Child discipline – what’s going on under the surface
Do you know what’s going on under the surface when you are disciplining your child? If you don’t, you’ll probably miss the point of discipline altogether and more than likely hurt your child in ways you never intended. I’m not talking about losing control during a spanking or other form of discipline… though that would be cause for serious concern. I’m talking about hurting them on a deeper level, a soul level.
Child discipline is about more than:
- correction of misguided actions
- punishment for crimes (real or imagined)
- rules that have to be kept
- respect for authority
- first-time obedience
- or the like…
Under the surface, in every discipline situation and in all of life, your child is asking the following heart-level question of you, their parent:
Every human being lives in fear. We fear being rejected – of being unloved. We want and need to know that we are truly loved. Children are no different.
This is especially true when you need to discipline your child. They want to know (they NEED to know), that when they are at their very worst, you still care about THEM. Let’s think that through for a moment…
- When your son is clearly in the wrong and punishment of some kind is entirely appropriate, he wants to know if you really care about him.
- When your daughter made a bad mistake or foolish decision, she wants to know if you really care about her.
- When they’ve brought home a bad grade on their report card, they want to know if you really care about them.
- When he’s wrecked the car, he wants to know if you really care about him.
Think of it this way:
- If you only focus on the rules (without understanding their heart) – you are communicating that rules are more important than the person you are dealing with (your child).
- If you don’t take the time to understand what they were thinking and feeling that prompted them toward their decision, you are communicating that you don’t care about what they think and feel.
- If you fixate on the damage they’ve done and not on what was going on inside them, you are communicating that the damage or loss is more important to you than they are.
If you do these kinds of things, you run the risk of embittering your children, of provoking them to anger. (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) In fact, you probably will. Sadly, parents do this all the time and don’t realize it. Then they wonder why their 4 year old is stubborn and disobedient, or why their teenager is sullen and disrespectful. Could it be that the parent has not taken the time to add concern for their children to their discipline of their children?
Child discipline: a better approach
Even in situations where your child is clearly in the wrong, you can still communicate that you care about them first and foremost. How do you do that?
1. Understand that it takes work and time – and be willing to put in the effort. You’ll have to ask questions, discover motives, listen to reasoning, and help them dissect it all with godly maturity and discernment. Making that effort communicates your deep concern for them.
2. Develop a desire to truly understand their heart, even when they’ve willfully done wrong. Your children will more readily accept your correction when they know it’s coming from a parent who desires to understand them.
3. Communicate God’s love for them in spite of their sin, as you demonstrate God’s love as their parent. Your children need to know, especially in a disciplinary situation that you (like God) still love them – warts, sin, rebellion, sassy mouth, disobedience – and all.
4. Respond with both compassion and justice. They need to know that you are upset at how their sin affects them (compassion), and that you care about them enough to help them overcome it through loving discipline (justice).
When you take the time to walk through these, and other caring steps, you will be shepherding their heart (there’s an excellent book by that title… I highly recommend it). You will be caring for the very core of who they are, which is exactly what they are wondering about.
What other steps would you add to this list?
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