You probably won’t be shocked to hear that the workshops I teach which address the topic of child discipline are by far the most requested by schools, churches, and parenting groups alike. When I teach my Discipline that Works!!! class at conferences, they are the most widely attended and are followed by the longest question and answer periods. The calls and private messages I get from teachers and mommies are almost always desperate cries for discipline tips. Not surprising, right?
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]Magic words that cause immediate obedience may SEEM to be a good idea, but it can’t really work in a world where we all have that pesky free will- That very same free will that enables us to choose to love.[/pullquote]I think the reasons most people request the topic or attend the training on classroom or home discipline techniques is because most of us feel (at one time or another) like complete failures at maintaining “proper discipline.” In fact, I strongly suspect people are so enthusiastic about coming to my classes in the first place because they are hoping that I am somehow going to give them tips and tricks about “How to make your child do everything you tell them to every time exactly how you wanted it done and do it immediately.” I feel so sorry when I pick up on that and know in my heart that nobody knows the recipe to make that happen every time. Well, God probably knows the formula but He doesn’t even use it. That should tell you something right there. Magic words that cause immediate obedience may SEEM to be a good idea, but it can’t really work in a world where we all have that pesky free will- That very same free will that enables us to choose to love. And others to choose to love us.
So, when I start to speak to my hopeful new friends, and I explain that discipline does not mean “punishment”, and go on to show them how the word “discipline” is a word that implies teaching, I can see already that at least some of the people start checking their phones in case there is some sort of big “emergency” they can use to escape the room. But I press on anyway. Because for me, really understanding this -that my job of disciplining my children and my students is to teach them the way that God teaches me- changed EVERYTHING.
Now, I’ll never be able to claim for even one second that I got this down perfectly either in the classroom or in my own home, but on my good days, when I truly remembered that I was teaching little people how to be enjoyable big people, I stopped feeling so angry and frustrated, and I started understanding that children misbehave not because they are horrible little beasties, but because they are still learning. Just like I am.
Another thing that really made an impression on my heart is the scripture that reminds us that God disciplines us because we are his children, and he loves us (Proverbs 3:12). That’s a big, fat deal. Have you ever really sat and chewed on that scripture? There are so many treasures in there: the fact that God considers us his children! The fact that He loves us! The fact that he loves us so much that He’s willing to do the hard work to teach us how to behave like one of His children ought!
If I apply that idea to how I discipline the children in my care, the whole picture becomes just a little clearer. For example, when I see that my son has just hit his sister, I’m not setting out to punish him for not listening to me when I said to calm down. Instead, I’m approaching the situation with a heart for teaching him how to resolve conflict without hitting. This accomplishes several things: it helps me calm down and not take this so personally. It also gives me a direction about how to deal with the problem. Finally, it sets up the situation for him to someday be a man who doesn’t just know that hitting is wrong, but who also knows how to communicate his needs in a productive way.
It’s at this point in my workshops that I can actually feel the Yeahbuts start brimming up everywhere. “Yeah but… I keep telling her the same thing over and over and she just won’t do it!” “Yeah but… He knows the right thing to do. He is still (leaving his laundry on the floor, speaking disrespectfully, refusing to brush his teeth… Fill in the blank). To this I say, I totally know! It is so frustrating when people know they should do one thing and then they do another. That happens a lot when people are still learning.
As a grown adult, I find that I often struggle with doing things that I know I ought not to pretty much on the daily. Today, even though I know FOR A FACT that chocolate gives me a headache and makes my butt big, I bought a big ol’ hunk of mountain toffee from the candy store in the airport (for “medicinal purposes” – it has been a VERY ROUGH DAY) and then I went and ate the WHOLE THING. I have been learning about making good food decisions for a very long time, and STILL I fall down on the job. The result is that I am typing this at 35,000 over the great state of Arizona and pretty much hating myself because I have a headache and I know that I just threw all my exercise in the toilet by doing something I KNEW I SHOULD NOT DO.
I will tell you this though, the natural consequences that I am facing are teaching me a lesson. God allows me the space to learn things the hard way when necessary, and he patiently forgives when I pick myself back up and try again. That’s what mercy and grace look like.
This blog is not the place for all the discipline tips and techniques we’d cover in an hour-long workshop, but I do want say I suspect that when God points out how he disciplines (teaches) us, there’s a little something to read between the lines for those who care for children in any capacity. I would offer to you that the ‘do unto others’ business (Luke 6:31), the ‘forgive others or I won’t forgive you’ statement (Matthew 6:15), and the ‘I discipline you because I love you’ (Hebrews 12:6) stuff all adds up to “Discipline the children in your care the way that you would like God to discipline you.” And if that’s true, it would do us all some good to take a minute to think how God already disciplines us, how He lovingly allows us room to learn while surrounding us with patience, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and sweet, sweet grace- and maybe take a few notes.
- How can changing your idea of what discipline means affect how you care for children?
- How can changing your idea of what discipline means affect how you care for yourself?