Let me if I may, wade into one of the more controversial aspects of parenting these days by dealing with the subject of disciplining our children. Nothing is a more volatile, controversial or really important topic when it comes to effective parenting. We do not want to be guilty of failing in this area because we don’t know what to do or because we are afraid to do anything to cross our children.
Every child is born with a will (say, “stubborn streak”) that needs to be brought into line with the parent’s will. Breaking that “streak” is what much of discipline is about. If we have not moved toward doing that by the time they are two or three, we will not be able to bring a much older child (13 or 14 years) into line without great pain and determination. In other words, while it’s never too late to start, it is far better to get an early footing on your child’s will at the young stages of life.
So should we spank? Use hands? Paddles? Rulers? Sticks/rods? Or should we follow the advice of the experts who say that “violence begets violence” and that physically punishing a child should be a jailable offense? Should we do time out? Ground them? Take things away from them? The polarities on this issue are huge and while the Bible does not give us a specific, one-two-three step procedure manual for discipline, we can certainly find some principles to follow.
First, a child MUST be disciplined. If you don’t break their will, they will break you. We must set our minds to understand what God says about this subject. He says, “… for whom the Lord loves, He disciplines.” Now that discipline is not just swinging a paddle at the child’s gluteus maximus at the right time. It also involves “reproving” which has to do with your words… your teaching… your instruction. While I am not an advocate that a child must be fully informed of all consequences for willful behavior before she can be disciplined, I am an advocate that she understand afterward why it was done. In other words, a child should NEVER walk away from an experience of discipline without understanding why it happened.
Second, a child MUST be disciplined consistently. This is a particular problem if you are sharing custody. A child must know that rules don’t bend even though locations do. If you want to thoroughly confuse your child, punish them for one offense but not another. You will either create a fearful child who is afraid to do anything or a child who believes they can manipulate the parent away from punishing for an offense.
Third, a child MUST be disciplined toward something. So much of our disciplinary actions are trying to stop the child from doing something rather than aiming them in the right direction. Discipline that is biblical moves us toward a goal of godliness and obedience. Our parental discipline does the same.
Fourth, as a child gets older they MUST be disciplined in a way that is effective at their age level. You can’t pop a fifteen year old hulk of a boy with a kitchen spoon or paddle ball paddle hard enough to make an impact. You’ll just be laughed at. But when he loses his cell phone privileges for a week or you take the bedroom door off the hinges for a few days (!!!) you will have his attention. Find age appropriate ways to discipline. Don’t punish yourself more than you’re punishing the offending child. They need to pay the price for broken curfews and broken rules and disobedience. You don’t have to hurt because they do. You probably had to learn the same lessons. Hopefully you already have!
Fifth, don’t be afraid to do this. Discipline is one of the purest forms of loving your child. As a parent, your role is to shape them not into the image of mom and dad, but toward the image of their Heavenly Father.
Discipline is part of raising a child in the nurture and admonition of our Lord. And know it may be the most loving thing you will do.
FOR MEMORIZATION: He who spares his rod hates his son; but he who loves him disciplines him diligently. Proverbs 13:24
FOR REFLECTION: Part of godly discipline begins with two parents agreeing on how discipline is to be done. Have you had that conversation with your spouse regarding your philosophy of discipline… especially if the child is younger? If not, schedule time for that crucial talk together.