Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Discipline of a Child

My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life . . . Prov 6:20-23

Did you ever notice that you do not have to teach your child how to sin? This shouldn’t be surprising. The Bible teaches that we are conceived in sin and born with a sinful nature. Thus, our children are naturals at being selfish, disobedient, whiny, complainers, liars, etc.; so much so, sometimes, that their sinfulness brings out our own. The process of teaching, training and disciplining can be tiresome and exasperating. Add in the conflicting advice of various child and parenting experts, and your head is soon spinning in confusion, as well.

The one method of discipline that causes the most angst is spanking. Historically, spanking was largely accepted as an effective form of discipline for children. With the progression of society, though, has come an evolution of thought regarding spanking. Now, most psychologists, and other parenting experts, decry the spanking of children. In fact, spanking a child by anyone, parent or otherwise, is illegal in twenty-four countries around the world. Spanking is now viewed by many as a form of physical violence against a child.

The picture is not much clearer within Christendom. Some Christian parents spank; some don’t. Some see a clear mandate from Scripture to spank; others contend that the Old Testament was fulfilled in Christ who taught a “higher level of spirituality and understanding: He stressed discipline and direction from within, rather than direction by force from without.” In my research on the subject, I even found a book based upon an in-depth study of the book of Proverbs which, according to the author, shows that the Proverbs passages that so many Christians use to defend spanking do not, in fact, pertain to young children. After reviewing the Focus on the Family website, I feel safe hazarding a guess that Dr. Dobson would not agree with this particular author.

So, what are good Christian parents to do? Without doubt, we all want our children to grow in the love, fear and admonition of the Lord. Also without doubt, children need discipline. Not disciplining your children is tantamount to not loving them. A child without discipline is a burden not only to his parents, but to others, as well. As with all other matters, the way you discipline your children will be based upon your personal convictions. However, there are some general guidelines that can be useful to all parents.
  • Love. In all discipline, love must be the motivating factor. Anger will accomplish nothing, and will only serve to anger your child and sow seeds of rebellion. If necessary, put distance between yourself and the child before disciplining. Take a minute or two to pray, breathe and calm down. Then, approach your child in love. Speak to him in the same manner you imagine Jesus would speak to him.
  • Time. Training and discipline take time. In our busy world, a lot of the important issues of life get pushed aside. Even we who stay home with our children can get caught up in the “tyranny of the urgent” to the detriment of our children. It is crucial that you set aside unimportant tasks for the moment in order to spend time training your child.
  • Wisdom. You must explain to your child why what she did was wrong. In order to reach her heart, you must convey the depth of her sin and how it affects her, as well as anyone she may have hurt. You must relate God’s Word to her in a practical manner. There are many great parenting tools available to help you do this. A good place to start looking is Doorposts.
  • Consistency. It is imperative that you are consistent in your discipline. Whether you choose to spank, or put a child on a time out, or send him to his room, or revoke privileges, you must always follow through. A child will quickly learn that your words mean nothing if you are not consistent.
  • Forgiveness. Just as you are forgiven by God, so too must your child understand that she is forgiven. In addition, if she has hurt another by her sin, she must be made to apologize and ask forgiveness. In our house, a quick and quiet “sorry” doesn’t cut it. We expect our children to use full sentences, and, thus, they have been taught to say, “I’m sorry, (name), for (hurtful behavior). Will you please forgive me?” They are then required to hug the offended person and say, “I love you.”
Teaching and training a child is not easy. No work worth doing ever is. The rewards, however, are immeasurable. A well-trained, disciplined child is a delight to his parents, and to others. The goal of a Christian parent is to raise a child who understands the deceitfulness of his own heart and the effects of his sin on himself and others. As we diligently work towards the achievement of this goal, we bring glory and honor to our God.

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