This may be the most controversial part of parenting. Parents usually have strong opinions on what discipline should look like. The challenge is not to be reactionary in forming said opinions. What follows is not meant to be the end of the discussion, rather, the beginning. I truly believe that there are only two options: discipline now or regret later.
A Philosophy of Discipline
Before we launch into a few of the particulars, I’d like to recommend that you first establish a general philosophy and approach to discipline. In other words, the why and how behind your discipline. While Spock and Dobson may have offered helpful suggestions along the way, I’m afraid too many of us have simply laid a blank piece of paper over their ideas, tracing them word for word and idea for idea.
This is my philosophy. Even though I have been purposed and intentional, I have not always been successful. Too often I have allowed an emotional response to cloud my clarity. With that admission, I coined a phrase in my earliest days as a parent. It has served as a beacon to which I have returned in barometric fashion. I have strived for… matter-of-fact discipline. Often our discipline is driven by anger or mercy, when justice was appropriate. So what is matter-of- fact discipline? Webster defines matter-of-fact this way: “not showing emotion especially when talking about exciting or upsetting things.” And that’s the trick from whichever side you lean. Whether you lean to the strict or the permissive, the challenge is disciplining from outside of whatever position you lean toward. If I had to boil the entire concept down to one word it would be… consequence. I choose to discipline to demonstrate to our kids that bad choices bring bad consequences. That’s it. Period. I wanted our kids to walk away from the experience (ultimately, at least) knowing that discipline is not about the parent. Discipline (or consequence) is about the choices made by them. I realize that, though my children are all teens and above, this philosophy likely remains mostly unproven. And though they may be able to articulate parts of it today, we won’t really know how well they understood until later.
To Spank or Not to Spank
Personally, I believe spanking has been given a bum rap. OK, that was bad.
The large majority of our culture – it would seem – is revolting against spanking. And while the Bible seems to make passing endorsements, there are zero Bible-character applications of it. On whichever side of the issue you fall, please consider some of these kinds of questions:
- Am I too angry to deliver this spanking in a loving way?
- What does the verse in Proverbs mean about the one who spares the rod hating his child?
- What are the appropriate and inappropriate objects to use in delivering a spanking?
- Are there alternate consequences that may (in a given instance) be more effective?
- Is there an age (range) at which spanking becomes ineffective?
Making the Punishment Fit the Crime
Because we are created to be intelligent creatures, I think we are born with a sense of fairness. We realize that jaywalking and murder deserve different consequences. Likely, the most effort I have spent in the direction of discipline has been in relation to this section. I have doggedly attempted to match the consequence (which is most often ours to deliver) to the choice. A very simple principle has guided my attempting. One size does not fit all. This works from crime to crime and from kid to kid. Do the hard work. Think about your child. No one knows him or her like you. What speaks to them? When they “get it”, how and why do they “get it”? As Abraham Maslow put it, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Seek a full tool belt.
Some Closing Thoughts
It is likely that you and I pendulum-swing away from the negative impressions of our parent’s discipline. There will be instances where this is wise. My experience has also been that there is often a better way. Whatever your negative impression, ask them. Mom or dad, why did you use such and such in your discipline of me? Their answer might surprise you. It might free you. It will certainly inform you and make your ability to discipline better.
Unfortunately much of our look to Scripture on this topic has been simply to validate spanking. There is so much more information available. As you read the Bible watch the interactions between parents and children as it related to discipline. You will see positive and negative examples. And again, be better informed and equipped to discipline better.
Do the work. Search the Scriptures. Know your child. Discipline now or regret later.