Not gonna lie, I have a hard time with self-discipline sometimes. Homework before fun stuff, take Luna on a walk every day, read instead of watching a show before bed… little things like this which would be better choices… They aren’t bad choices, maybe just not the best in that moment.
I’ve started reading The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck again. He’s a very insightful man who talks about a lot of stuff that I’ve seen in my life and the lives of the kids I work with. The latest chapter on discipline has really opened my eyes to what they deal with in their homes. At The Relatives, we get kids anywhere from 7 to 17 years of age who are homeless, who have run away from home, who have safety concerns at home due to a wide variety of issues, behavioral issues, kids who are between foster care placements, etc. I will more than likely never see these kids again once my internship is done, but I will always remember the stories.
One kid in particular stood out in my mind while reading this chapter on discipline. But before I get to him, let me get into the chapter a little more. Peck basically says we discipline ourselves if we feel we are valuable, if we feel our time is valuable. We learn this value by watching our parents, how they discipline themselves, how they discipline us, how they love us. He talks about how children learn through consistent interaction with their parents how to behave, what is appropriate and inappropriate, etc. (Really, in order to get the full idea, go get the book. I highly recommend it anyway.)
It’s a little difficult to explain why this brough specific clients to mind, but basically, we see so many kids who are undisciplined and disrespectful and don’t care to behave otherwise. Their sense of correct behavior is just as strong as mine, which entails respect, honesty, empathy, etc. The 17 year old who thought it was okay to make fun of a 13 year old boy just because he laughed at the jokes didn’t understand why his behavior was unacceptable. I had to explain that just because someone is laughing, it doesn’t mean he actually thinks it’s funny. Something which seems so basic and common sense to me was a foreign concept to him, probably because his parents modeled disrespectful behavior infront of him.
I think of another client who’s mother didn’t want to deal with him anymore, so she went to the magistrate to have him involuntarily committed to the behavioral health center (the inpatient and outpatient mental health and behavioral facility). The sherriff’s office came to pick him up, and they took him out to the squad car in front of all the other clients and staff and 20 something volunteers. They didn’t even let him eat the homemade meal the volunteers spent all day preparing. What kind of message does that send to this 15 year old? “Your mother doesn’t want you anymore, so she’s having you admitted to a mental health facility, even though there’s nothing wrong with you.” And the worst part about it, the sherriff explained to him that he didn’t do anything wrong, he wasn’t in trouble. He replied, “Oh, I know. I’ve been through this before.” When I heard that, my heart broke. What on earth had this kid been through for him to learn at such an early age that he cannot count on his mother to be there for him, that he’s on his own. The only person he can depend on is himself. After 15 years of consistent emotional, physical, mental neglect, what else should he be expected to believe?
I’m beginning to realize even the small decisions are important when it comes to discipline. Delayed gratification, mentally, emotionally, and physically caring for myself, caring for others… I will spend time on what I feel to be important, and since I have such an incredibly limited amount of time with these kids, I feel a great urgency to spend my time loving them. It’s not my job to fix them or make them respect eachother. It’s my job to love them. If I can model appropriate behavior infront of them, maybe then they’ll realize there’s a different way of behaving which may be healthier in the long run. If that means disciplining myself by doing little things like waking up the first time my alarm goes off or taking daily walks, then I think that’s a very small price to pay.