Five Pointers for Disciplining Children

Training children is a large task. Whether those little hands will some day spin a gambling wheel, or lead in church singing, depends largely on how well we do the job of training our children during the early years.

There are some general guidelines for training children that can be expressed with five words--but these are not the "Five Pointers."

Withholding privileges is more adult-like treatment. If one disobeys a proper diet, the doctor will likely withhold pastries and sweets. If one disobeys sensible speed laws, the policeman will withhold the driver's license. In Matthew 25:27-28, Jesus approves of the master who takes money away from the servant who did not manage properly. Privileges were withheld.

These have been general guidelines for training children, but in this message the focus is on disciplining and punishing for wrong-doing.

1. Punish Immediately If a Child Disobeys a Clear Instruction

Don't try to find an easy, painless way out of an unpleasant situation. To use a rod on a child is unpleasant, but soon after the spanking you can take the child into your lap and comfort him--but he must obey!

After the switch is used and the misbehavior has been punished, we can completely forget the incident, and fellowship is restored between parent and child--whereas when we are continually nagging and scolding and threatening and pleading--it becomes necessary to maintain a kind of hostility toward the child, because he has not been corrected, and the misbehavior continues. When the rod is used immediately and consistently for each disobedience, it is not associated with displeasure and rejection and anger.

Some parents are afraid their children won't like them if they punish every disobedience, but if the rod is used consistently, the child looks at the switch as the normal result of disobedience. Remember to punish immediately after each violation of a clearly stated order.

Some parents fall into the trap of taking action only after continual warnings. This usually leads to frustration and anger. The only reason many children don't obey until after four or five warnings (or until the parent becomes angry and starts to threaten)--is because they have been trained to wait until then! It's just as easy to teach a child to obey the first time as it is to get him to respond only after the ninth warning! When you say to an older child, "Take out the trash" or "Sweep the sidewalk"--or when you instruct a younger child, "Put away your toys" or "Don't touch the picture"--there should be no delays, no disputing, no questioning, no answering back. The obedience should be immediate, and if it is not, the punishment should come at once.

2. Don't Keep Picking at a Child over Minor Matters

Some parents are constantly telling their children what to do (or what not to do), and are really over-instructing them in trivial matters. Think about a few examples: "Don't put your feet on the sofa;" "Stop making noise with your tractor;" "Go and blow your nose;" etc. Parents--stop your nagging! If a parent keeps nagging about minor matters, the child feels he can't ever do anything right. Be especially careful when the child is overly tired (for example, a church service). Mothers and dads often keep fussing about trivial matters because of their own feelings of inadequacy, or because of their desire to look like the perfect parent. They hope others see that they really are the boss.

It is wrong to tell the children to do something, or to stop doing something, if the matter isn't really important. We must save our commands for those times when we really want our children to obey--and then see to it that indeed they do obey.

We should never give a child a command unless it matters so much to us that we are going to follow through and insist on obedience. Giving lots of directions that go unheeded anyhow does not make you look like a good parent. Rather, all the commands indicate that you are a weak parent.

And our standards should be the same whether we are talking on the phone, working at home, shopping in a store, spending time at our mother-in-laws, or if company comes to visit. Guard against having one set of standards when you're having a good day and another set of standards on a day when you have a headache. It is the height of cruelty to make our children cater to our moods. Don't be "fussy" and "picky" one day and then "easy going" the next day. If we let a particular misbehavior go unmentioned one time, and then "jump all over the child" for the same misbehavior some other time, the child becomes confused and we wound his spirit. Set rules on matters that are important and then be sure that they are carried out.

3. Avoid Asking a Small Child to Make Decisions Himself

Too many parents ask questions, instead of stating their expectations or issuing a command. If you ask a small child if he wants to do this or that--sometimes he will do what you want him to do, but most often he will say "No" simply to show his authority and to display his power. Never ask a small child to make decisions beyond his ability to do so with good judgment. For example: Such questions place a burden on the immature thinking processes of a child. And the questions almost invite him to say "No" (in his bad moments) merely to show that he "calls the shots."

The Bible says, "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15). The Hebrew word for "foolishness" does not speak of "playful mischief." It speaks of "an inability to discern what is good." Children (with their limited knowledge and experience) are not able to discern what is best for them. For example, a two-year-old may want ice cream for breakfast, because he has no understanding of balanced nutrition. Small children need to be told what to do, and not asked if they want to do it. And then, as they increase in years and experience, gradually, they should be allowed to make more and more decisions on their own.

4. Be Reasonable with Your Expectations and Your Punishment

Punishment should fit the nature of the offense. Before punishment, try to let the child know why he is being punished and what it is that he violated. When there has been misbehavior, and the child know what the offense is, handle the situation as soon as possible. Spank with a stirred emotion which is concerned about the future welfare of the child. We must, of course, never spank a child in wild wrath. If I (as a parent) had waited for a long period of time before I spanked our children, I would seldom ever have given them the punishment they deserved. Besides -- the child has to wait in tension all the time it takes for you to calm yourself, and that's often harder than getting the punishment over with!

Use a switch (or a paddle) so that the pain of spanking will help bring the child to repentance. Wait for the proper cry: Repentance means "having a change of mind" regarding the wrong that one has done. A spanking needs to be long enough and hard enough to bring a repentant cry -- a cry that says "I'm sorry." ( The cry which says "I'm sorry" is different from the cry of anger, or a cry of protest, or a fake cry sometimes given in the hope of getting out of punishment.) A few light swats (or sending the child to his room) will not bring the repentant cry. And one common way to "provoke a child to anger" (Ephesians 6:4) is to fail to bring him to repentance during a spanking!!

After the spanking have a period of reconciliation. Allow the child to cry for a reasonable length of time; then tell him to stop crying and if possible, hold him on your lap. In this way you assure the child that it is all over and you give him time to collect his emotions.

Some say, "But I love my children too much to spank them." But you must never equate punishment with a lack of love. Love says, "I care too much to allow wrong conduct to go uncorrected"! The Bible says, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24). Of course, you will never strike a child on the face. Some parents literally slap a child so hard across the mouth that they stagger backwards and almost fall the ground. That's not discipline; that's brutality! Instead -- spank the child's bottom. It is a safe place because it is well cushioned, and yet it is a sensitive area.

5. Apologize for Mistakes You May Have Made When Disciplining

Parents are not always right. On rare occasion, we discover, after the punishment, that the child was not guilty, or that the punishment was too severe for the kind of misbehavior. Every parent knows that sometimes he makes mistakes, and we should not be too proud to admit it to our children.

Apparently some parents fear that an apology would diminish their authority; but it doesn't; it only increases respect in their minds. I remember over-reacting and punishing one of our boys. Later, upon sensing that I was wrong, I said, "I'm sorry; I was wrong; you didn't deserve that kind of punishment." He said, "That's okay Dad, we all make mistakes."

If we have been utterly unreasonable and totally unfair with our discipline, we should rectify the mistake by making an honest apology. Children will respond positively to honest people. If we tell our children that we are sorry for mistreating them, we not only heal the immediate problem, but we also increase their ability to apologize to others when they make mistakes.

When you ask your child to do something: Do you train him to wait until you ask him twice before he obeys? Do you train him to wait until you raise your voice before he obeys? Do you train him to wait until you threaten him before he obeys? Or -- are you training him to obey immediately -- when you've said once in a normal conversational tone?

Sometimes parents say, "But we've neglected discipline; our children are already out of control; is there anything we can do in order to make a change?" It's not easy. It is always more difficult to correct a bad situation than it is to prevent it in the first place -- but there are a few suggestions which may prove helpful to those who are really sincere about making a change:

a) Talk to the Lord about the problem.

Admit your failure in discipline, and say, "Lord, You've told us to train our children; please help us to obey You, by training our children to obey."

b) Tell your children about the new direction.

Call your family together and outline the changes that are going to be made. Have them sit down around the kitchen table and say something like this: "We've been thinking seriously about our family lately, and we realize some things about our life together are not pleasing to God. We've been letting you talk back to us -- and to at times disobey us. We've been wrong in doing that. In the Bible God says that parents should train their children to obey them, and there is a promise of blessing if we obey this principle, and of judgment if we ignore it."

Then go on and outline exactly what you expect: "From now on, when we tell you to do something -- we won't yell; we will mean it the first time we say it; and you had better listen carefully when we speak in a normal tone of voice. And if you don't respond immediately, we will either spank you or take away some privilege -- and if you make a fuss -- the punishment will only be increased. This will be hard on all of us, but that doesn't matter. What matters most is that all of us must start doing what God tells us to do."

Convey to the family the feeling that everyone is starting (at this point) with a clean slate. We are not bringing up the past. Then pray together about the new direction you are starting. Ask God to forgive each of you (parents and children) for disobedience in the past. Encourage your children to ask God to help them to do better, and pray for each one of them aloud by name. Don't have the children promise to be good. You are not trying to win them over. You are explaining how things are going to be, whether they like it or not!

c) Be sure to do what you said you would do.

Your children may be so stunned that things will go along beautifully for a day or two -- but the honeymoon won't last! Don't build up hopes that you will get by without testing -- because children always have a way of finding out just how firm the limits are. Prepare yourself to face some encounters, but in the meantime, praise each individual child for any sign of improvement that you see and any effort at cooperation which you might observe. For example: "I appreciate the way you are taking care of your chores without even being reminded." Or, "Thanks, John, for not continuing that argument; you know that peacemakers will be blessed."

However, when a child does disobey, you must do what you said you would do. Otherwise, you lied to your children and you are not keeping faith with God. Our children want us to be courageous enough to control them. A weak parent is frightening to a child. Down in the recesses of his heart, he reasons like this: "If mother can't handle me now, how is she going to protect me when something really big comes up?"

Disciplined children feel much better about themselves than undisciplined children do. Children who know how to behave correctly -- receive approval from friends and parents and teachers, and even strangers -- and there is an inner sense of well-being that comes to one who knows he has done the right thing. Parents who don't teach their children how to behave (and don't insist on strict obedience), lose the approval of their associates, and make it difficult for the child to develop a good self image. The child who senses that his parents are trying to be consistent in discipline -- will feel useful and will have a healthy self-esteem -- and will survive the growing years with a good attitude.

May God give each of us parents wisdom and love and understanding, so that wee may train our children well. May the boys and girls, sons and daughters in our homes, bring joy (and not sorrow) to their parents' hearts.


Author: Harold S. Martin -- Source: Bible Helps Booklet #258

Copies of this booklet are available on request. Ask for a sample packet of Bible Helps.

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