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.

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.

The Glory in the Gory

Just one letter separates gory from glory. Okay, maybe that’s a coincidence, but we certainly don’t often see these words together. Today, I want to throw them both into the parenting mix.

I had a three-year-old and a six-month-old. It was winter. Need I say more? If you’ve been there, you know what my life was like: lonely, exhausting, thankless…and one day looked just like the next. There were fantastic, joyful, never-forget-til-the-day-I-die moments, but at the time, the difficult days loomed so much larger than the delightful days.  If you’re there now, this post is for you. I considered it a good week if I spent a little time in the Word at some point every day (often mid-afternoon while one napped and the other watched an Elmo video) and made it to church on Sunday.

I remember scoffing as I read verses like these:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Philippians 4:4

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 (Find more about these verses *here*.)

Go back with me to one of those days…

Really? Give thanks for the explodopoop that I must now clean off my child, his changing table, the wall and my clothes—not just my child’s clothes?  Oh, and did I mention that I’m all by myself here?!? Obviously, Paul was not a mother to two (or more) preschoolers! Ten years later, I still remember standing there, looking at that mess, and pondering the meaning of life:

  • Did I really get a master’s degree so I could do this?
  • In what way, Lord, are you honored here? Because I think I’m about to puke.
  • What am I doing wrong? (Thinking poop wasn’t actually supposed to explode out of a person no matter how small that person was.)
  • Is it really your will, Lord, for me to thank you for poop?
  • Do I have even one t-shirt without some sort of baby stain on it? (So some of my thoughts weren’t very profound. Give me a break—I was sleep-deprived!)

The answers didn’t come right away. I didn’t have an epiphany. There was no light shining through the window carrying an angel who made me a better mom. But eventually, I came to understand it like this…

Thank Him for the spiritual training and for recognizable blessings.

Even when your days are occupied by dirty diapers and mashed-peas (which, let’s be honest, don’t look dissimilar), it is possible to find things for which you are thankful. Look back at 1 Thessalonians 5:18. It says, “give thanks in all circumstances” not “for all circumstances.”

If I can’t thank Him for the poop; at least I can thank Him through the poop.

  • Thank you, God, that my child’s digestive system works.
  • Thank you that I am learning to be a servant who doesn’t expect recognition.
  • Thank you that I can take my child to a licensed doctor whenever I think something is wrong with him.
  • Thank you that I am learning empathy for other moms—oh, so much empathy!
  • Thank you that my schedule allows time to clean this up right now, then sit with one or both of my children and wrap my arms around them so they know how much I love them.
  • Thank you for finding me worthy to steward the life of a whole person. (This one’s a biggy.)

Choose to praise Him in the middle of the goriest parenting tasks.

After God changed my thinking regarding dirty diapers, I started singing praise songs while I changed diapers. The song calmed me and my child, but more importantly, it kept my mind focused on God my Savior.

Know that the primary discipling relationship of your life lies on that changing table.

It may not feel like it in the moment, but even now, you are leading your child into Christ-likeness through your actions and words. There is value—even in changing diapers.

These meager, mundane moments are not inconsequential. Not only do you have the chance to glorify God, but He continues to pursue your spiritual growth. Yes, even now…perhaps especially now. Don’t miss this chance!

 “We all live in an endless series of little moments. The character of a life isn’t set in ten big moments. The character of a life is set in ten thousand little moments of everyday life. It’s the themes of struggles that emerge from those little moments that reveal what’s really going on in our hearts.”  –Paul David Tripp, Whiter Than Snow.

 

“It’s one thing to go through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying attention to us.” –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 11/16.

 
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