Seven Key Influences in the Life of a Child – Discipline

I played all kinds of sports as I came through school – basketball, baseball, wrestling, and football.    I loved learning about the intricacies and strategies of the game, but the best part was the lifetime friendships I made with teammates.

However, there was another huge benefit that I learned through sports and that is the value of deferred gratification and hard work.     John Maxwell said, “You can pay now and play later or play now and pay later, but either way you are going to have to pay.   If you pay on the front end it won’t be as expensive”.

As an adult I am so grateful for the principle and reward of discipline I learned from being involved with athletics.  It has helped me to realize that success is not an accident and that without personal discipline there is not a prize.

Talent without the character of discipline will never reach it’s potential.   Yet, a person with character and discipline will seek the necessary talent to accomplish the task.

Have you ever known someone with an incredible talent (music, art, public speaking, athletics and many others) but never matched up their gift with any discipline?   Because of their failure to study, practice, focus, read, and deny themselves they end up being the proverbial “jack of all trades and master of none”.

They do a lot of things good enough, but they never excel at anything.   “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates.   There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways”, wrote H. Jackson Brown, Jr.    Talent that is disciplined has a focus and makes progress.

Solomon wrote, “A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men”.   (Proverbs 18:16)    This is so true.   I think the size of the “room” and the caliber of the “great men” is in proportion to the discipline exercised in cultivating the gift.    If abilities are not harnessed with discipline they will not make an impact.   Your credentials and ability may open doors for you, but only character and discipline can keep them open. 

Fred Smith, a great author on the topic of leadership wrote, “The gift is always bigger than the man”.    In other words, natural talents are “unearned”; they are from God (I Corinthians 4:7).  Unless a talent is shaped and directed it can destroy a person through pride in the early years and discourage them in later years from a sense of not fulfilling one’s potential.


Jake’s basketball team that I helped to coach. He is over my right shoulder.

The big question is: where does this important ingredient of discipline come from in a child’s life?   Denying one’s self and practicing deferred gratification is not natural to a person.   A horse that is unbroken must be mastered before it can be of any usefulness.   We, too, must be conquered by discipline or we will not be useful. 

It is crucial that children from the early years all the way through college be in an atmosphere of discipline that requires them to go the second mile, beyond what is required and to learn the reward of paying the price.

If a teacher or coach is not a disciplinarian he will not have a successful classroom or team.   The same is true of parents.   If they are not effective in their discipline they will not train productive and happy children.

One of the most damaging philosophies to developing discipline in our children is the thinking that a child’s mind is like a “blank slate”.   That is, they come to us in a neutral condition and their future solely depends on what we as parents write on their their minds and hearts.

The Bible and human experience totally contradict this false belief.   Any parent knows you don’t have to teach a child to do wrong, but you have to teach and discipline them to do what is right.   Every one of us was born with a propensity towards that which is wrong and evil.   Our nature is bent towards that which is wrong.

The Bible teaches that “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way…”   (Isaiah 53:6)    We have an innate proneness to go our “own way”.  In fact, we rebel at anyone that attempts to steer us in any direction that is counter to our own desires.

Parents are not dealing with a “blank slate”, but a disposition that is self-centered and oriented toward rebelling against God.   This is why the Bible is filled with principles on training your child.   In fact, the very best book on parenting is the Bible!

And the best book in the Bible on parenting is the book of Proverbs.    Perhaps the core verse on the subject is Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. 

The word “train” means “to initiate or dedicate something”.  It has the idea of starting the process of discipline and providing direction.   The word “child” covers the time from infancy to adolescence.    It is a long-term process that requires much patience from parents, but the reward is worth it!

God clearly places the responsibility of training and the discipline of children on the parents.   The root of “discipline” is the word “disciple”.    They are related.  Without being disciplined our children will not be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.   Rather they will follow their own way, which is a way to destruction.

The Bible states, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”   (Proverbs 14:12)    When we begin to pursue “our way” it seems that it is better and easier to go that route.   No discipline, only enjoying our own desires and pursuits, but “the end…are the ways of death”.

There are two extremes in parenting styles – permissive and authoritarian.  Both do not work.  A permissive parent is passive and indifferent and provides little, if any, discipline in the life of a child.     An authoritarian parent is brutal and merciless and uses threats, even physical and verbal abuse, to get his way.

Effective parenting is neither of these.   We are to be authoritative, kind and understanding.   Discipline must be one of the cornerstones of parenting if you are to influence your child for good.   (Too many homes are like the proverbial inmates that are running the asylum!)    There is no other way.

Discipline begins in childhood and parents are to be the initiators of it.    The best thing parents can do in this area is to train (and expect) their children to obey the first time.   Think about it, if they do not obey the first time, they haven’t obeyed.   Delayed obedience is disobedience.

The foundation of obedience is attentiveness.   Teach them to not only respond to your words, but to your voice.   They ought to respond to the fact that you are calling for them; you shouldn’t have to repeat yourself or go after them when they fail to respond.   This is not teaching them discipline or training them for obedience.  It is enforcing their thinking that rebellion is worthwhile.

Most parents operate from a paradigm that does anything but teach a child discipline.   Some depend upon a severe tone or loudness of voice to get their children to respond.   The kids know when Mom or Dad hits a certain decibel level that they had better respond because now they mean business!    Are you a screamer?   It doesn’t work in the long run.

Another ineffective method is the “counting method”.   When the child doesn’t obey you resort to a countdown!   “Ok, I told you to come here.   I’m serious.    1……2…….3 – I’m dead serious.   3 1/2…. 4……are you coming?    Don’t make me say 5!”   Knowing that the magic number is five before you enforce your demand they finally respond.

Obviously, both of these fail to train your child to respond to your initial call to them.  This is not training your child or teaching them discipline.   Will their boss one day play this game with them?   Will their college professors use this type of carrot-and-stick approach to get them to do their assignments?    Will their high school coaches count to five before they expect conformity to their teaching on the field?

These are rhetorical questions with the same obvious answer, no!   This isn’t real life, but it is in many homes today.    And it is rampant in our culture and destroying our nation. 

One of the best things you will ever do is to require your children to respond to your voice the first time.   This will train them to be disciplined.    A child will not seek discipline on his own; it must be required of him.   If there are no consequences when he violates your standards and expectations it is just nagging and that is a worthwhile tradeoff from his perspective.   He will tolerate that in order to get his own way.

The Bible says, “…a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame”.   (Proverbs 29:15)    It is sad, and very common, to see a child that is “left to himself”.   He has no one that has disciplined him or trained him to discipline himself.   The words are precisely accurate, the child has been “left to himself” and the sure result is “shame” to his parents.

A priest in the Old Testament, Eli, failed as a father and his failure was a lack of discipline.   It says of him that “his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not”.   (I Samuel 3:13)

He knew they were doing wrong and did nothing about it – “…he restrained them not”.     Though the Bible doesn’t specifically say it, I believe this didn’t start when they were young adults, but in childhood when their father failed to discipline them.    Thus, they didn’t discipline themselves later on.


Ashley, Jake and April outside the Yankee Candle Factory in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. This place is incredible! If you are ever in the area you have got to visit. A great place for kids and adults. Taken in October, 1998.

Years ago I was at a Saturday baseball practice sitting behind the backstop waiting for practice to end (I was not coaching this team, but another team my younger son played on).   Beside me was the coach’s wife and we were just quietly watching.

Suddenly she spoke up, “I wish my son would obey like your boys do you”.   (This was the 9-10 year old age group and her child didn’t listen to anything that she and her husband, the coach, had to say.   He was very young, but very rebellious).

Now, to be fair to her my boys didn’t always obey us, but we expected them to do so and there were consequences if they did not.   It was obvious that her son was running their family by his words, actions, and attitude.

Then she made this comment and it made me angry for a moment, “I guess some parents are just lucky.   They have kids that listen to them”.    I didn’t say it, but I wanted to say, “No ma’am, we are not lucky.   Parenting is a priority in our family and part of that package is discipline.   There is no luck involved at all.   The truth is, you are lazy, not unlucky.   You don’t want to do the hard things to help him to do what is right and to train him to obey”. 

I figured that might not go over real well, but that was precisely the problem.  Here is what is sad: unless something has changed and they began to discipline him or he later gave his heart to Christ, this young man has probably had some major conflicts, even with the law, because of the passivity of his parents. 

One of the foundational influences on a child’s life is discipline.   If it isn’t in place then nothing else much matters.    This is the responsibility of a parent to see that it happens.   The earlier in life you exercise discipline and expect them to obey, the greater influence you will have on them as they grow up.

John Maxwell wrote, “There are two types of pain regarding our daily lives – the pain of self-discipline and the pain of regret.”     May we as parents (and those in authority over young people) care enough for them to help them to become people of discipline, else one day they experience the pain of regret.

About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 41 years with seven children and nine grandchildren.
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