At our parenting workshops we often ask parents, “What is the goal of your discipline?” If your child is hitting, you want them to stop hitting now, obviously. If your child is lying, you want them to tell you the truth. It seems so obvious that the goal of your discipline is to manage behaviour as soon as possible. Right?
In fact, the answers we frequently hear could be summarized like this: “To make bad behaviour stop and teach immediate obedience.”
Here’s a practical illustration of how it might look when a parent has immediate behaviour management in mind:
- “Johnny, that’s not OK. If you keep whining you’ll have to go to your room.”
- “Hannah, I told you it’s time to clean up! If you don’t put those markers and paper away right now, you will lose them!”
- “Listen you two, that’s enough! If you can’t stop bickering there’s no TV tonight!”
Sound familiar? This might even be the way you were parented! While this sort of intervention may modify a child’s behaviour in the short run, it does not consider the bigger picture. In fact, misbehaviour is a golden opportunity. It’s the perfect chance for your child to grow wisdom and learn they are called and capable of making good choices.
Embrace a Different Vision for Discipline
Hebrews 12:10-11 gives you a different vision for the discipline of your kids: “…[Discipline] produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Do you catch this? God’s discipline is not intended to have immediate results. In fact, the results are not even about “right” behaviour but about building the belief that brings God’s righteousness and peace.
Imagine how things might be different with your children if, every time you disciplined them, your goal was to guide them towards God’s righteousness and peace.
Shift from Managing Behaviour to Mentoring Belief
Shifting away from simply managing behaviour means letting go of the goal for a quick fix or immediate obedience. It means taking on the role of a coach, a discipler of your kids. You become aware of God’s grace and purposes, while you guide your struggling child to think more wisely. But it also means not letting your child off the hook when it seems too hard or overwhelming.
So practically, how does this look? Here’s how it might unfold if you discipline with a view of God’s grace and purposes:
- “Johnny, you are persistent and honest with me about what you want. These are strengths that God is building in you. We can talk about it more when you can speak to me more respectfully. Do you want to take a break for a couple of minutes and then try again, or are you ready now?”
- “Hannah, I love that God gave you a desire to be creative and bless others with your art. But it’s important to be responsible with those art abilities. You can clean up the markers and paper right now, or I can put them in a time out for a few days. Let me know what you decide when I come back in a couple of minutes.”
- “Hey kids, you’re having a tough time, but God has so much love and mercy for you right now! You know the rule: stuff that distracts you from solving this will be on hold until you reconcile. You’re learning, but if you need a little help, let me know.”
Strengthen Your Own Heart
Thoughtful, sincere words like this spring from a changed heart (Matthew 12:34b). If they don’t, your kids will know. They are experts at recognizing manipulation and insincerity.
How do you do this? Even though your child is misbehaving (sinning!), embrace the belief that your child is a gift, a miracle, created in God’s image, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139).
It’s hard to remember this truth when your children misbehave! But as you learn to address discipline with grace and wisdom, with a vision for your kids’ lives, their hearts are more inclined to repent and they are more likely to grow into a love for God’s righteousness and peace.
If you’re struggling to focus on God’s grace and purposes in the heat of the moment, it’s time to get back to your parenting foundation. This article gives practical ideas to help you become a more emotionally safe parent. It includes a list of key phrases you can practice when you’re not in the heat of the moment so you will remember them when inevitable conflict comes.
Your work as a parent is not about learning the right “scripts” or consequences to address misbehaviour. It’s about relentlessly nurturing a vision for God’s purposes in your children, believing that even when your kids misbehave you have opportunities to point them to God.