Why do we bother disciplining our kids at all? Our goal is to correct bad behavior, right? Sort of, but it’s more about making our kids better people with stronger character. We’re trying to instill our values in our kids by drawing lines they can’t cross…or else.
Or…because it’s wildly embarrassing to have “that” kid at Target.
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For the Bible Tells Me So
There’s another really important reason to discipline your kids. The Bible says so. Let’s do a once-over on this. I’m including comments to help you do a deeper dive. Don’t be in too big a hurry that you miss a little Bible study here! (NASB unless otherwise indicated)
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. Hebrews 12:11 (ESV)
This verse has been a recurring theme in our home. The point to make with kids is that discipline is never pleasant when it’s happening–it’s not supposed to be. We change under duress! But look at the promise at the end. Peace and righteousness for the one who received the discipline. By the way, this verse isn’t specific to children, so be encouraged by it when you are going through a season of reproof from the Lord. In related news…
My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:11-12
We take our parenting cues from God, people. He corrects us because he loves us, and we correct our kids for the same reason. And when we do it out of the love God has for us, all the better.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid. Proverbs 12:11
You may not say “stupid” in your house, but Solomon dropped the “S” bomb! This verse is direct and to the point. And easy to memorize.
He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. Proverbs 13:24
Get comfortable, and stay with me. Here’s one specific to parenting that we’ve all probably heard. (You’ll notice it does not say, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”) The takeaway is that discipline is love. Your kids will not see it this way until they are grown, so take heart that the Lord sees you loving your kids in disciplining them, and He is pleased. That’s how He loves us, too. (For extra credit, go check out the very beginning of this chapter in Proverbs.)
Because this verse is often brandished in defense of overly harsh discipline, let’s take a minute. Word studies in this verse are hugely helpful. The word “withholds” (“spares” in other translations) means just what it looks like–refrains, holds back, and most interestingly, keeps for oneself. This is the exact same word used in Genesis when God tells Abraham not to kill Isaac because he has proven his faith by not withholding his son.
Another place the word pops up is in Ezra 9, where the prophet says, “After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and out great guilt, sine You our God have requited us less than out iniquities deserve…” (Ezra 9:13) In other words, God showed mercy in holding back against His wayward people. In Psalm 19:13, David asks God to “keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins.” In all, the word appears 34 times, but these examples are enough to show you that the word so often means holding back something that is for the good of the one who would receive it.
So, what about “rod?” It’s like a staff or a shepherd’s crook. It can also mean things like branch and scepter. (It usually means “tribe”, but we’ll leave that for now.) And it appears 191 times in the Old Testament! Sometimes, the word is used to describe a weapon, like the club Moses used to kill the Egyptian. But other times, it represents authority and wise discipline (Job 37:13, Psalm 45:6). Remember Psalm 23, where it says, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”? That’s the same word for rod. It doesn’t mean overly harsh punishment or dominating with fear to control a child. Sometimes, it’s a physical object (Proverbs 23:13), but not always.
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
You’re not crazy. It’s another rod verse. This one is clear that kids are, by nature, foolish. They aren’t going to outgrow it on their own! Our job is to discipline them and move them from foolishness to wisdom. That, my friends, is woven into the fabric of the book of Proverbs!
There are lots more, and what a great way to spend your quiet time if you need an idea. But for now, let’s move on. Here are some ideas of ways you can discipline (or think about discipline) that actually build character.
1. Ungrounding: Earning Your Way out of Being Grounded
If you’re on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen this little jim dandy:
I tried to find where it originated, but this is one of those things that is so entrenched in Pinterest, you can never find the original. There are other versions with more of an eye toward character-building. And there are some that cost points, but I don’t love that. Personally, I think in most cases, we want to keep the emphasis on doing good things to earn your way out of the grounding, and get dinged for the bad stuff separately.
This idea is just asking to be catered to a Christian household, don’t you think? So I created two free printables for you. One is for younger kids, and the other is for older kids. There are instructions and suggestions on the sheets. You can get those here:
2. A Riff on The “Ungrounding” Idea
We’ve had a particular character issue with our son, so I tried “ungrounding” him, with a twist. He lost his phone privileges (which, this time, was related to the issue) until he earned a certain number of points. At the end of the day, I gave him up to 10 points based on how he did with that character issue. If he got through the day strong in this area, he got all 10 points. On a day that was pretty good, but not perfect, it could have been 8 or 9. If he’d argued or whined about his score, I’d deduct points. Since it was the first time, the goal was just 20 points. We told him that future goals will be higher, and it could go as high as 100. Or more. It worked great, and I like this a lot.
The purpose is to bring his attention to the character issue. Just scolding him and reminding him isn’t getting us anywhere. This puts ownership in his hands to be mindful of the issue and make choices based on his desire to change it. And he has to to accept our decision at the end of the day. He’s learning to respect authority and take ownership for his own actions instead of being indignant for not getting what he wants.
3. The Favor Card
As a stay-at-home mom, I needed to establish early with the kids that I’m not their personal assistant and errand runner. (An ongoing challenge, by the way!) When they were in elementary school, I came up with The Favor Card. If they called me from school to bring them something, I decided if I was going to do it or not.
- Things that did not make the cut: lunch, coat, homework.
- Things that did make the cut: iPad (school-issued, and the teachers use them in class), major projects, change of clothes for band event, permission slip/check if it was the last day.
But if I had to drop what I was doing to do them a favor, guess what. They owed me the same. So, I would arrive at the school with whatever they needed and this:
I would hand over their thing after they signed this card. And make no mistake, I cashed those in. I’d cross out one signature whenever they had paid up. A favorite one for boy-child was to buy two or three rotisserie chickens and have him dismantle them so I’d have a nice big bag of shredded chicken for a recipe that night, or for the freezer.
Occasionally, I still have to use it for my middle schooler. But not often, my friends. I think it has been twice this whole school year. Guess I have to dismantle my own chickens.
4. Make It Right, Kiddo
This isn’t earth-shatteringly new, but it gets abandoned in the pace of our lives. When your child messes up, what should he do to make it right? Does there need to be a real apology (teachable moment alert!)? Do they need to do some work to fix it (like mopping the floor because they threw juice in a tantrum)?
Do they need to pay to replace or pay for something? Don’t swoop in and rescue on this one. Even if all they have is birthday money, they’re on the hook. If they created the problem, they have to use their own resources to address it.
Quick story. Sarah was petsitting and locked herself and the dog out of the house. The key was inside, and the bottom twisty lock on the back door was in the “lock” position. Oops. We had no choice but to call a locksmith, which wasn’t cheap. When the owners came back, they wanted to reimburse us for it, realizing that it might cost Sarah more than she was earning on that job. I assured them that I was helping her with the cost on it, but I wanted her to be responsible for her own mistake. It was a parenting thing. [Note: Yes, I know! I just told you not to bail your kid out, and I helped her on this one! In this case, I didn’t want the mistake to put her in the red on a week-long job. As it was, her portion was most of what she took all week to earn, so…point made.]
5. A Word of Freedom from Our Jewish Friends
The way we always phrased it was, “Fair isn’t always the same.” In other words, our two kids are different people, so we don’t always make identical decisions in their discipline. That’s okay. Don’t believe me? Read the Bible! God doesn’t deal with all of His people the same, no matter how wonderful or terrible they were.
When you know your kids’ strengths, weaknesses, temptations, tendencies, wisdom, and so on, you discipline accordingly. What works for Kid A probably won’t work for Kid B, so don’t lock yourself in. If one kid is indignant because of this, you can explain that you are parenting each child out of your personal knowledge of each one. It’s a great lesson in–Don’t worry about what someone else is doing; focus on yourself.
Example: “You check my phone every single day, and you never check Maddie’s phone. That’s not fair!” “Maddie has proven over time that she is trustworthy in this area. I still check occasionally, but this isn’t an area she needs to prove anymore. You’ve had past issues with being online, so I’m the guard rails until you are strong enough to police yourself. Then I’ll back off.”
Here’s a great post about Jewish parenting that addresses this idea, complete with Old Testament examples. Scroll down to “Match the Treatment to the Individual Child” if you’re strapped for time:
6. So, You Want More Privileges, Do You?
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10 (NIV)
How often have you heard this one? “But, but, but if you’ll let me ____, I can show you that I’ll obey the rules!” It’s human nature to want what we want, but that’s not the biblical model. Be sure you teach your kids that they need to be good stewards of what they have (five toys, one hour of tech time, their own phone, borrowing your car) before they are given more.
If they get in trouble and lose a privilege, they’ll even try to talk you into giving it back with assurances that they’ll do better. Well, if you had the ability to do better and didn’t, what does that tell me?
Privileges are earned, all along the spectrum. Earning always comes first. It’s a learning process, and it works.
Memorize that there verse, and use it regularly!
7. If You’ve Got Ten or Fifteen Bucks
This is for younger kids, although you can take the concept and cater it to your teen. Doorposts.com is a wonderful ministry dedicated to biblical discipline and discipleship. My favorite product of theirs is the If-Then Chart. It’s a chart of 10 things you’d discipline your child for (lying, disobedience, etc.) with a Bible verse about why it’s a problem, another verse pointing to the Gospel (how cool is that?), and a place to write in the consequence. You can get it laminated, so it’s a cinch to change. And it’s only $6.50. If you can find a better tool for that money, I want to know about it! Here’s a partial look:
Another great resource is a book that has been around for a while, Creative Correction by Lisa Whelchel. I remember it being popular with my friends when we were all fairly new parents. It’s a Focus on the Family publication, and it has tons of ideas for discipline. You will not agree with every single thing in the book. That’s okay. There’s plenty of material, and you’re going to find a lot you can use. For $15.
We’re playing the long game with character-building. It’s not easy, progress isn’t consistent, and it’s definitely not a win-only proposition. The more you can cater discipline to building the character the “infraction” revealed to be lacking, the better. Sure, you can just do time-outs every time or take away the same toy/privilege every time, but you’re not going to get the same results as customizing your discipline. It’s a little more work, but it’s going to get your kid(s) there faster.
If you haven’t already, don’t forget to scroll back up to sign up for your Ungrounding Charts. They’re my favorite price: free!