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Kurt Bruner, The Center for Strong Families

Scripture commands parents to raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord. We begin “training” a child from a very young age by the ways we respond to their actions and attitudes. The primary purpose of discipline is to consistently direct your child toward a right relationship with God and others. Several practices contribute to that process.

Practice #1: Establish Your Authority

Children need a clear answer to the question “Who is the boss?” Mom and Dad embody the security and limits that come from submitting ourselves to a loving heavenly Father. God has delegated oversight of your child’s welfare and development to you, placing you in a position of authority over them.

Starting when children are very young, parents need to model clarity and consistency. Unclear rules and sporadic reinforcement breed insecurity. You must say what you mean, mean what you say and act upon it. Don’t overlook defiant behavior just because the specific issue seems minor, or because it is a hassle to stop and discipline at the moment.

Practice #2: Discipline Rather Than Punish

Punishment is negative, making someone pay for what they’ve done. Discipline is positive – training toward a better future. Like touching a hot stove, we learn from the consequences of our actions. Discipline in childhood helps children avoid “learning the hard way” later in life.

Regardless of which form of discipline you use, however, the key is consistency. As author Ginger Plowman explains, it is not the severity of punishment but the “certainty of consequence” that makes the difference.

God holds parents accountable for how they use the authority He has given them. The scriptures instruct parents not to “exasperate” or “embitter” their children (see Colossians 3:21). Do not treat childish immaturity the same as willful defiance. Parents should never discipline children out of embarrassment, frustration, or anger. Accidentally spilling the milk or waking the baby is not an occasion for stern discipline. But ignoring direct disobedience can make a child vulnerable to an ongoing spirit of rebellion.

Ultimately, the discipline you apply should be used in a way that restores right relationship. It should provide a consequence that leads the child to repentance (sorrow for their wrong behavior) and restoration of the relationship with mom, dad and others.

Practice #3: Lovingly Instruct

Starting in the preschool years, discipline and instruction should become a package deal (Ephesians 6:4). Don’t make the mistake of allowing your desire for changed behavior to replace your desire for a changed heart. Use simple probing questions and share specific scriptures about wrong choices to instruct your child toward repentance. After disciplining a 2-year-old temper tantrum, for example, you might explain that “God wants us to obey.” With a 4-year-old you can go further, explaining self-control, reading Titus 2:6 and asking the child “Do you think that you were self-controlled or out-of-control?” Such loving instruction after discipline helps train your son or daughter to think like a follower of Christ rather than merely behave in order to avoid punishment. 


Recommended Books:

  • Courageous Parenting by Jack and Deb Graham
  • Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
  • Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman
  • The Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson 

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