Children need discipline. They need guardrails and direction. They will disobey. They will rebel. They will be disagreeable, irritable, irritating, and sometime make you want to lock yourself away in a bedroom closet for a couple of hours. Children are children, and they need parents or guardians in their lives to set appropriate boundaries and teach acceptable behavior.
Will they push against those boundaries? Yes, but their pushing is part of their growing process. The challenge for you who love those children is to create a safe, loving environment that also teaches responsibility and obedience without being overbearing and crushing the child’s spirit and creativity.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to every challenge, because every child is different. If you have more than one child, you already know that! What worked like a charm with one child blows up in your face with the next. But there are some principles that seem to work across the spectrum. Here are four common sense necessities for disciplining children.
1. Discipline with the End in Mind
Discipline is never fun for the one giving it or the one receiving it. We’d rather not have to discipline a child, but we know its necessary for their future and our sanity. We don’t discipline just for the sake of doing it; we discipline with an end in mind. There is something that we are trying to achieve that is worth the effort.
Our desire is to nurture and develop our children so they can grow in maturity and wisdom. What kind of child do you want to unleash on the world as an adult? Some parents spend a lot of time and energy on the physical development of a child, hoping she or he will become a first rate athlete. Some parents invest their energies on insuring their child is a straight A student with the opportunity to go to a great college and land a high-paying job. But do we stop and ask what kind of character we want our child turned adult to have?
What is your vision for that future person? If you want your child to grow up to be honest, responsible, kind, generous, and faithful, then your task is to create an environment where he or she is exposed to those characteristics and learns why those are important values in your home. These conversations need to start as early as a child can begin to process that information. As they grow older, you can begin to ask them what type of person do they want to be. It’s interesting that a child is often asked what they want to be when they grow up, but rarely who they want to be. Maybe that should change!
2. Communicate Clearly, Consistently, and Persistently
Communication is a necessity for any relationship to be healthy. Without communication, there is misunderstanding, disappointment, and often chaos. It is one of the leading issues that comes up in both marriage and pre-marriage counseling sessions.
There are three areas where clear communication is needed. First, you need to set easily understandable boundaries. Your child needs to know exactly where the lines are and what will happen if they cross those lines. Be clear about your expectations and about the consequences, but make sure you’re willing to back up your “threats.” The only thing worse that not have clear expectations and consequences is having them and not following through.
Second, be clear about why a particular behavior or attitude is important for them now and later in life. Discipline may involve punishment, but it is more than that. It is not an angry outburst followed by a punishment. Discipline is the loving, careful, thoughtful, intentional correction of a behavior for the purpose of correcting a child and pointing them to a better choice.
Third, be clear about your motivation. You are acting out of love. You want the very best for your child’s future, and discipline is part of that process. To be totally truthful, they may not get it at the moment, but as they grow older, they will begin to grasp why you had to set limits in their lives. Most mature adults appreciate the loving guidance that parents offered.
3. Discipline in Proportion to the Offense
Too often discipline or punishment is a spur of the moment event that happens in a fit of anger or hurt. Discipline, as we said, needs to be more purposeful. Sometimes that means waiting to dole out the correction. The reason for a delay may be to consider what is appropriate given the reason for the discipline. The punishment or correction should be in proportion to the level of the infraction. This may require parents to come together and discuss what is appropriate. This becomes more important as the child gets older, and it can be appropriate to ask an older child was she or he thinks is just given the circumstances.
Is there ever a time when an offense is overlooked? Yes. Sometimes an act by a child comes with its own consequences. You may determine that those consequences are enough. You should practice compassion, grace, forgiveness, and restoration. This requires wisdom on your part. To never discipline a child is not wise. To discipline without mercy can be just as bad. Just make sure your child knows why you are doing what you are doing, and at the center of that “why” should be love.
4. Stay the Course
Discipline is not easy. That’s why many parents choose not to do it consistently. Don’t be one of those parents!
Children need boundaries. Children need accountability. Children need discipline, and they need it to be applied consistently and reasonably. It is not something that can or should be done off the cuff. It requires thought, discussion among the parents, wisdom, sometimes outside counsel, and consistency.
Children are smart. They see when you are taking the easy way out, and they’ll be more than happy to take advantage of the opportunity. Children are sensitive. They know when you are loving and careful in your discipline, and when you are haphazard. Children are vulnerable. They need a protector, a guardian, who keeps them safe, sets boundaries, and loves them on their best days and their worst days.
I would also encourage all parents and guardians to be actively involved in a local church. The church will reinforce the values that you are teaching, but it can also provide a support group for you. A church family can be a safe environment to ask questions, share your struggles, and seek wisdom. The church can point you to truths contained in God’s Word and encourage you as you bring godly principles into your discipline at home. The church does not take the place of what happens in your home, but it can be a resource and source of strength for parents.
[Grace Fellowship has developed at Grace@Home Resource Center located near their front entrance. Please come by to check out the resources available for individuals and families.]