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How We Discipline (and what discipline really means)

The word "discipline" comes from the word disciple, which describes a student/ learner of a leader. We seen this word used in the Bible towards the people who followed Jesus, soaking up his wisdom and longing to become more like Him. And we see it, practically, in the purpose of discipline as we work to create learners of our children who follow our leadership (and ultimately God's authority). 

Keeping this perspective in mind helps us as we make decisions on how to best instruct and teach our children. 

I am not a parenting expert by any means, and acknowledge that my oldest child (of three) is five; we have so little experience and so much to learn!

With that said, here are a few things that are working for us: 

1. Pray. And remember that parenting is a God-ordained way to draw us into a deeper relationship with Himself. James 1:5 reminds us that when we ask God for wisdom it will be given to us. Psalm 32:8 tells us that God will instruct us in the way we should go, counseling us with His loving eye upon us. When we're at a loss on how to move forward with our children, we can run to our own Heavenly Father and ask for help. He longs for us to praise His omniscience and sit in humility. As He answers our prayers, we grow in faith and love for Him (and our children do as well). 

Books and other mothers' wisdom can be a beautiful tool in God's hands, but nothing compares to the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us. Don't skip right to Google before you've taken your concerns and worries to God. 

2. Remember Your Reliance on the Gospel. You're in just as much need of forgiveness and grace as your child is. When we forget our tendency towards sin and the lavish mercy that has been poured upon us, we're quick to anger and quick to demand perfection from our children. Rooting ourselves in God's word helps remind us of our own sin and points us to Jesus and His compassion. (This is part of why I recommend daily time in the Word; we're so quick to forget!) 

I also recommend this book as a much-needed parenting gut check. It's helped both me and my husband and will be one I re-read every few years. 

Along these lines, demonstrating repentance to your children can be so valuable. Don't be afraid to admit that you sinned and ask for forgiveness. 

3. Think beyond Punishment. If discipline is training our children to be learners, then discipline is more than a consequence for bad behavior. Seeing our children's strengths, praising their growth, and offering encouragement far more than critique goes so (so) far. 

4. Start Young. Ages 0-3 are critical training years. That's not to say that work can't or shouldn't be done beyond the little years, but studies show that young children's brains are the most receptive and adaptable and by six, most children's character traits are set. 

At around nine months old, all of our boys have begun rebelling on the changing table-- joyfully wiggling everywhere when they know they shouldn't. We firmly say "be still" and then give a gentle flick on the thigh if need be. Young children can't be reasoned with ("you must be still because you may fall off and that's dangerous and I'm trying to changer your dirty diaper so you're making a big mess...") but they can understand discomfort; they can begin to associate wiggling on the changing table and disobedience with pain. 

If this sounds harsh, remember that it isn't being mean. It's teaching them how to stay safe, how to trust and obey their authority so they'll one day do the same with God, and how to live in the real world that absolutely has consequences for our actions. (For the record, a few flicks is all it takes before they've learned to lay calmly.)

5. Use Natural Consequences When Possible. This was an eye-opening discipline technique that has really helped me as a mother. This book and this book were both recommended by a few older mothers I greatly respect and showed me that I didn't have to yell, use shaming words, threats, etc to teach my children. Instead, I could let natural consequences help them learn. 

Here's an example: When my children decide to do flips in their seats while they're eating and their plates fall on the floor, I calmly tell them that lunch is over. They lose the privilege of eating a meal and they also have to clean up the mess instead of running off to play. 

Of course, when they're little they are warned and the situation is explained to them multiple times beforehand. But once I'm sure they understand how they're expected to act, I don't argue with their behavior; I let the consequence do the talking. I have so much to learn here (and imagine consequences aren't always easy to come up with or stick to), but can already see it's benefit in our home. 

6. Be Consistent and Clear. Someone once told me: When you're consistent and clear, your children are the ones choosing their own outcomes. It isn't a surprise or a game ("will mother actually hold to her threat?") They know! 

In our home, blatant disobedience and disrespect earn a spanking. Our children know that if we say "come" and they run the other way, the consequence for their behavior is a spanking*. Likewise, they know the same if they talk back, roll their eyes, etc when we're speaking. 

I don't want to trick my children, nor to do I want to be saying empty threats or constantly wondering how to handle disrespect. We all know. 

*I'm not here to tell you whether to spank or not, but the point is the same regardless. Pray and ask God for wisdom here. We're always learning. 

7. Bring God's Presence and Words Into It. More than anything, this is my goal. When my child disobeys, specifically when a spanking or a large consequence is in order, I pray before I act and make sure I'm calm enough to move forward; it's okay for a child to sit in their room for a little while as you gather yourself. 

Then, I ask them to tell me why they're receiving this consequence. If they don't know, we talk through it. I explain what God says about the behavior (this is a tool I created for this purpose) and allow them to ask questions. This is a teaching time. 

After the spanking (or after the big consequence has been announced), I sing Hebrews 12:11 to the tune of Row, Row, Row your boat. I want my children to know that discipline feels unpleasant at the time, but later it yields the "peaceful fruit of righteousness." Then, I pray out loud that God would use my imperfect discipline to change my child's heart. I also want my children to learn the importance of repenting to God and asking for His forgiveness, but we haven't worked much on that yet.  

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Q: A question I'm often asked is whether my husband and I agree completely on parenting tactics and of course, the answer is "no." God made men and women differently, and I think we bring various strengths to the situation. I also think discipline falls on the shoulders of the parent who interacts with the children more, which is most often the mother. If you long for your husband to take more control here, pray for it! 

Here's a whole blog post I wrote on my favorite parenting books! Here's another one that isn't on the list but I've really appreciated. 

@simplyonpurpose is a helpful Instagram account to refer to. Risen Motherhood is a great resource for approaching motherhood through the lens of the Gospel. I also recently started listening to this Courageous Parenting podcast and enjoy it.