“What am I going to do with this kid?” This question has been asked by almost every parent, whether or not it’s been asked out loud. Usually, this question is asked in frustration, following an incident which the parent feels could have been avoided. The question is raised, not just as a frustration, but in search of an answer: “What should I do to make sure this child acts in a right way?”
We have said already in our Parenting series that it is important to know what you expect from your children and to explain to them what you want them to do. Too many children are victims of their parents ever-changing whims. This is one of the biggest reasons, I believe, that Colossians 3:21 says: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” We ought to be clear with our children regarding our expectations.
We should also be clear regarding the consequences for not obeying. Our children should know what to expect if they do not obey what we are asking of them. These consequences should be explained by the parents and understood by the children as best as they can before the incidents in question happen. When the child understands, not only their parents expectations, but the negative consequences that might follows disobedience, it helps makes things clearer and eliminates some of the frustration with parenting. God, when giving the Law, not only explained what He wanted, but also explained what would happen if they didn’t obey.
But that leaves another serious question: “What are appropriate punishments?” There is much debate on the appropriateness of punishments, especially ones that have been used over decades and centuries. For instance, one of the punishments that has been used by people over the ages is corporal punishment. Whether it was “the woodshed,” or just a plain old “spanking”, corporal punishment has been used by generations. There are “scientific” articles for and against physical punishment, and so each parent much come to terms with what is most acceptable for them. Though the Bible does talk about corporal punishment (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 23:13-14), it does not give specifics. Many have done the Bible discredit by abusing their children with physical punishment instead of proper use of what might be useful corporal punishment.
Wherever you land on the debate, the importance of some of kind of negative consequences for wrong actions (punishment) is necessary for good parenting. Let me give a few guiding points
1. Don’t take away things that are good for the children. Telling them that if they misbehave they can’t go to church is foolish. Disobedient children need to experience things that are good for them, yet many parents feel that anything that a child likes to do is fair game.
2. The punishment should fit the crime. It is important to make a correlation between the crime and the consequence that will help cement the reason why they are being punished. However, your consequence should not be so obtuse that you cannot follow through with it, and it should not be so far above what is warranted that it can be regarded as unfair. If they are spending time playing video games instead of obeying, remove the video games. If they go on a bike ride and extend your boundaries, they may lose their bike privileges for a time. If they have been disrespectful to you, they should have to do something nice to make it up, among other things they may do.
3. The punishment should fit the age. It is very difficult to reason with younger children. They do not think like teens and adults do. I think that corporal punishment with young children is appropriate. This, again, is debated, but here are some good resources on the benefits of appropriately done corporal punishment. As your children get older, they do not need corporal punishment as much as they need reasoning and the removal of things they enjoy. You can give them timeouts, take away privileges, “ground,” them, and make them do extra chores. It makes little sense to use corporal punishment on a sixteen-year-old, when it does not speak to them anymore.
4. The punishment should have a time limit. Once the child is done with the punishment, explain to them that they are done, and that they are forgiven. Tell them that you will not keep reminding them of their failure and adding to their consequences. As God has forgiven us, so we should forgive our children. This is right, good, and virtuous. One of the reasons I do not like long punishments is that often near the end of the time, the child has either forgotten why they were punished, or have built up bitterness in the meantime of being punished. A child sitting in the corner has much time to think, stew, and be angry, not over what they did, but what their parents have made them do.
5. Punishment should never be done in anger. There is no reason to be angry when disciplining your children. Anger is a response we get when things are not right, but as a parent you have the right to make things right, and you don’t need anger to do it. If you are angry in parenting, there is a good chance that you are simply angry with yourself for not following through or explaining things clearly. If this is the case, then vent your anger on yourself, not your child. A child should never be touched, spoken to, or disciplined in anger or to produce unmerited shame (see the picture above). Anger sometimes blinds us to justice and proper correction, which is what we are after in punishment. If you find yourself angry when you are going to discipline, take a minute to cool off, and then you can calmly deal with the offense in a way that would honor God and produce lasting change in your child.
However God leads you to punish, you must also understand that being inconsistent is one of the most harmful things you can do. We will talk about this in the next article, but understand that defined rules are important to effective parenting.
I am not a licensed family counselor, and any of these opinions are not meant to be taken as professional or legal advice. Any misuse of this advice is not to be taken as a direct result of the educational contents of this article.