Parenting may be the most difficult job on the planet. It seems that raising up children, little sinners, tests our patience, endurance, compassion, and love on a regular basis. How we discipline our children often evidences how we are doing with these other attitudes and heart responses. Most parents struggle not to use discipline as a means of expressing our own frustration and/or desperation. We can help ourselves and our kids, however, if we seek to expand our corrective discipline tool belt.
Often we lose it with our kids because our approach to discipline is too limited. Most parents have one, or at most two, tools in their belt: spanking and/or time-outs. But what happens when you’ve used your only tool and nothing has changed? What do you do when you’ve spanked your kid or put them in time out and they are still throwing a fit, still defiant, still disobedient? What do you then? At those moments parents are often the most frustrated and begin to look for anything in desperation to make their child compliant. Often they cross over the line between firm correction and sinful anger. When we feel out of control as parents it’s tempting to do whatever it takes to get the situation back in our control, and at such moments of desperation parents are most prone to sin. Creativity in our approach to discipline can help us greatly.
Consider the five following corrective/disciplinary tools:
Logical consequences for sin
One way to implement discipline is to let our children feel the natural consequences of their sinful choices and sinful behaviors. The story of the Prodigal Son is a good example of this. Once the son has recklessly and selfishly spent all his money he finds himself eating with pigs (Luke 15:11-24). He had reached the end of his rope, and the end of himself and found himself in the humiliating and desperate situation of being without a home and without food. These consequences were the means by which he “came to himself” and returned home repentant.
When we try to mitigate or intervene on the natural consequences of sinful behavior we may interrupt the natural incentive for change. So long as it is not life- threatening, let your children reap what the sow. The reaping may be what God uses to help them sense their need to repent.
In Psalm 107:10-12 God responds to Israel’s rebellion against Him by “bowing their hearts down with hard labor.” The extra work was a means by which they would be humbled and learn to repent of their waywardness. Adding chores, responsibilities, and work to a disobedient child’s life can increase their aversion to a specific sin. It’s not addressing a heart issue, obviously, but it is reinforcing the need to hate their sin. Kids should have normal chores, this is more than just the average responsibility. This should be the kind of work that hurts a little bit, things like: cleaning the shower tile, raking the leaves, washing the car, or weeding the flower bed.
Loss of Privileges and Rewards
Deuteronomy 28 spells out for the children of Israel that there is blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience. When children disobey the removal of privileges and the loss of rewards is a valid form of punishment. The intent is to make them regret their behavior, to understand that sinful attitudes and responses to do not warrant rewards and privileges. The lost benefits should be related to something they love. Sending kids to their room when they can play video games and chat on the computer is not a punishment. Sending them to their rooms when they’d rather be alone then spend time with the family is not a loss of privilege, it is playing into their wants. Use this consequences to drive home the point that sinful behavior will not be tolerated.
The Rod of Men
God disciplines the children of Israel through a variety of kingdoms and opponents. Whether Assyria or Babylon, He uses man as his tool to punish his children. 2 Samuel 7:14 says, “I will punish them with the rod of men.” Sometimes letting others be involved can help communicate a serious point. As our children grow older they can sometimes become more resistant to our own instruction and rebuke, but the reinforcement by others can add weight to the consequences. Consider the roles of other godly people in your child’s life. Who can help institute consequences for sinful behaviors: a coach, a teacher, an employer, a pastor, the law. Parents are sometimes tempted to bail their children out of trouble, to protect them from the consequences they incur for their sin. Let the law do its job, let coaches bench your child, let teachers give failing grades. Don’t fight against these people who want to do good for your child, work with them.
Spanking is acceptable when done rightly. Proverbs 13:24 famously instructs parents that those who love their children will discipline, and this may include the rod. To spare the rod, we are told, is to spoil the child. Spanking, however, should be used sparingly and only as a last resort for deliberate defiance. It should be accompanied by clear instruction about what is happening and explanations for why it is happening. Your child should never have to wonder why they are receiving a spanking. It should always be done in privacy, so as not to embarrass your child. Parents should express grief and should follow-up spankings with comfort and reassurance of love. Spanking in anger and frustration are always bad, make sure you are calm and careful. You want your child to remember that sin has consequences, not that mom or dad got angry.
Using a variety of tools in correcting our children can help us to avoid “losing it.” It also takes to heart the importance of instructing our children. We want to discipline our children for their growth, not simply demand their compliance. This means thinking more carefully and strategically about how we correct them. Expand your tool belt, parents, and help yourselves and your children.