Discipline: Why it’s not a four-letter word
By Michelle LaRowe Conover
Parents today are raising their families in a culture where
disciplining children just isn’t the in thing to do. Popular parenting styles
advocate being a child’s best friend, allowing children to go on prolonged
journeys of self-discovery, and embracing the “uniqueness” of the child
(regardless of how far that child’s unique expression pushes the envelope of
morality, liberalism and self-respect). Parents struggle to raise their
children in ways they want them to go.
But Christians have an advantage: They can follow specific
guidelines in Scripture and learn how God has called them to parent. God’s Word
outlines a key tool designed to build a lasting foundation within children,
erect a hedge of protection around them as they grow, and instill a deep love
in their hearts for themselves, their parents and their Creator.
This is the parenting tool of discipline.
Many parents hear the word discipline and make a negative
association. This is partly because discipline has become a synonym for
punishment, when in reality the two have distinct meanings.
When discipline is confused with punishment it can paint a
picture of a parent spanking a kid, constantly saying “no,” sending a child to
her room, or taking away a prized privilege. Parents fear being labeled as the
“bad guy” or, even worse, as abusive. Because of these connotations, today’s
parents sometimes are hesitant to discipline their children.
But while discipline does indeed include taking specific
actions, like putting a child in time-out to help guide behavior, discipline is
so much more than that. In my experience, once parents understand what true
discipline is, they are often surprised at just how eager they are to become
the disciplinarian God has called them to be.
Discipline means to disciple.
Discipline literally means to teach and to raise up. In
fact, it comes from the same word as disciple. When Peter talked about being a
disciple, he described “men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus
went in and out among us, beginning with John’s baptism to the time when Jesus
was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21,22, NIV).
The disciples walked, talked and learned how to live life
from Jesus. Your children are learning to do the same from you. In essence,
your children are your disciples. For Christian parents, discipline can be
viewed as a great responsibility and opportunity to truly impact the lives of
Discipline is an act of love.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” God told His
people in Jeremiah 31:3 at a time in their history when He was also judging
their sin. The intent of discipline is to guide and to direct a child on the right
path. Discipline’s goal is to teach children to live in a way that is honoring
to God, their parents and themselves. The parent who disciplines a child is
instilling and fine-tuning that child’s inner compass that will be used to
navigate life. What could be a more wonderful expression of love than this?
Discipline is proactive.
Discipline is a way of life. It requires setting clear
limits, boundaries and expectations for a child and being consistent in holding
a child accountable to them. “Impress [God’s commandments] on your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you
lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
When a child fails to adhere to these established standards,
discipline requires an action to be taken. This action could be a
heart-to-heart conversation, a time-out, or a loss of a privilege, but the goal
of the action is to reinforce that a behavior is unacceptable, not to cause
pain or deep hurt to the child.
Discipline is a process.
Discipline is not a “one-time fix” for anything. It’s the
process of instilling your family values, morals and beliefs into your child by
adjusting your limits, boundaries and expectations as your child grows.
The Book of Judges describes Israel’s national rebellion
against God this way: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their
fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had
done for Israel” (2:10). In other words, the process of discipline broke down
over the years, and a generation was lost.
Discipline is permanent.
Discipline yields lifelong patterns. “Train a child in the
way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Simply put, when your child is taught to behave in a certain way and is held to
certain standards consistently, these behaviors and standards become their
norm, because they don’t know anything else.
Discipline can be painful for a parent.
Discipline often results in a child being temporarily angry
with a parent. This can hurt when a child doesn’t see that you have her best
interests at heart. Discipline often means saying no in the moment, like when
your teen is having a meltdown because she wants to go to an unchaperoned
party, when it would be much easier (and less dramatic) to just say yes.
True discipline puts the long-term interest of the child
before convenience. It’s also not based on the child’s potential reaction.
Although there are times when a child needs to be punished,
discipline remains the best tool parents have for raising their kids in the
ways of the Lord. Embrace your role as disciplinarian. It’s what God has called
you to do.
MICHELLE LaROWE CONOVER is the author of the parenting
series Nanny to the Rescue! and is the 2004 International Nanny Association
Nanny of the Year.
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