become overwhelmed by a buildup of behavior and are likely to distribute disproportionate discipline (usually violent or cruel) without considering the context. This impedes the growth process because, when you see the world as threatening, you will cling to the comfort of instant gratification instead of trusting the value of delaying gratification. 

Parents who pay attention to the details of their children’s lives and behaviors will pick up on subtleties that they can respond to with encouragement or light discipline before it comes to a point where more firm discipline is needed. In addition to teaching discipline by paying such close attention to your child, you also empathize more deeply with them. Children with empathetic, supportive parents are more willing to support themselves, which is the foundation of self-discipline.

Teach Discipline to Your Kids: The 2 Things You Need

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Road Less Traveled summary :

  • The four key elements in the path to enlightenment
  • The importance of spiritual competence in relation to mental health
  • How you can face challenges and grow through hardship

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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