Angie and I have been through the parenting wringer trying to find the right approaches to disciplining our sons through the years. We've been exasperated at times, we've been very confident at other times. Yesterday's teaching was on Parenting from Proverbs. I did not focus on the subject of discipline, but Proverbs has a lot to say about it. So it was never an option for me and Angie to NOT engage our responsibility to discipline our boys.
Discipline your children, and they will give you peace;
they will bring you the delights you desire. Proverbs 29:17
Here's a helpful definition of discipline for parents: Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement. As promised, here are a few learnings from our family over the years:
-Unity talks behind closed doors. Angie and I picked this wisdom up from several parenting books. We came into parenting with different natural approaches, outlooks, and tendencies toward leniency or strictness in various areas. We would laugh, cry, and conflict over those differences behind closed doors. But we valued unity in our approach to the boys when the door was open. So much, so that we each made compromises and sacrifices from what our own natural bent toward discipline would have been if we were the only parent in the house. If you are a single parent, you are my hero. I suggest finding a consistent 'parenting ally' who you ask to be your consistent, regular wise counsel and sounding board for discipline issues.
-Name the primary current character issue going on with each child. The younger they were, the more frequently we had this conversation, because they change so quickly. Angie was good at taking the initiative on this. Whenever the annoyance meter really went up with one boy, we knew it was time to 'name it.' Discerning and naming the character issue (needed development, particular weakness, outright sin, etc.) behind annoying or problemmatic behaviors helped us take our responsibility to discipline all the more seriously. It counteracted our temptation to take the easy/lazy way out and not deal with problems. Putting it in terms of 'what if he never learns compassion for other people's feelings?' gave us backbone to deal consistently and authoritatively with problems. It also helped us to do our next practice:
-Try to find a Bible verse to pray for that child during the time you are disciplining a specific character issue. Angie was also very diligent at this. Sometimes we would name that verse to our son and put it on the fridge, sometimes the verse was just for us. It focused our prayers, connected us and our son to God's heart and God's will.
-Don't discipline for mere childishness. Spilt milk is spilt milk. Its gonna happen. A lot. Still does with teenagers. Clean it up and move on.
-The key to effective discipline is not 'getting it perfect' in every circumstance. Sometimes you're too stressed out or emotional to react the right way.
-The key is consistency, lovingly yet firmly applied, over a long period of time. That's the whole ball game.
-Name specific behaviors that will receive specific corrective consequences. Angie and I had to do this at each age, every stage, for most major character development issues we identified in our boys. This was the most measurable thing for us to be unified on. Unify on this with both parents, communicate it to your child. Follow through. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
-Read parenting bookS. Not just one. Per my sermon yesterday, there is no single philosophy of disciplining your child that will work for every child. We read the best books, from widely divergent parenting philosophies, and took what fit for us and each boy. Example: Spanking worked at the first hint with one of our boys (we only spanked when they were very young, and it was for outright rebellion). It did not concern our other boy at all - a different motivation was needed, and it took us a while to discover it. If your method isn't working, examine your method by examining your kid better.
-Discipline issues deferred or merely managed in 2-5 year olds will return with a vengeance and with seven heads when they are 13 years old. Deal with it now.
-Never discipline in anger. A timeout period is often more important for the parent than the child. You never owe them immediate information about their consequence, because you are in charge. 'Go to your room' can last as long as you need to compose yourself, pray, and decide on the appropriate consequence for their negative behavior.
-Love them, speak words of affirmation over them, call out their unique good 'bents' (from yesterday's sermon). If the majority (mathematically add it up daily!) of your words are in this direction, your discipline will be more potent.
Later this week, I will post more thoughts on discipline, and suggest a few books that have been most helpful to us.