training our children

Some Thoughts on Discipline: Part 2


*Please be aware: This is day two of a respectful discussion here. No poo throwing! If you insist on poo throwing I will honor those around you by deleting your post. *You have joined  a discussion on discipline Part 1: Honor This Child was yesterday. Part 2: Train Them to Govern Themselves is today. Part 3: My Spanking Story will be posted on Thursday.

Part 2: Train Them to Govern Themselves

Effective discipline has a purpose and it’s not to control children. It is to teach them to govern themselves. This image of God that children bear is not static. Being made in the image of God means that human beings have a drive to choose for themselves. We come with a drive—a compelling desire— to govern. During a conversation with a friend about his nine-month-old daughter he said, “Her will is already coming out!” He was right. His daughter was born with a will, and God gave it to her. God, who created her will, has no desire to break it (Matthew 12:20). He does desire that she learn to link up her will with his and become a force for good. A while back it was a favorite saying that parents must break the spirit or the will of the child. We have no right to break something that isn’t ours and that we didn’t create. This is the epitomé of “trespassing” (Matthew 6:12). The famous Scripture verse Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (KJV). As parents our job (bad pay, no insurance or retirement— I know!) is to train our children. We are training them to not be obedient automatons, but to be a force for goodness in the world.

My question from yesterday, “How do I honor my children?” today becomes, “How do I train my children to govern themselves?” Training, like honoring, is hard work.

I know one thing: The key to training is consistency.

If I want my kids to brush their teeth every day I have to train them. Every day. I have to show them that I indeed brush my teeth. I have to expect that they will brush theirs. I have to make sure they have the tools: brushes, paste, and water. I need to check and make sure that they are doing it. When they are young I will have to do it with them, and even sometimes when they are older and have started slacking off.

Now think of it in terms of training kids to getting along with a sibling. I have to show them that I indeed get along with others too. (Here’s another thing I know: More is caught than taught. If we want to know what our “big sin issues” are, we just have to watch our kids, who often pick up some of the worst of our behaviors.) I have to expect that they will get along with others. I have to make sure that they have the tools to get along with others. I need to check in and see how their relationships are going. When they are young I will have to intervene in a lot of sibling squabbles, not to hand out punishment, but to show them what getting along looks like. As they grow older and their abilities to govern themselves increase, I’m backing off.

All kids are different so each child is going to need to be trained in ways that fit their particular needs. We have a saying in our house that goes something like “Fairness isn’t everybody getting the same. Fairness is everybody getting what they need.” This is a more mature view of fairness than most kids have, and my children (okay: me too) are growing into it. As we train our children for growing independence, as we train them to govern themselves, we have to keep in mind that they are each “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and oh-so–different from one another. The techniques that work for one really well may not help another as much.

As my friend, Kevin, recently pointed out parents are different too. We also have our own personalities and temperaments. We need to be self-aware enough to know what discipline techniques we can actually administer. For example chore charts and stickers and elaborate reward systems are not for me. I can't keep up with my keys, this would burden me to death. But it does work for some, and I'm cheering for them.

What happens when children question and attempt to subvert our training? (Well, first, I have a glass of port. Ha!) One of our kids is a questioner. It seems since birth she has been questioning our decisions. Mostly she is respectful. Mostly she does what we ask. But constantly she questions. At first I thought I was going to go crazy. Then I had a short phase (thank God for its being short) when I thought it was disrespectful for her to question me. Finally it occurred to me that I want her to learn to question, as well as to do as she is asked.

Teaching children to submit to authority without question leaves our children open to danger. The people who take authority in her life won’t always have her very best good in mind, and in those cases she needs to know how to question. She needs to know how to rebel. Constant submitting without question also does not teach her to govern her own life. If our decisions don’t make sense to her, she should question. God has given her a mind and heart and he fully expects her to use it. Teaching her wisdom is also part of training her to govern herself.

Here are some of the ways we try to teach her wisdom in her questioning. (Our daughter is 13, so we’ve been working up to this for 13 years. Don’t expect your 7 year-old to pull this off. But this is what we are working toward. Heck some days I’m still working on this!)

• Her argument must be clear and honest.

• She must honor the image of God in the person she’s speaking to.

• In the end she must seek the guidance of God and do what he says.

Questions and actions for consideration

Pause for just a second. Take a deep breath. Reflect on your recent interactions with your children. Pick one that stands out. Ask yourself: was my goal to train my children to govern themselves?

You may find yourself chest deep in a sea of guilt. Will you let me offer you a life line? God is not for guilt. God is for learning to walk with him. Please take a minute and read Psalm 23, aloud. Yes, aloud. You need to hear that the Good Shepherd travels this road with you and your children. You are learning together, and the Good Shepherd is with you.

Parenting is a hard job. Ask God to give you a little grace, a little break, a little mercy. He longs to lavish these, I think, especially on parents. He knows it’s a hard job. He’s a parent too.