Ten Spiritual Principles of Discipline

Wisdom I Learned from My Teacher, Avatara Adi Da


10. Discipline changes according to the stages of childhood.

Adi Da illuminates the traditional Vedic description of childhood development as the first three great stages of a seven stage process, updating ancient language and mind with modern sensibilities. (For a elaborated version see, "Education, Or My Way of Schooling in the Seven Stages of Life," Look at the Sunlight on the Water, 1983, or

The first stage of childhood begins at conception or birth and matures through the first seven years of life. It is focused in body-logic, grows until the simple autonomy of the mature child (who is losing their baby teeth). A hormonal shift begins stage two with appearance of permanent teeth and continues in emotional and character development until puberty (elementary, my dears). From puberty to adulthood is the third stage (and final phase) of childhood, wherein the discriminative capacity and resultant will are developed. While the third stage can be described as the transitional process of "trial adulthood", it still begins and develops as a stage of childhood, ending in harmonious adulthood. Each great stage of childhood has a corresponding form of emphasis, development and discipline.

In the first stage, children are focused in the body. The tongue, tickle, touch, and body are the fields of pleasure in the first six years. Parental/familial massage, touch, and bodily activities should be the environment and focus of this body-oriented stage. In terms of discipline this means: don't (over-) talk to a first-stager, pick them up and use your body to inform theirs of your requirements. Put them in their room not with your tongue but with your hands. Whether for inclusion or exclusion, the first stager is most capable of being focused in bodily terms. While using words to explain your actions (in response to their misbehavior), your actions speak louder than your words.

When you need to enforce an obligation, engage them bodily, let the first stage child forcefully feel who is in charge. (Yes to grabbing, holding, loud voice, and carrying, No to hitting or threatening to hit, No to verbal slights or attacking language.) Like the bumper sticker says, "I'm the mommy, that's why." Remember the bottom line, beyond the talking and coaxing, discipline in the first six years is body-based. In developing this insistence, we learn how to be non-violent yet forceful, letting the child know of our commitment to harmonious, relational behavior.

In the second stage of life, children adapt to the energetic nature of existence, with feelings taking center stage. Here, the kingdom of childhood is fullest, with soaring feelings and great appreciations&emdash;yet the dyadic foil is also here with hurt feelings and collapsed perspectives. Feelings, inclusion, and membership are most crucial in this socially focused stage. Children in the second stage need guidance about their feelings and the environments of feelings. The story and myth are crucial here, and communicate much adaptation. (PG-13 is usually NOT OK.)

Discipline at this elementary stage is most effective when it is an energetic arrangement. Agreements, handshakes, contracts, and all sorts of energetic exchanges are the substance of discipline in the elementary years. Agreements and the harmonious energy of meeting those agreements is the strongest way a second stager can be obliged to a discipline.

The third stage of life is characterized not by body or energy, but by understanding. A new mind and a new will come forth from this new level of comprehension. Cleverness and intent are key here. Therefore, the adolescent must fully participate in his or her own discipline, they must be the primary (but not only!) creator of their freedoms <=> responsibilities framework. They can fully understand the interplay of responsibility and freedom. Thus, you do not bodily address a teen, nor is it sufficient to make a simple agreement with an adolescent. (In case you haven't noticed.) They must understand the agreement or arrangement. A conversation with a second-stager might go: "If you help clean up after dinner every night, you get to pick a movie on Friday that we all watch together, with popcorn and lemonade. OK? Let's shake on it." A conversation with a teen would be poised differently, acknowledging a new level or trial adulthood and the need for their understanding and adult participation. E.g. "I've noticed that you have such a busy life nowadays that you haven't been helping with clean up like you used to. With your new school activities and obligations, I understand and so that's fine, but as you can see, running a household is a very big job. You see all the things to do [list], so now that you're no longer a kid, I want you to come up with a plan on how you are going to help this ship along. And come up with your freedoms and responsibilities that go along with that." (Please see, "The Transcendence of Childhood," for an elaboration of this consideration.)

In the third stage classroom, the children must be involved with their disciplines. For example, a teacher might ask the students to come up with the spectrum of discipline and consequences. "You tell me, what is the worst thing that can happen to you at school for continued misbehavior? Expulsion? OK, let's write expulsion on a 3 x 5 card and put it up here. Before expulsion, what is there? Suspension? OK, let's put that on another 3 x 5 card and stick it up too. Next? Conference with principal, teacher, and parents? OK, here. Next? Sent to office? OK? How do you get sent to the office? OK OK OK. Well, before being sent to the office, what should the consequence of continued misbehavior be? Outside the classroom for five minutes or so? Miss Recess/Freetime? Yard cleanup during lunch? OK OK OK, let put each of those on a 3 x 5 card. Now, how does someone get sent out of the room? OK OK OK. Just one time or more? OK. Now, let's arrange the cards in the order you all think is best, from gentle reminder to expulsion....." In this case, the children understand and co-create the discipline spectrum, and misbehavior is not rectified by merely an adult authority, but by the understanding and consent of everyone.

When parents and teachers comprehend this third-stage focus of understanding, they realize that every discipline and obligation must come from the teen, based in their understanding. Instead of always giving consequences and intoning obligations, the adult starts with asking the teen for an understanding of the situation and then obliges him or her to come up with their own plan of restitution, achievement, or goal --; and the resultant freedom, liberty, or prize. In the third stage, the parents must surrender their traditional parent role and become a friend and guide. (This is no small task and may take the help of other adults and/or take years of artful release.) Comprehending that the child is in a period of "trial adulthood", always strive to have the third stager &endash;based on their understanding -- come up with consequences for misbehavior, rewards for right actions, and creative solutions to adult concerns.

The third stage of childhood is distinctively different from the preschool and elementary years in one more very significant way: the teen years are not characterized by the dependence feeling of the first and second stages, nor by independence only, but in the conflict between dependence and independence. Therefore, instead of the built-in sense of dependence in the first two stages, the teen's emotional life feels like a dilemma. This feeling of dilemma can be understood by adults and teens. The teen years need not be so hard. But their own growth must be understood by teens in ways that is free from the shoulds and oughts of leftover religious idealisms. Instead, a teen can come to understand their dilemma by understanding the proper proportions of dependence and independence and where they are in a greater process. This location of the proper proportions of dependence and independence is found in a realistic and workable settlement of liberties and responsibilities. Dilemma is progressively undone in progressive responsibility. Teens can understand this and, by their understanding, are invited into continual growth instead of being stuck somewhere forever.

Parents can work a generational miracle by understanding the principles of discipline and growth. Classroom management can merge into the strength of the community, and every student can locate herself and himself within a psychological framework of inclusion and excellence.