Parents today are raising their families in a culture where disciplining children just isn't the in thing to do. Popular parenting styles advocate being a child's best friend, allowing children to go on prolonged journeys of self discovery and embracing the "uniqueness" of the child (regardless of how far that child's unique expression pushes the envelope of morality, liberalism and self-respect). Parents struggle to raise their children in ways they want them to go.
But Christians have an advantage: They can follow specific guidelines in Scripture and learn how God has called them to parent. God's Word outlines a key tool designed to build a lasting foundation within children, erect a hedge of protection around them as they grow, and instill a deep love in their hearts for themselves, their parents and their Creator.
This is the parenting tool of discipline.
Many parents hear the word discipline and make a negative association. This is partly because discipline has become a synonym for punishment, when in reality the two have distinct meanings. Often discipline paints a picture of a parent spanking a kid, constantly saying "no," sending a child to her room, or taking away a prized privilege. Parents who discipline their child fear being labeled as the "bad guy" or, even worse, as abusive. Because of these connotations, today's parents sometimes are hesitant to discipline their children.
But while discipline does indeed include taking specific actions, like putting a child in time-out to help guide behavior, discipline is so much more than that. In my experience, once parents understand what true discipline is, they are often surprised at just how eager they are to become the disciplinarian God has called them to be.
Discipline means to disciple. Discipline literally means to teach and to raise up. In fact, it comes from the same word as disciple. When Peter talked about being a disciple, he described "men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning with John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us" (Acts 1:21,22, NIV). The disciples walked, talked and learned how to live life from Jesus. Your children are learning to do the same from you. In essence, your children are your disciples. For the Christian parent, discipline can be viewed as a great responsibility and opportunity to truly impact the life of their child.
Discipline is an act of love. "I have loved you with an everlasting love," God told His people in Jeremiah 31:3 at a time in their history when He was also judging their sin. The intent of discipline is to guide and to direct a child on the right path. Discipline's goal is to teach children to live in a way that is honoring to God, their parents and themselves. The parent who disciplines a child is instilling and fine-tuning that child's inner compass that will be used to navigate life. What could be a more wonderful expression of love is this?
Discipline is proactive. Discipline is a way of life. It requires setting clear limits, boundaries and expectations for a child and being consistent in holding a child accountable to them. "Impress [God's commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deuteronomy 6:7). When a child fails to adhere to these established standards, discipline requires an action to be taken. This action could be a heart-to-heart conversation, a time-out, or a loss of a privilege, but the goal of the action is to reinforce that a behavior is unacceptable, not to cause pain or deep hurt to the child.
Discipline is a process. Discipline is not a "one-time fix" for anything. It's the process of instilling your family values, morals and beliefs into your child by adjusting your limits, boundaries and expectations as your child grows. The Book of Judges describes Israel's national rebellion against God this way: "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel" (2:10). In other words, the process of discipline broke down over the years, and a generation was lost.
Discipline is permanent. Discipline yields lifelong patterns. "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Simply put, when your child is taught to behave in a certain way and is held to certain standards consistently, these behaviors and standards become their norm, because they don't know anything else.
Discipline can be painful for a parent. Discipline often results in a child being temporarily angry with a parent. This can hurt when a child doesn't see that you have her best interests at heart. Discipline often means saying "no" in the moment, like when your teen is having a meltdown because she wants to go to an unchaperoned party, when it would be much easier (and less dramatic) to just say yes. True discipline puts the long-term interest of the child before convenience. It's also not based on the child's potential reaction.
Although there are times when a child needs to be punished, discipline remains the best tool parents have for raising their kids in the ways of the Lord. Embrace your role as disciplinarian. It's what God has called to you to do.