The Soul of Discipline
Pu Yun
Translated by JM

Kim John Payne (abbreviated as Mr Payne in the following), is an education consultant. He was a Waldorf teacher and had researched much on children’s dysfunction in behavior and emotion. In these many years, he brought up a set of penetrating opinions on the discipline of children based on his personal experiences with young delinquents who had committed offences, autistic children, children bullies and children who were easily bullied. Many parents, teachers and children had benefitted greatly from these opinions. I had a lot of feelings after listening to his talks, and from the personal experience of accompanying my own child’s growth. His theories and suggested methods are indeed the disciplinary compass for children. I hope that with this article, I can share with everyone the limited resource of my memory.

Mr. Payne had helped children from the Thailand borders and Cambodia before. These children suffered fully from the devastating effects of war, and had the typical postwar syndrome of anxiety, over defensiveness, quick and bad temper or extreme anger. They are easily frightened by new things and normally are only willing to work on the same routine exercises. Basically, these little friends do not have the means to enjoy fun. Following after, Mr. Payne counseled a group of middle class kids in London, England. He was very astonished to find that his suggested healing plan for them is the same as the ones for the suffering children of wars (as mentioned above). These London kids suffer from the mild syndromes of pressure even though England had not had any war in the last decades.

He described the response of these London kids as a kind of accumulated reaction from pressure. In his opinion, this is a crisis for their childhood. He believes that in many current developed countries, children are the sacrifice for the over stimulation of the senses. But regretfully, many people consider this to be normal.

Today, many young children are suffering from sleep deprivation (less than 11 hours per day). The negative influences for some of these children could be that - the light in their room at night is too strong, they had too much popular food (normally too sweet or too much artificial flavoring), had long hours of seating in the car, them having too many toys, books and computer game products, there is too much noise, or even the high ceilings in modern houses that produces echo.

If children live in this kind of over stimulating environment for long periods of time, disciplining them will become very difficult. When a child is under too great a pressure, even a simple request like having him seat into the car would have him shouting “NO!”.

All the qualities that we appreciate about our children would be distorted under stress. For example, a child who is usually reliable may become addicted to a certain matter. A boy who likes to do things may become hyper active. An imaginative girl may become distracted. A proactive youngster may become willful. A strong willed boy may become provocative or a girl who knows how to protect her interest may become filled with hostility. The same situation had also happened to parents with too much burdens. It is very difficult for them to maintain calmness. They would often over react and even become the source of their children’s stimulant.

Stress will trigger the most ancient point of the human’s brain. This is the part that is in charge of the “fight or flight” response, when humans are threatened of their survival in situations of crisis. The hormones released in such stressful conditions would suppress normal or rational reactions. Regardless of adult or child, in situations where there is too much stress, the understanding abilities for another are greatly reduced. They would tend to ridicule another or feel angry instead. They may easily become biased, and hold a negative attitude about the future. They do not think that there is a better tomorrow. Their belief and reactions towards matter is geared towards returning and lingering in the worst periods of their life.

Some stress comes from the environment that the child is in, such as a home filled with eye dazzling decorative ornaments or the broadcasting of intense music. All these create too great a sensory impact on most children. Parents who arrange too many activities for their children are also one of the sources of stress, such as having music lesson, playgroup, ball game, religious activity, school activity and so forth all in a week. In the current day environment, grocery shopping in the super mart occasionally can also be a kind of burden for very young children. 

Mr. Payne suggests that in the aftermath of some of the popular activities that excites the child, such as when after an intense ball game, to let the child rest quietly at home for 2 days, so as to balance the stimulation brought about by the game. If a balance is strike between activities that excites and calms a person, the child would usually possess a happy disposition. Their moods would not have major rise and falls. Children who feel tranquil at heart can enjoy new stuff easily and their contact with people would also contain humor. Even when met with issues of great stress, they can also return to a calm state easily. They are able to put themselves in the shoes of another easily and are able to respect the other. When faced with obstacles, they can still maintain positive thinking. Mr. Payne suggests the execution of some calming activities and a lifestyle of everyday forecast routine, by way of change to the chemical release in some of these children’s bodies. He used this principle to treat many hyper active children. He mentioned before that he went to the homes of the children who needed counseling, took out a big bag and took away half the toys, books and so forth from their house. The change in effect was swift.

In the past 50 years, the ways to disciplining children had many changes but not all are for the better. Our parents may have been brought up by a certain way of discipline but had used another to raise us. We could be combining many ways of discipline to treat our children. However, in the many ways of discipline in current days, parents may still be lost about their children’s expression of violent language and actions.

Recollecting the past ways of discipline in all these years, 1960s require children to have obedience as their inherent responsibilities. Children are to have incomparable respect towards their parents, otherwise should they have the slightest disobedience; they would be traded with immediate penalty. Children are to be humble in front of their parents. This way of discipline uses fear as the children’s guide. They have immediate amenability to their parents’ any requests. Even the slightest disagreement with parents would be considered as arguing. Although the greatest benefit in this method is in the child’s obedience to authority but this would also accomplish a submissive attitude in a child or produce a revengeful behavior in the future.

After 1970, the ways of discipline had an intense rebellion against the 60s trend of authoritative education. Parents allow children all kinds of behavior, even in tantrums or the provocation of another, the parents would clap their hands in praise, thinking that this is a very healthy self expression. They consider setting boundaries as very unfriendly towards their children, while saying “No” as hurtful to their self esteems. Parents give concessions to their children unconditionally. They expect their child to fulfill only very little of family responsibilities and in the sharing of house chores. Their children are the center of the universe and should be respected in the same way as an adult. Under this type of method, children have very strong self awareness but also give rise to them thinking and feeling that they are qualified to enjoy each right. They do not wish to wait, but expect to have immediate satisfaction in the development of matters. This laid down the cause to their habits of becoming easily addicted in the future and their problems in interpersonal relationships.

Towards the end of 1980s, scientific behavioral management ideas were also combined into the discipline culture. This style uses rewards to encourage the expression of children’s behavior desired by parents. Another slightly different discipline model but also using the same concept, is not in cash rewards but uses negative consequences to control the undesirable behavior of children. Charts have proven that these two ways were effective in the discipline of children’s behavior. They may be effective in having the obedience of the children but at the same time let children react to external factors like rewards or negative consequences instead of using their sense of responsibilities from within their hearts to determine their behaviors. 

Mr. Payne said, “If we have to use bargaining to obtain a child’s amenability now, then in the future, we would have to plead in order to receive the same. Mr. Payne quoted a saying from Ronald Morish’s book titled “The Twelve Keys to Discipline”. “Children who grow up under this kind of disciplinary system would become negotiation experts. They would compare the proportion of danger and rewards against the output of expenses and benefits by way of an analysis to decide their behaviors. This kind of disciplinary methods would let the child into using ways of threats (e.g. Throwing tantrums in the public) to make the parents give in or they would negotiate unceasingly with the parents until the latter is totally drained out. These are not the consequences we desire. Young children do not have the ability to choose. To the children, it is a very heavy burden if we request them to choose over long periods of time.

After 1990, the emphases of the theory on children self esteem arise in east California. Every little thing that the children do would receive the loud praise of “GOOD JOB!” (Well done). The many praises given to children over long periods of time would instead become rubbish to them. Unless parents praise them like cheer leaders at their side, the children cannot get satisfaction from any matters. Toronto university of Canada once did a research. People normally consider that children under praise grow up with more space in their being. However, the truth is not so. On the contrary, these children are less genial towards others. Under the attitude of expectation to be praised, these children became instead holders of the principle - defeatism. Hence, the achievement they should have is also reduced.

Mr. Payne quoted from Carol Dweck’s book - “Self Theories” that when praise is abused, children only learnt how to make themselves look more intelligent, and not really in the learning of the matter. Children also sacrifice the enjoyment of fun, or are reluctant to accept challenges, in order to receive in exchange the appreciation of parents and elders. I have also seen some articles which mentioned students who had continuously obtained A, were unwilling to take on lessons that are challenging. As a result, they lost a precious learning opportunity in life. Mr. Payne suggests that parents observe quietly and tell the children their heartfelt feelings such as “You have been drawing that truck for a long time, look how tall you’ve drawn the wheel!”, rather than ardently praising. The children will feel very happy, thinking that you have noticed their activity instead of being commented on. They can enjoy having their own unique activity experience thoroughly without being changed.   

This method can also help children cross over from one environment (situation) to another. For example, he suggests to not constantly urge children to enter the car or to come to the dining table but rather, parents can enter into their children’s world to meet them, and then bring them into the former’s world, to build a world together. For example, when the child is drawing, the parent requests suddenly that he has to bring his drawing away immediately so as that the former can prepare dinner, the child would be very angry. However if the parent observe the child’s drawing friendlily (such as pointing out the very pretty diamond he drew on the king’s crown) then tell him the kind of vegetable cooking on the stove now (like the ones just picked from the farm) and bring him into your activity (like “let us see how small these green vegetables will shrink after being cooked”). This preparation process for meal time allows the world of the parent and child to combine into one. This way is far more effective than urging them urgently.

Mr. Payne consider that the method of disciplining children should accord with the three stages of child development (the will stage of 0-7 years, the feeling stage of 7-14 years and the thinking and analytical stage of 14-21 years) as brought up by Dr. Rudolf Steiner. There are different procedures in these stages where the appropriate response and conversation is in accordance with the different ages of the child. Starting from encouragement, establishing everyday goals, setting boundaries for the child, making agreements with the child to giving the child immediate responses frequently and so on are several different methods used to help the child in their stage, grow into their next phase.

In the early days of childhood (during time of will development), we teach children to defer stipulations, accept adults’ directions. In this stage, parents are kings and queens. If we wish for children’s amenability, the secret is to confer them with set boundaries. Everyday life activities are orderly. Children at this stage are unable to understand the relationship of cause and effect hence reasoning with them is not of much use. When we are correcting their behaviors, we can say “no” to them in a tone filled with love. At this stage, do not arrange too much learning for them. Let them grow slowly at their own pace. Mr. Payne quoted Morish’s book, stating that the motto for this stage is “Start with little matters, be with them, persist in this principle and implement”.

During this period, parents setting the examples of good models are very important. At the same time, request children to repeat by way of correction for their undesirable behaviors. This is more effective than the use of rewards or punishments. This period is also the very important stage on the cultivation of children’s good manner, such as having them thank graciously after their meals the people who had prepared their food or to people who drove them.

At 7 to 14 years (when sentiments are important in life), parents should play the role of the shepherd. At this stage, the key to discipline is discussion and instruction. Mr. Payne thinks that here, the teaching of social skills and emotion management can be started with the children. Use the method of “repetition” to teach them. If the child refuses to repeat, Mr. Payne suggests that the method of very slight penalty can be used. However he thought that the correction of the child’s wrong is more effective than penalty, while reminder is more effective than threat. At this time, one can start teaching the children consideration for the other, through the changes in the intonation of voice and body language to transmit one’s meaning. Parents should also discuss with the children prior to them facing challenging situations, so that they may make the right decisions when adults are absent. 

During puberty, children start to have their independent thinking. At this time, the child’s intelligence had reached a certain level of development. Parents can use cooperation instead of negotiation to be with them. If they have learnt to be considerate for others and in making self choices before this, then this stage is easier to process. Mr. Payne suggests the method of letting the children know on the perspicuity of the matters’ consequences, to educate them. During this period, use encouragement instead of bribery. His motto for disciplining children at puberty is “do not satisfy them too quickly, be prepared psychologically to argue with them as it is inevitable, and affirm their right choices.” He brought up a few examples of parents’ dialogue with their adolescence.

  1. When you have finished your report, you may go online.
  2. If your friend’s party has alcohol tonight, what will you do?
  3. Calling me at ten is a very good idea.

Mr. Payne thinks that the culture of current day is flooded with disrespect; parents have to help children resolute between the difference of a critical idea and criticism. When children during puberty are making choices, their choices should come from that which feels right, from deep within their hearts, rather than simply reacting or deciding from cynicism and disrespect.

When the result for the discipline method of the appropriate age is not clear, Mr. Payne suggests the method of the previous stage to be used.  Such as when the child in puberty is unable to make good decisions, then return to the preceding stage to teach them. If still not valid, then return to the earlier preceding stage to teach. If still not valid, then return to the first stage.  

He explained with examples, such as if the child in puberty delays for a long time, and still would not make up his room, speak with him first on how to tidy it while at the same time, striking an agreement with him on when he can have the room ready (cooperation style). If the agreed time is passed and the room is still very messy and dirty, then remind child and give him a chance to repeat (guide and develop their skill on room making). If the child is still unresponsive, use stage one’s (starting with the smallest matter, follow him, insists and implement) method. Walk the child to the room. If necessary, request the child to tidy up a small area such as keeping one pencil properly at time as a start (obedience). Ultimately the room will be cleaned up and, you have also done your duty as a parent.

Regarding a child being bullied or ridiculed by people he meet and on how to help him overcome, he raised an example such as, if your daughter comes home and tells you that someone asked her in a mocking tone, “Heard that you wrote a love letter to someone, so disgusting!” At this time, you can teach your child to ask the person who is ridiculing her, “Do you believe?” Usually, half of these people will say, “I don’t believe.” and walk away. The other half would say, “I believe!” and get ready to continue ridiculing. It is then that if your daughter can tell the party calmly, “Very well, if you believe this is true, then it is your business.” Normally, the mocking would hence end here. This is because the children who like to bully or ridicule another normally wish to see the fury, panic and angry reactions of the ones they are targeting. If we can let our children learn the principle of being concern with matter, instead of the individual, being calm instead of reacting emotionally towards people, situations of bully would lesson considerably as well. When there is conflict amongst children, parents should not blame either party constantly otherwise they would feel victimized and resort to behaviors of retaliation. Listen to the arguments of both sides; let them feel your attention and love, assists them to solve their difference together.

Mr. Payne’s books on discipline would be published in September next year; interested readers can go to his website ( for more information. May all the readers benefit much from this long and difficult process of raising children.

Originally published in Lapis Lazuli Light Magazine (August 2008 issue), titled 管教的靈魂 also found in web link: