Six Keys to Effective Discipline of Children

One of the reasons that discipline is not effective is that we tend to pattern the way we discipline our children after the way we were (or were not) disciplined by our parents.

For example, if your parents provided balanced and loving discipline you might tweak it a bit to improve it, but there would not be a drastic change.   Perhaps your parents were on the extreme ends of the spectrum in discipline – it was not given at all because of passivity or there was physical abuse at the hands of an angry parent.    Both are unacceptable, but there will be two probable responses to the extremes.

Some will mimic the discipline model replicating it in the lives of their children, causing more damage and harm.   The ineffective (and destructive) approach is perpetuated to another generation.   Another possibility is a pendulum swing where the person with passive parents becomes extremely strict and those that were the recipients of angry discipline become passive in correcting their children.

There is a better way.   It works and produces children that are respectful, honor authority, and learn to discipline themselves to be productive citizens.    This is God’s way found in His Word.    He designed the home and gives us principles to make it function successfully, even in parenting and in disciplining our children.

The first principle is to discipline your children early – in their life and in the offense.    This is crucial and one of the reasons discipline fails; it is not given in a timely fashion.   The Bible is clear on this matter.

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”   (Proverbs 13:24)    The word “betimes” is an old English word that means early.   The Hebrew word means “to be early at a task” and carries the idea of being up at first dawn.

There comes a time when it is too late to discipline your child and it will not work – “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”    (Proverbs 19:18)     There is a window of opportunity when your child can be shaped to obey and honor authority.   If you miss this window then you are going to reap the consequences of your failure.

I believe our jails and prisons are filled with people that have never been disciplined properly as children.   Oh, they have been nagged at, yelled at, and some even beaten, but never disciplined according to God’s principles.   It would have made a difference!

I read about some parents  that came to the pastor after a service and asked him to pray for their rebellious son.    The pastor knew they were passive and neglectful in their discipline.   He wisely responded, “I will pray for him, but know this, my praying won’t take the place of your spanking your child”.

A second key to effective discipline is that it is not to be given with anger.   God warns against angry discipline.    Discipline given in anger does not work and, in reality, it is not discipline at all.   It is a temper tantrum of a parent toward his child.

Here is a hard and fast guideline in disciplining your children – when you are angry, do not discipline them.   It will save you a thousand regrets and will not cause the child to be bitter towards you.   Wait until you are calm and are thinking clearly.

The Bible especially warns fathers against angry discipline – “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  (Ephesians 6:4)

“Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.”    (Colossians 3:21)

The bottom line is that angry discipline is abuse and it will not work – “…the rod of his anger shall fail.”   (Proverbs 22:8)    There may be short-term compliance, but the result you desire will not come.   If you’re angry, don’t discipline.     Our children will remember our lack of love and angry spirit even in adulthood.

A third principle is that discipline is to be given thoroughly.    The goal of discipline is not the dispensing of punishment, but to see a change in behavior.    Discipline is not punitive, but corrective.

When you discipline, look for repentance in your child.   Spank them until their will is broken.    Otherwise, they are just going to be angry at you for causing them pain.  The earlier you start this in their lives, the less you will have to discipline them in later years.

The punishment must fit the crime.   Another way to say it – the violation must not be worth the penalty.    If you are light on punishment they will weigh the trade off and do it anyway.

Giving thorough discipline means that sometimes there will be tears – “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”  (Proverbs 19:18)     Any caring parent doesn’t want to see their child hurt and especially do they not want to be the source of that pain.    But it is necessary if they are to learn to discipline themselves as they grow older.

I am absolutely not speaking of physical abuse.   That is not only criminal, but it is ineffective.    However, I am not in favor of the proverbial “slap on the wrist” which is more symbolic than anything – and it is ineffective as well.

When we cry (whether child or adult) it is an evidence or repentance and that our heart is broken over our wrong doing.    This is what I am speaking of when I use the phrase, “discipline is to be given thoroughly”.

A fourth principle is that we are to give counsel along with the correction. Punishment alone for the wrongdoing will not help the child.    They also need counsel.

The Bible speaks to this issue – “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”   (Proverbs 29:15)    The “rod” refers to the physical punishment; “reproof” refers to our verbal warnings, assurances, and counsel.

“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”   (Ephesians 6:4)    Again, the balance of the two is given in this text.   “Nurture” is the physical discipline; “admonition” is the counsel and communicating of what happened and how to avoid it next time.    Mark this, it isn’t either/or, but both/and.    Both components are absolutely necessary in effective discipline.

Most of the time a parent tends to do one better than the other.    Some talk to a child about their offense and never apply the rod; others are quick to apply the rod, but fail to provide counsel and verbal direction.   Both of them are essential to see the desired result in your child’s life.

As a parent you need to know which you tend to do more (correct or counsel) and make sure that the equation of discipline is not incomplete.   Balance out your tendency with the other.   If you do one without the other it isn’t discipline according to the Designer of the home, God.

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary with the kids in June, 2004.

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary with the kids in June, 2004.

A fifth key is that discipline is to be given consistently.    This is huge!  If it is not consistent and predictable it will not work, plain and simple.   Inconsistent discipline frustrates a child.

God has a warning for fathers (it includes mothers, too) – “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath…”  (Ephesians 6:4)    Children are provoked to anger when there is no discipline given to them (they become insecure and wonder if you love them) or when it is not predictable.    A happy child is one that knows what is expected of him and where the boundaries are.

This goes back to angry discipline.    Some parents only discipline when their emotions are stirred – and it is inconsistent.    God says it will not work.

The most difficult time for this is when you are outside of your home and “in their territory”.    Somehow children know when it is difficult for you to discipline them and they will try you in those areas.

This would include public areas like restaurants, church, or at the grocery store.   It would also include new places like the home of a friend or at their grandparents home.   This is a battle you will face and you must win.     If you discipline consistently early on in their life consistently then your need for discipline will generally drastically decline.    (I say “generally” because there are strong-willed children that need a steady hand over the long haul).

Many years ago we were eating in a restaurant and one of our children was unruly and refused to obey, daring me to deal with the situation.   I calmly picked them up, took them to the car and put them in the child safety seat.    We went home, I spanked them, and we returned to the restaurant.   My food was cold, but that was the last time I ever had to do that in that setting for that child (and for the others, they were watching).

Aggravating, sure.   Fun, no.   Necessary, yes.    Effective, you bet!

We have been on long trips and I have had to pull the van over to the side of the road (we have seven children so we needed a van) and discipline the child in the very back.   The rest of the trip was peaceful.   There is no need to nag and yell, just be predictable.   You will be surprised at how effective it will be over time.

Discipline must be consistent or it will not work.    Let me insert this thought here.   Some may read these words and think, “That’s a lot of work and intrudes on my time”.   Not near as much as getting a call in the middle of the night that you need to bail your child out of jail.   Yes, it is work and takes time, but it is worth it!

I think many parents are simply lazy and refuse to leave their television program to handle a discipline need.   Sadly, if you neglect to discipline them consistently the problems will spiral and become more frequent and much more severe.   One day you will wish you had.

A final key to effective discipline is to expect first time obedience.   If they haven’t obeyed the first time, they haven’t obeyed.   Delayed obedience is disobedience.

We taught our children this definition of obedience and they all have it memorized.    Obedience is doing what you are told to do, when you are told to do it, with the right heart attitude.   This is the same expression of obedience God desires from us.   Before children learn to obey God, they learn to obey their parents.  

Teach them that you expect them to respond to you the first time you speak to them.   It is for their good and will make your home a much more peaceful place.

There must be a healthy fear of the consequences of disobeying.    If not, they will not obey the first time and will not obey any one unless they want to do so.   The child will simply live to fulfill his own heart without any concern for others.   This is a recipe for disaster – and I blame the parents that have not worked to train their chidlren.

Here is a sure evidence of a rebel in the making and a parent that ignores God’s Word on effective parenting.    The mother asks the child to do something specific and the child totally disregards the mother.   So, the mother raises her voice and with agitation says, “I’m serious, you’re going to be in trouble!”    (You’re already in trouble at this point as a parent.   You are training them to respond to a certain decibel level or tone in your voice.   This borders on angry discipline and is not training them for obedience).

Then she begins the countdown and the child knows mom finally means business.  He has been trained that when she hits the number five that discipline will finally be meted out.   The mother says, “Alright, I’m going to count.   Don’t make me count.   Alright, here I go! One……two…….three……four……four and a half…..”    Finally little Johnny shows up with an aggravated face to do what his mother asked.

Is this a caricature of the way things are in many homes?   Not at all.   In fact, I have seen this happen over and over.   My heart goes out to the child because I know his future is not going to be easy.   Perhaps you were trained to obey this way, but it is no excuse to continue it in your own home as you parent.

You are raising a rebellious delinquent, though you can’t see it right now.  It is the old proverb – allowing the inmates to run the asylum.  Parenting is the most intensive form of leadership in the world.   It takes a lot of work and a lot of love.   It isn’t for the fainthearted.    Don’t let your kids down.

A Scripture that challenges me as a father concerns Abraham and how he raised his children.    It is a high compliment as God testifies of Abraham’s ability to father his children – “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment…”   (Genesis 18:19)    Powerful words that deal with our role as parents and the desired result in the lives of our children.

Parents, I hope you realize the incredible importance of your task.   God has given us clear guidelines and commandments on how to train and discipline our children.   I believe it will be the greatest thing we will ever accomplish.   It’s our legacy.   May we do it well with God’s help and encouragement.

About familyencouragement

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