What’s the greatest gift you can give a child? If your answer is love, I agree. Children need to know they are loved, especially by their heavenly Father. It breaks my heart to think of the vast number of kids who don’t get smooched to pieces when it’s bedtime but fall asleep covered with fear instead.
But what does it mean to love a child? Does it include smothering them with all the latest and greatest technology? Does it require bending over backwards to make all their dreams come true?
There is undoubtedly an element of sacrifice to unconditional love—Jesus made that clear. A good definition would also include elements of provision and protection, but when it comes to loving a child, we can’t leave out discipline.
If we picture the various aspects of love as essential recipe ingredients, we can understand how they’re all necessary. Leaving out just one minor ingredient when cooking up your favorite culinary delight could result in catastrophe (and the need for takeout). Likewise, loving a child apart from discipline is going to be incomplete.
Here’s the problem: every natural inclination of a child is self-centered. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”From the moment we’re born, it’s all about me, me, me. That’s why the word “mine” is often one of the first words a child learns to say and why children are quick to throw temper tantrums over the color of a sippy cup or the shape of their sandwich.
Go ahead, try to negotiate with a two-year-old—it won’t work. A child’s self-centered heart has no room for compromise. Your best bet is distraction. Hey, I’ll give you a cookie! Come on, get in the car. Not that I know from experience. (Okay, maybe I know from experience.)
If left to their own dispositions, children will not naturally grow up to be caring, considerate, others-focused adults who love the Lord with all their hearts. That occurs as the result of discipline, God’s grace, and prayer. On his own, a child will grow up to be an egotistical, self-serving, entitled adult who can’t see beyond himself. And can you imagine a world filled with people like that? Oh wait, maybe we can.
Appropriate Discipline Reveals God the Father
It’s not “mean” to discipline your child when they misbehave; it’s life-altering, and it matters.Discipline is character training. If a child is never required to obey their parents, how will they learn to obey God? They won’t, apart from miraculous intervention. Their self-centered entitlement will prevail, and they’ll see God as something only pushovers adhere to.
Correcting inappropriate behavior is not about drawing hard and fast lines to watch our kids trip up; instead, it’s always about leading them to God.Mommy is saying no because God says no.
If God disciplines His sons and daughters because He loves them, yet we don’t discipline our children, what does that teach our kids? Honestly, I’m afraid to answer. But one thing is for sure: it certainly doesn’t mimic the Lord.
God is not mean. God is love, and, in His goodness, He corrects wrong behavior. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” God doesn’t chastise us to get back at us, but He disciplines us to keep us on a path that will give us the best life possible—a life lived in fellowship with Him. And don’t we want the same for our kids?
We discipline for one main reason: to help our kids draw closer to Christ.
Appropriate Discipline Earns a Child’s Respect
Parenting is a hard job. There is no clocking out. We don’t get to decide, “Hey, I’m tired of this job. I think I’ll look for a new one.” There aren’t even sick days for crying out loud. It’s all day, every day, and overtime on holidays, nights, and weekends. So, I get it; I’m tired too. But exhaustion is not a biblically-mandated excuse for ignoring our parental responsibilities.
Setting boundaries and administering consequences when our kids deliberately cross those boundaries stirs respect in our children’s hearts. Hebrews 12:9 says, “Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.”
But when we lack consistency, turn our head at indiscretions, and don’t follow through with the appropriate reparations, our children may be relieved in the moment, but with time, their respect for us will wane because we didn’t do what we said.
Listen, I can hug and kiss my kids until they’re blue in the face, but it won’t make them respectful and God-fearing. The only avenue for that is modeling obedience to God in my own life, teaching it to my kids, and requiring obedience of them until they take ownership of it themselves.
Appropriate Discipline is Nothing New
Fresh off Egyptian soil with a whole new world in front of them, God gave Israel ten specific instructions we refer to as the Ten Commandments. Out of all the things God could have commanded at that moment, the fifth commandment says this, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12).
If God considered honor and obedience toward parents significant enough to talk about it from the top of Mount Sinai, then we better believe it’s essential. God was so serious about this command that just one chapter later, God added that striking or cursing a parent could result in death for a child (Ex. 21:15, 17). Yikes!
Fast forward to the apostle Paul’s day, and the command doesn’t change. Ephesians 6:1–3 says this, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (This, by the way, is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
Neither the command nor the promise has changed. So how do children learn to honor their parents? First, a parent must require it.
Appropriate Discipline Leads to Blessing
Requiring obedience is not restrictive; it’s freeing. A well-disciplined child knows their parent loves them enough to correct them when they do wrong. Though our kids probably won’t line up in thankfulness for today’s reproof, they will be grateful for it later. Following through with discipline for disobedient behavior may be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, but it will lead to blessing for your child.
If we want our kids to be happy (and I know you do), requiring obedience is the path. Think about it this way: it’s a genuine act of kindness to appropriately discipline our children. “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Prov. 6:23).
Loving our kids to the best of our ability isn’t about giving them everything they want, but about leading them to the only one who is everything they need—Jesus.
I don’t discipline my kids when they misbehave because it’s fun or easy or because I enjoy watching them squirm. Sometimes it breaks me, but I do it because I love them, and I long for them to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1) and recipients of His blessing.
There is plenty of time to be friends with your child, but if that’s what’s important to you, consider this: a true friend will always point their best friend toward God because God is always what’s best.
When it comes to our kids, that’s going to require discipline.