John L. Brown FRSH, ACSW, AGPA
The following is a reprint of a paper which John L. Brown
directors of institutions for the treatment of emotionally disturbed children
in December 1963. The occasion was a conference organized, under the direction of Miss Dorothy Boond, by the
Ontario Department of Welfare in an effort to co-ordinate the work of the different treatment centres. The concepts which Mr. Brown
brought forward for discussion in the paper are as valid today as they were in 1963 and even more topical.
I must apologize for this paper in advance because I have really
to carry out the assignment. I have gone over much
of the literature, but by no means have I
done justice to the literature -on -this subject. Further I have not tried to footnote
or give credit to the concepts and ideas that I have gotten from the literature. I recognize that a careful paper would devote more attention to the literature and a proper footnoting and bibliography. I have
neither the academic bent nor the time to do such a job and I hope, nevertheless, that this paper will bring some ideas on the subject into discussion and stimulate scholars
and students who read to pursue the literature more diligently than myself.
Definition and Scope
For the purpose of this paper I will define discipline as the practice of exerting external situa-tional influences on an individual to promote compliance (obedience) and conformity.
Perhaps I should say a few words about
this definition since discipline frequently means many more things to some
Often the word "discipline"
is used to mean those aspects of
influencing others that come under
the general heading of guidance, education, and training. "Frequently,
basic—conditioning experiences are labelled discipline. The term sometimes gets confused with self-control and self-discipline.
As for example, when we say, so and so is a well-disciplined person.
Selma Fraiberg, in her book "The Magic
Years" advocates the return of the broad meaning of the word discipline to
include training and guidance as well as pressure exerted for conformity
Frances Wickes in an old book called "The Inner World of Childhood" treats the question
as an aspect of the individual learning to make choices. He recognizes that the ability to express one's individuality in making
choices is a capacity that grows parallel to physical and emotional growth. He suggests
that the child in the early years of
development needs "the rest-fulness that comes from the habits of obedience", Mr. Wickes points out the need to be aware of the unconscious response to disciplinary measures
as well as the awareness of the conscious responses. In the literature of Psychoanalysis we find many variations on the theme that developmental readiness is a primary concern in considering aspects of discipline.
I have decided to restrict the meaning of discipline for the purpose of this paper
to the definition I have given above recognizing full well that there are many many ways of approaching the question of discipline.
The key word in the definition I have chosen is the word "situation", since through this word I mean to convey those external influences that are related in time to acts of
disobedience and non-conformity. This leaves out consideration in this paper of
those meanings of discipline which
have to do with habit training, education and guidance. This concept of discipline
implies that it is always external to the person and, therefore, that it is always assertive and aggressive and, as we know,
can often be hostile and punitive.
Sometimes people feel that discipline that is successful
is "good" and discipline which is unsuccessful is "bad". But it should be clear from the very beginning that the success or failure of discipline does not alter the basic nature of this
being an aggressive
or hostile act. It is by nature assertive and aggressive. The literature is filled with material dealing with hostile, sadistic and punitive elements
found in the practice of discipline.
This report in no way is meant to be a prescription for discipline. I wish rather to raise as many questions as possible by a brief review of
some of the thought and practice of discipline. It is designed to raise questions and challenge existing concepts. This report is in the nature of an outline since I
have not been able to pursue much of the source material in the literature. Therefore, I would suggest that each section should be explored in detail
and pursued by the reader out of his interest and knowledge of the subject. The
following headings into which the material is organized is solely for my own
A Child's Responsibility for his Behavior
Discipline is associated with how we as adults, or how
we as society, through our
laws and expectations, see the child's ability to be responsible for his behavior.
We know that the age at which children
are considered responsible for their acts varies from culture to culture and historically from time to time, We know that in the English speaking world children were h,eld responsible at a very early age for their acts and that they were treated as adults for all crimes.
The early recognition that this was not appropriate led to much of our child
protective legislation and contribute to the development of children's services as we now know them.
In consideration of when a child is responsible in terms of sin, have varied in their outlook from time to time, but I believe generally a child under seven is not considered by the
Church to be responsible for sinful acts,
If we see the child as being •responsible —knowledgeable.-about what he is doing,
to that act wilfulness, without ulterior motive, we can see the basic rationales of individuals and societies organizing to
discipline the child as a means of forcing compliance and conformity.
If, on the Other hand, we see the child as a growing organism and each act committed by the child as rooted in his prior experience, we are less in a position to defend the use pf discipline as a means of promoting
compliance and conformity orderly, pre-dictable re-education and re-orientation makes
possible the correction of breaches of compliance and conformity.
The question settles around whether, and to what degree, we wish to promote free choice.
The individual's capacity to make choices
hinges heavily on his prior experience and the feelings, attitudes and values he attaches to behavioral phenomena and his relationships
to people and things.
The child needs an orderly existence. This need varies
with the individual and it varies according to the individual's overall capacity and his changing capacity as he grows and matures. Expectations
that are geared to the individual's readiness and capacity are generally rewarded
by behavior that complies and conforms.
Most services for children and most child legislation is still
in the direction of adult standards and expectations and adult patterns with stated or implied responsibility for acts. The fact that we have young children in our training schools certainly
underlines this point. At the same time
of course, the fact that we call them training schools masks the elements of discipline
and punishment inherent in their structure.
It is difficult for us out of our philosophical heritage of good and bad, of right and wrong, of sinful and non-sinful, to free
ourselves of value judgements in relationship to children's acts.
We must raise the question of whether we would ever want to remove value judgements
about children's behavior. There
confusion arises. When we are dealing with children living in their own homes and functioning
relatively normally we certainly cannot remove value judgements from their behavior. A misdeed is a misdeed and we disapprove of it. This really means that we disapprove of the child
and the child's
behavior which are really inseparable.
However, when we are dealing with emotionally disturbed children, who are insecure
in their ties
to others and suffering from poor self-image and weak ego-strength, we need to distinguish the act from the child acting. It is as though we say "you are okay, but what you do is not okay," This implies
that the child can do otherwise and this is, in effect, an assertation to the child of our confidence in hig ability to manage himself differently. It is ego-supportive and creates an
image of an adequate and able individual. There comes a time in tha treatment of the disturbed child when his self-image is intact and his ego-strength assured, and we must
no longer make this distinction — the act and actor are one.
The parental Rights and Responsibilities for the Control of the Child versus the Community's Rights and Control of the Child,
It is well for us to recognize that the absolute authority of the parent which once went unquestioned is diminishing,
a strong increasing trend towards more uniformity of control by society. This implies of course that it will be necessary for the community collectively to also assume a different
kind of responsibility for the training and
preparation of children in terms of their ability to conform and comply at an earlier age.
In this paper I have no argument against this trend. I believe essentially that the only
way there can
be adequate training and preparation for children to live in compliance and conformity with society is by laving a more uniform means cf training
and preparation at an early age. To leave such an important area to the caprice of the individual parent, even though our sentiments may favour this, will lead to
the ultimate destruction of the society itself.
As we have given up, of necessity, the responsibilities for the education
of our children
within the family
and in our own fashion so must we give up the responibilities for training the child in matters of compliance
within the family. The unevennless of the parent's capacity to perform, the function of training jln compliance and conformity challenges our platitudes about ;he contributions of
to the child's functioning in society as an adult.
We have before us evidence from Russia, Chinp, and Israel, qf the recognition
of a need for more uniformity in training at an earilier age in compliance and
conformity. We may not
like the social philosophy those countries but these societies are turning
out emotionally strong, positivel oriented children who are dedicated to their community find who show an impressive
compliance and conformity to its goals, aspirations and problems, The defense of Western democracy would be infinitely more simple and the outlook more hopeful if we In the West could produce coming genera, tions of children with such dedication,
conviction and conformity to the ideas of our way of life.
Markarenko in his book "Road to Life" describes in detail the devices used in developing
group pressures for compliance and conformity and utilizing social dynamics to effect individual change. It may well be that we need to explore
this subject more and not be frightened away from it by our fear of violating individual rights and responsibilities.
Individual Dynamics of Conformity and Compliance
In all discussions of discipline we must look in the final analysis tq
what it is that motivates an individual to comply and conform.
Discipline Is based on the concept that compliance
and conformity arise out of the individual's fears of hurt, annihilation, destruction and death. This is "Only a part of the story of compliance,
It ib certainly true
and conformity can be forced out of such fears but far more Important — because of its power — la the fact that conformity and compliance are natural by-products of
the child's wish
to please and to be like the adult, It is as. if the individual human being in infancy and childhood flees from individuality and "Isolate loneliness" and that this force Is strong enough so that the child is willing to give up pleasures In order to conform and comply and
thereby to be like pr to please the adults who are important to him.
Social psychologists like Schack-ter, Festinger, Pepiton and New-eings,
speak of de-individuation as a basic force for affiliation and motive for conformity.
I want now to look at what causes a breakdown in these basic motivations for conformity
(a) There is no object*, or the object is an inconsistent,
object and of course this makes it impossible for the individual to wish to be like or to please. In such situations the most insidious and subtle threats to survival are detected
by the child and we have through over-conformity an inhibition in expressing basic fears and impulses, flattening of affect and other symptoms with which you are familiar in your work with children from
The so-called character disorder, psychopathic or sociopathic children come under this
(b) The object is a negative, rejecting object. In this situation
the motivation to please and to
be like, while it still may operate, tends
to break down and the child most frequently is inclined to retaliate or to react
negatively in turn. Force by the adult usually follows and, depending on the child's experiences up to this time, he
will either conform or
*The use of the word "object" here is meant to convey an adult who is in an authority relationship to the child and in a position
to apply pressure for compliance or conformity: e.g., parent, teacher, policeman, clergyman.
find other means of fighting back, or not conforming, in disguised ways.
These are children who are unrelated but may have a potential
Frequently they are masochistic or sadistic children. For them, positive identifications with adults are difficult. Identifications with fantasy parents
frequently is a strong component of these children.
(c) Motivation to conform and comply breaks down at the point
when there is an external pressure to [destroy or forcibly alter the individual or the individual's self image. These are situations where the child symbolizes something to the adult
intolerable to him or where the^adult's own inadequacy nJemands "feeding" on the iden-~tityT~and self (images of others.
Fear of hurt, destruction and death only adds to the already overburdening threat.
These are children who are living with sadists] or repressed,
homicidal adults,j or in homes where the adult annihilates the identity of the child, because he is afraid of what thej child symbolizes to him. These children
are generally shy and withdrawn, fearful of extending themselves, fearful of trying. It is as though they have been imprisoned by extreme rejection and denial of themselves.
(e) Sometimes the motivation to conform and comply breaks down because of
inability to comprehend the potentials of the situation. He just doesn't understand what is going on. The use of force or fear does not help to clarify this situation.
These children cannot understand a complicated relationship, or expectations that
are set for them.
Most children who are orphaned, or who have been moved frequently from foster home to foster home, or from institution to institution, find themselves in this situation — a situation where their total expectation had been geared to one set or standard of behavior, only to find that in the new situation, different expectations, which
had not been communicated to the child, governed their responses. How they react to being placed in such inconsiderate
circumstances will, of course, depend on what each child brings to the situation.
(f) Sometimes a child's basic motivation to conform or comply
because of a conscious or unconscious desire to punish, hurt, or retaliate directly against, the adult. Threats and fear of hurt only intensify the force causing the breakdown
in the motivation
to conform and comply.
Sadistic and masochistic children make up this category.
(g) Sometimes the motivation to conform or comply breaks
the child's desire to punish, hurt or retaliate -is—dis—
-placed-from a prior situation or person to a present
situation or person.
These are the children who are preoccupied with "correcting" wrongs that have been done to them in the past by
feelings on to the people in the present. Homicidal children are common in this category.
(h) Sometimes a child's motivation for conformity and compliance breaks down because
of his aggressive
desires to explore, master and control situations, objects and persons. We must remember that not only does the child explore the physical world about him but he also
social world about him. We are less tolerant of his groping for social relationships and frequently fail to understand his social conflicts which are often the child's crude exploration of
Threats only discourage
in an area in which the child should be encouraged to explore and the fear created may inhibit him throughout his life in social relationships.
In institutions and foster homes bright children who have energy free to aggressively
explore the world
around them make up this category. They are generally strong willed children who are struggling to explore the world around them despite its dreariness.
(i) Sometimes the child's motivation to comply and conform breaks down as a
result of feelings
of rivalry and jealousy. With children this is certainly the most predominant cause of breakdowns in motivation for compliance and conformity.
These children are easily identified because they include everyone — normal and
abnormal — since feelings of rivalry and jealousy are part of the human response.
(j) Sometimes the motivation to comply and conform breaks down as a result
of bids for
attention, special care or the testing of the security of his relationships to the adults and to the peers in his surroundings.
In this category, of course, you find children who have a great need for tender, loving care and
to be insatiable. They aren't, but the drain can be very heavy on the adults and peers These
kids are hungry for affiliation and sometimes make a great nuisance of themselves. "Misbehavior" sometimes results in the child's bid for reassurance and
What Motivates the Discipliner?
There are individual dynamics that motivate the discipliner, too. I will not
go into them at great length because I don't know that area well enough, and there has been precious little written on it.
It is obvious, of course, that the discipliner is motivated primarily
by aggressive, hostile or destructive feelings in all his acts of discipline. Generally, behind these feelings of aggression, hostility
lie fears of threat or annihilation to self image or deep anxieties about personal adequacy and inadequacy.
Since these are the basic motivating forces behind the discipliner's acts, and since these
are difficult to admit to, most discipliners find it necessary to rationalize their discipline elaborately. It is interesting perhaps to briefly look at why these basic motivations
break down in the discipliner. We know that this is what happens frequently and the result is inconstant discipline and a great deal of discomfort to the discipliner.
Mostly, the discipliner recognizes an acting-out of his inner personal needs against the
child. The discipliner
is unable to tolerate this in himself.
If the discipliner consciously or unconsciously feels unsatisfied about what he
is doing in his role
of discipliner, he generally acts in a manner to compensate or make up for his discipline. (The
which he does this can be frequently very subtle and unconscious, or can be very direct and recognized so.) Frequently the discipliner's rationalization in regard to the need for
the Tightness of his acts lead him to intensify and over measure what he feels guilty about using. The light taps of the strap or ruler, which created the guilt,
blows as a result of the guilt.
It has been said that the negative impact of discipline is modified by its being constant
and predictable and that there is nothing more destructive than inconstant, unpredictable discipline.
The General Practice of Discipline
I wish to review here the general practice of discipline as we can observe it around us.
Common practice of disciplines at the present time is to use individual discipline
and most of the
works on discipline stress individual discipline. Individual discipline takes many forms. We shall review briefly a few of them.
Hitting — Hitting is done either with an object
flexible or hard
against any part of the body. At the present time in Ontario it may include hands, a strap, a cat-o'nine-tails, a hose, short sticks, or clubs, brushes with stiff bristles
of various kinds,
rulers, yardsticks and other paraphernalia. In all instances these techniques and methods of hitting are meant to bring about instant compliance and conformity and they range in
from immediately successful to
completely inadequate. These methods are sometimes used to punish after a lapse of time acts which met with disapproval.
Isolation — Isolation in individual discipline
has been developed to a fine art second only to the art of hitting, in our training schools and other corrective institutions. It generally means that the child
is placed for a period of time
in isolation from outside contact or from all outside stimulation. Frequently it takes the form of being placed in restricted compartments with-—out-outside
contact—asd—with a limited diet.! It may take the form of being isolated in an entire room with magazines, radio, T.V. and other stimulating media at the disposal of the child. It is meant essentially to force compliance and conformity
by depriving the child of wanted or needed contacts.
Threatening — There are various forms of threats, direct
and indirect and some of these are so subtle
as to defy description. They range from the giving of castor oil and drinking urine to the presence of ominous gestures andmovements
on the part of the adult. The very atmosphere of ja residence, a room
or a house can contain powerful threats to individual children. In talking to
child care workers you frequently hear boasts of how they are able to manage certain children with a glance or some other subtle look or gesture. This is always a measure of the degree of fear present
in the child of unspoken, but well known consequences.
Depriving — Depriving includes all those things which take something needed or wanted away from the child and in which the child is
not himself isolated. It may include such things as not getting food or it may be something as direct as paying a fine.
Group discipline is generally in disfavour and people who discipline
must admit that it is used frequently in practice though not admitted. It may be that we need to take a fresh look at group discipline if we are to define discipline as the practice of exerting
external situational influences on an individual
to promote conformity and compliance.
I would guess that our rather confused ideals about the rights of individuals would
lead us to brush over group discipline
as a subject not deserving our attention.
We somehow fail to recognize the implications of our logic when on the one hand we say that we each carry a social responsibility for one another and for one another's acts, and on the other hand we say we are reluctant to have the group suffer because of the behavior of one of its members. Our
society with its high incidence of maladjustment and delinquency certainly suffers for
the acts of one. To believe that we are untouched by the individual act is to ignore reality.
GROUP DISCIPLINE AS IT IS PRACTISED.
Withholding rights and privileges — This usually
takes the form
of depriving the total group or a sub-group of privileges and rights because of a wish to force group pressure on an individual or a sub-group- to comply and conform. If it is arranged well
be a tremendous amount of "heat" generated and brought to bear on the individual or sub-group. However, it frequently backfires and the heat
against the authority. It often leads to strong resentment toward authority, but this may be the result of poor management and improper interpretation.
Threatening group consequences and isolating
is not practised as often although sometimes used. Training schools practise a special form of this in their good conduct lodges and system of merit ribbons. These are so artificial and unrelated
to life as to be
pathetic and a discredit to the adults who use them.
It may be, however, that there are powerful social forces that need be explored more
fully and at an earlier age that would generate more compliance and conformity in the early years and that would remain effective throughout life.
Certainly, the social interdependence of each individual on each
other suggests a need to give top priority to exploring group dynamics in the service of compliance and conformity not just in treatment and training centers,
all walks of life with the "normal" and with the maladjusted.