Children will always do wrong things, again and again. None of them is an angel, not mine, not yours, not even if we name them Angel.
Part of your responsibilities as a parent is to make your children carefully trained in regard to behaviour and heart attitude, which is to discipline them. This responsibility can be more overwhelming than paying school fees, attending school functions, or feeding stubborn feeders! As a result, parents are tempted to “let things slide” or to burry heads in the sand and hope that their kids will outgrow the bad behaviour, forgetting that disciplining has a window frame that they must not miss!
I am a Christian, so the luxury of not disciplining is something out of my scope.
We Christians, we discipline because we are Christians. If our children are rude or disrespectful or have a habit of keeping things that are not theirs, we do not discipline them because we fear they might embarrass us in public, or they might hurt other people’s feelings or because it is “our house, our rules”.
We discipline them because their sins grieve our God who has called us to holiness and service to Him. We want to please our God, together with our households, thus their behaviour is a concern to God. We discipline aiming for the inner response of their hearts, beyond the outward behaviour change. That their hearts would yearn to please God by wanting to do the things that God wants them to do. As such, we rely on God’s help to achieve discipline in our children, not our perfect exemplary lives or our scary disciplinary reactions but on the help of God, who reaches all sorts of hearts, even little hearts! We aim to discipline not just so we may have disciplined kids, but so as to glorify God.
We also discipline because God is the perfect parent, the only example of the parent we should strive to be. And He does discipline His children.
Why should you discipline?
You owe yourself a disciplined child, or else you will wear your soul in years to come.
You also owe that child discipline because if you do not discipline them, the world might, and the world does not discipline with grace.
You owe the society, the rest of us, a disciplined child. We need to deal with your child now and we will need to deal with them in future when they are our leaders, drivers, doctors, teachers, writers, or masseurs. Undisciplined adults are the reason we have any societal issues you could name at a moment’s notice. The family, being the smallest unit of the society, is the best way to produce the effective society we all want to be in.
How do you discipline?
The way God disciplines. This will work for all people, whether Christians or not, because God’s discipline is out of love, is effective, and it draws his children closer to Him, never drives them away!
If you often find yourself shouting to your child and reaching out for the closest thing you can hit him with, that is not disciplining. You are simply reacting to an action so that you can get the anger out of your system. It will make the child stop his bad action because of the fear of being hit, but you cannot count on the sustenance of the good behaviour in your absence. Don’t just hit a child. Talk to them. Teach your children that you love them so much that you will have to punish their bad behaviour because it has dire consequences that you would not have them go through. Explain those dire consequences, firmly and sternly. Then punish.
You can use the rod of correction. Other people do not subscribe to this, but for Christians, this is a recommended method. The Greek word for chastising is paideia which implies firm and gracious training and it is from the root words pais (child) and paiw (to hit by a single blow, less violently than to thump by repeated blows). It might pain your heart to have to do it, but it is a reliable method. Be gentle and firm on this, it should hurt but it should not break them. Only use the rod of correction for things that you have previously trained on. And always restore relationship after using it, contrary to sending your child away from you after the chastisement. This becomes a good time to teach them about repentance, and more so about the grace of God who always forgives!
Time–out. This involves sending your child to a “naughty-corner” when they err so that they can think about their bad behaviour and come back to you when ready to continue with proper manners. Because Christ loved us while we were still sinners, I would not advocate for this separation which basically communicates to the child that you want to be with them only when they are being good. If you must use this method, give the child time to be alone to calm down if they are worked up into a frenzy and properly explain that they are always welcome to say sorry and discuss their bad behaviour with you. Time-out is not a form of discipline on its own.
Withdrawing privileges. You might disallow TV , toys or outings or whatever your child enjoys, as a form of punishment. This is effective once a child has outgrown the phase of correction by the rod (when you begin to see signs of puberty). Always remember that the ultimate achievement in disciplining is to break the child’s will to continue with the bad behaviour. Not allowing them to go out might be punitive alright but their hearts might still be bent to whatever made them get grounded in the first place. For instance, if they were rude to you, you might want to ground them but still have them apologize and explain what will be done differently in future. This is because after all the grounding has been done, they might not say a rude word to you but they will harbour so much rudeness in their hearts and will use it on someone who cannot be in a position to ground them. And that might still be you, in the future!
Model good behaviour, admit when you are wrong too and let them learn repentance from you. Always pray for them and their manners!
What do you discipline for?
Only for what you have previously instructed on. I cannot emphasize this enough. Children are born little sinners; do not expect them to know the right thing to do unless you have taught them what it is. A first mistake is to be met with discussion. This calls upon you to do your first duties of discipline; consistent training and educating on behaviour. This way your child will have less to be chastised for, which is good for everyone. This applies to two year olds through to teenagers.
Only for the wrong has been done currently, not for the wrongs of yesterday and yester-year which you think contributed to the mistake of today. This calls upon you to be consistent in discipline; if a behaviour was not wrong last week you cannot decide that it is wrong this week. Be consistent and prompt.
Only for what is within your child’s developmental capability .You need to know the general characteristics of the age-group your child is at, so you do not expect more from them than they are properly developed for! The abilities of children change as they grow up; ability to control impulses, ability to be still and concentrate, ability to judge space and time and consequences…all these abilities are different in each growth stage. Your child is not a little adult; do not expect mature behaviour from them.
Finally,be gracious. Discipline for deliberate disobedience, never for honest mistakes. Spending time with your child in training helps you understand the heart of your child so that you can properly tell the difference.