Health Column

by Sifu (Dr.) Rikin Patel MD

Discipline is a concept that is often difficult for our minds to accept, however in any area of life it is a character trait that is required for any of us to maximize our potential. If we want to be a disciple within any system of knowledge, discipline is a prerequisite, hence the linking of these two terms. For all of us training as martial artists, we are taught to embrace discipline as a cornerstone for good character and attitude. If approached properly, discipline can give us more freedom rather than restrict us.

This article will explore principles of how we as instructors and parents can approach discipline and behaviour change in a positive way through the lens of western medicine. The purpose of positive discipline is to foster independence and communication skills, manage feelings and take responsibility for behaviour. The aim is never to shame or punish. The first important point to consider is that disciplining methods vary widely based on cultural background. This point is easily understood when we watch any older Chinese Kung Fu film where discipline is typically instilled with harsh training and lifestyle.

In my work as a pediatrician, I am often asked by parents how to manage challenging behaviours and instill discipline. The Canadian Pediatric Society shares principles we can incorporate regardless of culture or background.

Step 1: Exploring the Behaviour

The first step in approaching discipline positively is exploring the behaviour with a simple ABC method (Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence). Helping to change an unacceptable behaviour means first understanding why it may be happening.

  1. Observing the events prior to a behaviour (antecedent),
  2. the behaviour itself, and
  3. then the result or aftermath (consequence)

…can help identify patterns and make links between what is happening from the child’s perspective and a specific behaviour. This focused approach also helps identify key opportunities before and after to change our approach to guiding a possible new behaviour. This first step of observation requires multiple views and takes time to establish a pattern but will be critical in striving for lasting change. It can also be important to identify external factors that are potentially modifiable, such as environment, transitions, scheduling, or possible interferences.

Step 2: Exploring Ourselves

The second step in positive disciplining is exploring ourselves as the instructor or parent. It is important to identify and recognize our personal biases and experiences towards discipline. First, it would be important to identify how our parents, teachers and mentors approached us and how we responded to these approaches. We may be strongly influenced to take the same approach but having this reflection will at least allow us to consider a different approach. Second, it will also be important to ask ourselves if there is a more helpful way to think about a certain behaviour. This takes practice and may require multiple prompts to pull us out of our tendency to assume and make quick judgments based on our own opinions. Third, we should always be reflecting on our own habits and how we are modeling, not just when others around but when we are alone.

In part II, I will share specific strategies on how to approach discipline in ways that are both practical and supported by research. Stay tuned.