Is Your Discipline Too Tough, Too Soft, or Just Right?

As we seek to discipline our children, there is a wide range of typical methods. At the extremes, some discipline harshly while others barely discipline at all. It’s finding that sweet “just right” spot that’s the real trick.

We are at a time in history when kids are largely disconnected from their most significant adults and this disconnection hinders discipline from these adults. Many call this permissive parenting.These parents allow their children to blatantly misbehave with little or no effort to correct them. A selfish need for peace at all costs may cause parents to avoid discipline. They fear the difficult emotions and even rejection by their child, or wish to avoid the intense effort of corrective encounters.

At the other extreme, a parent’s need for control may lead to excessive use of power (authoritarian discipline) to gain compliance or eliminate undesirable behavior. The Bible tells parents, “Parents, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Authoritarian parents characteristically impose many limits and expect strict obedience without giving children explanations. In a study by Search Institute forty percent of parents leaned toward this approach. In the extreme it is characterized by statements such as, “I will not allow my child to question the rules I make,” or “I expect my child to believe I am always right.” This approach is exasperating for children. Children parented this way frequently become susceptible to peer pressure because they learn to rely on external control rather than self-control. The greatest amount of rebellion is also seen in these families.

Whether permissively avoiding difficult emotions or authoritatively seeking control, both discipline styles (especially at their extremes) communicate a subtle rejection of the child.Permissive parents value “keeping the peace” and avoiding confrontation more than doing the hard work of disciplining well, and authoritarian parents seek control and compliance over the slower, messier discipline that is true discipleship. Either way, the message to the child is: “My needs as a parent are more important than yours.”

If I am to follow God’s model, my children’s needs (not my convenience or emotions) must drive my discipline. “God disciplines us for our good” (Hebrews 12:10). Effective discipline asks, “What corrective action will most benefit my child in the big picture of life?” Hebrews 12:10-11 further clarifies the goal of God’s discipline: “that we may share in his holiness.” Understanding this truth makes me deeply desire the “harvest of righteousness and peace” that godly discipline can bring to my children.

Although situations and methods vary greatly, the purpose of correction does not change: to get children back on the path of wisdom and reconciled relationships, the path God “prepared in advance” for them to do (Eph. 2:10). With this in mind, even when my children misbehave, I can be more thoughtful to remind them of what’s true about them (rather than always point out their faults). I can reinforce the truth that they are loved unconditionally and they have a divinely-fashioned purpose.

Apply It Now:

  • Do I have a tendency for either permissive or authoritarian parenting? What would those close to me say? What are some helpful truths that I can remember in discipline situations?
  • After reading through Hebrews 12:6-11 prayerfully several times, what stands out to me personally about receiving or giving discipline?

This post is an excerpt from our book, How to Grow a Connected Family.