I was watching my first child about to reach out and touch the crystal vase my wife just told him not to touch. He was about to violate two major principles in my mind–the first being not listening, and the second, disrespecting my wife. You can imagine what happened with the tempted child. He touched the untouchable vase.
I have done my fair share of disciplining sporadically and issuing false threats as a parent. What I am continuing to learn is that it takes discipline to discipline your children. It is easy to punish kids; but it takes intentionality and work to discipline them. But more than talking about the method of discipline, I want to share about the heart of discipline.
You may be guilty of sporadic discipline–sometimes bringing the hammer down and sometimes brushing it under the rug. We can do this for many reasons, ranging from laziness to a lack of strategy.
Whatever your reason for sporadic discipline or empty threats, our goal as parents should be to be consistent in what constitutes discipline and consistent in the disciplinary actions that we take. Kids live in such a world of wonder and why. We don’t need to add confusion to their developing minds by causing them to wonder why they get different reactions for the same actions.
As a parent, I would encourage you to sit down with your spouse or another parent, and figure out some ideas of non-negotiable guardrails that you are going to keep your kids within. These guardrails are meant to protect them and not hinder them. Next, develop consistency with these guardrails and consistency with your discipline.
As we discipline our kids there are two “whys” we need to answer. The first why is answered by explaining your reasons for setting the guardrail. Children need to know why it is so important to stay within the boundaries you set for them. The guardrails will change as your kids get older. I encourage you to take initiative to have the why conversation with your child before you hand out their consequence, so he or she knows why the discipline is happening.
The second why comes in the form of the question: Why did the child do what he or she did? I have two boys with two different shapes. My first one is naturally cautious and my second is adventurous by nature. It took six years to get my first son to put his head under water, and my younger son is well on his way to scuba diving! For both of my boys they have a guardrail of not going into water where they can’t touch if they are without an adult or without life jackets. But for my younger son this is going to be harder to not cross because of his adventurous tendencies. When guardrails get crossed because of children’s natural God-given shapes, we need to be careful we address the action, yet affirm who God created them to be. For my youngest boy, I have to explain that he can’t jump into deep water because he could drown. Yet, I need to champion his adventurous spirit rather than tell him to be more cautious like his brother. We need to be careful that we don’t try to reshape our kids as we discipline them, but rather redirect their God-given shape.
The last ingredient needed in discipline is the goal of developing, not shaming. When my kids cross guardrails, my goal is to teach them, not shame them so they feel like a bad, disobedient kid. As a parent, we can issue a consequence and it can either develop them or shame them. It is all in the method of delivery and words used. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that death and life are in the power of the tongue. When we are disciplining, are we either using words of life that are speaking traits into them or are we using words of death that are affirming the sinful nature side of them? It is important for our kids to know that they are sinners in need of a Savior and yes, many times our actions are tied to our sinful nature. But if we are in Christ, and we are no longer condemned according to our sinful nature, why would we speak that over our children? When you discipline, always point them to the person God is calling them to be, rather than shaming them for who they have been acting like.
If we can be disciplined as we discipline, we are going to raise up kids who are consistent in their actions and confident in knowing their limits and who God has made them to be. They will become people who aren’t trying to fight the voice of shame, like so many adults we know, but instead having a clear picture of the person they can become.