The subject of discipline is one of conflict in many families today. Clear guidelines need to be agreed on and implemented for peace to reign between the family members and especially between the two parents in a family. Mothers, more often than not, have a nurturing, but sometimes too lenient attitude toward discipline, while fathers all too often are procrastinating and authoritarian disciplinarians. Fathers and Mothers often see things from different perspectives, but God designed us that way to balance the scales of discipline in a just and fair manner. Discipline should be swift, just, and sure, but not without mercy. To be effective discipline should be implemented as soon as possible after the violation of a clear house rule. The violation must always justify the punishment, or in an old cliché, ” let the punishment fit the crime“, while it should also be consistently implemented. Christian parents may agree on the type and amount of discipline, but more often than not, they will have disagreements where discipline is concerned. Dads, please, if mama grounds a child and tells him he’s not going to that ballgame if he doesn’t clean his room, don’t take him to that ballgame. Moms, don’t say to your child, “You can’t go to that ballgame . . . “, if you know dad is going to take him anyway. Christian parents should come to a fair agreement that both can concur to and implement in a consistent and sure way. Christian parents should never hold their children out of Church related activities, school activities, or other important family outings, but rather should withhold such activities as TV and computer time, time spent with friends, and other free time activities.
The parent, who is available, when an incident requiring discipline occurs, should administer it whenever possible. Occasionally, though, the old adage “wait till your father gets home” may become necessary. When a mother is physically unable to discipline an older child, which may be the case if she is unwell, pregnant, or nursing an infant, the father should take on much of that responsibility. If the father is physically unable to discipline due to his unavailability or physical illness, it is the mothers’ primary responsibility.
Harsh punishments must not be doled out without discretion for simple child-like behaviors such as the inevitable spilled milk or playful noisiness. If a child accidentally knocks over a cup at suppertime, he should be taught how to clean it up, but not yelled at or spanked rashly for normal childhood clumsiness. On the other hand, if the child turns her sippy cup upside down and watches it pour out all over the floor after she has been cautioned a light spanking may be in order. Corporal punishment may not be necessary; the cup may simply be taken away. Discretion should be used in any case. Likewise, accidentally hitting a baseball through a window should not meet with the same punishment as throwing a rock through one, when the child has been previously cautioned not to throw rocks.
Playful noisiness is often a problem in homes where the need for quiet is a priority. When any two or three children are put together, they will inevitably get a little too loud in their play. They should not be punished suddenly and harshly for playful noisiness, but rather they should be cautioned to keep the noise at an acceptable level. If they do not do so after being warned, they should be offered an alternate activity that will momentarily calm things down. For instance, if they are playing a game, you might switch them to a movie after giving them the opportunity to play the game more quietly. They loose out on playing the game that instigated the noise, but are not disciplined too harshly for a normal childhood behavior.
Discipline must, however, be implemented for any act of willful and deliberate disobedience. Open hostility and disrespectful contradiction are examples of a need for justifiable and immediate punishment, though in no case should punishment be implemented in an uncontrolled outburst of anger. Physical spanking when called for should be given on the buttocks or thighs, or possibly a light tap on the hands of a toddler, but never on the upper torso, arms, or head. Physical punishment should never leave a bruise or lasting welts. A light rap on the top of the head with the fingertips probably never harmed a child, but this could easily get out of hand if used with any real force. A pop on the mouth for sassiness has been known to happen now and then, but this too could easily get out of control, if done in anger, which it usually is. It is better to be safe than sorry, so these should not be recurring forms of discipline. But Christian parents aren’t perfect; so don’t be devastated if this should occur on occasion, in a heated moment.
When Christian parents do find themselves out of control and too angry to discipline without punishing the child too harshly, which most parents surely will at one time or another, they must wait until they are calm and rational, or let the other parent handle the situation until the affected parent can regain control. If the other parent is not present, discipline should wait. If the parent has made the mistake of disciplining the child too harshly, the child should be shown the respect of an apology, while making it clear that his own act of disrespect and disobedience will not be tolerated. Christian parents do sometimes fail in parenting skills and they should ask their child’s forgiveness when necessary.
Any violent hitting, pushing, shaking, or tossing of a child in anger is considered abuse and should clearly not be used as a form of discipline by any parent, especially a Christian parent. Christian parents should also remember the old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is certainly not true. Words do hurt the spirit of a child, and can horribly damage his self-esteem. Name-calling should never be a form of discipline, especially harsh curse words. Verbal and mental abuse can be just as devastating as physical abuse and probably occurs much more often. Christians should never participate in any form of abuse and should not tolerate this kind of behavior from a spouse.
Christian parents should always remember that physical punishment should generally be used when other methods have been previously implemented unsuccessfully. Time outs, grounding, and diversions are some good forms of discipline that when used in a fair and consistent way, have been proven effective. For example, a parent should never ground “forever”, but the grounding should be dispensed in a rational state of mind and delivered as the parent has stated. If you say the child is grounded for two weeks, stick to it. If you tell a child “the next time you do that I’m going to do “so and so””, then the next time he does that, you should do “so and so”. Repeatedly warning a child and not following through with that warning will guarantee an undisciplined child.
Christian parents should also teach their children the value of a good work ethic. Every member of the family should have a designated daily chore to contribute to the family’s well being, which could be rotated to prevent rebellion. When the family budget allows, an allowance may be designated for it’s implementation, but if the family budget is tight, other rewards can be given in exchange for the implementation of daily chores. Extra outings such as a trip to a local park or zoo, TV or computer time, extra free time with friends, etc. can be used for these rewards. However, Christian parents should never promise something they can’t follow through with because, as with punishments, rewards should be given as promised, so as not to discourage the child from obedience.
Christian parents should strive together with their children to create a discipline plan that can be successfully implemented in their home. A written contract between parents and children is often valuable, especially when the children have some input as to rewards and punishments. Their insight can be an asset to the family’s well being and stability. Out of the mouth of babes sometimes comes much wisdom. Christian parents should listen to their children’s needs and wants, and decide which of these can be used to bring about the order that the family needs to be a happy and nurturing home for their children.