Discipline Verses Self-Discipline

To help your child understand discipline, merely point them to Wikipedia. “Discipline is the suppression of base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with restraint and self-control. Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for motivation.” So says Wikipedia, source of all Truth.

One of the challenges we have as parents is getting our young children to understand what the appropriate behavior is. There are many different ways to instill that behavior—which I’ll avoid. Instead, I just wanted to share what appears to be a kid-friendly.

I was recently having a conversation with my 11 year-old son. I tried to explain that my job is to instill self-discipline in him. But, the word held little meaning.

“Do you know what discipline is?”

He cried a bit, expecting something unpleasant. After I reassured him, he shook his head.

“Who wakes Daddy up in the morning.”

“The clock.”

I sigh. “Who sets the clock?”

“You do.”

“Who fixes my breakfast and coffee, and dresses me?”

“You do.”

“Who makes me go to work and get things done?”

“You do.”

Of course, I know that ultimately if I don’t do those things, I will be without a job. “That, son, is self-discipline. I do what needs to be done regardless of whether I really want to do it. I don’t even consider an alternative.”

He blinks, the wheels turning in his wee mind.

“Now, who wakes you up in the morning and makes sure you’ve had breakfast, are dressed and doing your schoolwork?”


“Do you poop in your pants?”


“That’s because you have the self-discipline to hold it until you’re at the bathroom. Once upon a time, we had to clean up after you. And, we had to remind you every once in a while to hit the toilet. You don’t even think about it any more, do you?”


“Right. So, when we are yelling at you to do the dishes, or take a shower, or any of those things, it is the same thing. We provide the discipline you need until you’ve established the discipline to do it yourself.”

I know this might not be the best definition or explanation. Since that conversation, my son had more readily done what he’s been asked to do. And, he’s starting to do things ahead of being prompted. That conversation presented a bit of a sea change. Of course, there are many, many more opportunities to share discipline with him over the next seven years to adulthood.