“I listened impatiently to the sound of every passing car. This was the third time that Jordan had broken his curfew. ‘Where is he?’ I wondered. ‘Is he in trouble? Does he even care that we are worried?’ By the time he arrived, I was about to explode.”—GEORGE.
“My daughter let out a scream, which sent a wave of panic through me. I turned and saw her clutching her head and crying. Her four-year-old brother had just hit her.”—NICOLE.
“‘I didn’t steal the ring. I found it!’ said Natalie, our six-year-old daughter, her big blue eyes pleading her innocence. Her persistent denials cut us so deeply that we wept. We knew she was lying.”—STEPHEN.
IF YOU are a parent, can you relate to the emotions expressed in the opening statements? When confronted with similar situations, do you wonder how—or even if—you should discipline your child? Is it wrong to discipline your children?
WHAT IS DISCIPLINE?
In the Bible, the word for “discipline” is not merely another word for punishment. Discipline primarily relates to instruction, education, and correction. It is never connected with abuse or cruelty.—Proverbs 4:1, 2.
Parental discipline may be likened to gardening. A gardener prepares the soil, waters and feeds the plant, and provides protection from pests and weeds. As the plant grows, the gardener may need to prune the plant in order to help it keep growing in the right direction. The gardener recognizes that a careful combination of various techniques will help him to produce a healthy plant. Similarly, parents care for their children in many ways. But at times they need to give discipline—which, like pruning, may correct wrong inclinations early on and help their children to grow in the right direction. Pruning, however, must be done carefully, or a plant can suffer permanent harm. Likewise, parental discipline needs to be given with loving care.
The God of the Bible, Jehovah, sets a beautiful example for parents in this regard. The discipline that he gives his obedient earthly worshippers is so effective and desirable that they actually come to ‘love discipline.’ (Proverbs 12:1) They “hold on to discipline” and “do not let it go.” (Proverbs 4:13) You can help your child to respond positively by imitating closely three key elements of God’s discipline: It is (1) loving, (2) reasonable, and (3) consistent.
Love is both the foundation of and the motivation for God’s discipline. The Bible says: “Those whom Jehovah loves he reproves, just as a father does a son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12) Furthermore, Jehovah, is “merciful and compassionate, slow to anger.” (Exodus 34:6) For this reason, Jehovah is never abusive or cruel. Neither does he resort to harsh words, constant criticism, or hurtful sarcasm, all of which can injure “like the stabs of a sword.”—Proverbs 12:18.
Granted, it is not possible for parents to imitate fully God’s perfect example of self-control. Sometimes your patience will be stretched to the limit, but during the particularly difficult times, always remember that anger-based punishment is usually oppressive, excessive, and counterproductive. Furthermore, punishment motivated by anger or frustration is not discipline at all. It is simply a loss of self-control.
On the other hand, when you discipline with love and self-control, you are likely to get better results. Consider how George and Nicole, two of the parents quoted at the outset, handled matters.
“When Jordan finally arrived, my wife and I were burning inside, but we maintained control while we listened to his explanation. Since it was so late, we decided to discuss the matter in the morning. We all prayed together and went to bed. The next day, we were in a much better position to discuss the situation calmly and reach our son’s heart. He willingly complied with our restrictions and accepted responsibility for his behavior. Thankfully, we realized that a quick response when people are upset is counterproductive. When our first step was to listen, things usually worked out for the best.”—George.
“I was outraged when I saw the senseless hurt my son had inflicted on his sister. Instead of reacting immediately, I sent him to his room because I was just too angry to make a rational decision. Later, when I was composed, I sternly explained that violence is not acceptable and showed him how he had hurt his sister. This approach worked well with him. He apologized to his sister and hugged her.”—Nicole.
Yes, proper discipline, even when it includes punishment, is always motivated by love.
Jehovah’s discipline is always administered “to the proper degree.” (Jeremiah 30:11; 46:28) He takes all the circumstances into account, including what is not obvious. How can parents do likewise? Stephen, quoted in the introduction, explains: “Although we felt so hurt and could not understand Natalie’s insistent denials about the ring, we tried to take into account her age and degree of maturity.”
Nicole’s husband, Robert, also tries to consider all the circumstances. When the children misbehave, he repeatedly asks himself: ‘Is this a onetime incident or an ongoing negative trait? Is the child tired or not feeling well? Is this conduct a symptom of another problem?’
Reasonable parents are also mindful that children are not miniature adults. The Christian apostle Paul acknowledged that fact when he wrote: “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, to think as a child.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Says Robert: “One thing that helps me keep things in perspective and avoid overreacting is to remind myself of what I used to do when I was a boy.”
It is vital that you be realistic in your expectations and, at the same time, not justify or condone wrong conduct or attitudes. By taking into account your child’s abilities, limitations, and other circumstances, you will ensure that your discipline is balanced and reasonable.
“I am Jehovah; I do not change,” says Malachi 3:6. Servants of God rely on this truth and feel secure in this knowledge. Children also need the security of consistent discipline. If your standards change depending on your mood, your child may become confused and frustrated.
Recall that Jesus said: “Let your word ‘Yes’ mean yes, your ‘No,’ no.” Those words well apply to parenting. (Matthew 5:37) Think carefully before giving ultimatums you have no intention of carrying out. If you warn your child that a certain form of discipline will result if he misbehaves, be sure to follow through.
Good parental communication is essential to consistent discipline. Robert explains: “If our children manage to get me to agree to something that my wife told them they could not do, when I become aware of it, I reverse my decision to back up my wife.” If parents disagree about how to handle a situation, it is best that they discuss those differences privately and reach a united decision.
DISCIPLINE IS ESSENTIAL
If you imitate Jehovah’s loving, reasonable, and consistent discipline, you can be certain that your efforts will benefit your children. Your loving direction may help your children to develop into mature, responsible, and balanced adults. As the Bible says: “Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he grows old he will not depart from it.”—Proverbs 22:6.