How Can You Discipline Your Children in a Kind and Christian Way?
One of the major challenges parents face is determining the best way to discipline their children. The subject of discipline is a common topic of conversations between parents.
Christians know the importance of discipline because Scripture tells us that God disciplines those He loves. He disciplines us to save us. Because of the sin and rebellion that fill this world, God must show us that the end of these things is destruction. As parents, we must do the same with our children. Just as we are God’s children, so, too, are our children.
A house with undisciplined and unruly children is a chaotic and distressing situation. So, parents know that discipline must be done. However, parents sometimes struggle to find a delicate balance between disciplining their children and remaining affectionate and loving. Is such a balance feasible?
Discipline is Not Punishment
Although discipline has often been associated with punishment, this is not its inherent meaning. The Latin origin of the word comes from the word disciplina, meaning “instruction, discipline, and training.” The original Latin word is discere, which means “to learn.”
Therefore, discipline is to learn, train, and study to improve oneself.
Closely related to the word discipline is the Latin word discipulus, which originally meant a person who was studying or a student. Later, and with the advent of Christianity, the word “disciple” got its religious connotation and began to reference a follower of Christ.
The roots of both discipline and disciple are related, giving us an insight into what was originally meant by the word discipline.
Disciplining a Child is Not a Selfish Act
To discipline is to learn and train ourselves in loving God and following His word. By working to become better versions of ourselves and studying what God has taught us, we become His disciples in every meaning of the word. The ultimate goal of our learning and training is to follow Jesus and His teachings and become like Him. When we discipline our children, we aim to bring them closer to God so that when they become adults and must care for themselves, they will be His disciples and follow His word.
Disciplining a child should not be seen as a selfish act, or done selfishly either. We are not disciplining children because they disobeyed us or to get “5 minutes of peace”. Their disobedience is not an affront to our authority but rather a failure to follow in Jesus’ direction.
This is a crucial distinction. We should discipline our children because this is the right path to Him, not because we are annoyed at their behavior.
Can You Discipline with Love?
Discipline should be done with love, just like God displays love and grace when we fail in our duties. Showing grace to our children and loving them for who they are emphasizes God’s love for us.
Remember John 4:7-10: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
We obviously cannot match God’s patience, kindness, and gracefulness. However, we can attempt to follow His teachings. When we lose our patience and self-control, we pray to God for forgiveness. So surely we should also forgive our children for their tantrums and unruliness and model this forgiveness to them.
Despite our lack of self-discipline at times, God does not judge our value as people, made in His image. We are all His children, no matter what we do. God will always love us, no matter how many mistakes we make. So, it is important to emphasize to our children that we disapprove of the act but not of them as a person.
Focus on the Positive, Not Only on the Negative
In Ephesians 6:4, Paul warns again about focusing on the negative: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Pointing out the positive things our children do will make them more receptive to our efforts to discipline them when they are doing something wrong.
If we only point out their negative actions, they may feel they cannot do anything right. Empowering them to see areas of progress and the obedience they are already displaying will make them more sensitive to your teachings about discipline.
Explain Your Reasons
You can be proactive with your children by explaining the reason you want them to follow a certain behavior. The point is not simply to teach good behavior to our children. The point is for them to understand the reasons behind good behavior and the actions leading up to it, which will help them to make the right choices throughout their life.
Asking our children to do something good rather than not to do something evil is another way of focusing on the positive. For instance, we can tell them that being kind and sharing with their siblings will mean that we all get to enjoy that toy together and are honoring the Lord by loving each other well, rather than losing the privilege of playing with that toy and spending fun time together. In being positive, we present our children with the consequences of their actions, and we let them decide right from wrong, while we also explain the consequences of good and bad choices.
Be Consistent with Your Discipline
Being consistent in our words and promises is crucial in teaching discipline to children. We have heard many times the saying, “No, means No.” There is great value in this. Children understand consistency. At first, they may test your consistency by pushing boundaries, but if there is no escape, they will conform to the guidelines you have put in place for them.
If your discipline involves withholding something from your child, try to make the consequence realistic and achievable; otherwise, you will sound inconsistent. For example, if you have already booked all your plane tickets for your vacations, threatening your child that they will not go on their summer vacation is improbable and untenable — and your child probably knows that.
Discipline According to Your Child’s Age
Don’t forget that imparting discipline to your children depends on their age.
As Paul mentions in Corinthians 3:2, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”
We cannot have the same expectations of a four-year-old and a ten-year-old. Discipline methods and expectations depend on a child’s understanding and developmental stage. Toddlers are incapable of understanding logic, but adolescents can. Every discipline approach should be careful to align with what our children can realistically grasp.
Pray to God
God is patient with us. We are always making mistakes and will keep making them. Just as God is patient with us, we should be patient with our children.
Although this is by no means an easy feat, showing patience makes us better people and brings us closer to God. Because we are humans, we may lose self-control from time to time. The goal is to be patient. By praying to God to give us strength and patience, we can improve.
Talk, Teach, and Guide Your Child
The true meaning of discipline is to talk, train, and guide our children toward the gospel. By listening to them with grace and generosity, just like God is listening to us, we can help our children navigate through their journey.
God has shown us unconditional love: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
This is God’s expectation from us, and we should aspire to honor Him by displaying the same mercy and humility toward our children.
The Ultimate Goal is Self-Discipline
Teaching discipline to our children is part of helping them follow God’s path. However, parents will not always be around to help them do so. We raise our children to become helpful and active members of the Christian community, even when we’re no longer with them.
The ultimate goal of discipline is for our children to develop their own self-discipline.
By giving our children the right tools to understand right from wrong, they will learn to discipline themselves in our absence and obey their Heavenly Father. Scripture tells us that this will lead them to a happy and productive life.
Are you curious what this kind of discipline would look like in the classroom and how you could partner with a school that views discipline in this way? We invite you to schedule a tour today.
Read more Christian parenting advice on the PCS blog!