At parenting workshops we ask the question, “What is the goal of your discipline?” The answers we frequently hear could be summarized like this: “To make bad behavior stop and teach immediate obedience.”
Hebrews 12:11 gives us a different vision for discipline. We’re told that discipline can produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Do you catch this? God’s discipline is not intended to have immediate results, and those results are not about right behavior but about God’s righteousness and peace.
Imagine how things might be different with your children if, every time you disciplined them, your goal was to guide them towards God’s righteousness and peace.
Here’s a practical illustration of how it might look when a parent has immediate behavioral correction in mind:
- “Johnny, that’s not OK. If you keep whining you’ll have to go to your room.”
- Or, “Hannah, I told you it’s time to clean up! If you don’t put those markers and paper away right now, you will lose them!”
We hear many parents disciplining or instructing their children this way. While this sort of intervention might help modify children’s behavior in the short run, it does not consider the bigger picture and misses the opportunity to paint an image of God’s purposes for the long run.
Here’s how it might unfold if parents have a vision for disciplining that helps children get a glimpse of God’s grace:
- “Johnny, you are amazingly persistent! And I’m glad you’re being honest with me about what you want. These are strengths that God is building in you. We can talk about it more when you can speak to me more respectfully. Do you want to settle down in your room, or are you ready now?”
- Or, in Hannah’s case: ”Hannah, you really love doing art, don’t you? I love that God gave you a desire to bless others with your art. But it’s important to be responsible with those art abilities. You can clean up your art supplies right now, or I can put them in a time out for a few days. Let me know what you decide when I come back in a couple minutes.”
In order to speak this way with sincerity it has to come from your heart. This means letting go of the conventional expectation that kids obey immediately. It means taking on the role of a coach rather than a drill sergeant. It also means not letting your kids off the hook when it seems too hard or overwhelming.
You have to believe that, along with the sin of misbehavior, your child is a gift, a miracle, created in God’s image to be in relationship with Christ and to “do the good works (he or she) was prepared in advance to do!”
It’s hard to remember this truth when our children misbehave. But if we can consistently address discipline with grace and wisdom, with a vision for their lives, their hearts are more inclined to repent and they are more likely to grow into a love for God’s righteousness and peace.
Our work as parents is not about learning the right “scripts” to address misbehavior. It is about relentlessly nurturing a vision for God’s purposes in our children and believing that even when our kids misbehave we have opportunities to point them to God. This sort of parenting leads to a harvest of righteousness and peace in our kids.
Want to learn more about these concepts? Download our one hour recording of a Discipline That Connects workshop.