The Lord disciplines those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:6). May we do this for our children, too: because of our love and our desire for them to please God and men; for their sin and their repentance.
Discipline is a tricky area to discuss. It always has been. The pendulum swings back and forth from family to family, from harsh to lenient, never finding it’s resting place in the center: the peaceful coexistence of love and discipline.
It’s not difficult to see the consequences of swinging inappropriately far in either direction.
My mom was raised to sit still at the dinner table, look adults in the eye and answer them when they spoke to her, to clean up after herself and, God forbid, do chores around the house! She did all of these things most of the time, but she was also afraid of her parents.
Many moms today are hesitant to give their children any rules or expectations in order to demonstrate understanding and friendship. Unfortunately this parenting produces horrible, horrible children. They do not respond to adults (cue smiling mom – “she’s just shy!”) because it’s not expected. They cannot sit still (cue trip to the doctor for meds). They hit and scream at their exhausted parents’ faces. They boss their parents around (cue son telling mom to stop talking and mom saying, “OK, sweetie”).
It’s not that we’re mistaken when we say that this is just “kids being kids” – it’s that instead of making excuses for our children, we ought to compassionately discipline inappropriate behavior. You can be strict without being calloused and angry. You can be sympathetic without turning a blind eye to disobedience.
The reigning pop parenting philosophy on discipline (based on EXTENSIVE research in child psychology) can be found in Baby 411 and Toddler 411. The main ideas there are all about “redirection”. In any area he/she struggles to listen and obey – redirect, redirect, redirect. If that doesn’t work, the advice is to “ignore” bad behavior altogether. I’m not a fan of the disciplinary advice given in these books, along with many others found on the shelves today.
Redirection can be a loving way to help your kid walk away from sin, but only as a supplement to disciplinary action.
Example: Josiah – you are not allowed to touch the computer. No touch. Come play with this toy! (Josiah will either take the bait or chose to touch the computer again. If/when he touches the computer again, he must receive a punishment for choosing to disobey.
Ignoring disobedience only causes hurt and frustration, and extremely damaging amounts of confusion if you choose to punish them for their bad behavior at some other time. They desire attention, which is what Toddler 411 will tell you, but that desire should be met. We should give our children loving attention: affirmation when they behave well, affection just because, and reprimands when they misbehave.
Out of all the children I have babysat, nannied, and parented, not one has disobeyed without looking at me first (if I was in the same room). Kids want to know what will happen if they do “X”. They want you to love them, and that doesn’t mean ignore or distract.
Our children cry out for discipline because of what it assures them of: order, consistency, authority. This is part of what it means to be human. We obey; that’s part of what we do in life. It is a travesty to ignore your child’s need for this developmentally; it will not equip them well for a life attuned to authority occupationally, socially, or morally.
May we discipline our children consistently, swiftly, and without anger. May we ask for forgiveness from God and from our kids when we get it wrong. But let us at least try – for,
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”