Summary: Understanding how to discipline a child requires a lot of wisdom, sometimes more than you feel like you possess. Discover how to discipline with greater wisdom.
Discipline Is Challenging to Navigate
Understanding how to discipline a child requires a lot of wisdom, sometimes more than you feel like you possess. If you are too harsh, you could end up intimidating your children emotionally and thus hijacking their ability to learn through the discipline. But on the other hand, if you are too lenient, you may risk removing the guardrails that provide boundaries and protection for your children in the present and down the road.
You may also be intimidated by the idea that your children’s view of their heavenly Father is directly influenced by their biological father; how you discipline them has the power to either drive them away from or closer to God. A harsh biological father can generate imagery of a harsh heavenly Father—even though this is uncharacteristic of God. On the other hand, a compassionate biological father can draw attention to the compassion and love of the heavenly Father. Regardless, you steward something so special when you are given children, and stewardship requires the use of discipline. And your interactions with your children in the heat of this discipline need to reflect the character and person of Christ.
As the apostle Paul reminds families in the Ephesian church, there is a promise attached to obeying and honoring your father and mother: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” As Paul invites attention to the Law given on Mt. Sinai, he is reminding us of God’s intended promises for children who learn how to honor and obey their parents in the Lord. This is important not only for children to remember but for parents to understand. Children must “learn” (the operative word) to honor and obey God, and it is not a natural instinct.
Disobedience and dishonor come naturally; therefore, we must learn to honor and obey all authority in life (work and government included). And we learn to do this first in our home. In fact, how we honor and obey our parents will be reflected in how we honor and obey others in life. Generally, those who have not learned to do so at home may be challenged throughout their lives when faced with boundaries in other areas. Learned discipline as a child leads to better self-discipline in the future. And it all begins at home, with you as the father. It all starts with parents who wisely and lovingly establish boundaries with their children and, when necessary, help them stay within those boundaries through discipline. Teach your children to honor and obey within limits set by you at different stages of their lives; this has a lifelong impact.
The need for discipline that teaches honor and obedience is balanced by Paul’s admonition to fathers, “Do not provoke your children to anger.” In other words, be careful not to annoy and irritate your child unduly. The word provoke means to be overly “rough.” There are many things we can do to provoke children when disciplining them. Here are a few:
1) Perpetual fault finding
2) Excessive helicopter parenting
3) Setting unrealistic expectations
4) Playing favorites when disciplining
5) Inconsistency in applying discipline
6) Excessive punishment
Remember, the goal is honor and obedience. Honor means “to hold in high regard.” And obedience means “to teach submission to authority.” But the key to remember is that Paul teaches us that this should be done “in the Lord” and “of the Lord.” Honor and obedience in the home should reflect the honor and obedience that God wants of all His children—including us fathers as God’s children ourselves.
Five Principles to Discipline Wisely
One | Set boundaries
First, set clear limits for your child. Being disciplined for crossing a border that a child was not clear on is unfair to them. And your child is going to be hypersensitive to this unfair lack of clarity. Make sure your boundaries are communicated, clear, consistent, and not oppressive.
Two | Match discipline to the infraction
Second, make sure when discipline is necessary it matches the extent of the offense. Nothing is more irritating to a child than the perception that their discipline is unbalanced. Kids have a keen sense of fairness, and if the punishment exceeds the impact of the infraction, they will fixate on the irrationality of the sentence, rather than the reason for the punishment.
Three | Make it age and child appropriate
Third, discipline should be age and child appropriate. If it’s not, you run the risk of damaging their sense of dignity and souring their spirit. Even in discipline, you should respect and guard and even elevate their personhood. Since different kids have different wiring, you may also want to think through what discipline will be most meaningful to them.
Four | Deliver it when calm