By Kathryn Graves, Crosswalk.com
If you’re around kids at all, you’ve already figured out that some child discipline methods produce kids who are mostly respectful of adults and rules, while other methods result in snarly brats.
Oh, you might never say such things out loud, but if you’re like me, you think them. If you are an adult charged with raising a little darling, how can you know which is which? What can you do to create the best possible outcome for the child, not just while he’s little, but ultimately when he’s grown?
Children don’t come with instruction manuals, and few of us have formal training as behavior specialists. However, the Bible and a couple of well-written books by authors who are experts in the field offer help.
In Proverbs 13:24 we’re told that to “spare the rod” is to “hate” the child. For centuries, the faithful took the phrase to mean a literal rod. Later in the same verse we’re told that loving parents chastise their children.
Today, we might be thrown in jail for spanking, so for this reason—and the health of our kids—using any form of corporal punishment is best not done. However, we can chastise our kids because the word translated “chastise” means “discipline.”
The Difference Between Discipline and Punishment
Does the word “discipline” confuse you? Do you think of punishment exclusively when you hear it? Let’s address this misconception right here.
Discipline teaches a child how to make right behavior choices by using both positive and negative reinforcement. Think of it this way. A positive reinforcement is like a reward, and a negative reinforcement is removal of a pleasant or positive outcome. For example, if a child goes to bed at night without fussing, she is allowed to read for fifteen minutes before lights-out. But if she fusses, the reading privilege is removed and the lights must be turned out immediately.
Whining and complaining does not result in a later bedtime by dragging out the conversation with parents. The child’s fussing, per se, is not addressed. She can cry all she wants—but it will affect her reward. The clock rules bedtime.
The child determines whether she gets the positive or negative reinforcement. But the whining will eventually stop when the child is left alone in a dark bedroom with the door shut so Mom and Dad can’t hear it—as long as they don’t come running back in.
Punishment is when something bad, or undesired, happens as a result of behavior—it’s the addition of a negative outcome, rather than the removal of a pleasant one. This could be being put in a “time out” chair away from people, or, as in times gone by, spanking. Punishment is simply one aspect—hopefully rarely needed, and never corporal—of child discipline.
You may have noticed I made no mention of raised voices on the part of the adult. Effective discipline is not a series of random knee-jerk reactions to behavior and should never be done in anger. The Bible has much to say about anger, but the most applicable to our discussion is Ephesians 4:26 where Paul instructs us not to sin in our anger.
In other words, maintain control. Even if some form of discipline must happen in the moment (with younger children immediacy is beneficial), it can be meted out with a rational, calm mind.
Should You Discipline Your Child?
I think by this point you realize the answer: yes, discipline is essential. Even though you believe it’s necessary, the question still needs to be given some deeper thought.
What are the Benefits of Child Discipline? Children who grow up under a rational system of discipline:
- are able to make logical decisions and choices.
- live lives free from drama.
- do better in school because they are able follow rules and instructions.
- learn to become internally motivated at least to some degree.
- become adults who function well in society.
On the flip side, children who do not grow up with consistent discipline, and where reward and punishment are emotional tools, learn to be passive-aggressive, or openly aggressive, blame their problems on others, and fail to make the choices that help them become happy, well-adjusted adults.
Here are 3 types of discipline methods and how they work:
1. Behavior Modification
Behavior Modification is an old term, but it is useful to understand something about it, because its tenets form the basis of much of child discipline today.
I’ve already introduced you to two of the most common and easily implemented terms, positive and negative reinforcement. Rewards for desired behavior and removal of rewards for failing to behave, and even punishment for that failure, form the core of Behavior Modification.
This method works well to modify the behavior of both children and animals, to manage a classroom, and to help adults break habits such as smoking. Because it is purely focused on behaviors, it does not address the emotional or spiritual sides of a person.
The founder of this method, B.F. Skinner, also failed to take into account these aspects of personhood. This is probably one reason we don’t hear too much about it today. The techniques have been merged into other, more comprehensive child discipline methods. Animal trainers are the current professionals who use strict behavior modification principles.
While the Bible does tell us to train our children in appropriate behavior in Proverbs 22:6, Deuteronomy 11:19 also admonishes us to teach them scriptural truth. In order to be able talk with our children and teach them, we need to get their behavior under control. A better approach was needed that would address both of these mandates to parents.
Enter James Dobson and his groundbreaking work, The Strong-Willed Child. Dr. Dobson used Behavior Modification tools, but set them in the context of a loving Christian home. Later editions of his book eliminated spanking and relied on other, just as effective, punishment strategies for these exceptionally difficult-to-manage children.
He emphasizes confidence in your authority and consistency, teaching your strong-willed child over time that X behavior really does lead to Y consequence, every time.
2. The Love and Logic Method
Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Foster Cline, MD expanded on Dr. Dobson’s work and pioneered what became known as simply the Love and Logic Method. They focus on offering choices along with logical consequences for behavior and stress love as the guiding principle.
This method works not only with toddler tyrants, but also with any child—all the way through teen years. Offering a preschooler the choice between eating now or taking a bath now can ease the tension with a picky eater. But biting is off-limits with an immediate negative consequence.
Because it relies on logic, the older a child becomes, the fewer consequences parents must construct, and the more logic they may employ. But even a young child can be taught the reasoning behind desired behavior. Giving children choices shows that they are respected as individuals, which in turn helps them to feel loved and trust their parents enough for when rare occasions happen where no other choice can be given but to obey.
When Christian parents tell a child that Jesus wants us to (insert desired behavior), they’ll be more likely to cooperate since they’ve been taught about how much Jesus loves us. The caution I would raise is not to let an older teen make every choice without parental guidance. Just because a child knows how to make decisions, does not mean the ones with life-altering repercussions, such as where to attend college, should be entirely up to them—especially if parents expect to contribute financially.
The authors of Love and Logic offer a helpful dialog in the first part of their book about ineffective parenting models. They describe “helicopter” parents and “drill sergeant” parents. The helicopter mom hovers over her precious little one, making sure nothing bad ever happens to little Suzy. If homework is forgotten, one phone call or text is all it takes to spur Mom into action and get it to school.
The extreme version of helicopter parents do what I call bubble-wrapping. Their children are not allowed into any situation that might possibly cause them distress. The downside of this style of parenting should be easy for anyone to see. The child never learns personal responsibility or appropriate behaviors, leading to a dysfunctional life as an adult. We have a term for these young adults: snowflakes.
I doubt if most Helicopter parents decide to operate this way. They most likely begin with a sweet newborn baby that they shower with love and affection. But as the baby grows, the parents fail to grow in their thinking about the behavioral needs of their darling—who might become a tyrant—and then sometimes professional intervention may be required.
Drill Sergeant parents are the opposite of Helicopter parents. They use harsh words and actions to force their children into submission. “Because I said so,” is a common phrase. Corporal punishment is not viewed as a method to avoid, and children are not given choices. Their only option is to obey or face punishment. Most Christian parents who adopt this form of discipline were treated in the same manner by their own parents. They may also have been taught the “rod” portion of Proverbs 13:24 without understanding the broader meaning of the word translated as “chastise.”
Deep-seated anger can form in a child’s heart against these parents that will erupt in any number of ways as a teen or adult. Rebellion is almost guaranteed. And if our Heavenly Father is compared to an earthly father like this, the child will not develop a healthy relationship with the Lord.
But, with the Love and Logic method, children feel highly valued and trusted, and therefore take responsibility for their actions without resentment.
3. Reality Discipline
Dr. Kevin Leman’s book, Making Your Child Mind Without Losing Yours, and his newer release, Have a New Kid by Friday, combine Behavior Modification techniques with concepts similar to those in the Love and Logic method. The author has even written a book for parents of “powerful,” a.k.a. strong willed, children.
His ideas center around the idea of Reality Discipline. This method essentially creates situations where consequences for children's actions will fall squarely on their shoulders. For instance, if a mom is tired of rushing her child every morning so they don't miss the bus, one day she can simply let him miss the bus. Hopefully, the mile long walk he now has to take to get to school will help him learn to keep himself accountable, and responsible for how his mornings go.
It takes some ingenuinity and really knowing what is important to your child in order to motivate them properly. The more you know about your child, the more you have in your toolbox to create situations where their own actions lead to consequences they would rather avoid, and therefore have no one else to blame. Dr. Leman emphasizes using consequences to teach out of love, but also that parents should have the goal of raising responsible children--not just happy ones.
These are the books that I wish I’d had as a younger parent.
My background in Psychology gave me a solid understanding of Behavior Modification principles. I even taught guinea pigs to climb a ladder and slide down a slide as my senior project. I would have been a good professional animal trainer. But happily, God gave me children instead—my own, and later, high school students in the behavior disorder program. I was able to put my education to work.
But the missing elements for me were logical consequences and decision-making. Dr. Leman’s approach provides the complete package.
Helping our children learn to make appropriate choices, applying logical consequences of the decisions they make, shaping their desires with behavior modification, and teaching and applying Bible truths in meaningful conversations were the goals my husband and I harbored.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, regular church attendance and the instruction our kids received there, and older couples who mentored us, we managed to raise two godly, responsible young men. They both have families now, and I love observing their discipline styles.
One has a 10-year old, and a copy of Love and Logic on their bookshelf. I am impressed by the intentionality in their parenting—and the positive results I see in my grandson. The other is just beginning the parenting journey, and Making Your Child Mind Without Losing Yours was a gift I gave them. I don’t want my kids to have to guess at how to raise my grandchildren. Neither do I want to be the in-law every woman hates because of interference.
So after making sure they have these good resources, I’m available for counsel should they seek it, but I try my best to refrain from giving unsolicited advice.
Raising children doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect. We do need to take the responsibility seriously, and approach it with serious intent. However, the joy of children in the home is incomparable.
We used to ask each other what we did for fun before we had our kids. Most of the time they were fun. We navigated the difficult seasons and weathered the temporary storms with them, and now we have the bonus of grandchildren. You can raise amazing kids, too, by availing yourself of these great resources and praying every day for guidance from the Lord.
Kathryn Graves, author of the book Fashioned by God, is a style expert, fashion coach, and Premier Designs jewelry consultant. She is also a pastor’s wife, Bible teacher, and holds a degree in Psychology. Kathryn helps women discover the source of real beauty in Jesus, freeing them to gain confidence in their personal styles. She is Mimi to three grandsons, and loves to play with color, both in fashion and interior design, and painting with pastels. You can learn more at KathrynGraves.com or find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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