Discipline is a big topic – and one that sparks lots of intense feelings.  I thought it time to address what I believe about discipline because we use a word – and it may not mean what you think it means.  Or at least you may not know what I mean when I use the word.  Discipline is understood to be a big part of parenting – if we do it wrong it really does hurt our children – and I don’t mean just physically but emotionally, relationally and even spiritually.  This is an area you really have to think about and not just do whatever.  We must be intentional when it comes to discipline.

How to Discipline Your Child And Stay Heart-focused?

Parenting practices are always changing one generation to the next.  My mum says that one generation will avoid doing what their parents did, only to have their own children avoid what was done to them which often means they inadvertently do the things their grandparents did, and their parents avoided!  That is very wordy – only to say – that you probably have some reactions to things your parents did and your kids will probably react to somethings that you are doing. 

I’ve been following some discussions online about discipline, especially in the area of spanking. I think one of the biggest shifts we’ve seen as a culture at large has been moving from spanking to not spanking.  In some countries it is illegal, and in other countries, it is seen as extremely wrong and harmful.  Our kids were fairly young when I came to realise that spanking (regardless of my self-control) was not what the Bible said, was not heart-focused and it was very counterproductive.

Before I had that moment of realisation I made a distinction between spanking and punishments but in that moment I realised they were one and the same – they had the same function  – and I changed my whole discipline process from then on.

But if you remove spanking and other punishments what do you do?  Once that is taken off the table what do we do now?  As I talk to parents they are ranging from no discipline because they don’t know what to do, or they’ve read books and flow between Free Range Parenting, Gentle Parenting, and Positive Parenting.  Each of those models (and probably many other models you hear about) has an element of good but every model has its weaknesses too – added to the fact that we are human parents trying to do our best, and sometimes we will not be at our best, the issue of discipline is often one that we struggle to get right!

I’m not here to endorse or criticise any one of those models – they all have an aspect that is worth considering – but the bottom line is I want to parent my children in a way that honours God, reflects His heart, and is consistent with His purposes.

 

Understanding Heart-focused Discipline

As with most things, if we are going to discipline our children with any effectiveness we need to know our why (what we believe), and our how (what we choose to do).  Being heart-focused isn’t just about addressing our children’s hearts – but it is also about being aware of what is in your heart – what you, as the parent, believe, value, feel and choose.  

So instead of jumping first into the best practices to discipline your child or the 3 rules for discipline, I want you to think and clarify what you believe, why you believe that, and how that belief looks like in action.

First up – we need to understand what discipline is.  I think we all think, at least initially, and it has been a historical understanding – that discipline is about punishment, maybe spanking, consequences, grounding, and confiscating stuff. 

Let me clear right up front – this is not my definition of discipline.  And if it is yours, then you will struggle to be heart-focused.  When that is our first (and maybe only) definition of discipline we become defensive parents, we spend our energies controlling and limiting wrongdoing, we lay down the law.  To be fair, that may be your definition and you may not like that, you may not like the fruit of that, you may have stepped away from that – but without replacing your definition with a healthy understanding you are left not knowing how to discipline.  Or even if you should. 

Ultimately discipline is that inner determination to do something.  It is the training that creates muscle memory and habit that enables us to consistently do something.  As parents, we have to help our children develop this inner strength to consistently do something. How we do that is what we call as a parenting tool – discipline.  And this is where we have to be careful that we don’t resort to external punishments if we want an internal (a heart) result.

I wanted my kids to know what was right, why it was right, and how to do right. In any sphere of their life – spiritual, moral, emotional, social, intellectual, physical. For that to happen I had to know what was right, why it was right, and then teach them, so that they could know too.  I had to be aware of the situations they were in and know what was the right (or wise, or healthy) choices they were facing, I had to know what their struggles were, and how I could help them grow stronger in their ability to do the right thing.  It was that cross-over – between what they needed to do, and their inability to do that, that discipline is needed.

  • How do they engage around the dinner table?
  • How do they do their chores?  
  • How do they behave at the grocery store or at church?
  • How do they do social events?
  • How do they spend their time or their money?
  • How do they do their schoolwork?

In every one of those situations, and in any situation our child faces, there is a right or wrong action.  In our family the right or wrong was based on God’s word and moral values that were based on the respect of others (the Golden Rule so to speak – or as Jesus commanded – that we love God and love others).  

This is the why of discipline.  We want to teach our children to have inner discipline, the inner determination, to choose wisely, to do the right thing in any given situation because they value virtue, because they value doing the right thing..

Yelling, spanking, grounding, confiscating and any other punishment we can think of won’t change their heart – it won’t give them the inner discipline, or determination, to do the right thing.  It may intensify their resolve to never be caught again, to shut down and not be honest, to pretend that everything is okay – but it won’t help them value what is good and right, and grow in the ability to choose what is good and right.

This is the key to changing your parenting to being heart-focused.  The Bible says out of the heart flows all of life.  Meaning all of your choices come out of what is in your heart.  If you have God’s word in your heart, your choices and actions will be directed by God’s word.  If you have moral values in your belief system, then your choices will be directed by those moral values.  Spanking a child won’t get those moral values into their heart.  

I’m reminded of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  When we think on such things our heart is changed, when we think on these things our beliefs and values are aligning with God’s truth – and our actions will be changed because of that.

So unless our children are made to think about what is right in their given situation, they will never be able to value that and choose that for themselves.  They will never gain the internal discipline to do the right thing in that area of their life.

This is why we need to have the big picture of discipline.  It isn’t about imposing a punishment on our kids to make them stop doing the wrong thing – it is about helping them see what is the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable thing to do in their situation – and to have the desire to do it, and the ability to do that.

Discipline is not about imposing a punishment on the child for doing the wrong thing.

My perspective is that discipline as a parenting strategy (or tool) is about the things we do that will help our children create the inner determination to do the right thing, and the skills to be able to do that.

4 Key Aspects of a Heart-focused Discipline Practice

Respect– everything starts with respect.  Respect for myself and for my child – in all that I do as a parent.  This means I know what I believe and value myself and that becomes my boundaries as I relate to my child – keeping my actions, my choices consistent with my values.  It also means that I act towards my child knowing that they are created and loved by God my Father.

Teaching – We need to teach our children what is right, why it is right, and how to do right in every situation they face.  Teaching is about talking, explaining, showing, practicing, it is not about telling.  When we teach we repeat until they get it.  When we tell, we expect them to get it the first time.  Telling rarely reaches the heart.

Heart Time – This is where a child is removed from enjoying activities so they can reflect on what is going on in their heart.  This is where they take ownership of what they believe, value, feel and choose.  They may have to change what they believe, value, feel and choose – and they need time and guidance to be able to do that, and to then put to rights anything they have hurt by their wrong thinking.

Natural consequences – Our children need to learn that when they make a choices, things happen.  If they make unwise choices, then something/someone gets hurt, broken, sad – and they need to take responsibility and help mend what they have broken.  Natural consequences don’t need parents to twist circumstances to make a teachable moment.  The lesson to be learnt is in the cause and effect of their choices.  They did this – this happened – they then have to deal with whatever happened because it was a result of their choices.  And in experiencing natural consequences, and maybe parents talking about it, a child can learn.

Remember the purpose of discipline – the purpose of interacting with your child after they have done something wrong – is to help them create the inner determination to do the right thing, and to learn the skills to be able to do that the next time.

Heart-focused Parenting Action Step

There are a few things to think about today as you reflect on the issue of discipline in your family.

First up, How do you want to be (what type of person do you want to be) when your child makes an unwise choice?   I wanted to be loving, firm, directive, helpful.  I did not want to be angry, demanding, impatient, bossy.  What words do you want to describe yourself and how you act when your child does something wrong, or unwise, or makes a mistake?  Take the time to write that down, and come back and think about it over the coming week.

The second thing I want you to think about is – how are you helping your child gain inner determination or inner discipline to do the right thing?  Are the things you do as discipline helping your child do the right thing the next time – or are they just robotically doing what you say, afraid of punishment?  Or are they pushing back, angry and stubbornly refusing to get it – meaning you are going around and around in circles?

Like I said at the beginning – this is a big parenting issue.  We are often triggered by memories of what our own parents did, we may have different opinions than our spouse, we may have started out one way and felt uncomfortable so are floundering not sure of what to do, you may be confronted as listen to this episode to rethink things.  

Take time to pause, ponder, pray – ask questions – I am more than happy to answer any questions you have via email.  You can get to the Contact Me form here on my website, or if you receive my weekly Heart Boosters you can just hit reply and that will get to my inbox too. I will certainly reply to any emails that are sent and we can keep talking that way over this issue of discipline.

 

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Further Reading:

Understanding Heart-focused Discipline:  Heart-focused discipline strategies that will strengthen your child’s ability to do the right thing and not damage your relationship.

How to make Training a Part of your Heart-focused Parenting: Christian parents are told to train up a child in the way he should go but what does it mean to train?

Parents, Step up and Establish Safe Boundaries for your Kids: Parents need to set boundaries to keep their children safe and to help them grow up.

How to Respond when your Child makes a Bad ChoiceWhen our child makes a bad choice parents must respond with love, compassion and wisdom instead of being upset at their behaviour.

What to do when your Child doesn’t have a Teachable Heart?  Does your child have a teachable heart or do they resist your instruction? Here are the strategies that worked in our home when these attitudes happened.

 

 

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