Discipline is Designed to Disciple

When my firstborn was toddling around—less than a year old—she once stuck her finger in an unguarded electrical outlet. (At someone else’s house. Of course, we had covers on our own outlets!) I grabbed her hand immediately. I got down where she could see my face. I looked her in the eye, and while squeezing her little hand just until I could see that it was hurting her, I said “no” in my most serious voice. If I remember correctly, I only had to do this twice before she learned not to put her fingers in electrical outlets. Yes, I hurt her just a little bit, but way less than if she’d been electrocuted. I thought of it like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. I squeezed so tightly for her own good.

Parental discipline is like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. (click to tweet)

I disciplined her in the only way her young mind could understand. It was an action/reaction concept: if I put my fingers here, then I hurt. The discipline was immediate and tangible because her brain wouldn’t have processed anything else. Why did I hurt her when she was so young?

  • I knew she was capable of understanding it. (The form of discipline matched her maturity level.)
  • I wanted to protect her in the future. I might not be watching so closely next time.
  • I loved her (still do) and didn’t want her to be seriously injured.
  • I wanted her to begin practicing self-control.

I did not squeeze her hand…

  • Because I was angry,
  • Because I wanted her to hurt,
  • Because she irritated, interrupted, or embarrassed me.

This is the difference between punishment and discipline.

Parental punishment is about me: my anger, my needs, my embarrassment, my convenience, my sense of entitlement or frustration with the situation.

Parental discipline is about my child’s physical well-being and spiritual growth. That’s all.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. -Proverbs 13:24

In Intentional Parenting, we teach our children in advance, but we also watch for opportunities to correct through discipline. There’s no love in pampering them, in hiding their sins and failures from them, in allowing them reckless “freedom” that ultimately enslaves them to their own desires. Discipline is something we do carefully and purposefully because we love our children.

My children have grown since the electrical outlet incident. They’re both in double-digits now, and squeezing hands isn’t the best option anymore. (Sometimes I wish it was. It was so much easier!) This week, however, I had a chance to practice some fairly serious discipline with one of my children.

At first, I was so angry that I had to just send him to his room. I felt like there was steam coming out of my ears, and I’m sure my face was red! I wanted to punish him. I wanted him to hurt. (Don’t judge. You know you’ve felt the same.) Because I was angry, I was in no state-of-mind to discipline properly. Once I calmed myself down, I went to him and told him I needed to talk with his dad about the discipline. I still didn’t trust myself, honestly. As we talked a little, I made sure he knew I loved him. The next morning, having talked with his dad, we sat down and discussed the situation calmly and arrived at some discipline that fit the situation and aligned with his maturity level. I’m praying it helps him grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Some observations about discipline:

Good discipline comes out of love. We already talked about this one.

Good discipline comes out of humility. I do not present myself as better than my child but as another sinner learning how to please God throughout my life.

Good discipline comes out of obligation. As another Christ-follower, as one called to be his parent, it is my duty to correct my child when he fails. I’m helping him understand how to follow Christ more completely.

Good discipline is a product of peace. I’m talking about Biblical shalom, that confidence in God’s sovereignty over His creation and the security of knowing He loves me. Anger dismisses His sovereignty. It says I deserve something or I have been wronged. With peace, I approach my child in the confidence of God’s economy.

Good discipline aligns with the child’s maturity level and spiritual state. The wise parent desires her child to learn from the error/sin through the discipline. Just like you don’t teach first graders calculus, it takes thoughtfulness (and sometimes wracking your brain) to provide discipline at each age. If the child has accepted Christ as Lord of his life, that significantly influences the way discipline is given.

Good discipline ends. What could be more miserable than to be repeatedly reminded of a failure from your past? Trust the Holy Spirit to work in your child’s heart and lay aside the situation once the discipline is complete.

Good discipline is reserved for disobedience or danger and other clear acts of sin. Children will be foolish and forgetful. They’re ignorant of many things we take for granted as adults. Before enacting discipline, be sure the situation warrants it. Perhaps a good “talking to” (a Southern term) is all they need.

With older children…

There’s a reason discipline and disciple look so much like. Add these to the description of good discipline when your children are past the stage where physical things work best.

Good discipline is mutually-agreed-upon. We discuss ways for him to learn what is necessary. It’s important for him to understand why he must forfeit a privilege or spend time alone or do something extra. He doesn’t like it, but he understands the purpose. If he doesn’t understand why it’s happening, then he will not learn. That’s punishment, not discipline.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. -Hebrews 12:11

Good discipline involves follow-up. After the discipline phase is completed, we come back to the subject at least once more to test what he’s learned. If it arises around the same time in a sermon, book, or other medium, we’ll mention it again. (See “Good Discipline Ends” above for the balance on this.)

Good discipline incorporates forgiveness. If I’ve personally been wronged, I must intentionally and specifically forgive my child. If my child has wronged someone else, he must clearly request forgiveness—including an explanation of how he now understands his behavior. He must also ask for God’s forgiveness. Never leave your child wondering if everything is “right” between the two of you afterward.

Good discipline renews trust. A follow-up time gives the parent an opportunity to talk about trust. Can you trust your child again? Do you need to see evidence of a changed heart first? Does there need to be a trial period? Make all this clear rather than leaving your child guessing.

The child who is disciplined in a Godly way will see the wisdom of Proverbs 12:1…and probably enjoy that the Bible calls someone “stupid.”

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. -Proverbs 12:1

11 characteristics of good discipline for #IntentionalParenting. (click to tweet)

prov-12-1-meme

For further reading:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp (more for younger kids)

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (for teenagers)

Yes, they are brothers. Both of these books offer excellent sections on Biblical discipline. If you’re struggling with this issue, I urge you to take a look at the appropriate one.

For the Love of Libraries

It was my five-year-old’s first week of Kindergarten. We still went inside to pick him up at the end of the school day. Amidst all the chaos and scramble for unfamiliar backpacks, I absentmindedly asked, “So what did you do today?”

He stopped in his tracks and looked up at me, his normally huge eyes now enlarged to saucer-size. With both arms stiff at his sides for emphasis, he exclaimed, “They have this place. It’s called a lie-bu-rary and you can get books and you DON’T even HAVE to PAY!” He left his mouth hanging open at the end to express the level of his shock.

I laughed and squatted down beside him, backpack forgotten. My mouth said, “Isn’t it fantastic? What did you get?” but my heart said, “Yes, this is undoubtedly my child.”

12-17 turkeys at the library
We saw these wild turkeys just behind our library one day. The reflection of the books makes it look like they’re browsing. (c) Carole Sparks

Fast forward five years or so. My seventh-grader had a tough day at school, exacerbated by a post-pick-up trip to the grocery store. On the drive home, I didn’t say anything. I just pulled into the parking lot of our beautiful, stone-faced, fireplace-centered library that sets back in the woods. (Really, it’s more like going into a mountain lodge than a library!) Some girls prefer “retail therapy” but I knew my favorite bibliophile would get more satisfaction from this one stop than from a four-hour trip to the mall. We stayed as long as she wanted, “shopping” the aisles of the ever-growing YA section, whispering our thoughts on this title and that back-cover blurb. I put no limit on the number of books she could check out. And when we left, her shoulders were visibly more relaxed even though her arms were full.

I have my own fond childhood memories of a particular branch library (and the custards that followed summer visits there), so I feel like a successful parent when I remember that I’ve instilled a love of libraries in my children as well. But even without these happy recollections, I sincerely love libraries!

In honor of National Library Week, I offer you…

Five Things I Love About Libraries

Free – There’s no cover at the door, no minimum purchase. You can enter as often as you like and stay as long as you want (or until they close, whichever comes first). The membership cards are free and never expire. Then, like my 5-year-old said, you don’t even have to pay for taking away the books. So no worries about staying under budget or “breaking the bank.” No expense means no excuse for not reading! (click to tweet)

Egalitarian – Anyone can get a library card, even Imogene Herdman, so anyone can check out books. Libraries don’t care if you are rich or poor, influential or inconsequential, charming or cautious. If you put a book on hold, you get it next, regardless of who else is in line. Your library card has the same limit as the rich kid’s down the block.

Forgiving – Even if you return a book late, the fees are miniscule. And if you talk too loudly? You might get a stern look or a “sshhhh,” but as long as you make an effort, the nice librarians will forgive you. One time, one of my children (I won’t say which one.) dropped a library book in the toilet—the TOILET!! (It was clean water.) We dried it out as best we could and confessed when we returned it. There was very little damage, and it was still readable, so they didn’t charge us for it.

10-23 library bookshelves (1)
our local library (c) Carole Sparks

Quiet – Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but I like a place with no muzak, where people are at least making an effort to be quiet. I like that self-conscious feeling when my shoes tap the hardwood section in the middle. I like the fact that everyone’s thoughts are respected.

Discovery-Inducing – This is the absolute best thing! You go in search of one book only to find two or three other interesting books on the way. The fact that you search the shelves creates delightful opportunities for discovery.

Consider checking out (literally) these great books about libraries from your local library.

(Yes, I recognize the irony of using Amazon links when I’m talking about the library.)

For the younger set: The Library by Sarah Steward, illus. by David Small
For Middle Grade readers: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

When’s the last time you went to the library? What do you love about libraries in general or your branch in particular? Let’s celebrate National Library Week together!

Wisdom for Parenting Teenagers

Review and Interaction with Paul David Tripp’s Age of Opportunity

What are your end-goals in parenting? What are you trying to accomplish with and in your children? Perhaps you say, “Why, Carole, I’m just trying to make it through today!” Are you merely surviving? Maybe you think, “I guess I just want them to have good job and contribute to society.” On the bad days, most of us would say, “I just want them to move out!” Have you ever thought about why God made you a parent? If you take this Intentional Parenting thing seriously, you will ask yourself these kinds of questions.

In lieu of a guest post this month, I’m sharing some thoughts, quotes, and reactions from Paul David Tripp’s Age of Opportunity, subtitled “A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens.” (I’m quoting from the 2001 paperback edition, published by P&R Publishing in Phillipsburg, New Jersery.) There were so many good nuggets! These quotes don’t do it justice.

I purchased this book when my firstborn was turning twelve. Typical of my reading habits, however, I didn’t start reading it for a long time, then I read it in small doses. She’s already thirteen, and I just now finished it.

Alongside solid counseling and anecdotal observations, Tripp shares many personal stories—some successes and some failures. The reader will sense that he is walking alongside Mr. Tripp in this parenting pilgrimage toward godly, loving adulthood. Also, there’s a group study guide at the back…could be very helpful.

The book is divided into three sections.

In part one, Clearing the Debris, Tripp defines the family and the role of parents in a teenager’s life. From the very first page, it’s clear that parenting struggles in the teen years are as much about the parent as the child. This is not a how-to-fix-your-child book. In fact, if you are unwilling to examine your own life—especially your faith and habits—don’t read this book.

Parenting is hard work. It requires being ‘on’ all the time and watching for opportunities to speak Truth into your child’s life (regardless of age).

“Every moment of family life is a teaching moment!” (pg. 42) [click to tweet]

Having written about it previously, I was perhaps most thrilled to read that teenage rebellion is not a given. We don’t have to batten down the hatches and ride out six years of storms! Regardless of our children’s ages or the mistakes we’ve already made, Tripp encourages us that these relationships are redeemable.

In Setting Godly Goals, Tripp examines the Biblical approach to parenting and answers the questions I posed in the first paragraph above. What are we trying to do here? And how do we expect to “successfully” parent without clear goals and strategies in place?

“We want to know the heart of our teenager, to help him see his heart as it really is, and to be used of God to help produce a heart ruled by nothing else but God and his truth.” (pg. 89)

“We want to be used of God to produce young adults who understand the spiritual implications of everything they do.” (pg. 118)

“It is of paramount importance that we do not think for our children, but teach them how to think about life.” (pg. 137)

Like in the first section, much of Tripp’s message points back to the parents. For example:

“Too often, what we call convictions are actually preferences. Real convictions are based on revealed truth (that is, Scripture). Preferences are based on personal desire. Convictions are constant; preferences change with desire.” (pg. 131-132) He goes on with the contrast.

When parenting teenagers, we hold firm to convictions, but the rest—however painful—can be disregarded. Rarely will our children turn out just like us, and we should be thankful for that!

“We need to be careful to distinguish between difference and sin, between alternative perspectives and rebellion against authority. We need to see the difference between an appropriate choice and disobedience. We need to wisely welcome and encourage differences while lovingly confronting sin.” (pg. 251)

By the way, the last chapter in this section, called “Leaving Home,” made me cry, and I’ve got five years before it happens! I know it’s good and right for them to leave…but gosh, it’s going to be hard.

I found the final section, Practical Strategies for Parenting Teens, to be less helpful. In large part, it reviews much of the previous section but with different formatting. Still, review is good. There is also a set of questions (pg. 229) that will help in those moments when I just want to blurt, “What were you thinking?!?” I may need to keep a copy nearby.

“Rather than seeking to get our teenagers under our control, we want to be used of God so that they would joyfully submit to his [control].” (pg. 227)

One of his most intriguing ideas parallels the family unit with the church. As parents, we are the shepherds or pastors for our children, leading them toward Christlikeness. If we think of parenting in this way (which, by the way, syncs with his brother’s book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart), we maintain our focus on their spiritual development. Not that we should preach or sing praise choruses all the time, but the family functions like the body of Christ in which each member receives respect (even the headstrong teenager) and all are led by One who has their best interests at heart. That kind of family can change the world!

“The church of Jesus Christ, the Christian family, was never meant to exist as an isolated ghetto in the middle of a darkened and broken culture. We are called by Christ to be participants in the world as his agents of redemption.” (pg. 165)

I strongly recommend this book. I can’t imagine anything better for parenting this age group. If, however, you simply don’t have the patience to read the whole book, borrow it from someone and read the final chapter. Change is possible in your relationship with your teenager. This is where it starts.

Best Books for Intentional Parenting, plus some good fiction

An in-the-car conversation with my 12-year-old, book-loving daughter…

She: What is a bookkeeper?

Me: It’s someone who takes care of the finances for a company.

She: (disappointed) Oh.

Me: Why?

She: I thought it would be a viable career option. You know, someone who keeps books.

Me: I think the word you’re looking for is ‘librarian.’

As you can see, we really love books at our house. So for this end-of-the-year post, I offer you three of the best books for intentional parenting. Put any or all of them on your TBR (to be read) list for 2016.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think about them? Want to add or change anything? Have any suggestions for my 2016 TBR? Let me know in the comments below!

Three Great Books on Parenting

On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo and Dr. Robert Bucknam

Some potential and new parents really resist the principles presented in this book, but I am so thankful that people in my church recommended it to me before my first child was born. While we didn’t strictly adhere to every element (especially not with our second child), we found that following Ezzo’s suggested practices gave us peace of mind and helped us establish a routine that was family-centered, not child-centered. Baby Wise II (also very helpful) has a great chapter on potty-training. Here’s what I’ve observed: There are non-Baby Wise children who are pleasant and well-behaved, but I’ve never met a Baby Wise child who wasn’t pleasant and well-behaved. I even think our kids were healthier because of their ability to sleep and follow routines.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

This has been by primary parenting resource for more than twelve years now. I’ve probably read it at least five times and referenced it many more. Here’s the main point: The condition of a child’s heart (that is, his/her relationship with God) is far more important than his or her behavior. It’s about parenting with a bigger purpose in mind—intentional parenting (applying my phrase to Tripp’s work). I wish this were required reading for Christ-follower parents around the world.

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp

I really wanted to finish this one before I posted the list, but I haven’t yet. We’re about to have a teenager in our home, and it felt like time to address that age group more specifically. Two factors drew me to this book: the subtitle, which is “A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens” and the author’s name. Turns out that Tedd (of Shepherding… above) and Paul are brothers. I’m about one-third through, taking my time to absorb the teaching. I already know, however, that it needs be on this list. Thankfully, it looks like we’re headed in the right direction; read my posts, Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me and Where My Kids At? to see what direction that is.

Next to read: Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls by Gary L. Thomas. If this book is as good as his Sacred Marriage, it will definitely be on my “Best Books” list next year!

5 Best Newbery Award Books (that I’ve read)

In no particular order…

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

5 Children’s/YA books that should have won Newbery Awards (in our opinion)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

You can read my reviews of most of these and the Newbery winners *here*. Also, sorry I didn’t put Amazon links for all these books. We’re still in holiday mode here!

5…3…1 Recommended Reading

Instead of a guest post this month, I offer you some recommended reading beyond this Intentional Parenting blog: 5 things to pray, 3 steps to child-rearing, and 1 book (with a 1-word title). Enjoy…and let me know what you think of these readings using the comments section below!

Praying Higher Things for Your Children by Dr. Walker Moore

“There are two ways to pray for children. The first is to pray them through things like tattoos, skydiving and prom night, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is also a higher way to pray for them, and that is to pray for their lives to be aligned with His holy Word.”

I recently discovered Weave, a website/blog devoted to help families take their place in God’s global mission. You’ll find many good posts there. One of their contributors, Dr. Moore, has a great sense of humor. (I’m a sucker for a good post that makes me laugh…or cry.) In this post, he offers five Scripture-based suggestions for praying for our children. I think I’m going to print them out and hang them on my mirror!

3 Steps to Raising Disciples by Matt Blackwell

“Mom and dad, you are the leaders in your home and as such you are uniquely positioned to keep your eyes fixed on God and your finger on the pulse of the family. The kids that God has entrusted to you are your primary disciples. And as their mom and dad you have the privilege, joy and responsibility to lead them.”

Verge Network’s posts on family/parenting are always insightful. I’ve reposted from them before. In this article, Blackwell lays out a simple plan for discipleship-based parenting. It’s very intentional but not at all intimidating. I encourage you to give it some thought and examine where you may need to make adjustments in your home too.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.”

Do you have a child who clams up immediately after school but then interrupts your dinner preparations with multiple stories from the same day at school? Chances are, that child is an introvert. Quiet is not necessarily a parenting book, but parenting applications abound throughout it. Cain does devote the final chapter to parenting; it’s entitled “On Cobblers and Generals: How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them.” This book is worth a trip to the library just for that chapter! Especially if you are an extrovert raising an introvert (or two), please take time to read this book. It will equip you to support your child in the way that’s most appropriate for him or her. Even if you’re not a big reader, Cain’s friendly style and excellent organization make this one easy. Also check out the Quiet Revolution parenting website.

what to read, what to read

My children love to read.  They devour books, and both of them read well above their grade level, with large vocabularies and excellent comprehension skills.  I’m not bragging; I’ve met many children in this same situation.  The temptation with children like this is to let them read any book they are willing to crack open.  After all, reading is good for them, right?  Not always.

In watching my children grow, I have discovered that there are three aspects to reading ability.  The first is functional:  vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and things like that.  Can they convert letters into words and words into sentences?  The second is mental:  following a plot, keeping up with multiple characters, understanding imagery or foreshadowing and other subtleties.  The first time my daughter read The Secret Garden, she could read all the words, but she couldn’t really follow the story.  Same thing happened with a Nancy Drew book.  Now, of course, she loves both of those because her mental reading skills have increased.

The third aspect of reading is more social or emotional.  And more difficult to gauge.  It involves understanding the situation, social context, or implications of the story.  Early-reading books revolve around loosing a toy or getting your feelings hurt by a friend.  More advanced reading exposes the reader to some of the uglier things in the world:  injustice, abuse, prejudice, witchcraft, death.  Or sometimes just more mature topics:  relationships, sex, struggles with money, eating disorders, mental illness.  Even books like The Diary of Anne Frank require a certain level of social and/or historical understanding.

We do a fairly good job of measuring the first aspect of reading.  It’s easy to see if our children have the functional ability to read a book.  And in a brief conversation, we can know if they have achieved the mental ability to understand that book.  The challenge arises in measuring their social/emotional level for reading the same book.  Just because they CAN doesn’t mean they SHOULD.  Like Paul said,  “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.  “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive (1 Cor 10:23 totally out of context, but it’s the same idea).  If we won’t let them watch ‘R’-rated movies, if we protect them from explicit song lyrics, if we instruct them to think on whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, etc. (Phil 4:8), why do we put overly-mature books in their hands without a second thought?

As parents, it’s our job to guard our children’s hearts.  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov 4:23).  There’s an incredible scene in The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.  She and her father are on a train, and she asks her father about sex.  Instead of answering, he asks Corrie to pick up the heavy suitcase sitting between them.  She can’t.  He tells her that some subjects are like that suitcase:  too heavy for her right now, but she will grow.  She must trust him that, when she is able to “carry” the information about sex, he will give it to her.

It’s not about sheltering our children from the world.  It’s about protecting them against things their hearts aren’t ready to manage just yet.  For a long time, we didn’t let our first-born read the Harry Potter series.  (Not judging here.  I read and loved every one of them; we just didn’t think she was ready.)  When all her friends read them, we talked about guarding her heart and thinking about things that honor God.  I asked her to trust me to know when she was ready.  I told her the story about Corrie Ten Boom and her father.

For now, there are SO many excellent, challenging books for my tween-ager.  Sure, she reads some “fluff” (she especially likes girl secret agents like Ruby Redfort), but we’re also working on the Newberry Award Winner list.  Have you read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch or The Witch of Blackbird Pond?  Do you remember Caddie Woodlawn or A Wrinkle in Time?  I’d forgotten; these are fantastic books!  In general, the Newberry winners are not at all childish (a complaint we sometimes hear from our double-digit-aged kids), but they handle mature topics in a way that’s appropriate for younger readers (think The Scarlet Letter without adultery for The Witch of Blackbird Pond).  They generate fantastic discussion topics; they help us engage with the world, and they supply a big dose of American history without any grimaces or complaints.

Also, it’s important to read questionable books before or at least alongside our kids.  This includes “Christian” books (e.g. Ted Dekker).  If I’ve already read the book, my child knows she can talk with me about anything she doesn’t understand.  I can even broach topics or scenes that I think need more light shed on them.  Let’s not allow literature to parent our children.  That’s our job.

If you were to finish all of the Newberry winners and honor books (which date back to the 1920s, so it should take awhile!), you can start on the AP English reading list.  This list, of course, is far more mature, but by the time they get to it, they should be ready.  I plan to read these books alongside my child too, so we can filter everything through our faith as she learns to knowledgeably engage the world around her.

By the way, my daughter is going to read Harry Potter this summer.  She can handle it now.  We’ll talk about it as she goes, and I know she’ll enjoy every minute!