Disciplining for character
How to discipline our children is a massive issue for parents. Everyone has an opinion. It’s the subject of intense conversations about boundaries, time outs, rules, punishments and sanctions. In episode 22 of the Parenting for Faith podcast, Rachel talks about how two sets of parents disciplined their kids very differently for a similar offence, tailoring their response to the kid’s personality and the character they could see God was growing in them. So what might help us think about how to do this well? The following may help you as you work out what it looks like in your family.
Why we discipline
- We want the best for our children, and discipline is part of the job description! Hebrews 12:1-11 paints a beautiful picture of why God disciplines us. It’s because he loves us and wants the best for us. And it’s the same for us as parents and carers.
- In Parenting Children for a Life of Faith Omnibus Rachel Turner reminds us that we are all on a journey of transformation to be more like God. She describes it like this: ‘God is daily shaping me to be more like him, and I am not finished yet’, which means, of course, that we will sometimes get things wrong! Like a ship’s captain steering his vessel back onto the right course, we discipline to steer our children back onto the course God has for them.
What discipline is and isn’t
- It’s not about punishment and unpleasantness, but education. The origin of the word comes from the Latin word for ‘to teach’: discipline is a tool to educate our children. It’s to teach them what went wrong and help them get it right next time (the main words Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible also have the same idea).
- Our job as parents is to help our children grow up well into the people and purpose God created them to be, and discipline is a helpful, positive tool that God has given us to do that.
- It’s easy when disciplining to default to rules and a sense of justice that says if a kid’s done something wrong they must be punished. But if we remember that discipline’s primary aim is education, then that sheds a whole new light on things. It’s about what will best help our child get back on the right path and equip them to be powerful next time, and that will vary from kid to kid, even within the same family.
With discipline there’s no one size fits all
- There is a difference between a person’s personality and their character. My personality is the way I am genetically wired to encounter the world (for example, being shy, exuberant or naturally calm), and my character is the way I apply my personality beliefs as I engage with the world. In Parenting Children for a Life of Faith Omnibus, Rachel Turner explains: ‘As parents we are called to celebrate our children’s personalities and disciple their characters’. So as we discipline we will take into account each child’s personality as well as the character God is growing in them as we seek the best way to correct their course.
- Lots of things will affect the methods we use: their personality and how they have responded to the incident, how serious the offence, whether restitution is necessary, if they need help to think through alternative ways to react next time they are in the same situation, whether it’s time for restrictions eg curfew or limited screen time. And we’ve probably all experienced times when we’ve recognised that rather than punishment, what our kid needs is a big hug.
- Heart tools help us understand what may be going on in our kids’ hearts. Some or all of these heart tools, introduced in chapter 25 of Parenting Children for a Life of Faith Omnibus, might be particularly helpful as you talk to your child about what has happened and help them focus on recovery and getting it right next time. In brief these are:
- Understand through curiosity. Ask lots of questions, reflect back what they are saying, allow time to really hear and understand them
- Respond with empathy and truth. Be gentle in your response, however annoyed or frustrated you are; see things from their point of view; and speak the truth they need to hear.
- Connect them to yourself and to God. If they have done something wrong, children may feel distant from you or afraid that they have damaged your relationship, so ensure they feel connected to you again. Encourage them to connect to God too.
- Help them be powerful for next time. Help them consider what they would do differently next time, and to remember the truth of what you have talked about.
We will all have different approaches to how we choose to discipline our kids and only you will know what is best for your child. But in the midst of that, enjoy the journey you are both on of partnering with God to shape your kid’s character as are daily being transformed into the likeness of their Father God.