“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph.6:4). Ephesians 6:4 sums up so much of what parenting is all about, including communication and correction. When it comes to correcting our children, it seems that too many of us are correction-heavy and communication-light.
Now, when I say that we are communication-light, I do not mean to say that we communicate too little. But I mean to say that we communicate inappropriately. The reality is this: we as parents are always communicating with our children. The question is not whether we’re communicating but what we are communicating.
Therefore, both good communication and biblical correction are crucial aspects of discipline that have three primary stages of discipline. It is important to note that these three stages can overlap at different times and in different ways depending on the individual family dynamics. Today we will look at the first stage.
Discipline Stage of Child Rearing
The discipline stage is what some have termed the give me your attention stage. It is most crucial in the first 5-8 years of childhood. Having corrupt hearts, we are born as me-centered sinners. The discipline stage is when parents should use communication and correction to say “give me your attention,” and it should begin very early. Take, for example, the changing-table situation in which an infant is demonstrating anger. While it is not appropriate that you spank an infant, simply placing a gentle but firm hand on their chest or legs accompanied by a firm but gentle voice can do wonders. Regular spankings of a child may be used as soon as the child is able to understand a simple command and demonstrate defiance to that command.
1) Positive in nature : Defining discipline can be difficult because many consider it to be negative and confuse discipline with punishment or retribution. Biblical discipline, however, is always positive even when a spanking is involved. God’s word tells us this plainly:
Proverbs 3:12-13—“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reprove, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
Proverbs 23:13-14—“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14 If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul form Sheol.”
Hebrew 12:7-11—“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 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.”
2) Love-oriented: Discipline must be administered out of love rather than sinful anger. If we are angry about our children’s disobedience, then we are likely disciplining out of retribution rather than reconciliation. The goal of discipline is to reconcile children to God and to others. Therefore, we should be grieved by our child’s disobedience rather than angered.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6—“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”
1 Corinthians 5:1-2—“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3) Heart-oriented: Discipline must be administered out of a concern for our child’s heart and not simply his behavior. We must focus our attention on “Why?” a child did what he did and not simply on “What?” he did. Dealing only with behavior can quickly turn children into hypocrites, who either become manipulators or fearful of punishment rather than God.
Matthew 15:19—“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
4) Instruction-oriented: Discipline must be saturated with instruction in righteousness and the gospel of Christ. This is where communication plays a crucial role.
Ephesians 6:4—“Fathers, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Kinds of Discipline
1) Formative instruction (offense): This kind of discipline is primarily preventative in nature and can be both formal (Scripture, catechisms, prayers, Christian literature) and informal (using teachable moments throughout the day). This is the foundation of everything that a Christian parent does. Just as in sports, we want to spend more time on offense than defense in our parenting. For example, the best way to deal with a child who runs away from you when you call them at the grocery store is by practicing this at home through formative discipline.
Proverbs 1:8-9—“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, 9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”
Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
2) Corrective discipline (defense): This kind of discipline is primarily reactive in nature and should be used frequently in the discipline stage when formative instruction has been ignored. Sometimes only a verbal reproof is needed, such as when: the child has not been informed of the parent’s standard; or the child is not characterized by the sin in which he is caught. In many cases, however, a spanking should be given. Formative instruction should always precede and follow a spanking, though it should be brief because neither the child nor the parent is in their best form.
Proverb 22:15—“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Pr. 22:15).
Proverbs 29:15—“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”
Steps in Corrective Discipline
1) Examine your motives: Ask yourself a series of questions such as the following.
–Am I doing this because my will has been violated or God’s will has been violated?
–Am I doing this because my child has sinned against God or because his behavior has caused me some personal discomfort, embarrassment, or trouble?
–Am I doing this out of love and kindness? (beware of unkind comments like, “I can’t believe you are so inconsiderate,” and replace them with more positive comments like, “Do you think it is kind or rude for you to . . . ?)
2) Choose the right time and place: Whatever you do, don’t embarrass your child because this shifts the focus to humiliation rather than repentance. While discipline should be swift, it should also be prudent. Therefore, do not spank your child in public or even in front of his siblings.
3) Choose the right words, not substitutes: In describing your child’s disobedience, avoid words such as mean, stupid, or telling a story and replace them with the biblical words unkind, unwise, and lying.
4) Choose the right tone of voice: Do not scold your child and demean him, but be self-controlled and respectful toward him. Remember the Golden Rule:
Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
5) Bring Scripture to bear: Give them God’s standard and show them how they have fallen short of that standard. Show them that only Jesus can meet this standard and that we must turn from our sin and trust in Him as our only help for obeying God.
6) Administer the spanking: Give 1-5 swats on the bottom or upper thigh (the number will depend on their age and the nature of the disobedience, and make sure you tell your child how many swats they will be receiving). The spanking should be significant enough to inflict pain but should be controlled (as should dad or mom’s temper). After the spanking, comfort your child and tell them that you forgive them and that forgiveness from God is possible through faith in Jesus. Tell them that Jesus died for this kind of disobedience. Whenever possible, pray with your child after the spanking is complete.
7) Be prepared to suggest a biblical solution: Help the child work through what a biblical response would have been and have the child follow through with it. If they have sinned against someone, have them go to that person, apologize to them, and make restitution.
Obviously, there are many variables when it comes to corrective discipline, but prayerfully what we I have written here will be of help to parents as they strive to raise their children to know Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria,