Emerson and I have never forgotten the time when our son Jonathan was sixteen years old and wise in his own eyes.
He was being loud and disrespectful and would not stop after Emerson confronted him. So Emerson assigned a simple consequence: “Since you are refusing to stop, here’s the deal: Every loud, disturbing, disrespectful remark will cost you one dollar out of your savings.”
Jonathan clearly knew better, but something in him rebelled and he made four unacceptable comments, and owed four dollars. Irked, he pushed the envelope and told his dad this was stupid, that he didn’t know how to parent, and any other number of insults. Emerson kept counting out loud, and Jonathan didn’t think he was for real until it got to twenty-three dollars. At this moment he calmed down enough to realize his stupidity and that he was not in control, nor would he be any day soon. Jonathan knew the rule about respectful speech and suffered the consequences for his foolishness, right where it hurt—in his wallet!
So What Was Our Approach to Lovingly Discipline?
Loving and wise discipline results in a child’s respect: “We had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them” (Hebrews 12:9).
When we were raising our kids, we tried to be as loving and fair as possible. We looked to the Bible as our main go-to source. We did what we believed God was calling us to do, ultimately leaving the results to Him.
We tried to hear their hearts when disciplining, yet stay the course.
Having Regrets But Seeking Forgiveness
Like all parents we regret many mistakes. They tell us today they struggled with guilt and shame as “the Pastor’s kids.”
Thankfully we knew how to seek forgiveness while parenting, even though our attempts to discipline with grace and forgiveness sometimes fell short.
Training to Do the Right Thing
It helps us as parents to remember that discipline is not punishment, but is for the purpose of correcting and training them to do the right thing.
This simple shift changes our focus from a negative approach (punishment) to a more positive approach (training).
We are to correct our kids with their future in mind, not just point out their mistake of the moment.
The 4 Ways
But first we must have a plan. Emerson and I had 4 ways that helped guide us towards loving discipline.
#1 Create Rules That Are Clear and Fair
Games always have rules. In all of life there are rules. Even the Bible says, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.”
If we have no rules for our children, they will create rules for us.
If a child is allowed to speak disrespectfully, he or she is making his own rule!
The Golden Rule
When making rules, the basis for all good laws and rules is the golden rule. Treat others like you want them to treat you.
I was amazed when our grandson Jackson was trying the biting and hitting thing like most toddlers do. He was not quite three. I explained the golden rule and asked him if he wanted me to bite him. He said, “No.”
So we practiced a few times and every time he started to bite or hit I would say, “What is the golden rule?” and he would say, “Do to others what you want them to do to you!”
This simple example is such a reminder of how consistent parenting helps our youngest children absorb the meaning behind rules, not just the words.
What Kind of Rules?
There are two types of rules: non negotiable and negotiable.
Non means just that. They never change.
Kind of like it is never ok to bite and it is never acceptable to be disrespectful. It is not ok to take God’s name in vain and it’s never ok to hurt someone, explode in anger, or destroy property. And the list goes on!
Negotiable means it can change with age and stage. Whether it is bedtime or curfew, what to wear, TV watching, time on mobile devices, etc.
The best way to enforce negotiable rules is by saying, “This is best for you and all of us, and for this reason…”
For Emerson and me, whether non or negotiable rules, they were always rooted in our desire to do what “seemed best” with a good reason.
#2 Confront and Correct Without Anger
Easier said than done. But how will kids learn to treat us with respect if we angrily treat them without love?
Proverbs says, “A fool is quick tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.”
We must care enough to confront and correct. Indifference is unloving.
We didn’t always do it perfectly but were honored years later when our son Jonathan and his wife were applying for adoption and had to write their views on discipline. Jonathan wrote:
My parents have influenced me tremendously on issues such as parenting, schooling, and faith. I value the wisdom and discernment that they displayed in parenting. Due to their influence I believe that a parent should be an authority and influence in a child’s life. Rules should be clear and openly discussed. Discipline should occur when necessary, but never in anger. I do not remember my parents disciplining us in anger. Did they get angry? Of course. But they always waited and made decisions as a team. When they did discipline us, we were told it was because they loved us. That is not an easy thing for a child to wrap his head around and many times I said, “Yeah right.” But today I cherish their approach.
As our kids were growing up, if Emerson heard them being disrespectful he would say, “Hey, don’t talk to you mother that way. She’s my girlfriend and you are gonna be gone someday and we are going to party!”
It seemed to diffuse the situation quicker and was done in a lighthearted way, not in anger. But it got the point across!
Relationship Most Often Determines Response
This is crucial when confronting. If we are always confronting but not nurturing the relationship, then we are probably making more withdrawals than deposits and bankrupting the relationship.
Nothing nurtures relationships more than time together. We make huge deposits in our children’s lives by simply making time to be with them each day. They are going to respond more positively to discipline when they know we care about them.
#3 Enact Consequences When Necessary
Enacting consequences is a biblical idea: “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”
Your Child is Not Unique, And You Are Not Alone
This easily applies to parenting: Wrong behavior habitually shown should receive consequences.
When you assign a consequence, you must stick to your guns.
But some parents are tempted to say, “I just don’t know what to do.” That’s true. We don’t always know what to do. But most often there are people in our lives who can give us wisdom if we will just ask.
All kinds of help is available. Even Google can be there when we need it! Just Google “age appropriate consequences” and presto! A long list of excellent and creative information pops up.
Natural and Assigned Consequences
There are two types of consequences.
Natural consequences means let nature take its course.
When a child throws his video game on the floor in anger and it breaks, he must learn that he has the power, along with gravity, to destroy his own property. When he does, nature can teach him a lesson.
Throw anything on the floor with great force and it is likely to break. But here is where we as parents come in. When a child destroys his video game in a fit of anger, he loses it. Mom and Dad will not buy him another one. The next one will come out of his pocket.
When Jonathan kept speaking disrespectfully, Emerson assigned a simple consequence right from the start that became complex as he continued to disobey. And that came out of his pocket!
Beware of Excessive Consequences
Whether consequences are natural or assigned, don’t let them become excessive.
If a preschooler leaves their bike in the driveway and someone backs over it, they’re in enough grief and pain over the loss (the natural consequence). At this point, he or she needs empathy and some ideas on how to help buy a new one.
And grounding a teenager for a month for missing curfew one time punishes both of you.
A mother wrote, “I try to consider the moment plus the future. If I ground my children for something, I know to stick to it even with a heavy heart… because I know they will get something out of it.
#4 Reward Obedience and Reaffirm
What if you never rewarded a child for obeying the family rules? That would be like going to work and never getting paid!
Motive for Obeying
Whether they are little and get a sticker or are older and get extended privileges, always stress that the real motive for obeying should not be to win a prize but because it is the right thing to do.
Any reward is just a bonus.
Though we don’t reward kids every time they obey, we need to make kids feel good about good behavior if we want them to feel bad about bad behavior.
If we only focus on correcting negative behavior, and never bring a child a “measure of pleasure” they will likely become discouraged and think, What’s the use? Mom and Dad just think I am bad anyway.
If all a child perceives is negativity, it will only produce more negativity.
Reaffirm Your Love
Reaffirming your love after discipline is enacted is the most important thing you can do for your kids. Emerson and I always tried to work as a team as we would stress the following points:
- Why do we have rules? Because we love you and want what is best, fair, and safe for you and the whole family.
- Why do we confront and correct you? Because we love you and do not want you to stray from what is right and necessary.
- Why are there consequences for you at times? Because we love you too much to allow you to ignore our rules and corrections. This would not be best for you or us.
Doing What Seems Best
There is no “perfect discipline” that produces “perfect children” that makes for a “perfect family.”
Disciplining is “doing what seems best” in each situation, always trying to parent God’s way.
Perhaps praying something like this will set our minds and hearts at ease:
“Dear Lord, help me be neither cruel or permissive, firm but not harsh, fair and consistent, and above all, help me discipline with love.”
Trust that the Lord will help you do what seems best.
From my heart,