Article Five

A balanced approach to discipline.

In control, but keeping your cool.


    Ask any experienced, successful parent about discipline and you're likely to get this response:  You have to be balanced; not too strict and not too permissive.  It's just plain common sense.  Parenting is not the place for extremes, because at one end of the scale you have failed in your responsibility to train, while at the other you have failed to demonstrate the compassion and tolerance that go with realizing that children are children; they love, they feel, they react and they learn; they're not machines or computers.  Let your heart and your mind work together, not alternately, as you respond to your parenting responsibilities.

1.  When in the child’s life should discipline begin?
   Your effort to discipline your child should begin as soon as he can relate the discipline to his actions.  Let me explain.  When a child is born, nature goes all-out with one objective in mind: survival.  That tiny little bundle of joy can do absolutely nothing for itself, it must depend on others, and of course, that means Mamma.  But to insure that Mamma responds effectively, nature has provided two strong motivating forces: deep and selfless love in the mother, and in the child, the intense, demanding, ear-grating noise known as crying.  Together, these produce quick solutions to all the child's problems and survival is assured.

    During this period, a very natural training process is going on - - the infant is instinctively struggling to gain and maintain control over his environment; it is training its parents.  The infant learns that its screams will produce results - - attention, at the very least - - and uses that method to communicate as long as it's effective.  This is a process which some parents fail to recognize, and one that is often allowed to continue far too long.  (We've all observed children who are quite capable of speaking, yet whine or grunt insistently till they get what they want.)

    So after that necessary, initial period of infancy when responding to the immediate needs of the baby is vitally important, there should be, and normally is, a transition toward establishing parental control.  This is a gradual process that begins quite simply when a mother realizes, usually from the tone of the child's crying, that her chain is being pulled and decides to let the little one start to learn who's going to be in charge.  At this point, deliberately showing loving, playful attention when the child is not being demanding will help to teach the child that it can be comfortable and secure without being ugly.  Now you have begun to discipline, that is, to show that you, not the child, are in the driver's seat.  Simple techniques such as using a disapproving tone of voice or putting the child down when the fussing begins can continue the process effectively, long before physical methods become appropriate.

2.  Doesn’t discipline mean there will be a constant battle with the child?
    Fortunately for parents, there are two factors that work to prevent on-going strife.  The first is that the child, under normal circumstances, wants to be in good favor with his parents.  Second, the child is not stupid - - he will quickly learn that obedience results in a higher level of  personal comfort.  This means that the frequency of punishment diminishes rapidly and should become extremely rare when the parents understand and apply the basics of successful discipline: firmness and consistency.

    Unfortunately, too many parents fail to apply discipline with firmness and consistency, so the child gets mixed messages and a feeling of uncertainty about his boundaries.  The result is a constant, on-going war which leads to exasperation on both sides.  Remember, you the parents must be disciplined to act responsibly every time before you can expect to instill respect, obedience and security  in your children.

3.  Won’t firm discipline alienate the child from his parents?
    Yes, you can be sure that punishing in anger and without forgiveness, mercy, understanding and love will alienate and exasperate the child.  But demonstrate those qualities and you will gain both his love and his respect as you bring him up in the training and instruction of the Lord! (See Ephesians 6:4.)

    The difference between vengeful punishment and punishing that is motivated by love and a desire to train is easy for a child to recognize, and the effects are exactly opposite.  So in order to be certain that there is no misunderstanding, some parents make a point of coolly, patiently and deliberately explaining the reason for the action before applying "the rod of discipline."

4.  Consider the involvement of emotion and reason in the discipline process.
    The writer of Proverbs 23:13 ("Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.") understood the dilemma confronted by most parents when they face the responsibility to discipline.  Our hearts tell us we love and forgive the child, but our minds tell us that a lesson must be taught.  He counsels that we must be firm, even though the lesson is painful for both parties.

5.  Are there some basic rules for keeping the respect of my children?
    Absolutely!  Of course, the first rule is to be firm and consistent as you establish and enforce rules.  The second is to be respectable in your behavior; this means showing confidence and fairness.  The third rule is very often neglected by parents because they don't realize its importance:  Parents must never permit their children to show disrespect by hitting, talking back, or by responding to an instruction with a "no" or a "why?"  To allow a display of disrespect, even when the child does it in a playful way, cannot be tolerated.

    Parents who begin very early to consistently punish acts of disrespect are not likely to have to deal with the scourge of parenthood, the tantrum.  Such displays of  temper are far more likely where parents have failed to be firm and consistent about discipline.  But if a tantrum does occur, be certain that you do not yield in any way, and that the child is immediately isolated until he returns to normal.  At that point it will be prudent to spank or restrict the child in such a way that your message is clear: This kind of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

6.  What about making rules?
    For best results, make only those rules that are necessary for training and keeping the peace within the family.  Make as few as possible and repeal the ones that don't work but, above all, enforce the rules you establish!  Children gain a sense of security from knowing what's expected of them and what the boundaries are, but too many "noes" enforced with due strictness can lead to exasperation and fear.

    Prudent parents recognize that their stewardship calls for “preparation of the soil” if they are going to reap a harvest of family peace and harmony and produce a son or daughter who is well grounded for a godly life, ready to carry on the values transfer process to the next generation.  That preparation requires the early administration of discipline with firmness and consistency, so that the instructional process can be carried out effectively.

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Parenting 1.01 Bible-based Training for New Parents by Gordon Rampy