Punishment and discipline are often used interchangeably, yet their meanings couldn’t be more different. The Latin root of punishment means “to inflict pain,” while the Latin root of discipline means “to teach.” At some point, people end up in positions that involve disciplining others. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, supervisor or manager, handling discipline problems can be a real challenge.

There are those who believe the best way to teach is by inflicting pain, but the work of cellular biologist, Bruce Lipton should dispel that myth forever. Dr. Lipton teaches us that cells can only be in one of two positions—closed for protection or open for growth. If a cell is in protection mode, it cannot grow. Fear is not a good teacher; it may elicit compliance, but it will never deepen a person’s consciousness, help to develop better decision-making skills, or inspire someone to produce quality work. A person who is afraid has only one agenda: eliminate or avoid the threat to stop the pain.

The goal of discipline is to teach, and teaching with fear is not effective. The proper teaching environment is supportive, encouraging, and challenging. It is not critical, guilt-inducing, or painful. If you’re trying to teach, then you must adapt the appropriate mindset. Watch what a person does and see it as their best attempt to get something they want; then you can help them figure out a more effective and responsible way to get it.

But don’t people need consequences to help them learn? Shouldn’t there be a punishment for breaking rules? Yes, there should be consequences for creating unsafe situations. Restricting the person’s freedom until he or she learned effective behaviors to manage that freedom is an appropriate consequence. For example, if children start throwing food in the cafeteria, they will have to eat under supervision in the classroom until they develop enough self-control to eat without throwing food. This is a more effective consequence than kicking them off the football team or giving them detention.

When people are being unsafe, they lose the privilege of being with the group. If someone brings a weapon to school, he or she is suspended and not permitted to attend school, usually for a year. Hold no illusion that the suspension will teach that child anything. Suspension is not designed to teach that child anything; it’s only purpose is to keep others safe.

In a work environment, when someone creates unsafe situations, they are typically written up with a warning. If their behavior continues, they are often fired. In the community, when people are being unsafe, they may be hospitalized or jailed. I don’t call this discipline or punishment. It is a consequence of the unsafe behavior, designed to protect others from being exposed to that behavior.

If your goal is to discipline or to teach self-discipline, let’s look at the best teacher there is: natural consequences. Every action we take produces consequences. Some are positive, some are negative, and some are neutral. If you don’t wear a coat when it is cold outside, you will be cold—a natural consequence. If you catch your child outside without a coat and you forbid them from going outside, that is an imposed consequence. There is nothing “natural” about that.

If a child doesn’t study for the test, the natural consequence is often a failing grade. If the child doesn’t study but still gets a good grade, that’s also a natural consequence. It’s a consequence of already knowing the material. Do you think the child should be disciplined for not studying, even after earning a good grade? What would be the lesson in that?

In my experience, the best way to help people develop positive self-discipline is to first have a caring, respectful relationship with themselves. When people know you care about their well-being, they aren’t afraid, and their soul (and cells) can be open for growth. Teach children to choose behavior that is in line with their goals and the person they want to be. Help them understand the difference between short-term pleasure and long-term happiness. Connect the things you want them to do with something they genuinely want. Trust them to make good decisions in the future.

The consequence for misbehavior should be a conversation designed to teach more effective and responsible methods to get what they want in the situation without hurting themselves or others. Although the conversation is an imposed consequence, it comes from a caring place and an educational mindset.

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