Discipline is Good and Christian
Here are some things that help me when I have to consider how to discipline my children.
I need to make sure I am being loving when I discipline.
Discipline is supposed to be based on love for the child. My actions and methods must be tempered by a heart that dearly loves my child.
I need to make sure my goal is the child’s correction and not simply the child’s punishment.
Discipline is about a desire to see him or her learn, not just suffer because he or she was wrong. Discipline is not the same as punishment, which is closer to retribution or revenge. Punishment is designed to make the offender pay for what he did, whereas discipline is from the Greek word for instruction and is intended to teach and correct. Discipline may at times include a form of consequence that is perceived as punishment, but the intention is different.
I need to be honest about how I feel and if I am using those feelings to fuel my thinking about the corrective action.
Often my child offends me. When he does this, there is an added dimension to the discipline because I not only want him to be corrected for his behavior, but I may have an angry or hurt heart as well. I need to be careful that this does not cloud my judgment. When I let this happen, the result may be that I go overboard in some way. (See the next point)
I need to be sure the consequences are reasonable for the offense(s).
The consequences should fit the crime. Kids intuitively have an idea of what is just and what is unjust (to an extent). Therefore, if I am unjustly applying too much correction/many consequences, it will ultimately have a negative effect. This works in each direction. If the child’s sinful action is great, the consequence must be appropriately serious as well. We must be governed by love and the above ideals to discern if our proposed discipline is appropriate for the action.
If my kid steals, and I only make him say “I’m sorry,” that doesn’t fit the offense. It doesn’t teach him or her the seriousness of his sin. Returning the item AND some other form of consequence is likely more fitting. (Note: Patterns of offenses may require greater consequences for each offense in order to break the pattern.)
I need to encourage repentance in the heart toward the bad action and whoever was offended.
I do not believe I should ever MAKE my kid say “I’m sorry.” What if he or she is not? In that case, I’ve encouraged lying. A true apology should come from the heart; instead, I prefer to teach my kid repentance in my own life and encourage it in his own life. The natural outpouring of a repentant heart is to make amends and apologize for offenses.
So the encouragement to my children when they are being corrected is to repent for their offense before God first. I point them to which of the Ten Commandments they have broken and explain it to them. Additionally, I encourage them (but not force them) to reconcile with the human offended party as well by asking for forgiveness (not saying sorry!).
I need to consider if the discipline itself helps or hurts the child for whom it is intended.
The discipline needs to be sensible for the child’s age, maturity, etc. I wouldn’t spank a 13-year-old girl, and I also wouldn’t ground a 5-year-old boy for 2 months. Manufactured consequences must be meaningful but hopeful! Not only should there be a bad consequence for bad behavior, but good behavior should have a sense of a good result to shoot for.
Consequences for sinful behavior shouldn’t be applied in a way that actually harms the child. For example, I can’t take away all their food or deprive them of sleep. Some consequences, even though they may “work” – aren’t in the best interest of the child. Similarly, just because my child enjoys an activity, that doesn’t make it a good thing for me to take away for the sake of discipline. Again, we must be discerning here.
I need to discipline myself to consistently enforce and follow through with good discipline.
The discipline needs to be consistently enforced. If I say, “two weeks of no this or that,” it is paramount that I enforce that. Otherwise, the next threatened consequence will be ignored. In this way, I actually hurt my own child by teaching him that consequences for our sins do not always occur. They must be taught by their earthly parents that all sin has consequences. This is an effective means of pointing a child to God’s divine justice—so that they may be encouraged to run to the Savior.
This attitude will also help me not to over-react and make ‘idle threats’ on which I will never follow through. When I consider that I must enforce the promised consequences for a command I give, I’ll be more careful to make reasonable commands and warn them with consequences I’m willing to carry out.
I need to consider if I am committing the same or similar offenses as a bad example to my child.
We are hypocrites at heart in our flesh. Our children’s sins, and most often the ones that bother us the most, are usually things we ourselves are guilty of. We must keep watch over our own lives, repent of those sins as they arise, and be examples to those entrusted to us.
Point Them to Jesus
Finally, if your discipline is only designed to control outward behavior, you will produce in your own strength little Pharisees who know how to wash the outside of a cup but leave the inside untouched. On the other hand, if your discipline is intended to point your children to their need of the Savior, Jesus Christ, then your words and actions, and demeanor when applying correction to your children will show that. Christ will be glorified and exalted and your child will be pointed to his or her only hope, Jesus!