Three Things That Must Happen Before You Discipline Your Child (or: How To Be Friends With Your Kid)

I grew up in a remarkably happy, stable, loving home. I'm still part of one of the happiest, friendliest, best families I've ever known. We do waffle brunches, go canoeing, and group text like it's going out of style. My mom is one of my best friends, my siblings are still my buddies (even though we are literally scattered across the globe), and my dad is still my first call if I'm in desperate need of advice. 

When I was in college, I had a mom of two toddler girls ask me, "So... When you were younger, what did your mom do to strengthen your friendship with her? How did she make sure you guys were friends?"

I stared at her blankly. 

It had NEVER occurred to me as a kid that my mom was a "friend." Not once. I loved my mom. I thought she was the prettiest, smartest MOM out there. The thought that she was a FRIEND? It had never crossed my mind. 

Now? My mom is my best friend forever. (BFF!) But the thought of that friendship wasn't even a glimmer on my mental horizon as a kid. 

We live in a society that idolizes children. I think there are lots of moms out there who desperately want to be friends with their children. So, we revert to junior high girl behavior: we buy them anything that will help their cool kid status (or the latest thing that they've screamed about in a store), we refuse to tell them "no," and we simper in fear at their disapproval and pander to their every desire from infancy to adulthood. 

The problem is, we're ignoring the only tried and true way to build this unique friendship. We read verses like, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) And we interpret it through our finite, tiny minds, and we land on a conclusion that our kids just need us to "be there," that discipline will scare them off, and that we can somehow manipulate our child's behavior through man-made parenting. We're very well-intentioned, but that's what it boils down to. 

Yet, the Bible makes it very clear: discipline is a path to joy. "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)

Isn't that what we want for our kids? Peace? Righteousness? Of course! And God acknowledges that it's unpleasant at the time, but he also tries to reshape our thinking regarding discipline. He tells us it's a sign of blessing: 

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty." (Job 5:17)

"Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law" (Psalm 94:12)

There are many more. Go to your favorite Bible app and type in "discipline" if you don't believe me. Our minds need some drastic retuning on discipline. It is love. 

But you can do it incorrectly. 

Discipline is not just blindly swinging at the backseat of a car. It's not a loudly yelled, "JUST YOU WAIT TILL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME!" It's a careful, thoughtful, deliberate consequence of wrong actions. If discipline is the path to family peace and righteousness (Heb. 12:11), I want to walk it wisely.

I'm not here to tell you how you should discipline. But I am here to tell you three key things that need to happen BEFORE you discipline, regardless of your family's chosen form of consequences.

1. Don't EVER do it angry. 

The Bible says, "In your anger, do not sin." I love that it doesn't say, "don't be angry." Hmm... It's almost like anger is a God-given, occasionally righteous response... But it does say, "WHILE your angry, don't do anything that God wouldn't do."

So, plant your kid in a quiet seat. Or restrict them to a room where you plan to discipline. I would recommend a room without toys or distractions.

And go do business with your heart. Find out why you're angry. Are you angry because God's glory has been smeared? Or because those shoes (which you had JUST bought) are now covered in black permanent marker? 

Take as long as you need. Unless your kid has memory problems (or is under the age of 2-3), this will not affect the potency of your correction. 

"A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression." (Proverbs 29:22)

A lot of parents don't discipline their kids because they don't want to hurt them in their anger (either physically or emotionally). This is a wise concern. But instead of completely walking away (or reacting with verbal animosity and vitriole you will live to regret), just take a time out. 

It may be 10 minutes. 

It may be 2 hours. 

If you are angry: Just wait and evaluate your heart. Discipline when you are confident your anger is controlled. (Note: I said "controlled" not "absent." In some situations (hopefully a rare handful), there may be righteous reasons to be angry. I will warn you: they're like the sighting of a blue moon. They almost never happen.)


2. Be Clear. 

Does your child know WHY they are being disciplined? 

Children see things differently. They often see anger and disappointment faster than they see WHY you are angry and disappointed. What counts as a big deal to them is different from the sin you may have observed. 

State why they are receiving discipline. Ask them to tell you, "Do you know why Mommy has to discipline you?" Don't move a muscle until this is firmly, clearly established. 

Even if your grounding/time out/spanking/removal of privileges is done with crystal clear motives, even if you are calm and flawless in the execution of this discipline, if the child doesn't know WHY this happened, you're probably (unwittingly) setting them up for failure in the future. 


3. Search your Bible. 

We know that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

It is not in your power to change your child's heart. 

But it is in your power to expose them to the source of change. 

As often as possible, expose your child to what the Bible has to say about their sin. 

Don't look at me in hopeless blankness. 

You live in the age of Google. For crying out loud, take a moment to search for verses that will help your kid. 

I am by no means advocating a "magic potion" approach to God's Word. Throwing verses at a kid is not the answer. But praying for help, searching for what the Bible says, and clinging to truth: those are good things to do. 

Don't be overwhelmed. 

If your kid struggles with anger: memorize just one verse. Just one. 

It is vitally important that our children realize that they are not falling short of our man-made standard. They must know they are falling short of God's standard. 

Discipline is a seamless pathway towards realizing their desperate need for a Savior. As a result, it must be approached with thoughtfulness and wisdom.

And as counter-intuitive as it may seem: it's also a path to friendship with your kids. "The Lord disciplines those he loves." And we are called to imitate this love in the lives of our children. 

Follow-up Post: Three Things That Must Happen AFTER You Discipline Your Child