What do you think of when you hear the word “discipline”? If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking of time-outs, spankings, and other such methods of punishment. Fortunately, I am not here to debate controversial parenting topics today, but rather to consider a broader definition of the word “discipline” and what it means for us in our parenting.
As I searched the definition of “discipline,” it became apparent that our English word has long had strong associations with the concept of punishment. The word itself, however, originates from the same roots as “disciple,” and the Latin word (disciplina) has nothing to do with punishment—it means “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge.” Disciplining our children does involve punishment at times, but I think the ultimate purpose is not to mete out justice, but to teach or train, as Jesus did with his followers. It took a bit of scrolling through an online dictionary, but I finally found one definition that fits with this idea:
“Discipline: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”
In this sense, “discipline” not only encompasses teaching our children to be kind and obedient, but also encouraging them to develop positive habits, good attitudes, diligence, and self-control. Discipline does not end once a child quits misbehaving. Its ultimate goal is not to result in a well-mannered child, but a responsible adult.
Currently, I’m still at work on the daily grind of teaching my “terrible twos” little boy not to kick or bite or yell “NO!” at every instruction. No doubt there’s a need for correction there. My girls, however, are beyond that particular stage (mostly), so it can be tempting to view my duty to them as different or less significant. Yet as I consider all the attributes and attitudes that I want them to have by the time they reach adulthood, I begin to realize how important it is to discipline (teach, train) my children even when they are not necessarily disobeying.
Let’s be honest, though: discipline is hard. It requires hard work, patience, self-control, and consistency…not only because those things are required in the training of children, but because one of most important ways in which we teach our children is by modeling the behavior we want them to develop. In other words, disciplining our children starts with us being willing to discipline ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but I am well aware of certain areas of my life that lack discipline. One of these is probably the area of providing loving, consistent correction to my children. At times I struggle with the “loving” part…I can tend to yell or punish out of selfishness or anger. But I think I struggle more with the “consistent” part. Here are a few of the reasons why:
1) It seems easier to take the brunt of the problem myself. Little one dumped blocks all over the floor again? It’ll take three times as long and probably a good deal of whining to get him to pick them up himself, so…I’ll just do it. Daughter was careless and broke one of her toys? I should probably encourage her to save up to buy a new one, but I know she’ll complain, so…I’ll just do it. Children asking to “help” around the kitchen? Their “help” will only prolong the chore and achieve less satisfactory results, so…I’ll just do it.
The problem in all these scenarios is probably fairly obvious when it’s written out like that, but we all do it, right??
2) I feel like I’m being too “mean.” In the broken toy scenario, it seems “mean” for me to require my daughter to buy the replacement herself when it’s really not that expensive. It seems “mean” to require them to put the finishing touches on their chores when they diligently got them mostly done and when (as my daughter often says) they “worked so hard!!”
Yet, I want them to learn how to take care of their possessions, how to manage money, and how to do a job thoroughly…How is any of that “mean”?
When I am faced with scenarios like these, I often think about the mercy and kindness of God, and I want to model that for my children. But then there are verses like Hebrews 12:6, which says that “the Lord disciplines the one He loves.” This tells me that, while there are times when I can show love to my children through mercy or kindness, I can also show love through discipline! It may not feel very loving to the child at the time, but the goal is to build good habits and prevent greater pain down the road.
3) I don’t feel like dealing with it. I thought about saying “I’m lazy” here, but honestly, oftentimes I am just plain exhausted. And yet, when I look at how I often handle things—doing everything myself—it’s not hard to figure out where that exhaustion originated!
The reality is, I may be saving myself the emotional stress of having to help them work through their immaturity and sinfulness and raw emotion, but it is only a temporary solution. I will have just as much work to do next time (actually more, because I have now created an expectation of how these scenarios play out!), and my children have not been encouraged to grow at all.
As I said above, I still have a long way to go in learning to correct my children with more patience and consistency. But as I’ve been putting more effort into this area in recent days, I’ve already begun to see some growth in my children. They are worth it!
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11
Photo Credit: All images by Jessica Cole.