Contend Earnestly: Tips on Disciplining Your Children

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tips on Disciplining Your Children

I have a read many things on the understanding of disciplining my children and try to be faithful in my love for them. The one thing I know for sure is, disciplining my children is very difficult. The reason is that to discipline them like God calls me to takes more time and more effort than if I were to merely yell at them, give them a time out or spank them. Not only that, but when I discipline them with a gospel intention, it brings my own sin and rebellious heart to the forefront. I have two boys, 7 and 4, so I would rather just wrestle them into submission and make them tap out. Although that would bring some quick satisfaction, the long term affects could be very odd.

On that note, here are some tips to aid you (and remind me) of how to discipline your children.

1. Use Scripture Always, Not Only in Discipline

I have noticed a lot of parents like to use Scripture when disciplining their child. What will happen to that child if every time they hear Scripture it is because they are in trouble? They will come to despise Scripture and see it as a rule book to follow. Completely the wrong message we should be giving them. Scripture should be used like it was intended. Scripture is a way to show us how to achieve our greatest joy for the glory of God. Redemption is at the center of this understanding of joy. It should be "used" as such.

We should be always speaking about the gospel, whether or not the child is in trouble or when the child is showing the love of Jesus to their sibling or friends. Let me give you an example. Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." I have seen most use this verse only when kids are in trouble. But what about using it when the child DOES obey their parents? What about showing them why it is important to obey their parents? You have to give more than mere commands, you have to show them the truth of why it is God's command. Show them that the reason they should obey you, is because you want them to have the most joy in their lives and create the most joy in those that they are friends with. Show that you desire their joy and that is why you have different rules and such. Instead of seeing this verse as only a "negative" they see the wide truth claim it actually provides and it gives them a chance to see it's goodness. Think of telling them why you want them to look both ways before they cross the road. It isn't because you want to control them and make them stay where you want. You want them to look both ways to keep them safe, so they don't get hurt. When giving commands or using Scripture, you should always think of explaining it to them like you would when telling them to look both ways before crossing the road. With that truth, they see you as loving and not as controlling.

2. Be Just in Your Discipline, Pray About Your Discipline...and Mean It!

Make the punishment fit the crime. Don't under punish and don't over punish. So, if your child punches a kid in the face, don't merely tell him "that's okay, try not to do that." If your child sneaks cookies, don't ground them for three months and spank them every hour on the hour. I would highly recommend that you don't punish right away, unless it is something small. But, take time to tell them you are going to go to God in prayer to seek out his wisdom on what the punishment will be. This isn't just to show your child that you trust in God's wisdom, which it will do, but this is actually for you to seek out God's wisdom on the correct punishment.

Sometimes you won't even have to punish because if your child eats too much cookies, they might have a stomach ache and that is punishment just need to instruct them in those moments. So, don't always feel like you have to add punishment on top of the natural consequences that come with sin.

When you come to the decision of what the punishment will be, make sure that is the punishment that is carried out. If you say you are going to take away their toys, their blanket or whatever for a better stand. They can see when you are weak, they can see when they can test you. Be careful what you say, but make sure that you mean what you say and carry it out.

Let your yes be yes, and your no be your no. If you say "no" to your child, mean it. Don't count, don't give them another chance, don't continually give in to your child. When you do, you are just showing them that if they keep at something, you will eventually give in. You are teaching them that persistence in sin pays off! If you only "mean it" on the third no, or when you get to the number three when counting...they will then push you to go that far before they stop. Your kids aren't stupid, they just want to know the boundaries.

In regards to this...make sure that you are always praying that God would have you discipline well and like Him and not like your selfish self. Always be praying for wisdom, so that when you need to discipline in haste, it will be godly and not out of a sinful heart that desires to be the authority. Praying about discipline shouldn't only happen at the time of incidents, but should be continual and persistant.

3. Do Not Discipline When You're Angry

No matter what...wait. Do not discipline when you are angry. You will say things you don't mean, you will not be patient, you will be harsher than you intend and you will have a lot of apologizing to do afterwards. My wife and I have an agreement. If either of us can see the other one getting angry in discipline, the other can tell the other one to dismiss themselves. We have agreed that we won't get angry, we won't respond, we won't fight it, but will trust the other one and remove ourselves from the situation. When discplining while angry you will always come off to the child as unloving and self righteous. You will never come off as one who is trying to seek out their joy and comfort. You will not be the one that they can trust, but just a crazy dictator that needs to be obeyed until they can move out.

4. Be Gospel Centered

You should never discipline without bringing it back to the gospel and the heart of the sinner. Always show off Jesus and his forgiveness in discipline. Make sure that your child understands this and sees how much Jesus, AND YOU, love them and forgives them. Don't make this a guilt trip of "look at what you did!" but make it all about the greatness of Jesus.

As an example. My kid got in trouble for throwing a ball inside the house after we told him to stop. We asked, "What is your sin?" He said, "Throwing the ball." We asked, "Is it a sin to throw a ball?" He replied, "No." We said, "So what is your sin?" He responded, "Not obeying you in telling me to not throw the ball." We continued, "So, are you desiring to obey your parents, or doing what you desire?"

Afterwards, we hand down the punishment, show him the cross and then we pray with him and then have him pray to Jesus for forgiveness.

Not only this, but we always include in our discipline the fact that mommy and daddy are sinners and do the exact same things that they do and also are in need of the gospel and the cross of Jesus. We make sure our children understand that mommy and daddy are not their saviour and are not the end all, but we are in as much need as they are of Jesus. BE TRANSPARENT IN THIS. Be real. Be a true sinner in front of your children calling out for grace. Make sure they understand you are in the same boat, and Jesus is the captain, not you.

5. Don't Be Scared to Show Grace

This freaks kids out. Think of it. Do you get physically punished every time you deserve it? There are times where we work everything out and then ask our kids, "How do you think you should be punished?" They'll come up with something and we'll correct where needed, and then we'll tell them we are not going to punish them but show them grace. This gives them a practical understanding of what grace is and the forgiveness shown in the cross. I have found this to be amazing to show off God and His good news. We don't want to raise legalists that think, "If I do good...good things happen, if I do bad...bad things I will do this, and not that." You want to raise children who obey you because they love you, and when they understand the gospel, they will want to serve God, because they love him, not to get good things from him or out of a thought that God will love them more because of their actions. Showing your kids grace is one of the best things you can do in discipline if you do it correctly with gospel intentions.

6. Speak to Them Literally at Their Level

Do not stand over your children when you discipline. Squat down, or sit down and look them in the eyes. They should never see you as some sort of "higher up" that is screaming down on them. Jesus came down from heaven to show us grace, we should take the time to merely squat down to speak to them eye to eye. This might sound small, but it shows more than you might think.

Discipline can be a very difficult subject to speak on or to approach. These are just a few things that my wife and I are continually trying to accomplish when we discipline. We are definitely not perfect and fail all the time. When we do, we go to our children and seek out their forgiveness, showing that we are not some "super Christian" that is over them and better than them. I know this isn't exhaustive, but these are the things that have really spoken to my wife and I on how to discipline with Jesus and his gospel being the center of it and not peripheral. To make this work, you can't just do this on the fly, but you must be continually in prayer, have open communication with your wife or husband and be ready to be consistent. This is a lifestyle, not something you can just do every once in a while.

I hope that this helps with those who have children and can show you how we have filtered the Scriptures so that the story of redemption is shown every day, including when they are being disciplined.


Matthew Robbins said...

Great stuff, man. My son is not even 2 yet and my daughter is only 6 months, but I can already see the benefit of many of these things. Definitely bookmarking this for reference later.

Ben said...

Seth, Great article. This is an article that has been really influential on our parenting.

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