Monday, July 16, 2007

The (somewhat surprising) Response to Discipline

I was cleaning Emily up after a meal last weekend, and during this process she was fussing and trying to pull her hands and face away from the washcloth that I was using. Since there was no discernible reason for this and since I definitely needed to get her clean, I sternly (with a firm voice and slightly elevated tone, but definitely not yelling) said "Hey! No fussing! I don't want to hear it!" She looked up at me with big eyes, not really frightened as much as surprised.

And then a couple of things happened. First of all she cooperated and stopped fussing. More surprisingly though, was when Amanda held her afterward, she looked over and reached out for me. Then when I was holding her, she seemed happier to be in my arms than she ever had before. She was smiling away and repeatedly burrowing her head into my shoulder.

But why? First of all, Emily has yet to even speak her first word, so I can be relatively certain that she didn't understand anything I said. So maybe I just scared her. But if my sternness inspired only fear, then I would think she wouldn't want to be near me, but would instead prefer to keep her distance.

The only answer that I can come up with is that I honestly think she has more respect for me because I was fulfilling my role as her parental authority. I haven't really exercised it much with her yet because she is still very young. But kids want us, no need us to be in control and in command. I kinda knew this already, but this was more of an obvious demonstration of it than I have seen before. Especially since a) she didn't understand my words, just my sternness and b) she reacted so undeniably positive, even affectionate to it.

Another question now surfaces though. Why do children want/need us to demonstrate and maintain our authority? Even though I'm not a child psychologist, I can still think of a couple reasons.

1) They depend on us completely (see the previous post about Lucas) for their protection and provision. And protecting them and providing for them both require us to be in control of the outside world, at least to some extent. I think children actually feel more secure seeing that we are capable and willing to be in control of them, because it demonstrates that we are capable of being in control of the outside influences that are required for their very survival.

Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you're in control, they're in control. -Tom Landry

2) Children know that we are far more knowledgeable about the world than they are and they also know that they need us to show them the ropes. So while the molding process is difficult, they still know that they need it. If we as parents are so weak as to let our kids mold us to their own will, then perhaps deep inside (subconsciously?) they know that they are never going to learn about and become all that we could otherwise teach them and mold them into.

Leadership is getting someone to do what they don't want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. -Tom Landry

Since I'm quoting Tom Landry (a former Dallas Cowboys football coach) I'm going to continue using sports as an example. If you are a younger athlete on a sports team, then you may have a substantial amount of natural speed, strength, and skills. But despite your abundance of natural talent, you know that under your own direction (or under the direction of a weak coach) that you are never going to reach your full potential. It takes a strong leader to instruct, train, mold, encourage, and teach you the meaning of discipline, sometimes using discipline to persuade you.

I guess Emily, even at only 9 months, is old enough to start understanding this now.

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