True Discipline

We have all heard the saying “spare the rod, spoil the child” and have thought that it is a paraphrase of this verse from the book of Proverbs. But when we actually look at this verse we find that it is far more nuanced than an appeal to get out the hickory switch and go after a disobedient child. 

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them
— Proverbs 13:24 NIV

This verse falls victim to incorrect  interpretations that fail to understand Hebrew literary idioms. One example of Hebrew poetry is synonymous parallelism. Meaning, the first statement is either explained or expanded upon by the second statement. So why is this important? Because this passage speaks of the heart of the parent (love) toward their child not the required means of discipline.  The true calling is for the parent to demonstrate their love for their child through discipline.

Let's start with the question of the "rod". Is the rod (interpreted as corporal punishment)  an appropriate disciplinary tool?   I personally don’t think this passage gives us a license to break out the switch and start spanking. The goal is character molding not physical harm! But clearly there are some situations with some mild physical discipline is appropriate.  Mild does not mean we reach back and swing hard, this is an action of anger and not out of love or the child's welfare. Here’s a general rule of thumb regarding your child’s development; a mild swat is more appropriate to young children who are not at an age to assimilate the goal of the discipline. As a child grows older discipline needs to take on a form that will cause them to think through their actions and the consequences of their poor choices. Remember, it is your  responsibility to be very clear with your expectations. Secondly, always use communication as your first tool of discipline.  Here are three simple steps to follow when disciplining your child;

  1. Reiterate your expectation
  2. Explain how you child was disobedient
  3. Discuss the consequences  (i.e. if a child is reckless with the car they lose the use of the car etc.)

I believe we all love our children and desire to do what is best for them  to ensure their greatest opportunity for success.  So if we know discipline is a loving action and will help them develop strong moral character why is discipline one of the hardest areas in child rearing?

Let's review a few possibilities...

We Only Know What We Know

It is very hard to do something we never experienced in our childhood. For many of us our parents had a laissez faire attitude concerning discipline. They took an advisory role in our lives even from our earliest years by being concerned with providing us with a myriad of choices rather than guiding us toward truth. Providing a smorgasbord of choices is not the role of the parent, especially in the early years. We are called to give clear and unambiguous direction that is based upon the eternal Word of God. This means that we need to depart from a parenting style that seems “natural” to us and bravely become parents that are committed to imparting godly values in a loving way.

Our Deep Need For Approval

This is a very common problem in our culture which is produced by a misguided desire to be a friend to our child rather than the parent they need. It is not wrong to want to have a loving, close relationship with your child but when that desire supersedes our commitment to confronting their poor behavior or shaping their moral character then we are allowing our own character flaw to impede their future growth. We need to take an honest look at ourselves and ask whether this is a problem in our parenting. If so then we must take incremental steps to change our attitude and become the parents our child needs.

For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly
— Proverbs 5:23

Our Fear that Discipline Equals Anger

If this is the case then this could indicate that you either only “discipline” when you're angry or you don’t discipline because you're angry and therefore not in control of your  emotions.  Good discipline is thoughtful, careful, reasoned and temperate. In short, good discipline is a demonstration of love because it requires the parent to consider the long-term best for the child not what is expedient for the moment. This is the complete opposite of an angry, knee-jerk reaction to a child’s behavior. If we discipline in anger we are not disciplining.

The goal of discipline is character molding, not physical harm

So does the Bible instruct us to spank our children?  Simply put, NO.  But it does instruct us to discipline our children just as God disciplines us. His goal in our lives is to produce in us godly character and to this end he uses people and circumstance to mold us. The sooner we yield to his discipline the deeper and richer will be our lives. He put us in a universe of cause and effect and sowing and reaping. If our child learns from their parents through properly administered loving discipline they will be less likely to need to experience the tougher lessons that are taught to us as adults.  

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