12 Things I Think I Think About Disciplining Young Kids

Parenting is one of the most challenging, humbling, and faith stretching assignments that God’s ever given to me. The great majority of parents try to do their best and yet parenting is probably more difficult than most people expect it to be. I know that it’s much more difficult than I would’ve guessed before having kids myself.

Because of the importance of being a good parent and the difficulty involved in the task, my wife and I have sought help from all kinds of resources including books and other parents that we respect. We’ve also learned a fair amount from the trial and error of our own experience of raising four kids.

I offer this list with a heaping dose of humility and the realization that parenting can’t be distilled into a list of do’s and don’ts.

12 Things I Think I Think About Disciplining Young Children

1. I think I think that consistent discipline is a loving thing to do.

Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

At the risk of being repetitive and annoying, let me say it again. If you don’t discipline your child you are not a loving parent…at least not according to the Bible.

2. I think I think the goal of discipline can’t be to gain the child’s immediate favor. I want my children to like me and sometimes that urge to be liked can cause me to not correct them or discipline them. Chris Braun has a great line with his kids that I’ve adapted myself:

All your life, I have been willing to die for you. I can honestly tell you that if it came down to your life or my life, I would give up mine on your behalf. So, if I am willing to die for you, then having you upset with me because I am correcting you is a relatively small thing in my world. If correcting you, means you being mad at me, then so be it.

3. I think I think that pain is designed by God to get our attention. Hebrews 12 tells us to “Endure hardship as discipline.” When we appropriately correct our kids, the pain of a swat on the hand or the loss of a privilege is designed to get their attention and soften their heart so that they will learn something important.

4. I think I think that discipline is intended to help kids see that their choices have consequences. If my 3 year old throws a temper tantrum because he doesn’t get his way, discipline is needed. Kids who demand to get their way turn into adults who do that with other people and more importantly with God. Since I’m trying to prevent that from happening (I’m trying to prevent my child from being a demanding person who throws a fit when he doesn’t get his way), I would swat my child’s bottom to help them see that temper tantrums aren’t going to get you what you want in life.

5. I think I think that one reason that a child obeying their parent is so important is because in some sense that’s how they learn to obey God. A parent is the God given authority in a child’s life. By learning to obey their parent a child is learning to obey God.

6. I think I think that behavior is far less important than a child’s heart. So when Christine and I disciplined our kids when they were young, we always explained what they had done wrong and why it was wrong. The “why” is as important as the “what.”

7. I think I think that parents are tempted to discipline more severely when their children make them look bad. As hard as it is to resist, we can’t tie our self-image to our kids behavior whether that behavior is good or bad.

8. I think I think that the overwhelming majority of discipline of young kids should be done in the home not in public. The time to work on avoiding temper tantrums is when you are at home not in the grocery store.

9. I think I think that discipline should never be done in anger. If your kids make you angry (and whose don’t?), send them to their room while you calm down and gain perspective. Christine and I tried to gently tell the kids what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and then give them the appropriate discipline. Hint: your kids don’t hear you better when you’re yelling.

10. I think I think that there are all kinds of discipline at a parents disposal and they should probably use them all. There are times when it is appropriate to limit your discipline to verbal correction while other times a slap on the hand is more needed or even spanking. Other options include sending a child to his/her room or the loss of a privilege. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all correction needs to look the same.

11. I think I think that threats are a bad way to go. When a parent threatens and doesn’t follow through, they unintentionally teach the kid that they (the parent) aren’t really serious. Hint: Don’t say, “If you hit your sister one more time, I’m pulling this car over” unless you really intend to pull the car over.

12. I think I think that it is never to early to start appropriately disciplining your child according to their age. Bad habits are hard to break. If you have a one year old that develops the habit of shrieking at the table during dinner, then deal with that immediately. If you let it pass without correction, it won’t go away. In fact it will become worse. Eventually you won’t be able to have a dinner conversation or be able to go out to eat or have a friend over because Billy’s screaming is too annoying.

One of the earliest things you can teach your young child is to obey your voice. Right when our kids started crawling we taught them to look at us when we called their name and then to come to us when we asked them to come. The benefits of this simple discipline were reaped for many years and were especially important when they reached two and three and the temptation was so high for them to run away or ignore us).

There are so many more things that probably belong on this list. What have you learned about disciplining young children?

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