“Discipline In The Home”

Categories: Parenting


Discipline in the Home

by David Posey

I’M WRITING THIS on the Monday following Father’s day. My son has recently moved away and begun his career, and will be getting married in August. My daughter just graduated high school and will be attending Florida College in the fall. In other words, at our house, the disciplinary die is cast. All I hope for now is that the decisions my wife and I made during the past 18–22 years have been mostly wise ones. Did we “train them up in the way they should go”? (Proverbs 22:6)? We take some comfort in the promise of that passage, but still remember that it is a proverb, not an ironclad guarantee. So, like all Christian parents, we pray that our upbringing will lead to Christ being formed in them.

I don’t mean to imply that discipline is a matter of luck, or that the Bible doesn’t give us instruction in the matter. As Branch Rickey once said about baseball, “Luck is the residue of design.” Discipline requires design as well as hard work. The Bible provides the design, and we supply the hard work, along with fervent prayer. Of course, in the end, children make their own choices, and parents hold their breath.

We cannot force children to become Christian adults, but we can train them to be. It takes discipline. By “discipline,” I do not mean “spanking.” Spanking is an important part of the whole, but it is just a part. Proper discipline requires the use of a whole satchel of tools, including correction, nurturing, encouraging and warning (see Ephesians 6:4). Discipline requires setting some real boundaries and defining rules of proper behavior in the home. It demands that parents be parents and treat their children as children.

The dictionary defines discipline as “training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement. The “specific character or pattern of behavior” which Christian parents are trying to achieve is holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15–16). Every step in the training process is designed to raise up Christian children. In comparison, nothing else matters, and the children know that. Education, job, and social skills are secondary. We always told our kids that we didn’t care if they were ditch-diggers, as long as they were Christians. If our children do not clearly observe that priority in us, what can we expect of them?

Hebrews 12:5–11 connects discipline with love. God loves us and disciplines (“chastens”) us. Likewise, if parents love their children, they discipline them. This is love in the fullest sense of the word—doing what is best for the child, not what feels best to the parent. Afterward—not before!—it yields the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” (verse 11). Unfortunately, we live in an age of instant gratification. We want the results without the work. But any discipline takes time and work, and this is especially true in trying to mold these little minds and hearts into God-fearing men and women.

Researchers have shown that children desperately want this discipline. James Dobson illustrated this by removing the fences that encircled a school yard. Did the children run out in the street, delighted with their new-found freedom? No, instead they huddled in the middle of the playground. For a small child, a school (or a home) without boundaries and rules can be a very frightening place.

If discipline is this crucial, then it deserves all the time and effort we can give it. A survey in Maryland found that, on average, parents spend just 15 minutes per week in meaningful dialogue with their children. Sounds like many parents want to raise their children like the operate their TV set—by remote control! Without time and effort, we sacrifice our children on the altar of Murphy Brown and MTV, and they will not produce Christians.

Discipline is the best-rewarded hard work and the most tragic easy work there is. It is at once time-consuming, tedious, frustrating and exhausting. But, if you’re a parent, it is the most important work you do. It has far-reaching effects on the church and the world. But it takes time, your time (see Deuteronomy 6:6ff). Discipline is instruction, so we take time to tell the child how to discern between right and wrong. Discipline is training, so we take the time to show him how to function, and then let him try and fail, and try and fail again (that’s frustrating!). Discipline is correction, so we take the time and energy to help him adjust his attitude and behavior, not just lash out at him in anger when he makes a mistake.

Communication comes before correction. Before we punish a child for disobedience, he needs to know precisely what we expect of him. When the child obeys, we ought to show our approval. But when he violates the (clearly stated) rules, swift and firm correction must follow. We must both clarify the rules and then enforce them (Proverbs 29:15 says that permissiveness brings shame to the mother). The child may need a spanking (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13–14, though “rod” may well refer to both verbal and corporeal punishments), but there are other alternatives as well. Betty Chase, in Discipline Them, Love Them (David C. Cook Publishing) lists six methods of corrective discipline, beginning with communication, and including spanking. For a simple example, “logical consequences” would require the child to clean up his own mess. “Natural consequences” means the child suffers the consequence of his or her action (e.g., if little Sally refuses to wear a sweater to school, let her be cold for a day). Knowing and using more than one form of corrective discipline can make a spanking more effective.

Sensitive, godly parents are well aware of the challenges facing them today. It sometimes seems overwhelming. But you can rise above the crowd, and train up children who will grow to love the Lord. God promises wisdom, if we will ask for it (James 1:15). By the grace of God, you can do this job. You must do it. Parents, “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).


Christianity Magazine: September–October 1992, Volume 9, Number 8. 1992. Christianity Magazine: Jacksonville, FL