"Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."--Hebrews 12:9-11 If there is a debated topic in the arena of parenting it is discipline: what is it? Should we spank or not? If we don't, is there another method of training our kids? How about time out? The questions and opinions go on and on and on.
As I share on my Philosophy page on this site, I am not going to try to advocate any particular method of parenting. I believe that is an issue that each husband/wife team will need to decide on together. But whatever route a couple chooses to take, I think most of us will agree that our children will need to be disciplined in some way.
Even as I write this, I hear how negative that sounds. We often equate discipline with punishment for a poor choice or negative attitude. And in the Hebrews 12 passage quoted above, that is what God is talking about. The implication is that whether it is pleasant to give or to receive, it is a necessary part of the growth and maturity of our children.
Admittedly, this is one of the areas that I really don't enjoy about parenting. And yet because of the inherent sin nature we all possess, it is something we need to deal with or else it will come back at us with a vengeance. Instead of focusing on the heartache it will cause us if we don't train our kids, we can look at discipline as a gift for children.
There have been times when my little one is having a fit and sulking and I have had to deal with it. Even though it is inconvenient, I can see that when I do not permit him to wallow in his self-pity and frustration, I am doing him a favor in the long run. When we face the attitude and the anger, I help to steer him into the path of life and show him a better way to live and respond to his situation. Even though he doesn't always want to give in, I can see a change in his face when we deal with it.
In this way, discipline can really be a gift for our children. I have been often asked when a parent should start disciplining their child. I think that as soon as they are conscious of making choices, I start. That could vary from child to child, but for my children, it has been at a relatively young age (well before age two!).
I am sure that you have been in the presence of children who have not had any discipline in their lives. While it may be easier for the parents and less painful for the kids, it is no fun to be around them. Are we doing any favors for our children if we do not discipline them? On the contrary, I fear for those kids because they will not be a blessing to their families much less those around them.
So how do we start? Some suggestions:
Pick your battles.
Not everything is worth fighting over. As husband and wife, know what is most important and stick to those issues. Decide also how you are going to deal with infractions of those issues.
Set your limits.
Of those battles, know where you will draw the line. Of course, we will want to train our children not only in what is okay, but why. Otherwise, our children, who are quite intelligent, will be able to obey the letter of the law but completely miss the heart of it. Our goal is to train the heart, not just the behavior.
Communicate those limits in simple basic rules.
In order to comply, our kids need to know the rules. I have been guilty of disciplining my kids for things they didn't know were wrong. To be fair, I need to let them know what I expect---and not a list of 50 rules either! Keep it short and sweet and yet broad enough to cover most of the issues that you face in your home.
Nothing gives a mixed message to a child better than inconsistency. If we deal with them one day but not the next, even if we share those rules with them, we only appear untrustworthy. Even if it is inconvenient, we need to deal with them as soon as possible.
I like what Hebrews 12 says about discipline. It isn't about punishment. It is about training in godliness. The goal when we lovingly correct our children, whatever method we use, is to shape them and their character for the days to come. When you think of it that way, then discipline truly can be a gift.