Discipline with Young Children
Disciplining Young Children
Curt Grice, Associate Pastor of Educational Ministries
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4 (NLT)
The Bible commands parents to raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord. We begin “training” our children from a very young age by the way we respond to their actions and attitudes. The purpose of discipline is to lovingly guide your child toward maturity, health and right relationships.
STEP ONE: Establish Your Authority
Children need a clear answer to the question: “Who’s the boss?” Mom and Dad embody the security and limits that come from submitting ourselves to a loving heavenly Father. God has given you oversight of your child’s welfare and development, placing you in a position of authority over them. You must take that responsibility seriously.
Parents need to be clear and consistent in their expectations. Vague rules and sporadic enforcement create insecurity. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and follow through on it. Don’t ignore defiant behavior because the particular issue seems minor or the moment is inconvenient. Children are commanded to obey their parents, and parents are commanded to train their children… even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable.
STEP TWO: Discipline Rather Than Punish
Punishment is negative, making someone “pay” for what they’ve done. Discipline is positive, training toward a better future. By touching a hot stove, we learn from the consequences of our actions. Discipline helps children avoid “learning the hard way” later in life.
Many parents question the use of spanking to help shape a child’s will. The Bible teaches that certain situations can call for spanking a child (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 29:15). Administering “the rod” apart from biblical principles, however, can do more harm than good. Physical discipline should be used lovingly and sparingly.
Positive discipline works to maintain the dignity of both the child and the parent. The goal is to help a child want to cooperate because it’s the right thing to do, not simply to avoid a spanking. Parents need to learn when to apply a spanking, time-out or other method of discipline in a healthy and productive way.
Regardless of which form of discipline you use, the key is consistency. Ultimately, it’s not the severity of the punishment, but the certainty of it, that makes the difference.
God holds parents accountable for how they use the authority He has given them. The Bible warns parents not to “exasperate” or “embitter” their children. Don’t treat childish immaturity the same as willful defiance. Parents should never discipline children out of embarrassment, frustration or anger. Accidentally spilling milk or waking baby brother doesn’t warrant stern discipline. Acts of direct disobedience must be addressed, however, to help your child overcome a spirit of rebellion.
Parents are called to protect their children from the destruction of an undisciplined life and point them to their need for a Savior. Ultimately, the discipline you apply should help nurture the heart connection between you and your child. It should provide a consequence that leads the child to repentance (sorrow for their wrong behavior) and restores their relationship with the family.
STEP THREE: Lovingly Instruct
Discipline and instruction should be a package deal. Don’t allow your desire for changed behavior to replace your desire for a changed heart. With the discipline, ask simple questions and share specific Bible verses to instruct your child toward repentance.
For example, after disciplining a 2-year-old temper tantrum, you can explain that “God wants us to obey.” With a 4-year-old, you can go further, explaining self-control, reading Titus 2:6 and asking the child “Were you under control or out-of-control just now?” Loving instruction after discipline helps train your son or daughter to think like a follower of Christ rather than just learning to comply in order to escape punishment.
GOING FURTHER – Resources
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
Explains the process of shaping a child’s heart rather than simply correcting their behavior.
Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman
Provides specific, practical strategies for discipline.
The Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson
Helps parents who are dealing with a particularly strong-willed child.
The Key to Your Child’s Heart by Dr. Gary Smalley
Outlines effective steps for parents to set limits and enforce them.