The Keys to Loving and Disciplining Children Well

It seems almost ironic in an age of ever-increasing communications advancement, that depression and suicide among children are becoming almost common.  In the introduction to his book, The Unhappy Child, Dr. Kenneth Condrell states,

“Today more people are experiencing depression earlier in life than in any previous decade.  Studies also show that depression in children and adolescents is associated with an increased risk of suicide, which is now the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of ten and twenty-four.”  

I am convinced that living in our fast-paced, materialistic, increasingly godless culture has contributed to this tragedy.  I wonder if making “happiness” our goal (in a world fraught with disappointment) actually has contributed to the problem?  Sensing that this cultural leaning has influenced many in the church, I write to warn Christian parents (and grandparents) that we do our children a disservice if our goal in parenting is mere happiness (although happiness most certainly will be a lovely byproduct!)  No, our goal for our children should be to promote emotional and spiritual wholeness in Christ by loving and disciplining them into a mature faith. 

I remember many occasions when as a parent I felt inadequate, thought about running away and often cried out to the Lord, “I didn’t know it was going to be so hard!”  I wanted a happy home and a happy life, but we were a household of five sinners– I was totally unrealistic!  My biggest dilemma was in figuring out the best way to love my kids when discipline was needed.   A passage in Hebrews 12 finally provided three keys that opened the door to the wisdom and perspective I sought.  It begins with a quote from Proverbs 3:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.” (Verses 5,6)

What struck a chord with me was the connection between:

  •  DISCIPLINE – Remembering that “disciple” is the root word and therefore the basis of whatever discipline that is necessary.
  • LOVE – As the motivation, love looks at problems as opportunities to promote growth and maturity for their future.
  • SONSHIP – Denoting the privilege and responsibility that goes with being part of a family, sonship also provides security and significance in belonging to God’s larger family. 

The passage continues to stress the connection between love, discipline and sonship, stating that , “If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.”  (Verse 8)  I remember a friend telling me about growing up in what she called, a “permissive home.”  She related that her friends thought that she “had it made” because she could say and do whatever she pleased.  She admitted that she let her friends think that, but inwardly she cried out at her parents, “Don’t you love me?  Don’t you even care?” as she left their house for one more wild party.   Many times discipline rightly applied, rather than permissiveness, gives evidence to our kids of how much we love them.

When my children were small we had a pattern to follow that reflected the sense given in Hebrews:

  • DISCIPLINE – If they got in trouble they stood in the corner with their hands behind their back to think about what they had done.  The timer was set as was appropriate to their age.  (If they delayed standing in the corner, the length of time would increase accordingly.) There were two reasons for putting their hands behind their backs: 1) So they could not distract themselves and 2) So they would not get into further trouble by peeling the wallpaper like I did at my grandmother’s house when I was three!
  • LOVE – When the timer dinged I usually sat on a chair so they could come and sit on my lap.  I would ask them, “Why did you have to stand in the corner?”  This was an important question because it gave opportunity to clarify if their understanding was a little vague.  I was always glad to hold them close and hug them, letting them know they were forgiven.
  • SONSHIP – I then prayed for them, always beginning by giving thanks to God for each of them and His plan for their lives.  I avoided using prayer as a weapon to “guilt” them; instead I simply asked God to work in both of our hearts so that we would love and honor Him more.

As they grew, standing in the corner was replaced by having them read appropriate Scripture and write about how it applied in their particular circumstance.  We then would sit down and talk about what they wrote and tried to come to an understanding as to what went wrong.  We would finish with an appropriate prayer, again, always giving thanks to God for placing that child in our family and for His plan for their future.

I am grateful to say that God was always good in shepherding our imperfect family.  The final portion of the Hebrews passage offers both comfort and hope:

” Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Verses 10, 11)

God’s goal for us in trials and trouble?  Sharing in “His holiness . . . righteousness and peace.”  I cannot speak for you, but when I think about His Plan coming together like that I am (dare I say it?) . . . DOWNRIGHT HAPPY!

All to His Glory!

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