Give Definite Warnings
Indefinite warnings are wasted warnings. As an example, which one of these parents will get the best results?
Parent number one: “John, don’t be so naughty. If you don’t straighten up, you’re going to get it!”
Parent number two: “Susie, do not hit your brother. If you hit your brother again, you will sit on your time out chair for ten minutes. Do you understand?”
If you picked the second warning, you are right. Little Susie will get the message. If she doesn’t, her parents will know exactly what to do.
A definite warning is much stronger than an empty threat. The second warning identifies the unruly behavior, states the parent’s expectation, and explains the consequences of disobedience. The first warning, though full of emotion, is vague. You can almost hear the shouting and feel the tension. But it doesn’t really say anything. John will probably ignore the first warning, and the parent who gave it will become very frustrated.
Parents who give indefinite warnings run the risk of losing their child’s respect and attention. Here is the progression:
When discipline is not clear . . .
Authority is not enforced . . .
Respect is not established . . .
The parent’s voice is not obeyed.
The result is a nagging parent, and a nagging parent is a defeated parent. Worst of all, the child learns that he can control Mommy and Daddy by ignoring them, at least until they start screaming and shouting.
Make the Warning Appropriate to the Child’s Age
Even a little child can understand the word, “No.” Establish good limits early and help your child know the consequences for misbehaving. The longer you wait the harder it gets. If you wait too long, it will become a hopeless task.
If he heeds the warning, let him know you are pleased. If he doesn’t heed the warning, carry out the discipline you promised.
If you discipline effectively while your children are young, your job will become easier when they grow older.
Use Appropriate Discipline
As a child grows, your forms of discipline need to change. You will know the effectiveness of the discipline when you see your child’s response. If you see her attitude soften, if she is sorry for her actions, and complies with your directions, you will know that the discipline has worked.
When our two sons were sixteen and twelve, they often argued about washing the dishes, a chore we had assigned to them. One evening, when they fought about who would wash and who would dry, I decided to teach them a lesson. I required them to sit still in the kitchen while I washed the dishes and gave them instructions in how to do it. I washed extra slowly, taking my time . . . and theirs! After that, we had fewer problems . . . at least for a while. Perhaps that helps us understand that discipline is something our children want to avoid enough to obey the rules we have established.
Discipline Near the Time of Disobedience
The parent who is present is the parent who should apply discipline. It won’t help your child to threaten him with discipline, “when Daddy comes home.” You wouldn’t like that, would you? The child begins to dread his father coming home because he knows he will punish him or scold him. Besides, by the end of the day younger children often forget what they did wrong in that morning.
Never, Never, Never!
Never Ridicule Your Children
Don’t call them bad names, tease them in harmful ways, or shame them. Ridicule will create bitterness toward you and toward others in authority. They may obey you, but you will kill their enthusiasm. No child should wither like a dead weed. They should bloom! As the Bible says, “Parents, do not irritate your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)
Never Use Rejection as a Form of Discipline
Some parents actually tell their children they hate them or can’t stand them, ripping their children’s souls to shreds with their violent words. We know a lady whose mother would lock her in a closet, for hours, when she became frustrated with her. Another friend’s mother would refuse to speak to her for days when she misbehaved. Try to imagine how that would make a young child feel.
Maybe you don’t need to imagine. Maybe you know. Perhaps it happened to you. Rejection can imprison a child for life. So we need to let our children know that we love them, no matter what they do, but we will not tolerate their misbehavior.
Parents who speak violent words, subject their children to stony silence, or lock them in closets, have deep needs of their own. Here’s the good news for your bad news: Jesus has the power to heal your hurts and renew your mind. He makes broken people into healthy parents.
Most parents will over react at times. In a moment of frustration we might blast our child with unkind, angry words. We might make dreadful threats, or discipline the innocent child by mistake. It’s never excusable, but take some comfort in knowing that it happens to many of us. To lessen the possibility, sometimes it helps to give yourself a time-out before you respond to your child’s misbehavior.
Never Give Up
Some parents have. They believe that they can do nothing with their children, and that belief leads to passivity. In other words, they are discouraged. Now, I know it’s easy for parents to become discouraged. But your child’s welfare and future depend on your involvement.
What should you do if you commit one of the nevers? Be honest. Don’t try to cover up. Admit your mistakes. Nothing else will work.
One day, when our boys were still young, I asked Michael to wash the car. When I checked on him, I found water inside the car. I blew up! I even called him an idiot. (Not one of my shining moments as a dad.) From the corner of my eye I saw Matt, his younger brother, crying. Now, why did Matt cry when I yelled at Mike? “What’s the matter with you?” I said angrily.
With tears spilling from his eyes, my little six-year-old son replied: “Dad, it’s the way you shouted at my brother. Mike didn’t mean to get water in the car. He was just trying to help. Your words sounded like just a show of anger.”
What’s a dad to do? I could have rebuked Matt for talking to me like that, but he was right. I had been angry. I had wrongly accused Mike of carelessness. The only right action was to admit I had been wrong. That’s what I did. I may have lost face, but better that than losing my son’s respect.
Here’s an idea we need to grasp: losing face and losing respect are not the same. Haven’t you lost respect for someone who maintains his personal image, no matter what lies he has to tell to do it? And don’t you genuinely respect the person who will risk looking bad, but maintain integrity?
All parents are imperfect. Since we can’t be perfect, we need enough honesty to admit we made a mistake. Otherwise, we are teaching our children that “might makes right.” Will they ever respect anyone’s authority when they have lost respect for us?
Children differ greatly in their temperament and personality. We parents need to learn their differences so we don’t make the crucial mistake of treating weakness or helplessness as rebellion. How desperately we need a sensitive heart, a heart like God’s heart, in caring for our children. Before we go any further, let’s stop and pray:
“Father God, give me a heart like yours. Give me your wisdom. Show me my children through your eyes. Change the things in me that keep me from being a good parent. I repent of my pride, my impatience, and my harshness. Thank you for each of our children and for what we learn as we raise them. Help me to care enough to discipline my children with love. Amen.”