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
We have a tendency to use discipline and punishment interchangeably. The two are not quite synonymous; similar, but not synonymous.
Punishment is a penalty for an offense. More often than not, we are aware of potential punishments prior to committing an offense. For example, as adults, we know there is a potential penalty for driving over the speed limit. If we choose to do it anyway, we could be faced with a ticket. It sounds odd to refer to a speeding ticket as a punishment; odd, but not inaccurate.
Do parents punish their children? Sure. When I was about 6 years old, I said, “damn it” and I got soap to the mouth. That was a lesson I only had to learn once. Getting soap to the mouth was, absolutely, a punishment.
A large amount of parenting is continually reinforcing good behavior and discouraging negative behavior. Punishments are great ways to discourage negative behavior. If children connect a behavior with something unpleasant, it may just deter them from said behavior.
Truthfully, when possible, the punishment should fit the crime, so to speak. If your child gets mad and throws their dinner at the wall, they can clean it up. My personal philosophy is: if they’re old enough to make the mess, they’re old enough to clean it up.
This isn’t cruel. This isn’t abuse. This is shaping our children into adults that are responsible and civil.
So back to punishment verses discipline. Last night, we had broccoli with our dinner. Normally, my 3 year old loves broccoli (I lucked out there). She’ll ask for second helpings of it. But for whatever reason, last night, she just wasn’t in a broccoli kind of mood.
I told her that she needed to stay at the table until she finished her broccoli and then she could go. Why? Because I love my daughter. I don’t want her to eat nothing but chicken nuggets and french fries. I want her to be healthy. She didn’t get yelled at. She wasn’t in trouble. But, I was disciplining her. Discipline could, essentially, be viewed as anything we do to train and instruct our children.
Now, to address the elephant in the room: physical discipline. Scripture does support the use of physical discipline. It is not a sin to spank your child. But, I want to be clear that abusing your children is a sin. We should never discipline our children in a way that results in physical harm to the child. Also, we should not discipline our children because we’re angry and out of control.
God disciplines us because He loves us. Likewise, we discipline our children because we love them. If you’re blood is boiling, it’s better for your to calm yourself down before addressing your children. To be blunt, hitting your children out of anger is not discipline; it is a lack of self-control.
But, sometimes, spanking seems to be an ineffective form of discipline. Sometimes, children can behave worse if they are physically disciplined. In that case, as the parent, use discernment.
Lastly, I want to address our culture’s view of physical discipline. While supported by Scripture, many consider any form of physical discipline to be abuse. Many parents don’t spank their children out of fear of being reported or losing custody of their children. In my opinion, it is better to find alternate forms of discipline than to have your children taken from your home.
Most would agree that a swat on the butt isn’t abuse. Where I live, a child would not be removed from his or her home because they got a spanking. However, if you’re afraid of being reported or child protective services getting involved; again, use discernment.
Our job, as parents, is incredibly important. We are shaping and instructing image bearers who have an eternal soul. Take your role seriously and do it well.
Take care and God bless