Decide to Discipline: Young Children

The most fundamental discipline takes place during a child’s younger, school age years. Hopefully your children have learned that their choices have consequences. Kids need to know that Mom and Dad tell the truth and will consistently follow through. If a parent says they are going to discipline a behavior, it is essential that the promised discipline be given.

Parents need to think and choose a discipline rather than offer threats in the heat of a moment. The consequence needs to match the “crime” and it takes some time to make certain that’s the case. Taking the time to match the crime is actually part of the discipline itself.

A Case Study

Your son tells you he has been at a friend’s house working on a science project. What he doesn’t know is that your neighbor just called to tell you that your son and his best friends were sitting behind her fence smoking cigarettes. You could immediately call your son out on his blatant lie. Instead, you look at him and say, “I need to think about this for a few minutes. Please go to your room and I’ll get you when I’m ready to talk.”

He instantly knows that something is not right. Chances are he will not crumple to the ground saying, “I was smoking with my friends!” He will probably begin to ask a million questions. What’s wrong? Why do I have to go to my room? That is kid code for, “Okay, what do you know?” But the current “angst” your son is feeling is part of the discipline, so you merely say, “I’m not ready to talk about this yet. Please go to your room.”

Go pour yourself something cold to drink, put your feet up, and pray for the wisdom you need to deliver the perfect discipline. Smoking a cigarette is a wrong thing and you want to stop that behavior. The greater issue for discipline is the fact that he looked you straight in the face and lied. That is a character issue and is therefore the most important thing to discipline.

Little Larry the Liar, meanwhile, is stewing in his room, thinking, “Am I caught? Do I smell like smoke? What should I say now?” Your thinking time gives your child a chance to do the same.

Hopefully, you will soon see a repentant Larry who will fess up with, “I lied to you and I’m sorry.” If Larry confesses, the evening is spent with Mom and Dad as opposed to the gaming system, friends, or TV. Mom and Dad hand Larry a paper and pencil and, twenty websites later, Larry understands why smoking is not as “cool” as his friends convinced him it was. Larry also learns that the next time his friends want to do something wrong, he might want to find a reason why he can’t stay and is supposed to be home.

But if Little Larry emerges from his room still a liar, he should face a very different discipline. You need to sit him down and deliver the bad news that he is “busted.” He still has to do the research with Mom and Dad about smoking, but there will be other discipline as well. What’s more important than his health? His character.

Larry needs to learn that his lies now prevent you from trusting him. That trust is something he will need to earn again. Larry comes home from school tomorrow and says, “I’m going to Joe’s house.” Mom says, “No Larry, you are not. I wish I could believe you when you say that but I don’t know if you are telling the truth. You need to stay home today.” At the same time, look for the times he does tell the truth and thank him for doing so. That discipline, for a week or two, will go a long way towards teaching Little Larry that liars lead miserable lives. In fact, for two weeks do your best to make Larry miserable. For example: “As long as you are home, Larry, please fold this load of laundry, take out the trash, and clean the bathroom.”

Teach young children that your opinion has the greatest influence in their lives. Let them know that you expect them to live with high character and to make right choices, even if their friends don’t. Trust is earned, and with trust comes freedom.

Long-term Benefits

I had a few moms tell me they thought I was too hard on my kids. They said something like, “they are just little boys.” Interestingly, when my boys were teenagers I had very little trouble with trusting my sons. They had learned that telling the truth was the right thing to do, and being disciplined almost always made the wrong choice fall in the category of “not worth it.”

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).