(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
Imagine you are walking home and notice something strange going on as you pass the bank. You notice a young man kicking the ATM. His anger escalates quickly and now he is trying to break into it. He even injures a few civilians trying to calm him down. Shocked, you proceed to the security guard at the entrance of the bank and ask, “Sir, are you going to do something?” He looks you in the eyes and says, “You know how kids are these days.” Would that answer be acceptable for you? It still wouldn’t make it any better if he said, “Well, he’s doing that because he is a sinner. It’s just his nature.”
It is our duty, as it was the security guard’s, to restrain our children. Did you know that Eli was severely punished by God for not restraining his children (1 Samuel 3:11-14)? Have you ever seen a child destroy something that is not theirs right in front of their parents? It’s bad when the parents don’t even try to stop them. Maybe they have given up trying. Or maybe you have seen a child bully another child and the parent does nothing to stop the child.
What about the opposite? Have you ever seen a frustrated parent try to restrain a child? Ever been that frustrated parent? I have. Discipline and restraining are easier said than done. There are a few things in this world more frustrating than a child who won’t listen and obey.
Our kids can make some really poor decisions even after we have warned them many times. But don’t let that discourage you. Let me share with you something that was shared with me and has helped me to view the moments my kids act up in a positive and helpful way:
We see 50 things wrong with our child in a day, so that’s not a bad day. Maybe she acts up or throws a fit 50 times that day, but that’s not a bad day. That’s grace! That means God is revealing to us what is wrong in our child’s heart and helping us to see the work that is needed. And sometimes discipline is that work.
Discipline is a tool given to us for our child’s rebellion against authority and because of his or her choice to willfully disobey.
Sadly some parents overuse or misuse this tool; meaning, they do little teaching and training first, followed by much rebuking and discipline.
What is Discipline?
Discipline is for past mistakes and the prevention of new ones. It is so important for us as parents to be active in disciplining our children. It is also important for us to remember that God is active in discipling us. Deuteronomy 8:5 says, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.” The pains of discipline give witness that we belong to God.
If my kid throws something at the dinner table I will tell her, “Please, don’t do that.” We should say it only once. If she does it again, that’s a test to see who’s in control: you or her. Is this a nightly temptation? Should there only be one warning?
Know your kids. If misbehavior at a certain time is a temptation, kindly remind her, “Hey, no fussing at the table tonight” or “No throwing food at the table tonight.” Then, if the misbehavior continues, there will be discipline not for throwing food, but for disobeying you. Point out the sin, not the sinful act. Throwing food is not a sin. Disobeying your parents is.
Difference Between Discipline and Punishment
Before we continue with how to discipline, let’s make clear that there is a difference between discipline and punishment. We discipline with the purpose and goal of correction in view. It has a point. Punishment does not; it’s just to bring about justice.
Romans 13 says the government has the sword, not the spanking rod. God has given the government the means to bring about justice, but the Bible calls parents to the rod and to discipline our children, not to punish them. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Mom and Dad, be United
Mom and Dad should be inseparable when it comes to discipline. The kids should see that Mom and Dad are one. My answer is her answer. If you do disagree, wait and talk about it alone in private. If mom doesn’t agree with how dad is disciplining don’t call him out. Meet together and talk about it afterwards.
If a child has asked Mom and she says no but then asks Dad the same thing, he’s in trouble. We have to teach our kids that causing division between mom and dad is serious. Mom’s yes is dad’s yes and so on. Usually, before my kids ask me for something I check to see if they already asked Mom or not. If I found out they did I kindly warn them they shouldn’t do that, but if they have been warned recently they will be in trouble.
Limit the Amount of Rules
One reason our kids cannot obey all our rules and we are constantly finding ourselves having to discipline them may be because we have too many.
Sometimes we can’t even remember what we have prohibited, so how do we expect them to? Make it easier on you both. Our system of discipline must make sense. There needs to be order that even a child can understand.
Even Jesus did this for us. Remember when he gave us the summary of all his law and commandments? Jesus said, “On these two commandments (Love God, and love your neighbor) depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Just like Jesus did, we must keep it simple for our children. They don’t need a lot of rules to remember, just a few God-honoring principles. It makes it easier for everyone.
Minimize the number of “Nos”. Think about the environment of the Garden of Eden. God made a perfect garden and gave them only one no. We shouldn’t have a house filled with “Nos”. It should be a place where everyone can relax because everyone is aware of the few “don’ts”.
So how can you reduce your rules? Pick a few principles that cover the majority of your children’s disobedience. Maybe it’s sibling fighting, maybe it’s disrespectful speech, or maybe it’s laziness. Observe and communicate clearly over and over again those few basic rules. When you have fewer commands it is easier to win every time. Notice I said easier not “easy”.
Pick Your Battles Carefully
Some battles are not worth fighting. Often when our child is doing something we would prefer him not to do but isn’t breaking any of our established house rules, my wife and I will look at each other and give each other that should-we-pick-this-fight look. Believe it or not our children are very good at being childish. As adults sometimes childishness can be annoying, but it isn’t sin. Listen to this wisdom from Voddie Baucham: “Rebuke the sin because it is sin and displeases God; don’t rebuke the child because she has displeased her parent.”
Before we talk about how to discipline our children I think we need to talk about building trust with our kids. If we are going to be effective in our discipline we must have a strong bond and an already established trust with our children. They must know and feel that we love them.
Just before our daughter turned three, she tripped over a step in my sister’s house. She fell face first and busted her mouth. I quickly picked her up and laid her head between my shoulder and head. What happened next shocked me: She bit me! That was the first time, and I was just trying to comfort her!
I remember getting really angry and confused, but during all those emotions and her loud crying we noticed her tooth was chipped. We had to take her to the dentist. She was terrified. She wouldn’t sit in the dentist chair for anything. I asked the dentist if I could hold her. The dentist said, “No” so I let them fight her for a few more minutes but my daughter was winning.
I asked again, affirming that if they let me hold her she would calm down. The dentist and her three nurses gave in. I put her on my lap and whispered in her ear, “Daddy is here. Everything is going to be OK. They said I can hold you if you stop crying and don’t move while they fix your tooth.” She didn’t budge during the 20 or so minutes they were in her mouth. She trusted me. She thought they were strangers trying to hurt her, but she has always known me and knows I would keep my word and wouldn’t let anyone hurt her.
We must build trust with our kids. This takes time and effort. Even though we want them to fully trust us, we have to be honest with them that sometimes we will let them down. We don’t have to tell them that they will see it. During those times of failure we point them to the One (Jesus) who will never fail them and deserves their full trust because he is trustworthy.
Remember the first time your child trusted you in something? I can remember clearly the first time my daughter finally trusted me to catch her when she jumped from the ledge into the pool. She lit up with excitement and wanted to do it over and over again.
We want them to have a healthy amount of belief and trust in us. J.C. Ryle said it like this: “ . . . you should train them up to believe what you say. You should try to make them feel confidence in your judgment and respect your opinions as better than their own. You should accustom them to think that when you say a thing is bad for them, it must be bad, and when you say it is good for them, it must be good.”
Spanking is Our Last Resort
As Tedd Tripp says in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, “God has given two methods for childrearing. They are (1) communication and (2) the rod.” Both are mixed into what we call discipline.We try to lovingly persuade our kids that obedience is what they must do and need, but sometimes that doesn’t work. We are to engage them in all the forms of communication, training, and warning that we can before we go to this next form of correction.
There are times when communication will not help our children to obey, so the “rod” is needed. We will use that term because that is the term the Bible gives it. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” God has given us the rod for a reason: Our children might see it as their enemy, but it is really a tool in the hands of those who love their children (Proverbs 13:24). We don’t want rebellious children to stay in their rebellious and foolish state. If that happens they will live under no one’s authority and submit to no one while living for themselves. We cannot allow this attitude to stay in their hearts and minds. It’s our job to drive it out and help them see the truth and beauty in living for God and under his authority.
How To Discipline
Step 1: Talk
When do we discipline our kids? When they have not obeyed us.
Where do we discipline our kids? We do it in a private area. Maybe a bedroom or bathroom, because we need private time alone to correct them and we do not want to shame them in front of others. Also, going to another private area is good because it will give you time to cool down and think while you and your child are headed to that spot.
Step one in the discipline process is talking to our kids. While we are in a room alone we now have their undivided attention. It’s good to get on our knees at their level because we will be intimidating enough. They might not do it at first, but we want them to stand in front of us, still and ready to talk to us. If they are crying it’s good to try to hold them and calm them down so we can talk to them.
Now, what do we talk about? We are often tempted to do the majority of talking, but it is better to let the kid do the talking first. There are many ways, but here are three good foundational questions to get them talking about their hearts:
Question #1: What happened? (Let them tell their side of the story.)
Question #2: How did that make you feel? (Identify heart attitudes; ex: angry, sad, jealous, etc.)
Question #3: How did you respond? (Help them to see the response/behavior is a result of what started first in their hearts.)
After we have helped them speak about their feelings and actions we have the opportunity to share the gospel with them. It can be said differently with every situation. After talking with them, usually no more than three minutes, we then proceed to the part no one likes but must be done.
Step 2: The Rod
Spanking is a bite-sized portion of consequences that kids can handle. If a kid puts his hand in an electrical socket, touches a stove, or tries to jump down the stairs there are bigger consequences. We want to teach our kids the biblical principle that you “reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7-8). Meaning that bad decisions will have consequences.
Use a rod that is light. It should sting but not bruise. Try to avoid using your hand, because that should be associated with play, holding, feeding, etc. The rod should be used on the bottom only. It is sensitive enough to feel, but also cushioned in a way that will not allow for damage.
There is a huge difference between hitting and spanking. Even though some in our day will say they are the same, a child can even tell the difference. After my kids got into a physical fight I remember talking to one of them and asking if it is loving to hit someone. I could tell they were thinking, so I asked them, “Does daddy love you?” They said, “Yes.” I then asked, “Have I ever hit you?” “No” was their response. They know I have spanked them, quite a few times at that, but they have never thought for one moment that I was hitting them. Spanking is done in a controlled manner and for a purpose. Hitting is done out of control and for no good reason.
The question I remember asking a friend when we first entered the spanking phase was, “When do we start? How old should our child be?” I remember him saying, “You start when you can tell your child understands he is disobeying.” For most that is around 18 months – 2 years old.
The majority of a child’s spankings should occur while they are young. I’ve heard one pastor say 90% of the spankings should happen before they are five years old. Proverbs 23:13-14 says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.”
Another scripture worth looking at is Hebrews 12:5-11 which is probably the clearest passages in Scripture about discipline. It says, “[God] disciplines us for our good” and “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields to the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11). God uses discipline to lead his children to repentance.
We must remember to be consistent in our disciplining efforts. It’s hard to be diligent when we are tired or in a place that’s inconvenient for disciplining, but our kids need us to be consistent. Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
The good thing about the rod is it doesn’t drag out the discipline. You correct, and it’s over. So how many swats do we give them? It depends on the offense. Some say the number of their age and that has worked for us. The word spanking exists because there should be a special word to explain this loving and controlled act of teaching and discipline.
Discipline is a way to correct your children. A way to please God. It is not a way to vent your feelings or frustrations. If you need to spank in order to vent you shouldn’t spank them; ask your spouse to do it. There is a clear difference between a few swats on their little bottom and throwing a kid around a room or hitting them in the face. Those who abuse their children will have to stand before God one day for such acts, and their poor kids will not only have external hurts and pains, but internal painful memories and emotions.
Step 3: Reconcile
After we have first talked with them then used the rod (if necessary), the last step is to reconcile with them by calming them down, hugging them, praying with them, then going on our merry own way. We should try to hold them until they calm down if we can. This is the ideal thing to do, but sometimes the child doesn’t want us to hold them and that’s OK. They sometimes need to have a little time to cool down before they are ready for any kind of reconciliation. Teach them to come to you for reconciliation and comfort, but don’t expect them to if you just disciplined them out of anger. They will likely not want to come to us. And in those moments we should tell them what we did was wrong, we are truly sorry, and ask for their forgiveness.
Another important step is to pray with them after disciplining. This is a great opportunity to teach them how to go to God for help with their hearts, ask forgiveness, and pray about anything else pertaining to the situation. After we have held them, prayed with them, and talked to them after the spanking, both the parent and child should come out smiling and reconciled. Granted, this doesn’t always happen, but it can the majority of the time if the child is disciplined properly and loved much. After the discipline tell them to go out and ask forgiveness from whomever they’ve offended or hurt. Having them use the language of forgiveness is training them towards the gospel.
Kids should be more upset and concerned about being out of fellowship with mom/dad or family because of their sin than about the disciplining process. The love and joy should be so rich and real in the home that the kid sees how misbehavior, fighting, and talking bad disrupts that.
Lastly, may we not forget to do what one author has mentioned, “Behind almost every child’s weakness is a corresponding strength. After you have disciplined the weakness, take a moment to identify the strength.” Our kids need to be built up. If they are just spanked without any affection and encouragement they can easily feel unloved and like we are constantly tearing them down. One example that comes to mind is when one kid is tearing up the other sibling’s book. The child gets mad that their book is getting messed up so they start to fight to protect it. After disciplining, a strength that could be highlighted is the child’s desire to take care of his or her belongings.
Wrong Ways to Discipline
One of the simplest but greatest pieces of advice I was given is “Discipline the sin not childishness.” We give children spankings because they have broken a rule that has been clearly established and warned about it. You and I should never discipline our kids because they are getting on our nerves, or they are clumsy, or anything else that just comes with being a kid.
Once I heard Matt Chandler say in a sermon to, “Love the kid you have, not the one you want”. Meaning you maybe wanted an athlete but God gave you a reader. You wanted an extrovert, but God gave you an introvert. Don’t use “discipline” to make them into something God didn’t create them to be.
I also received this advice from his preaching: “Don’t use the Bible as a hammer.” Don’t use religion to control your kids. The result of doing so will be creating and raising little Pharisees. Hammering down on our kids with Bible verses will not soften their hearts; only the gospel will.
Another preacher, Douglas Wilson, said there are two common ways parents fail in administering the rod. The first is parents who beat their kids. Those parents can just reach up to scratch their head and their children flinch. That shows something is wrong. That is abuse. Slugging your kid is a sin. You should repent and stop. Seek forgiveness from God and your children. Another truth worth stating here is, “Discipline is painful, but not everything that is painful is discipline.”
We should never spank our kids without them seeing it coming. It should always be done in a controlled manner. And it should never be done without first talking with them and making sure they understand why they are about to be disciplined. They are being disciplined for disobedience, not for childish mistakes. We always want them to connect disobedience to discipline. That alone is the reason we do it.
The second way parents can fail in using the rod, which is probably the more common one, is when they deliver the occasional and very inconsistent “pop” on top of the diaper or somewhere else. They felt nothing so nothing was accomplished. A confused look is probably all you will get.
Don’t Discipline in Anger
We parents can be like dormant volcanoes to our kids. We are big, strong, peaceful, and calm, but then out of nowhere (even a surprise to us) we explode! We cause damage and fear. So what do we do to make sure we are not spewing lava everywhere?
We have already talked extensively about how what comes out of us is what is already in us. If we have lava spewing out it’s because we had some in us. If we are angry it’s because we already have anger in our hearts. But there is hope, God can help us grow in this area.
The disturbing thing about our sin nature is that we are more motivated to discipline our children when we are upset. But really at that time we are not ready or qualified to do it. But during times that we are not angry we are qualified to discipline them, but then we are not motivated.
Keep calm. Galatians 6:1 tells us to rebuke in gentleness. It says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” This verse refers to Christians in general correcting someone, but the principle is still applicable to parents correcting their children. Notice with me two things in this verse: It calls us to be “spiritual” when we correct them and that we are to watch ourselves lest we be temped as well, meaning we can also fall into sin.
Here is an example: While you are trying to get your kids to stop playing with their food at the dinner table you start yelling at them. What was the greater sin? The kids playing at the table or dad yelling? Well, Proverbs 15:1 says, “ . . . a harsh word stirs up anger,” James 3:5-8 describes how our “tongue” is like “a fire” that causes destruction, and Colossians 3:8 tells us to put away “obscene talk from your mouth.”
So what should a dad do in that moment when everyone is shocked or scared? He should name what he did wrong and ask forgiveness from those he sinned in front of. He might think he lost authority or face, but he didn’t; it shows he is under God’s authority. We have to live under authority just like our children do.
I have disciplined our kids out of anger more times than I want to remember. But we should know this: Our weakness preaches the gospel to our children. Admit when you made a mistake, ask for forgiveness, and tell them how much you need God’s grace in your life too.
Don’t Provoke Them to Anger
Don’t set your children up, and don’t trap them with newly-made-up rules or unclear ones. I remember going out with my wife, and little did I know that not far into our trip I would be tested. We were driving along and suddenly I saw sirens behind me. The officer who pulled me over said I was doing 68 mph when I should have been going 55. That road was 70 mph for a long time, but the one little spot where the police were waiting drops down to 55 mph then quickly back to 70 and is a well-known speed trap. I was furious.
In the same way, we shouldn’t just trap our kids so we can get on to them. We are not out there to “get them” or “make them pay.” Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Is It Working?
When I have talked with friends about disciplining I usually get the same response: “Well, it’s not working for me.” Parenting is like a diet: We often wonder if what we are doing is right because we don’t see results as fast as we want. No one should begin a diet, stick to it for a week, then say, “Well, dieting won’t help me lose weight; it’s not doing anything.” That would be silly. It takes time, dedication, and hard work.
Parenting is no different. It takes even longer. We can trust God’s plan for us in parenting. We must stay faithful and committed. Don’t think that by just focusing our parenting on their heart and the gospel for just a few weeks or months will yield results. It takes years to see their hearts being shaped. So if they do something they shouldn’t for the first time we can explain to them we do not want them to do that again.
Example: My daughter thought her stuffed animals needed lotion one night. I went into her room to find Mr. Bear covered in lotion. Of course I didn’t spank her. She didn’t know. It was actually kind of cute and sweet, but after that we had a teachable moment we told her from now on please tell me or mommy if she wants to open and use the lotion. Maybe you’re thinking, “You’re too hard on your kids. She can’t remember, or is it a big deal?” She can remember. That’s why the next time she did it she was hiding in her room with her door locked. This was grounds for discipline, and we had a new teachable moment and house rule: Don’t lock the door.
Every time our children rebel and we ignore it, we are training them that they can get away with disobedience and it’s not that important to us or to them.
Ever played a quick pick-up game of football, badminton, or volleyball on a court that didn’t have clear out-of-bounds lines? Some homes are that way. Kids are unsure of the “house rules” and boundaries because most of the time they are unclear or change depending on the mood of the parent. May we be clear about our few rules and consistent with our disciplining, for the sake of their hearts to learn obedience.
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org