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Discipline With Young Children

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The scriptures command parents to raise children in the training and instruction of the Lord. We begin “training” a child from a very young age by the ways we respond to their actions and attitudes. The primary purpose of discipline is to consistently direct your child toward right relationship with God and others. Several practices contribute to that process.

  Practice #1: Establish Your Authority

Children need a clear answer to the question “Who is the boss?” Mom and Dad embody the security and limits that come from submitting ourselves to a loving heavenly Father. God has delegated oversight of your child’s welfare and development to you, placing you in a position of authority over them.

Starting when children are very young, parents need to model clarity and consistency. Unclear rules and sporadic reinforcement breed insecurity. You must say what you mean, mean what you say and act upon it. Don’t overlook defiant behavior just because the specific issue seems minor, or because it is a hassle to stop and discipline at the moment. Children are commanded to obey their parents and parents to train their children even when it is inconvenient to do so (see Colossians 3:20-21). In addition, remember the mirror principle which states that “the way a child responds to his or her parents is a reflection of the way that they are responding to God.” Because God has given children the command to obey parents, as a child disobeys or disrespects a parent, he or she also disrespects and disobeys God

  Practice #2: Discipline Rather Than Punish

Punishment is negative, making someone pay for what they’ve done. Discipline is positive – training toward a better future. Like touching a hot stove, we learn from the consequences of our actions. Discipline in childhood helps children avoid “learning the hard way” later in life.

Many parents ask about the use of spanking to help shape a child’s will. The scriptures teach that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (see Proverbs 22:15, 13:24 and 29:15).Administering “the rod” apart from biblical principles, however, can cause more harm than good. Corporal discipline should only be used within guidelines such as those offered by Christian parenting experts.

Several books can help you learn to apply spanking, time-out, and other methods of discipline in healthy and productive ways. (see “Going Further Resources”) Regardless of which form of discipline you use, however, the key is consistency. As author Ginger Plowman explains, it is not the severity of punishment but the “certainty of consequence” that makes the difference.

God holds parents accountable for how they use the authority He has given them. The scriptures instruct parents not to “exasperate” or “embitter” their children (see Colossians 3:21). Do not treat childish immaturity the same as willful defiance. Parents should never discipline children out of embarrassment, frustration or anger. Accidentally spilling the milk or waking the baby is not an occasion for stern discipline. But ignoring direct disobedience can make a child vulnerable to an ongoing spirit of rebellion.

Parents are called to protect their children from the ruin of an undisciplined life and point them to their need for a savior (see Proverbs 23:14 and Romans 3:22-24). Ultimately, the discipline you apply should be used in a way that restores right relationship. It should provide a consequence that leads the child to repentance (sorrow for their wrong behavior) and restoration of the relationship with mom, dad and others.

  Practice #3: Lovingly Instruct

Starting in the preschool years discipline and instruction should become a package deal (see Ephesians 6:4). Don’t make the mistake of allowing your desire for changed behavior to replace your desire for a changed heart. A changed heart takes much more effort and time on a parent’s part, but is well worth the effort. We do not simply want behavior modification (which is short-lived), but true heart-change. Only God changes hearts, but He often uses faithful and obedient parents in the process.

Use simple probing questions and share specific scriptures about wrong choices to instruct your child toward repentance. After disciplining a 2-year-old temper tantrum, for example, you might explain that “God wants us to obey.” With a 4-year-old you can go further, explaining self-control, reading Titus 2:6 and asking the child “Do you think that you were self-controlled or out-of-control?” Such loving instruction after discipline helps train your son or daughter to think like a follower of Christ rather than merely behave in order to avoid punishment.

Recommended Books -Available from the Faith @ Home Center

Shepherding a Child’s Heart (by Tedd Tripp) explains the process of shaping a child’s heart rather than simply correcting their behavior.

Don’t Make Me Count to Three (by Ginger Plowman) provides specific, practical strategies for discipline.

The Strong-Willed Child (by Dr. James Dobson) helps parents who are dealing with a particularly strong-willed child.

Boundaries with Kids (by Henry Cloud) provides solid parenting practices and principles from the perspective of a well-respected, Christian psychologist.

Going Further – Church Support

Life Group Ministry: Authentic Christian community and mentoring is available through Riverview’s Life Group ministry. Contact our Life Groups pastor Michael Beene at for more info.

Faith @ Home Mentoring: Mentors who can offer biblical advice and support are available. Talk with a faith @ home team-member at the faith @ home center to learn more.

Pastoral Counseling: Pastors are available to counsel those who would like more Godly wisdom on this issue. Please call the church office for more info: 573-348-3515

“Parenting on Purpose”: is a short-term course that is offered to parents who are interested in becoming intentional with the spiritual growth of their children. Contact our Next Generation and Life Groups pastor Michael Beene at for more info.