We’ve all been there. Our kid has once again broken a rule: he’s missed another curfew, she’s carelessly disregarded an important promise, he’s smarted off one time too many. Our irritation is quick and our anger is hot. Our instinct is to punish – to make them pay for the offense and stop the objectionable behavior once and for all. We yell and threaten, they storm off and slam a door.
We’re left feeling both frustrated and guilty – frustrated because we realize our actions have accomplished nothing of value, and guilty because we let our emotions dictate our response in a way that likely made things worse.
If you asked a group of parents to name their least favorite part of parenting, there’s an excellent chance that “discipline” would rank right at the top. Let’s face it: no one enjoys this aspect of raising kids. It’s difficult to know the best way to do it, and the frequency of our mistakes can leave us either reluctant to try or filled with guilt when we miss the mark (and we often do). Thankfully, God gives us grace in our parenting mistakes through Jesus’s death on the cross. He also gives us a roadmap for effective discipline in the Scriptures. With confidence in his grace and his example, we can apply discipline in a way that honors our Father and reflects his love for us.
With effective discipline, kids learn to respond positively to correction. They also become adults who not only understand boundaries, but appreciate how boundaries are a necessity for a God-honoring life. In the messy middle of parenting it’s easy to forget that discipline should be formative rather than punitive. As we try to discipline more effectively, we can commit to remembering how our Father God disciplines us – in love, with the goal of transforming rather than punishing us.
The book of Proverbs speaks directly to our responsibility to discipline our kids while guiding parents to effective practices that model his discipline and training of us as believers. The result for our kids? A hopeful life and a discerning spirit.
- A hopeful life through clear and consistent expectation
Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death (Prov. 19:18).
Psychologists agree that the human brain doesn’t achieve full maturity until around age 25. As a parent, you probably realize this instinctively. It only takes one “what in the world were you thinking??” moment with your teen to drive home the fact that their decision-making skills can leave a lot to be desired. Kids who aren’t reined in when they make wrong choices begin to think either that their choices don’t matter, or that the consequences of their choices are unimportant. For our teens to become mature adults with a hopeful future, we must train them through discipline that bad choices can lead to unfortunate results at best and tragic results at worst.
We can best do this when we are proactive in setting our expectations and consequences for our kids. When they break that trust, we must be willing to follow through with the consequences we’ve set.
Isn’t this true for us as parents too? We can be fooled into believing that some of our bad decisions are not a big deal. Whether it’s our health, our financial situation, or our relationships, we don’t feel the sting of God’s discipline until we go for that checkup, see our credit card bill, or lose a good friend because of our careless words. Hebrews 12:10 makes it clear: God disciplines us for our good. I imagine God doesn’t enjoy disciplining us any more than we enjoy doing the same to our kids. But a future full of hope depends on it – without it our poor decisions can lead to death, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
- A discerning spirit through effective reminders
A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool (Prov. 17:10).
Successful discipline should ultimately result in kids who become more self-disciplined and who need less of it from their parents. If our teens are familiar with rules and expectations, a simple rebuke or reminder is often sufficient for correction. They become proficient at making sound decisions before needing the proverbial “hundred lashes.” This doesn’t mean they always will choose correctly – they are teenagers, after all. But discerning teens will have a better understanding and acceptance of the consequences when they do mess up.
My sisters and I laugh about “the look” our mother would give us when we needed an effective reminder of our parents’ expectations. Direct and non-negotiable, that look could put us back on the right track almost immediately. It was a goal of mine as a parent to plant these reminders in my children’s lives so that discipline didn’t have to be overt: a firm look or a simple word or phrase can be sufficient to “rebuke” our kids when they begin to stray into dangerous territory.
Our lives, too, are filled with gentle reminders from God that keep us aware of the boundaries he’s set for us. It might be the thoughtful words of a friend or an occurrence that stops us in our tracks and forces us to reassess our own choices. His discipline is always given with the goal of forming us into a more Christ-like follower. If we look for ways that God is reminding us of his laws and his expectations, we, like our kids, will become more able to recognize God’s correction before the discipline needs to be more severe.
A commitment to be intentional about modeling God’s discipline in the ways we deal with our kids can result in more discerning adults whose future is bright with hope. Our Father does not discipline us in anger – we shouldn’t discipline our kids in anger either. His goal is transformation, not punishment – that should be our goal as well. The writer of Hebrews elaborates on God’s discipline for us when he writes “Later on it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11) When we model godly discipline to our teens, we help develop adults who recognize and respond to our Father’s discipline throughout their lives.