Family, Marriage, Counsel
Parenting and the Discipline Continuum
by Ed Vasicek
September makes us think of school, school of kids, and kids of parenting. What a big subject that is! How we rear our children is a highly personal matter integrating our individual tastes, personalities, and philosophies of life. This leads us in different directions, even within the Bible believing community. One controversial area is the matter of discipline (including levels of firmness). The Bible encourages us to rear our children in the "discipline and nurture of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4, NASB).
There are many verses in Scripture about discipline in the sense of punishment for wrong, the most famous of which is Proverbs 13:24, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." But child rearing is much more involved than mere instances of correction. Proper child rearing is about direction and offering security through firmness. It is about teaching respect for authority without stifling and frustrating a child. Just as the latter part of Ephesians 6:4 is neglected by many parents, so the first portion of the verse is neglected by perhaps as many, "Parents, do not exasperate your children." Parents who are too permissive produce brat-like children who are crying out for (but not receiving) boundaries. Parents who are too strict produce excessively quiet, frustrated, internalizing, and non-social children. Both extremes keep the psychiatrist's couch full.
Here is Vasicek advice on child rearing. It is far from infallible and not suited for all situations, but neither is it extreme or unusual. It is NOT one size fits all, but I would like to suggest it as a starting point for typical situations. Some special needs children, for example, do not connect the "cause and effect" concept; it seems improper to hold them accountable for that which they cannot control. So my advice applies to typical situations only.
First of all parents, not children, need to lead the household. This changes a bit as the kids mature, but should always be the bottom line. Young children (18 months to age 7) do not need to be given explanations as to why to obey (other than it is right to do so), but should be taught to obey simply because mom or dad say so. "Why? Because I told you to and I am your dad" is plenty of reason. "You don't have to want to put away your toys, you just have to do it" is another good line. This approach lays a good foundation. If you try to direct your young children on the basis of relationship, reason or "niceness," you will be unable to progressively give your children freedom as they age. Younger children need to be told, not asked. If parents mess up here then the rest of the course will be off center. Don't demand too much from your child (the mistake parents who frustrate make), but make sure what you do demand is followed through to completion. Let your kids enjoy being kids, let them enjoy having fun. When they grow up, they'll have plenty of chores and responsibilities. Everything does NOT need to have a serious or educational purpose. Ten year olds do not need to worry about saving up for college. Kids are supposed to have lots of fun. Let them. But make sure they learn to obey.
Discipline children aggressively between the ages of 2 and 3. If you spank or use a time out chair, do so ONLY for willful disobedience, not accidents or general childish irresponsibility (e.g., kids have to be made to clean up after their messes-supervise them and make it happen, do not tell them to do it later and then get angry when they fudge out of it, etc.). Do not punish too harshly, but fit the punishment to the infraction. Do not offer a strict punishment and then fail to carry it out-think first. If uncontrolled anger is a problem with you, or if you sense a tendency to be abusive, let your mate do the disciplining; it is obviously better not to spank at all than to abuse a child. (Note: if you have a problem this way, seek professional help).
Even though in most instances I recommend spanking, one punishment that is absolutely unwise for younger children is grounding. Whatever punishment you use should be swift so that a lesson is learned. Grounded children often forget why they were punished and parents suffer more than the kids do. Grounding may be useful for teens, but not for younger kids. Additionally, you should not have to shout at your kids. A shouting parent not only behaves in a low-classed manner, but evidences failure in discipline.
I do not recommend equating their disobedience with sins against God (even though such may be the case), but it is good to teach the general principle of obedience as something God wants. Reasoning should be reserved for older children, especially junior high kids and up. I cannot emphasize how important it is to be firm (but not mean). You do no one a service by letting your child manipulate you. KIDS CRAVE FIRM (BUT REASONABLE) PARENTS. They may act otherwise, say things like, "You don't really love me" or, "I don't like you." Take it with a grain of salt. They want the security of firm but reasonable boundaries (though they may claim your boundaries are unreasonable). This is also true with teens, especially with setting an age for dating.
If you are firm with your young children, you can begin to loosen up as they grow older. Parents who release too many decisions to their young children have no more LEGITIMATE freedom to grant their teens. The only new freedom left is the freedom to do wrong, a freedom none of us need. As children age, parents should begin to explain the reason for prohibitions, etc., but not necessarily to the child's satisfaction. Compromising should increase as children age. PARENTS DO GENERALLY KNOW MORE THAN THEIR KIDS DO, THOUGH THE KIDS MAY NOT BELIEVE THAT SUCH IS THE CASE. DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS CONVINCE YOU OTHERWISE.
As children grow into junior and senior high age, a transition begins to take place. Whereas young children are to be controlled by 90% parental authority and 10% choice or reason, tenth graders (roughly) approach the 50% mark. By the time kids leave high school, they become the major decision makers in matters regarding their lives; mom and dad still have a good deal of influence, but that influence is based more upon relationship than authority.
As long as children live at home, they must abide by house rules. And as long as children receive financial support from parents, they ought to agree to some broad principles of conduct. When parents invest in their children financially, with that investment comes a right to at least a degree of influence (which is why it is not good for married couples to take money from their parents).
In summary, good parenting begins with the unapologetic assertion of authority and ends with influence based upon the relationship that was built (if indeed it was). But remember, if you are not comfortable asserting your authority with the little ones, your children will end up ruling your household-and you will have no legitimate freedom to offer them as they age. All are losers when parents are not comfortable with their own authority.
Reprinted from the September 2001 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA