Have you ever wondered if you are disciplining your children effectively? Maybe you’ve asked yourself, “Am I being too strict? Too lenient? Am I overreacting to my child’s behavior? How can I put a stop to their squabbling?” Discipline is never an easy part of parenting.
Christian parenting grows out of the idea that your home is the first place that your children will experience the gospel. Early on in the Bible, God establishes a pattern for parenting that is rooted in the story of his grace, and this rhythm echoes through the scripture. In Deuteronomy 6:20-25, God instructs his people by saying,
In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
The pattern is clear—God’s children were in trouble, and God, as the true and greatest parent, rescued them, and God called them to obey, as a response to his love. This pattern can shape our parenting as well, but how can we echo this rhythm? What might this look like?
Parents need to establish and communicate clear boundaries for their children. In our home, for example, we limit the amount of screen-time that our kids may have in a day. We will usually give one warning if we notice one of our children pushing that limit. But if, after they have heard the warning, they ignore the rule, we intervene immediately. It is usually a mistake to offer repeated empty threats, or to brush off the disobedience of our children. It is vital for children to know that their parents love them enough to set—and enforce—limits to deal with their sins. It is not gracious to ignore the offense or rescue our children from the consequences of their behavior. It is an important principle that the consequence must fit the crime and we are called to follow God’s instruction to “...render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another…” (Zechariah 7:9). Therefore, at our house, misusing screen time will mean that mom takes the Kindle away for a few days. Leaving the backyard a mess means that dad will clean up the yard—but the toys will be gone until the guilty party has shown responsibility for the yard by weeding the flower beds. This approach to discipline establishes a connection between the action and the consequence, demonstrating the principle that sin can lead to destructive consequences for us.
While it can be tempting to pour out anger on our kids (and I must admit to this mistake), discipline shouldn’t be vindictive. The gospel rhythm models both confession of sin and our assurance of salvation. After we explain what the consequences will be for our children’s actions, we should ask why they were given the consequence in the first place. This invites the child to be honest about their failures so that they can experience our words of assurance. It’s so vital that we verbalize at least two things at this point.
First, children need to hear the words, ‘I forgive you,’ from our mouths. This begins to shape an early experience of what it means to be forgiven.
Second, they need to be assured that we still love them. Children desperately need to know that our love for them is not based on their performance or obedience. The assurance of a parent’s love affords a great peace, even at a very young age.
When I finish disciplining my children, I will often ask them, “do you know why I have to discipline you?” The answer will vary in a given situation, but the idea is the same. Just as God wanted his children to thrive in the Promised Land, I too, want my children to flourish. Not only do I want to keep them physically safe, but I also want them to learn the skills that they will need to do well in their lives. I want them to learn to interact well with others, to be responsible for their actions, to demonstrate love, and to care for others. So, even as I correct them, I also call them to something better, which is grounded in the assurance of my love for them that I have already given them.
This pattern of discipline echoes the gospel rhythm of grace. Your children will experience the heartbeat of the gospel when you effectively discipline them, calling them to confess their mistakes and leading them to obedience grounded in the assurance of your love. Your home then becomes a place where God’s grace is not only taught, but echoed and lived!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster