“Bryson, what are you thinking? Why would you do that? Stop tackling your sister; she obviously doesn’t like it!
Amaya, STOP whining! Use your words!”
I don’t want to admit how often my parenting looks something like this and has been void of any real parenting.
I naturally approach discipline attempting to achieve behavior modification; often this is accomplished through bribing, pleading, or threatening consequence A, B, or C, all administered with a lack of self-control (on my part). The end goal: getting my child to act like a well-behaved human with a great mother.
It doesn’t take a parenting expert (do those exist?) to recognize these tactics don’t work. But, when I’m exhausted, outnumbered and defeated, they feel like the only tools in my box.
The truth is, you and I have a task much bigger than behavior modification and much bigger than producing well-behaved sinners. And with that, we’ve been given more than our natural sinful hearts to accomplish it.
Ephesians 6:4 tells us we are to bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Proverbs 22:6 tells us to train up our children in the way they should go.
If I can’t even get my child to act appropriately how am I supposed to instruct their hearts?
When doubt sets in, remember only God can change our children’s hearts. Only He can produce love, true repentance, and give salvation. What a privilege we have that the creator of the world would use us to shepherd these little hearts. And because He has given us this task, we can trust that He has also given us tools to accomplish it.
Moving forward let’s take a look at a few of those tools.
First, I should tell you that none of these ideas are my own. I’m thankful for the many incredible resources that have helped shape my understanding and implementation of biblical parenting. My three favorite resources thus far are:
- Paul Trip’s, Shepherding a Childs Heart (Book and DVD)
- Ginger Hubbard’s book, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That
- My ABC Bible Verses by Susan Hunt (children’s book)
In addition to these resources, living life with other believers has had the most significant impact on the way we discipline. Learning from more experienced parents willing to offer unsolicited advice and a solid example to follow remains my top recommendation for anyone preparing for parenthood or already in the trenches.
The goal of discipline:
Remember, our aim in discipline is not behavior modification, it’s heart change. Ginger Hubbard says it well in her book mentioned above:
“Consequences for wrong behavior have their place, but they are not a substitute for training and instruction. Administering consequences without following through with righteous training only teaches children one thing—there are consequences for sin. While that is an important lesson, an even greater lesson is to understand the higher calling of living in ways that are pleasing to God and bring him the glory he deserves. Our purpose in disciplining our children is not merely to teach them to avoid consequences, but to train and instruct them to honor God with their lives, that being ‘the way they should go.'”
Knowing what we need to do and how to do it are two very different things. So, next time little (or not so little) Jonny starts to demonstrate the effects of the fall, what should you do differently?
First, lead by example in both self-control and repentance. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” I can’t tell you how many times I have used that verse to address my son’s anger with his sister before being convicted of my own response to his sin. We must approach discipline with the same self-control we are trying to instill in our children. And when we fail, because we will, we must turn around and show them how to repent and apologize.
Secondly, remember that disobedience, anger, lying or any other type of sin we address is merely the outward display of their already sinful heart. It’s an opportunity to not only address their poor decision but to shepherd their heart. The best way to do this is by bringing the Gospel into your discipline. Use it as an opportunity to remind them of their sin (and ours), then point them to the cross, and our response to it.
Hubbard, offers a three-part approach. I’ll summarize her idea here, but I highly encourage you to read her book for a full explanation and dozens of examples of how it plays out in real life situations.
Step 1: Use questions to get to the heart
Try to shift the focus from the surface offense to the root of the issue. Ask questions to help the child evaluate their heart.
Here’s what it looks like most days in my house: With tears flowing, Bryson yells, “Amaya destroyed my lego set! She is so mean! How could she ever do that!” followed by Amaya screaming, “I didn’t do anything and Bryson just hit me!”
I quickly move the situation to the couch and help bring the level of energy down a notch by instructing my kids to gain self-control. Once everyone is able to breathe properly. I remind them that only one child can talk at a time and that they may only answer the questions I ask. I usually follow-up with questions like:
“What is your “A” verse?” (They then repeat the “A” verse from My ABC Bible Verse Book: “A soft answer turns away wrath.”)
“Bryson, did you have a soft answer with your sister?”
“Amaya, did you have a soft answer with your brother?”
“Are you loving your toys more than your brother or sister?”
“Were you slow to anger?”
I won’t even address the legos at this point.
Step 2: Reprove
Move on to teaching the child truth in the situation.
“Guys, mommy also struggles to have a soft answer. That’s why I’m so thankful Jesus died on the cross for my sins. The Bible also teaches us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, which means we can fight our sin and obey God’s command to love our neighbor better than ourselves. How can we love each other in this situation?”
Step 3: Training
Finally, transition back into the offense using the truth you’ve just discussed.
“Bryson, next time Amaya breaks a Lego, what is a more loving way you can respond? How can you have a soft answer and be a problem solver?”
I then instruct them to re-approach the situation and try again, but this time with self-control.
This conversation looks dozens of different ways throughout the week. But, having a basic structure to follow sure helps keep the day less overwhelming and more purposeful.
What tools do you use? What verses have helped guide your parenting?
If you’re feeling outnumbered and overwhelmed as a parent, I encourage you to reach out to another family for prayer and encouragement. Not because anyone else is doing it perfectly, but because God gave us the gift of community, the gift of family in Christ. He intentionally calls us to discipleship. We were not made to live the Christian life on our own.