What image does the word “Discipline” bring to your mind?
Spanking, the naughty corner, scolding?
Here is what most of us think:
Discipline = Punishment.
And most of what is called discipline is punishment.
But good discipline is more than punishment. It’s about prevention rather than cure.
The Purpose of Discipline
True discipline is about teaching your children to be self-controlled, to obey you, and to show respect for authority – yours and God’s. It’s about teaching them to surrender their hearts to God.
True discipline reaches children’s hearts so that they obey willingly, not because they fear punishment. Force will gain compliance, but not true obedience.
When to Start
The basic framework for discipline is built in the first three years.
“Your children must learn that you are in control from the moment of their birth. This is a process of training, much the same as you would prepare a puppy or a colt. There is not much education as such at first. They are only ready for educating as they become able to reason… This transition from training to education takes place from birth to about age twelve.” [i]
Here are ten things you need in order to train and discipline well:
Without this you will discipline in the wrong spirit and create rebellion in your children. You must discipline without anger. Somebody once told me that the only time they can spank their child is when they are angry. The very time not to spank!
You must discipline on principle not feeling. It may be harder to give consequences because you are not angry, but follow through on principle – because it’s the right thing to do.
“Those who desire to control others must first control themselves.” [ii]
Habits of regularity and order will improve your children’s health, spirits, memory, and disposition, making them easier to manage.
I have written about scheduling here.
Why are your children misbehaving? Is it outright disobedience or is it forgetfulness? Is it a lack of clear instruction, or is your own anger or impatience provoking them?
Pray for yourself. You need wisdom, patience, self-control, and to keep going when weary.
Joy springs from a thankful heart. Find things to be thankful for and say them out loud. Practice joy. Practice smiling. Sing when you feel down – even if you don’t feel like it.
Make sure your children know that you love them. Get down on the floor and play with them. Take an interest in their activities, projects, drawings. Bind their hearts to yours in love.
“Love exercised while duty is neglected will make children headstrong, wilful, perverse, selfish, and disobedient. If stern duty is left to stand alone without love to soften and win, it will have a similar result. Duty and love must be blended in order that children may be properly disciplined.” [iii]
7. Consistency. Give few commands, but see that they are obeyed. Your children need to know that you will follow through. If they disobey, give a consequence.
Don’t become distracted and forget what you have required of your children. If you allow this to happen you are training them to habits of neglect and unfaithfulness. You are teaching them that they can take chances on obeying you.
“When it is necessary for parents to give a direct command, the penalty of disobedience should be as unvarying as are the laws of nature.”[iv]
Be sure to follow through in positive ways too. If you tell your children that you will read them a story later, then you must read them a story. Can they trust that you always do what you say?
8. Authoritative Command. Cultivate a commanding voice. Not a harsh or impatient one. Just commanding. I once observed a mother coaxing her three year old daughter to get off the table she was standing on. She begged, pleaded, cajoled – to no avail. Three year old Sarah (not her real name) stayed put. This mother had no command in her voice at all. She also had no backup plan for her child’s disobedience.
9. Consequences. Have a backup plan for when your child disobeys. Decide before the time what action you will take for certain offenses. Consequences are not an opportunity for you to vent your anger. Consequences are to teach your child that the “way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 13:15) and that it’s better to stay on the path of obedience.
10. Firmness, decision, positive requirements. Wavering and indecision make children feel insecure. Say what you mean calmly, make your expectations clear, and carry out what you say without deviation.
Make sure your children know what your expectations of them are. Get down on their level, look them in the eye, and state your expectation clearly – “I want you to get off the table, now.”
Asking your child to repeat your command back to you – provided they are able to – will help you know that your child knows what is expected of her.
Now you know that your child has heard you. If she disobeys and stays on the table then you can give her a consequence (and at age three I recommend a switch on the leg with a wooden spoon) without doubting that she heard or understood. The switch is for disobeying you, not standing on the table.
“The best way to establish discipline in any situation … is to get there before it starts, or at least before your tolerance turns to frustration.”[v]
If you lay a good foundation in the beginning your children will be much easier to manage.
“Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” Proverbs 29:17 NIV
How would you describe your discipline? Are you reacting more than pro-actively preventing trouble? Are you bouncing between frustrated outbursts and indulgent sentimentalism?
[i] Home Built Discipline, 26, Raymond & Dorothy Moore
[ii] Child Guidance, 247, Ellen G White
[iii] Ibid, 258
[iv] Ibid, 284
[v] Home Built Discipline, 17, Raymond & Dorothy Moore