Some Guidelines In Discipline

Donald P. Ames
Indianapolis, Indiana

In our last article we discussed the misuse some make of Proverbs 23:13-14. We noted that God expects us to be fair; and to have love, mercy, and pity in dealing with our children. We further note that if we made more effort in instructive discipline, corrective discipline would not be as frequently required of us. Now, let us note some guidelines that can be helpful in applying discipline.

First of all, while spanking may be a scriptural method of discipline, it is not the only way to discipline (i.e.: it is not an exclusive method). Every child is different, and some may respond to a hard look or word of rebuke just as easily (just as we withdraw fellowship spiritually for church discipline - not just hit them over the head with a club). Some, having become used to constant discipline, do not pay any attention at all to it, but may respond quickly to a show of affection - or to the loss of TV for an evening or to "write 10 times. . . . " Others can be motivated with special privileges ("Get his done for me, and you can go special this week end"), but one must beware that you do not get caught up in the trap of having to bribe to get anything done. Sometimes, a special hug and being told how much a good job done means does more than any other reward can do! God also motivates us with both the fear for not obeying and a response to the love He manifested to us too (Matt. 25:46; 1 Jn. 4:10-11).

When corrective discipline is required, where possible, it should be done immediately. This is important for several reasons: (1) To the child. If we merely threaten, then never do, a child soon assumes there will be no consequences (Eccl. 8: 11). Or, maybe they will conclude that they can talk their way out of the discipline if given enough time and get their own way regardless. Or they may decide that since they have it coming, why not get away with all they can in the meantime and make it "worthwhile." (2) To the parent. This prevents you from allowing many little things to keep building up to the point you are pushed into over-reacting by compensating for "all those other things" when you finally do respond, and maybe punishing far more than the deed done deserves. It may also reduce the need for such when it is learned you mean what you say.

Punishment should be in proportion to the thing done. A lamp is a lamp is a lamp. But one broken because you tripped over a foot-stool or accidently bumped it while using the vacuum is not the same as one broken because you wouldn't quit throwing the ball in the house. An egg broken is not parallel in punishment to a priceless vase. Make the punishment fair and in proportion to the problem at hand - not to all they have done in the last month. Also be sure the problem is that they are really bad and/or disobedient, and not that you are tired and/or have had a bad day at work.

Another point is that pre-planning our punishment can help us avoid "losing control." Do not merely "react," but properly weigh and evaluate what is a fair response. If we have pre-determined the punishment is "1 swat," "3 swats," or "6 swats," and then anger begins building and we'd like to give another "39 swats," quit where you decided in advance regardless. This will not only help you exercise self-control, but avoid getting "out of control." It is also a good way to avoid over punishing. ("For not doing the dishes, you can't go anywhere for a whole month." Now, really?)

Do not make broad, unfair accusations that are not germane to the issue at hand ("You never do anything I tell you to do"). Nor should you, make unfair comparisons with other family members. ("Why can't you show half the intelligence of your brother?") Destroying one's self respect and confidence - is another "no-no" ("You never could do anything right"). Not only is it usually untrue, unkind, and unfair; but it breeds resentment and rebellion - not the desired change. Treat them as you would like to be treated by your boss or companion (Matt. 7:12).

Do not go against your companion! Children quickly learn to play one parent against the other. Support your companion's decision - and if there are differences, discuss them later in private. If a child learns he can play one parent against the other, the weaker one will become "fair game" for bargaining against the other and a constant effort to wear down to get what they want (and probably do not deserve, if being corrected).

Lastly, always let it be known you still love them, and why they have to be corrected. "It hurts me more than it does you" is often true, and is a statement only a parent can appreciate. But, if we fail to manifest that love, and show only anger and/or carry a grudge for a week, the child responds accordingly. A poor example has been set before him, and barriers erected instead of torn down. Be ready to forgive later when they come around - just as God forgives us (Psa. 130:3; Ezek. 33:11; 1 Jn. 1:9).

May these random thoughts help all of us be better parents in fulfilling the role God gave us. They have helped me in getting them together, and if they have profited you half as much, the effort has been indeed worthwhile.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 4, p. 116
February 19, 1987