1.  What does "preparing the ground" have to do with parenting?
  In the parable of the sower, Jesus illustrates how different types of people will respond to the "sowing" of the gospel message.  He teaches that the only long-lasting, productive response will come when the seed falls on "good soil."  Of course, farmers and even back yard gardeners know that good soil doesn't just happen; it requires careful, planned preparation and diligent effort.  Parenting is like that, too.  The seed of your instruction, no matter how wise and well-intentioned, won't have long-lasting results unless your child is first taught to respect the sower.  Discipline provides the preparation you need to make your teaching effective.  This is the underlying message of Proverbs 29:15: "The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but the child left to himself disgraces his mother."

2.  Why has the word “discipline” taken on such an ugly image?
    The founders of our nation would be amazed to see how far we have extended the principle they knew as "freedom."  In fact, today there are few aspects of our personal lives over which we accept any control at all.  Our individual rights allow us the freedom to "express ourselves" by going naked in public, by using obscene language in the media, and by distributing pornography in the name of art.  Discipline is acceptable only if it is self-imposed.  To discipline another person is to restrict his rights, and that implies the forced subordination of his will to yours; attempt that and you better be ready to hire a lawyer!  For some parents today there is even a reluctance to restrict the behavior of their own children, simply because they feel that to do so would violate their rights.  Using physical means to enforce rules would be unthinkable.  Yes, to some, discipline has become a dirty word, and parents who recognize their God-given responsibility to use it often find themselves on the defensive.

3.  What does the Bible teach about parental discipline?
    When we read the vivid language of Proverbs 22:15, "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him," the picture that comes to mind isn't pleasant.  But I'm sure what the writer had in mind wasn't brutality - - a responsible parent disciplines lovingly, not harshly - - and the "rod" equates to a spanking with an open hand (or, as my wife found effective, a fly-swatter).  The point is that discipline and discomfort are inseparable and necessary ingredients in the training process.

    In the New Testament there is a passage that clearly describes the relationship between love, discipline and punishment as they apply to parenting:  (Hebrews 12:6-9)". . . the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.  . . . For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!"  Yes, it's true, discipline is painful, but children respect parents who love them enough to apply it.

4.  How does discipline increase the effectiveness of instruction?
    I once happened to observe a young mother with her two small children as they walked from a building toward a parking lot.  The mother, carrying the smaller child in her arms, was concerned about the older one's safety and screamed at him repeatedly to stop as he ran happily toward their car.  But he just laughed and ran on, completely ignoring her orders as if they were playing some sort of game.  Fortunately, there was no sad ending to the scene, only frustration for a mother who had not learned that discipline has to be established before instruction can be effective.

    My great-great-grandmother, Lydia Lever, was a Sunday School teacher in England when she was seventeen.  In her teacher's manual I found this instruction:  “Always maintain a powerful control over your scholars; and on no account allow any child to disobey you; to submit to this would be to slacken the reins of authority, and to encourage disorder and confusion.  Harshness is not necessary, but decided firmness is indispensable.”  The world has changed since those words were written in 1829, but discipline is still the foundation for instruction.  If you don't have the respect of your children, you can't expect to teach them.

   In my early years I was a rather active kid and enjoyed such pursuits as making toy soldiers from molten lead and creating incendiaries with my chemistry outfit; exciting and educational hobbies that aren't available to our much-protected youth today.  One day at the age of eight, I decided to conduct an experiment with a .22 caliber bullet on a gas range we had in our basement.  Placing the bullet upright over a moderate flame, I took cover and waited anxiously to see what would happen.  It didn't take long.  After the explosion I carefully examined the basement ceiling directly above the range, expecting to find a hole or at least a mark where the bullet had struck.  I found neither, and never even located the bullet.

    So what does that story have to do with parenting?  I was too young to appreciate it at the time, but the explosive power of the gunpowder in a bullet's shell has to be concentrated (focused) on the projectile or there won't be much force available to drive it.  That's the purpose of a gun barrel.  When a bullet is fired from a gun barrel, all the power of the propellant is directed against the bullet and the barrel's aim sends it speeding to the target.  My bullet had no barrel, so who knows where it went!  In parenting, discipline plays the role of a gun barrel for the driving force of parental instruction.  Discipline allows your instruction to be focused so you can have a reasonable chance for success.  And don't forget, the gun barrel does its job early; the bullet goes most of the way to the target on its own.

5.  How are discipline and punishment related?
    The clear and consistent threat of punishment produces respect for the authority of the one who administers it.  This in turn permits focusing on the primary objective: instruction.  No loving parent enjoys having to punish a child, but few realize how important it is to be firm and consistent early in the process so it won't be required very often.  When a child learns that punishment for infractions is certain, the frequency of infractions (and punishment, of course) drops dramatically.  Because children are children and memories are short, there will always be slip-ups, but you can be assured that effective discipline does not require continual, never-ending conflict during the childhood years if you, as parents, discipline yourselves to be firm and consistent.

    Punishment is intended to be motivation for obedience.  Another motivator that has its place in parenting is reward.  But be aware that while rewarding a child is useful and effective for teaching the value of working hard to reach a goal, it does nothing to promote respect for your authority.  A parent who tries to inspire good behavior by offering tempting incentives makes himself feel noble, but the child will give him no more respect than he gives Santa Claus.

6.  What is the best method of punishment?
    The best method of punishment is the one that is most effective with the least harshness. When the time for punishment arrives, the parent must exercise God-given common sense and compassion while keeping clearly in mind what he is trying to accomplish and why this moment is important for both parties.  That means he must be in control of himself.  Common sense, compassion and reason are not qualities of an enraged parent.  I believe that a parent can feel anger as a result of a child's disobedience and still retain his self control; but rage is another matter.  To punish while in a state of uncontrolled fury risks doing serious physical and emotional harm to the child and may justify a charge of child abuse.  (It will almost certainly also have serious consequences for the marriage.) If it is your nature to lose control of yourself under any circumstances you need help, possibly professional help; don't wait till someone you love is hurt.

    When administering punishment, factors such as the child’s age, his nature, and the severity and frequency of the offense will come into play.  A parent quickly learns that one child may be sensitive and easily intimidated, while another responds only to strong measures.  Act accordingly; don't be tougher than you need to be to make your point.  Both corporal and restrictive methods have their places in the parent’s list of options, but keep in mind that restriction will be most effective in the later stages of childhood.

    No matter what method you use to establish respect for your authority, keep in mind that punishment must be followed by forgiveness and restoration, not disgrace, shame and rejection.  Your child must know that the displeasure you show when he disobeys doesn't mean you no longer love him.  When the punishment is over, so should be your displeasure.  Show your affection an acceptance just as you would if he hadn't made the mistake.  Your child needs to understand that your love isn't contingent on his behavior.

    Realize that when you punish you are punishing because of disobedience, not simply for the particular infraction of the moment.  For example, when your child fails to obey an instruction to be quiet in church, you punish him because he disobeyed, not merely because he created a disturbance. While he should learn to be especially well-behaved in that setting, you need to be able to require obedience in any setting - - at your discretion - - without having to explain your reasons.  Unquestioned obedience comes only when you have instilled respect for your authority; that's what punishment is all about!

    Responsible, loving parents who intend to teach their children appropriate behavior and a value system that will carry them safely through life must understand the importance of preparing their charges so that their training can be effective and enduring.  This means establishing, at an early age, a high level of respect for your authority.  Discipline, the process of firmly and consistently punishing disobedience, is necessary for establishing that respect.

Next: A balanced approach to discipline.
Contents Page
Parenting 1.01 Bible-based Basics for New Parents by Gordon Rampy