I know that this is a touchy subject for a lot of people, so I will attempt to tread lightly here. Each parent needs to approach discipline with their children in the way they see best for their family–and, with that, each individual child may require different approaches. I’m not suggesting that my approach to discipline is the best or the only way–if anything, discipline is the area of parenting that I struggle with the most! As a mom and a former teacher, though, I know how important discipline is for kids. In this post I will share a bit of my personal “philosophy of discipline” and how we handle discipline in our family.
The Bible tells us that “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). We discipline our children for this very reason: because it is for their good, so they can become more like Jesus.
I have seen first-hand, in both the classroom and in my own home, how appropriate discipline can help children thrive. Kids not only need discipline–they want it! Kids expect boundaries and limits, and they learn life-skills from appropriate correction. Plus, discipline helps everyone live together in harmony. Nobody wants a chaotic toddler running the show. Trust me.
What is discipline?
The word “discipline” stems from the word “disciple”: to guide someone to become more like Jesus. As such, the purpose of discipline is to train a child for correction and maturity so they can follow in Jesus’ ways. The focus of discipline is on lovingly correcting the child and changing their future behavior. Discipline means that the parent applies appropriate consequences to encourage the child to make better future choices.
There is an important distinction between discipline and punishment. Discipline is NOT punishment. Punishment’s purpose is to inflict a penalty for an offense with the focus on past misdeeds–it’s basically “I’ll make something bad happen to you for your bad behavior”. Where punishment results in fear and guilt, discipline leaves a child with a sense of security and a positive focus for their future.
How Do We Discipline?
In our house, we have a tiered-approach to discipline: some offenses warrant lesser consequences than other more serious behaviors. Here are the discipline steps we follow with our son:
1. When our son does something that breaks a family rule (like throwing food at the dinner table) he goes straight to time out. There are no warnings, no arguing, no negotiating. He knows the rules and he knows that he needs to follow them at all times. We follow the rule of one minute per year of the child’s age for time-outs (David is 2, so he has 2-minute time-outs). His time-out spot is the first step of our staircase. When he is in time-out he is not allowed to play with toys or talk to us. I don’t mind if he talks to himself, moves his feet or plays with his hands. If he needs to move his little body a bit, that’s fine–I just want him removed from the situation–and our attention–that could instigate further inappropriate behavior. If he gets out of time-out before we come to get him or if he refuses to go to time-out, he gets a spanking (more on that in #2).
2. If the behavior is something that could harm himself or others (like hitting his baby brother or running into the street when I tell him to stop), he gets a spanking instead of time-out. Serious offenses warrant a serious consequence.
This whole spanking thing is very difficult for me. I was never spanked as a child and I never thought I would spank my own children. After a lot of prayer and discussion with my husband, though, we came to the conclusion that spanking is one tool we will use for discipline in our family. We use spanking sparingly and it is not our first line of defense. When we do use spanking, though, our goal is always to train–not hurt–our son.
When a spanking needs to happen, we wait until the parent who is giving the spanking is calm and collected. Sometimes this means David needs to go have a time-out in his room for a few minutes while we gather ourselves (or soothe the crying baby that he just walloped with his lego tower). Then we take David to a private place–we don’t want to add embarrassment to the mix–so he can get his spanking. Just one quick swat to the behind, then it’s over.
3. For all discipline, whether it’s a spanking or time-out, we always have the same “script” that we follow. Depending on the situation, we either go through this at the beginning or the end of the discipline time. I want little David to start learning the specific vocabulary of “sin” and “forgiveness” now. It’s so important that kids learn that bad behavior isn’t just “bad”–it is actually going against God. But, in that, there is always forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Our script goes something like this.
“David, you are in time-out (or getting a spanking) because you chose to do _____. That breaks our rules (and can hurt you/other people). When you do _____ it is also a sin. Sin breaks God’s laws and makes Him sad. Mommy and Daddy love you and want you to be more like Jesus, so we need to discipline you now.
Now, let’s pray together (we have him repeat phrases after us): Dear God, please forgive me for (_____). Please help me (obey, play nicely, share, etc.) so I can be more like you. Amen.”
We end the discipline time with David apologizing for the specific behavior (“Sorry I threw my peas at you, Mommy.” instead of just “sorry”). Then we give each other a hug. If he hurt someone else, he also tries to make amends with that person. If he made a mess, he helps to clean up the mess. Done.
4. Go back to “real life”. Don’t dwell on the bad behavior or keep bringing it up. If it’s been dealt with properly, then it’s time to move on.
Again, this is how we do discipline in our family. Every family has different children and different parents, so I know that this model is not the best fit for every family out there. In fact, it may not even be the best fit for our family 5 or 10 years down the road. The important things will always be important, though: lovingly correct your children so they can be more like Jesus. And try not to pull your hair out when that sweet little darling gets sent to time-out for the 480th time today.