Though we might feel like it sometimes, there is no such thing as a perfect kid. I have an awesome kid, you have an awesome kid, all kids are awesome! But, none of them are perfect. All children will mess up. Toddlers will pitch a fit in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Teenagers will get a speeding ticket. Middle schoolers will forget to tell their parents where they are going after school. You might find something inappropriate on their phone. They might tell you they have no idea where the last cookies went as they wipe the crumbs off their face.
If you are raising your children in the Lord and are pointing them towards Jesus you are doing a great job. Ultimately though, they will make their own decisions. Many times those decisions go against what you have taught them. This is not because you are a bad parent. This is because they are boys and girls growing into maturity. They will make plenty of mistakes because they are sinners in need of a Savior just like you and me. The question is, what do you do when they do disobey? What is the Christian response? I am not talking about whether people should ground their kids, take away their stuff, or spank them. That is a different post. What I want to do is look at the heart behind the way that we respond when our kids are disobedient and misbehave.
Quick, just respond. Don’t think too much about this question. Here it is. When your child is caught in disobedience do you tell them they are going to be punished or disciplined? The way you answer that can go a long way. You might not think that there is a difference, but there is. Words matter and their meaning does too. So, as we look to respond in love and grace towards our children when they misbehave, let us choose our words and our actions in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.
Punishment Looks Back
When we punish our kids we are looking at the offense that they have committed and decide on a penalty that fits the crime. As parents we are hoping that the punishment will be a deterrent to future offenses. If the punishment is severe enough, then our kids won’t tell that lie again or take that dollar bill off the counter. There are a couple of issues with this.
The first issue is that punishment always looks back. We see our kids do something wrong and we react to what has happened with a punishment. When we spend all of our time looking back it makes it easier for us to act out in anger or frustration. We are frustrated that our kid has disobeyed so we act in our frustration to make things right. We don’t leave room for grace and love, we are just righting a wrong.
The second reason is that punishment is final. Every time in the New Testament when punishment is brought up it is in regards to final punishment of those who have turned their backs on God. We punish, it is over, we are good. However, this leaves no room for growth or discipleship in the home. We don’t want our kids to be well behaved. We want our kids to be transformed by the power of the Gospel and that in turn changes their behavior.
Finally, punishment leads to fear. I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” As parents we get to point to the fact that they have an ultimate parent, God, who loves them desperately. When we spend all of our time punishing we are not painting an accurate picture of our gracious Father. We don’t want our kids to fear us, we want them to respect and love us. Constant punishment leads to fear and it more often than not will drive our kids away from God.
Discipline Looks Forward
Discipline is totally different than punishment. Whereas punishment looks backwards, discipline looks forward. Now the consequences of the disobedience might be the same (grounded, video game privileges revoked, etc.), the reason behind the consequences are different. Discipline is training for the future. Practicing discipline is a better way for a couple of reasons.
Discipline actually matters because it allows parents to teach their kids a better way. That way is the way of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11 says, “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.” I want my kid to walk righteously before the Lord and others. He will only do that through discipline. Discipline does not merely react to disobedience but it prepares for obedience in the future.
Discipline shows our kids that we love them. Proverbs 3:12 tells us that God disciplines the ones that he loves. Think about how much more difficult this is than simple punishment. Discipline takes time, energy, consistency, effort. It takes perseverance. The only things on this earth that are difficult are things that are worth it. Parenting, and showing discipline in parenting, is tough. But it is so worth it. It shows our kids that we love them, we want what is best for them, and that we are willing to stick it out with them as they learn the truth of the Gospel through it. Practicing discipline actually shows our kids an incredible picture of their Heavenly Father.
Finally, discipline reminds us that we are all disobedient children in need of a loving, graceful, Father. Hebrews 12:7 tells us that when we go through discipline God is treating us as his children. We all lose our way, we all go through difficult stretches, and we all have a Father who is there to lead us back to the path of goodness and grace. Let those of us who have been given the awesome responsibility of parenthood be reminded constantly that we only have hope in parenting through Christ.