The Difference Between Discipline and the Freedom to Learn

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Some of you may be aware that I did a talk on preschool education on Saturday. I know a few parents who read this blog attended. Thank you for coming.

It seems I might not have been clear on a couple of points so I wanted to clarify just in case other parents have misconstrued what I meant…

The Matter of Discipline

Discipline is important whatever age your child is. The method of discipline you decide upon depends on what you believe and what you feel works best for your child. Ideally, the preschool you choose for your child should also follow a method of discipline that is aligned with yours. The most confusing thing for a child is to have a teacher say one thing and parents saying another. It is akin to the idea that you and your partner should support each other when each of you disciplines your child, you and your child’s school should also communicate the same messages. You need to work hand-in-hand with your school, not against each other.

Discipline is about providing firm boundaries for your child and it is vital to your child’s development. Your child may test your boundaries from time to time and you should expect it because it is a normal part of growing up. What is important part is to that you remain consistent.

In The Complete Secrets of Happy Children, Steve Biddulph wrote about the importance of “firm love” and how it affects children:

Children often act up to observe the reactions of their parents. They need to know that their parents are strong enough to contain them, regardless of their actions. The reassurance that their parents are in control provides security to a child. Regardless of their behaviour, children are aware of their inability to control themselves at times. They look to their parents as authority figures to provide that control. When parents fail to live up to that role, it makes a child feel insecure.

Foster children often play up the most when they are first sent to live with a new family. It is vital that the foster family provide firm rules and regulations for the foster child during the critical settling in period to set the scene for future behaviour. During this settling in period, the foster child is attempting to gauge whether the new family is “strong” enough to provide the care necessary. Foster parents who are permissive will be deemed “inadequate” by the foster child. If the foster parents are able to maintain the boundaries, the foster child very often falls back into line.

When I was about 4 years old, I had a carer who would help me get ready for school every morning before taking the bus to school. I was at a most troublesome age and I know I used to act out and make things difficult for her. I would often tell her I didn’t want to go to school. One day, she finally got fed up with me and told me I could stay home. Instead of feeling triumphant that I had finally won, I remember feeling scared. I never expected to win this fight. You might wonder why I caused so much trouble if I didn’t really want to be allowed to stay home. Honestly? I don’t know either. But when I think of why my children test my boundaries, I remember this one and what Biddulph said about firm love.

In my previous post, I wrote about Maslow’s Hierachy and how it relates to our children’s ability to learn… Before children can fulfill their learning needs, they must fulfill their basic and psychological needs. Among those basic needs is the need to feel secure. If they are too busy feeling scared, they won’t care about anything else, including what you want them to learn. And part of feeling secure is having discipline.

So I hope I have addressed this adequately. You must have discipline – whatever age your child is.

The Freedom to Learn

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When we talk about preschoolers, we’re talking about really young children. Usually, we’re referring to children from about 3 to 5 years old, although some of them may be as young as 2. Because of this, it is important to recognise that the environment of a preschool has to be different from a primary school. We cannot recreate a miniature primary school and expect our preschoolers to fit in. The nature of the way preschoolers’ brains work require their environment to give them more flexibility. They need the freedom to follow their interests and they need the freedom to move.

I especially wanted to stress the part about movement because I fear that some preschools’ expectations of preschoolers have become unrealistic. We have teachers telling parents that their children have ADHD because they cannot sit still to learn – never mind the fact that the child may be only 2 years old!

An active child that often appears to have “ants in his pants” is not necessarily a child with ADHD. I’ll grant you that this child will be much more difficult to handle than a child who can sit still, but that doesn’t give us a license to sedate him with drugs under the convenient pretext of “ADHD”. It is not a preschool’s job to make it easier for their teachers by labelling every active child with ADHD.

I believe that early experiences and opportunities for learning are important for young children. Preschools are a great way to do this, especially for parents who have to work. However, it is also vital that the learning environment be meaningful and appropriate to the young child or it could end up damaging their development. Early childhood education has become a booming industry and sad to say that not every preschool has the right motivations or is adequately set up to provide for our children. As parents, we must be critical in our selection process as we go about searching for the best preschool for our children.