There is a special sigh reserved for moms who just disciplined the toddler for hitting, and 17 seconds later he does it again. You know the sigh. It’s usually accompanied by a groan, eyes rolling up to the ceiling, and maybe even some teeth grinding.
And it’s when our hearts cry, “This isn’t working!” We must be doing something wrong. It must be our discipline strategy. It must be time for a change.
Or is it?
Before you go back to the drawing board and completely reinvent your discipline strategy (and read 3,471 blogs on the topic), ask yourself these four questions. Maybe you don’t need a new sticker chart or new creative consequences. Maybe all you need is a new perspective.
How to evaluate your discipline strategy (before starting from scratch)
- What’s my motive?
It’s embarrassing when your kid starts flopping like a fish on the floor of Walmart when you take the toy away – but embarrassment should not be our motivation for discipline. Neither should anger, frustration, or pressure from others. These motives blur our discernment. We’re more likely to discipline harshly. Our motive should be love. We can test our motives by asking, “Will this consequence help my child, or is it just an outlet for my frustration?” Another test is to take a moment to calm down before you discipline. You might find that this significantly changes your discipline strategy. But even if it doesn’t, it will redirect your motives and impact your attitude.
- Does this address the heart or (just) actions?
Are you having regular talks with your kids about why we obey? If not, discipline will stop at actions. If your child rips a toy out of another child’s hands and you demand that he gives it back, justice might be served – but was his heart shepherded? Ask your child, “What would be the kind thing to do? How would you like to be treated?” Addressing the heart doesn’t mean skipping the consequences; it means explaining them. You might not explain every consequence every time for every situation (sometimes the consequence has to happen quickly for the child to connect it to the disobedience) – but work discipline into daily conversation to give your kids a framework for the consequences.
- Am I frustrating my child?
Do your expectations match your child’s developmental level? Are you disciplining for childishness? If you spank a toddler for dropping a sippy cup, you will frustrate that child. Our discipline should empower our kids to change as they are able to, through love and encouragement. On the other hand, a lack of discipline is also frustrating to a child. Where are the boundaries? Where is the concern and care? Children will test boundaries to know if they are cared for. If they don’t sense the boundaries, they will not feel loved and secure.
- Am I mimicking my heavenly Father?
How does God discipline us? Well, for starters, he does discipline us. If your discipline strategy is weak or non-existent, you are not mimicking the love of our heavenly Father. But God’s discipline is always for our good. He “disciplines the one he loves.” (Hebrews 12:6) The result of God’s discipline is that it drives us closer to him. It might be painful, but in the end it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11) Does your discipline point your kids to God? Does it inspire them to stand in awe of his love and holiness?
If you discipline your kids intentionally and lovingly (though imperfectly), you can leave the results in God’s hands. Visible results are not the measure of your success. Heart change happens on the inside, one tiny step at a time. Don’t give up. Discipline again and again and again. You aren’t banging your head against a wall – you’re planting seeds of eternal life.
Books by Sara Wallace:
“For the Love of Discipline: When the Gospel Meets Tantrums and Time-Outs”
“I have read SO many parenting books- and it seems they fall into one of two camps: practical advice or a theological perspective, and so often I felt like they didn’t apply to the little years. This book is my new favorite on the subject of discipline because Sara beautifully addresses both, sharing stories and examples from her own life as a mother of 5 boys.” – Ashley.
“The Gospel-Centered Mom is a huge gulp of refreshing air for moms who are in the thick of raising kids. It takes your eyes off of your performance and places them on the one who performed perfectly for us.” – Jessica Thompson, co-author of Give Them Grace.