Intelligent Discipline

· May 16, 2016

Intelligent discipline can be defined as discipline that allows people to adjust to healthy norms and standards in a conscious way while striving towards personal and collective growth.

It is a type of discipline that is taught in a reasonable way and diverges from permissive and authoritative education. The consequences of a permissive education are really harmful, as much or more than those from an authoritative education.

Evidence indicates that if children and adolescents do not learn to adjust to discipline, they have great difficulties with the formation of their character and the achievement of goals in their lives.

Discipline is the best friend of man, because it takes you to reach the deepest longings of your heart.”

-Mother Teresa of Calcutta-

Child on Father's Shoulders

Education without discipline gives rise to some very defined personality features: irresponsibility, rebellion, inconsiderateness, selfishness, transgression, and immaturity. At the same time, education with excessive discipline can result in submissive, fearful, and insecure people.

The worst of these scenarios is the one that combines both focuses: alternating between permissiveness and authoritativeness.


This is the typical case for those parents who go too far with punishment or in the application of a rule to the point that they humiliate or degrade their children. Then they feel guilty for having done it and so they become permissive in other aspects in order to relieve their regret.

Permissive education and authoritative education

Before dealing with intelligent discipline in detail, it helps to have a clear idea of the features that define permissive and authoritative education.

The main characteristics of a permissive education are the following:

  • There is no formulation of clear and defined rules
  • They want to keep the children or adolescent pleased
  • They justify the child’s mistakes and failures
  • They seek to please all of the child’s whims
  • Their demands are very basic, nothing that is really difficult for the child
  • The forgive or negotiate punishments
  • They permit the child to make decisions according to their own criteria
  • They lend little importance to the observance of schedules, order, and the accomplishment of goals
  • They give too much freedom: the child should learn by himself, from his own mistakes

Meanwhile, the main characteristics of an authoritative education are:

  • Rules are imposed without any explanation or reasoning
  • They punish any transgression of the rule severely without taking into account the level of seriousness
  • They want to exercise and maintain absolute control over the child’s life
  • Their punishments are very severe and frequently include physical and/or psychological aggression
  • There is an excessive emphasis on order
  • They do not give the child stimuli, nor do they show any signs of recognition for their achievements
  • They do not recognize the child’s opinion, nor do they think that it could have any value

A permissive education stems from parents’ disinterest or lack of character. An authoritative education is often the response to trauma faced by the parents or to excessive anxiety and fear.

Child on Father's Shoulder

Moving towards intelligent discipline

Intelligent discipline is defined as discipline that is able to teach values in a child, helping them to recognize the limits and, along with this, to learn to renounce impossible desires.

Human beings create many fantasies throughout their lives that revolve around their desires. Each one of us, deep in our core, has an inescapable narcissist who wants to be in the center of everything. There is also an egotist who wants everything for himself. And a little dictator who wants to get what he wants, without caring if he has to step on others in order to achieve this.

In the end, what discipline does is introduce a series of small frustrations. Through the acceptance of those limitations, we all keep learning that we are not alone in the world and that we cannot get everything that we want.

This lesson, in turn, allows us to develop strategies for adapting to the world. This implies the exercising of reason and tolerance for frustration. In other words, discipline teaches us to put our feet on the ground.

Clarity and consistence in the practice of rules allows us to acquire a solid foundation for our reality. This, along with time, translates into assurance in ourselves and a feeling of value from others.

It allows us to come up with goals and do everything possible and necessary to achieve them. With this, we already have healthy emotional baggage that will surely allow us to have fewer problems and more achievements in life.

Some guidelines for implementing intelligent discipline are the following:

  • Set limits rather than rules as such
  • Offer well defined options in the application of rules
  • Involve the child when it comes time to establish a new rule, making them see that their opinion counts, but that it is not definitive
  • Have clear values that you want to teach
  • Encourage the development of self-control
  • Explain in detail why certain behaviors anger adults and other people
  • Recognize the child’s good actions
  • Do not let there be conflicts between the disciplinary models within the family
  • Act immediately when faced with bad behavior, without leaving it for later
  • Clearly establish what are proper punishments for the breaking of a rule and follow through with what has been decided upon

Intelligent discipline creates people who are free and aware. Individuals who are capable of bringing out the best in themselves and who respect that old maxim that is the basis of a healthy life together: “Your rights end where the rights of others begin.”