Discipline: External or Internal

Teaching character and life skills to students

There are two kinds of discipline. One is external and the other is internal. While both are an important part of our lives, most would agree that helping ourselves and our children to develop internal discipline is what leads to the most success in our life. To start this series of discussions off we must first distinguish between the two types of discipline.

If you ask any child if their parents have ever discplined them – they understand it to mean being punished. But their is a big difference between discipline and punishment. When we have any kind of external discipline, we are learning a new way of thinking or looking at a behavior. We may be asked to do something as a result of our own behavior that did not fit with the expectation of the other party. That other party may be a teacher, parent, employer or other person. Learning and acting in accordance within the expected norms of the group we are associated with could be considered ‘external discipline’.

Internal discipline is different in that it is a expectation that we have for ourselves. This is going to be different for every person as all of us have our own values and needs. For instance if we are a person who values order and certainty, our internal discipline may give us a rule that we will follow no matter what that says everything has its place and we keep all of our things in a specific order. If we value our health we may give ourselves rules that demand that we eat healthy, exercise and rest properly. We will discipline ourselves to be sure we fill those needs.

While everyone is going to have different values and needs, there are social norms that say to us that certain actions demonstrate internal discipline like working hard, eating healthy, exercising, etc…, while others demonstrate a lack of discipline like procrastination, laziness, putting entertainment ahead of chores. So what rules do you have that are important to you, that you would like to see your children imitate?


One Reply to “Discipline: External or Internal”

  1. I received by email the following comment:
    I wish I had more time but the post ask what rules we wish to instill in our children. In our play room, I have a white board and dry erase markers for drawing. Permanently on the board are :

    “Mommy’s Rules”
    Be Kind
    Play Fair
    Use Please , Thank you and I am Sorry Manners
    Love Yourself, Others, the Earth, and God

    It I could teach my children these few rules, I would consider my parenting a success.

    As to whether external or internal discipline comes first, I would have to say external. I think babies are born so egocentric. I am “cold, wet, hungry, tired and I need food, rest, to be held” Their wants are their needs. They are the center of the universe. We teach them, explore with them, and share with them that there is more than just me and my needs and part of that teaching is discipline. Only then can they begin to develop internal discipline.

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