As we recently covered in Sunday school, listed below are ten general principles that will help parents with their God-given responsibility to discipline their children.
1. Don’t confuse discipline with being unloving. Actually, when discipline is done correctly, quite the contrary is true. God disciplines His children because He loves them. “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines… But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:6, 8). It’s a Christian contradiction for any parent to say, “I love my kids too much to discipline them.”
2. Make sure your rules are from the Scriptures. Then when children violate these principles, take them back to the Word of God to show them where their ultimate submission must be. Follow God’s example. When God gives commands in the Bible, His rules are clearly presented along with the consequences for violating them. Since God’s “commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3), thus when we follow Scripture, neither will ours be.
3. All discipline is ultimately intended to point out sin to reveal our child’s need for a Savior. That is why we shepherd the heart and not the behavior. Children need to realize that it is not ultimately mom or dad they are letting down, but Jesus Christ. Take them to Jesus, teaching that only He can forgive their sin and remove a guilty conscience. The cross gives discipline an eternal purpose, and the cross gives hope to the child being disciplined. It’s all the difference between behavior modification and true Gospel, grace-driven change.
4. Make sure you provide your children with clear expectations and then when violated follow through on your discipline in a way that is firm, fair and consistent. Anything less will, as Ephesians 6:4 says, “Provoke your children to anger.”
5. Be a man or woman of your word. Expect immediate compliance from your children the moment you voice your expectation. None of this, “When Daddy counts to three,” stuff! Teach them that God demands they honor your position and He enforces it with a promise. Ephesians 6:1-3, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.”
6. Teach them the blessings of honoring God-appointed authority and how submission to such authority honors Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:20-23). If this lesson is not learned in the home, children will have trouble responding to others in authority as they get older (teachers, pastors, police officers, elected officials and especially the Lord Jesus Christ). In many homes I am afraid that children are controlling their parents more than parents are controlling their children.
7. Do not use something good as a form of discipline. I never understood why gym teachers have kids run laps or English teachers have kids write essays when they get in trouble. Frequently, parents will use household responsibilities as discipline. Through these methods children soon learn to associate these desired actions with punishment. I assume my college football coach agreed with this method of thinking as well. Show up late for practice and you were enlisted on the “roll patrol.” One-hundred yards up and one-hundred yards back in full pads on the Astroturf. Believe me; you never made that mistake again! Please note: I’m not suggesting that one for your family!
8. Do not confuse punishment with discipline. I feel the following comparison is helpful: “There’s a big difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment gives a negative consequence, but discipline means ‘to teach.’ Punishment is negative; discipline is positive. Punishment focuses on past misdeeds. Discipline focuses on future good deeds. Punishment is often motivated by anger. Discipline is motivated by love. Punishment focuses on justice to balance the scales. Discipline focuses on teaching, to prepare for next time” (Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, Home Improvement, The Parenting Book You Can Read to Your Kids). We are not called to punish our children. We are called to discipline our children.
9. All discipline should move from parentally administered discipline to personal self-discipline that respects God’s discipline. Tight control when they are young to increased freedom when they display responsibility. Prepare your children for the time when they will no longer be under your authority.
10. Parents must serve as a living example for their children. “Do as I say and not as I do” does not fly in the Christian household. Unless you wish to raise little Pharisees, parents must practice what they preach and uphold what they claim to enforce at all times, including the times they discipline their children (like not disciplining in anger!). Mom and Dad, hold each other accountable. Failure here is why I believe many children reared in Christian homes are the ones most turned off to the faith.
Hebrews 11:11: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Parents, stay encouraged and keep the end picture in sight. It often seems the immediate progress does not outweigh the effort and heartache. Many battles will be lost (many times Julie and I thought, “It’s not working!”), but the goal is to win the war. Have faith that conducting discipline God’s way will reap the greatest benefits in the long run. Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”