Discipline is a complex, moment-by-moment issue in parenting. There is never a moment when you are not refining, defining, and administering discipline of some form, unless you are one of those parents who can't understand why their children are holy terrors, but that's a conversation for a different day. I won't say that there is a "magic bullet" to discipline, but I will say that I was blessed by the example of a friend who taught me a way to help my children own their behavior as well as set a boundary that is clear enough to understand when they have crossed the line. A seasoned mom-friend of mine named Sue Christy shared this wisdom with me when I was just starting on this journey called parenting--I embraced the concept and have used it consistently over the years. First and foremost children need to respect and obey their parents, but following that the elder child serves the younger while the younger respects the elder. By applying these principles in nearly every situation where my children stray, they have a marker by which they can evaluate their own behavior.
For example, when they argue with us and disobey, we have only to stop them and say, "Are you obeying me or disobeying me?" When they genuinely have a concern that needs to be voiced, we listen, but most of the time, we find that the child quickly examines his / her behavior and makes a course correction. There is not a lot of yelling, no time outs, no spanking...whatever thing you choose to call "the rod" (that is not what this is about--Each family has their own means of making their child miserable when the situation calls for it.) In situations when my children are fussing, I do not single them out or tell them "You were not serving or you were not respecting..." I ask them, "Were you serving her? (grumpy reply, funky attitude, blah blah "Yeah, but she isn't listening to me...") "Were you serving her in a loving manner? Or with a crummy attitude? Have you earned her respect?" (Crickets...) Next I turn to the younger child, "Were you respecting him?" (But he is bossing me and telling me to do everything--he's supposed to be serving me!) "I see your attitude is a little snotty, there...would you want to serve someone with a snotty attitude?" (Crickets x2) Within a short time my children are apologizing and relationship is restored. It drives home to them that they need to examine how their actions play into a person's desired or undesired response to them, as well as forces them to own what they have done. Usually no further discipline is necessary than this, but there are the occasional separations or "go to your rooms until you can speak kindly to each other..." It also saves me from having to take sides in situations that are "he said, she said," or when I don't have enough information to make a sound judgement! They become the moderators of their own behavior, whether they want to or not.
This is certainly not something that happened overnight. It has taken years to cultivate, and the initial stages of tilling the soil are always tough. When we first began disciplining our children to obey, respect, and serve, there were many more unpleasant moments in which a correction had to take place than there are these days--each family has their own method, as I said. Ours vary depending on the situation (see photo at left--just kidding!) Suffice it to say that a correction usually produces tears and ends in hugs and sometimes even giggles, but a child is made fully aware of the offense and is instructed as to what the consequences will be should it happen again. If it does happen again, it is vital that the "threat" of consequences is carried out. Our children fear consequences and expect them when they have erred, but they receive them well and know in the end that they are fully loved--that the relationship between us is right and restored when discipline has taken place. This is something that we have worked out many times before (because they are not angels and are given to sinful behavior as much as the next kid) but the issue here is of training their hearts, not simply achieving a desirable behavior.
Tim Keller would say that God is not after a morally restrained heart, but rather a supernaturally changed heart. This sums up the goals we have for our children as well. As we discipline our children I continually have this in the forefront of my mind--that I can have well-behaved children who appear good, or I can have children who ARE good, not by my doing, but by God's grace. I consider Philippians 2:3-5 the guide for how we are to behave not just among Christians but with our families.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:It seems to me that there are often very different standards within families--there seems to be an "anything goes" kind of thinking where we trust that blood is thicker than water and that this "love" covers a multitude of sins. Actually, it doesn't. Love--God's unconditional, holy, healing love covers a multitude of sins--not our shameful, sinful, grasping love which insists that humans born into our same DNA group owe it to us to stand by us no matter what we do. People are easily, albeit painfully, estranged from parents or siblings because of sins committed in our formative years.
It is our desire to raise emotionally healthy children whose model of Christian family emanates first from their experience in their home, who in the end are not estranged as adults because of their treatment of each other as children. We desire to raise siblings who love and cherish each other and find in each other their first and truest friend, and who encourage each other to love and serve the Lord as we have done, even after we are gone. The foundation of this comes in Dad's and Mom's submission to Christ and to each other. Dad has Mom's respect and love, he in turn serves and loves her. We must show the same to our children--at every opportunity we try to praise them when they have done well, when they have made wise choices, when they have earned our respect. We enjoy serving them in ways they receive--their "love languages." I praise them to each other--tell my daughter what a good big brother she has, or remind him how much his little sister looks up to and loves him. We try to foster an environment where it is far more pleasant to serve and love than to draw negative attention. It all comes down to following--and modeling Christ's humility in our homes.
All of this means nothing without the empowering of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our home. If you are reading this and saying "easy for you to say--my kids are a mess" this is not an impossibility--you just might have to back up and do some ground work--some tilling of the soil. This begins with prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide, empower, and convict the hearts of family members to desire something different than the status quo. As the soil begins to tear, there will be painful moments, moments of doubt and confusion, and a desire to take matters into your own hands, but the key is to wait on the Lord. When you face the impossible, the only thing you can do is trust that your prayer is heard and expect the answer. God desires godly, healthy families. If you desire this for your family, begin with the simple step of praying for God to guide you as you disciple your children, and then...obey.