Discipline – For Parents Only
June 11, 2000
“Kids these days. Talk about out of control. I can’t believe what they’re involved in!” That statement should be reversed. It should be said, “Parents these days. Talk about out of control. I can’t believe what they’re involved in.” For the most part, our pathetic plight cannot be blamed on our children. It rests on the shoulders of Mom and Dad. Yet the exciting thing I’m seeing these days is that many parents are refusing to ride on the tenuous tides of that over-permissive ocean. I’m saying that multitudes of moms and dads desire to walk on the beach of solid ground.
Consider the following statements: “Fools despise wisdom and discipline.” “A child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace. He will bring delight to your soul.” Did you recognize them? I just quoted for you verses from the Bible that deal with discipline. I’m in a series called the “Parent Map.” Throughout this series, we’ve been talking about a definition for parenting. We have said that it is the process of teaching and training your children to leave. I’m going to talk to you about dealing with the dilemma of discipline.
Every time you talk about discipline, questions arise, debates break out, and confusion reigns. My first goal is this: I want to help you, not hammer you. The second goal is this: I want to come alongside you, and not ever try to elevate myself above you because I am a fellow struggler. My wife and I have four children. I’m in the midst of this dilemma called discipline 24/7. The third goal is this: I want to challenge you. I believe that parental potential is unlimited. I think it’s awesome what can occur if we get a handle on this subject matter. So whether you’re a pre-parent, a single parent, a step-parent, or any other kind of parent, I want to save you boatloads of pain and anxiety as I communicate with you and give you the 4-1-1 on discipline.
Well, let’s start with the goal. Why do we discipline? What does it mean to “put the ball through the net”? Is my goal to raise the most intelligent, athletic, beautiful child? No. The goal of discipline is simply this: to mold and to shape our children with their unique talents and abilities to glorify the nature of God. It’s to have children who mature and reflect the character of our transcendent Lord. That’s it. We’re to discipline because God disciplines us. We’re to reflect His majesty. In other words, every time I discipline my children, I’m mimicking my maker. God is not shy to discipline me; we should not be shy to discipline our children.
Proverbs Chapter 3: “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as the father the son he delights in.” I want you to notice something. God does not punish us. Our punishment was taken on the cross by Jesus 2,000 years ago. He does discipline us. Discipline is not something we do to our children; it’s something we do for our children. One of the most loving things we can do is to discipline our children. Yet you’ll hear a lot of post-modern mumbo-jumbo these days imply that love is positive and discipline is negative. That’s laughable. That’s ludicrous. There’s no way we can love our children compellingly unless we are the source of discipline. There’s no way we can discipline them effectively unless we’re the source of love. Love and discipline are tethered together. When you discipline, Mom, when you discipline, Dad, you’re reflecting the nature and the character of God. If God does it for us—and He’s the perfect parent—then we must do it. We must do it for our children.
Think about the potential here, parents. God has given all of us who are parents our children, and we have the opportunity to love them and to discipline them. If we do it effectively and strategically, we can literally change the world. We can change it.
How about the implementation process? How do we apply and live out discipline? Last week my family and I traveled to the gulf coast of Florida with several other families, and we had a great time hanging out on the beach, eating at restaurants, playing, and all that stuff. One family we were with has a son about the same age as my son. One afternoon on the beach, these two seven- and eight-year-olds challenged their fathers to a game of beach football. I couldn’t help but notice before the game began that these little boys took time to meticulously outline the playing field. They had even drawn end zones in the sand with decorations and so on. When we played this game, they would always refer to the boundaries. “Oh, Dad, you didn’t score! See, the line’s right there!” “Oh, you were out of bounds over there.” They loved the lines.
None of us would think about involving ourselves in an athletic contest without boundaries and lines. It’s not going to work. We should not even enter the disciplinary concept and the disciplinary game unless we have clearly drawn the lines. We have to understand the concept of clarity. When it comes to discipline, we’ve got to outline the playing field. Once again, when we outline the playing field, we’re simply doing what our God has done for us. The Bible is a book that outlines the playing field. It shows us how to run, where to run, what’s going to happen to us when we step out of bounds. We’ve got to do the same thing for our children.
A young mother told Lisa, my wife, recently, that she has listed rules for her children along with the penalties that will be applied when they step out of bounds. She is so clear on her discipline that she has posted this list on the refrigerator. I think that’s genius. That’s great. Children want lines. They’re begging for boundaries. We need to set lines. We need to be clear with the lines. And children will test them to see what we’re going to do.
Too many of us, though, are Etch-A-Sketch parents. You know what an Etch-A-Sketch is? An Etch-A-Sketch is this deal where it has two little knobs on the screen and you can draw lines. After you have drawn lines and made shapes, you can shake it and the lines are gone. A lot of parents will draw lines, and then shake it. They’ll draw lines, and shake it. And they’ll draw lines, and shake it again. The lines are always in a state of flux. Kids want to know where the lines are. They want clarity, but we’re doing the Etch-A-Sketch thing. What deserved a penalty last week is okay this week. What was wrong last year is suddenly all right now. Clarity.
Let’s talk about another concept. Before I mention it, let me explain it this way—with a hypothetical situation. Referees enforce rules. That’s what they do. As we know, hockey is a great game to watch. Let’s say— hypothetically speaking now—let’s say Mike Modano is just skating towards the goal with the puck. You feel, the crowd feels, that he’s going to score. Right before he rears back to fire a shot to goal, let’s say an opposing player sticks out his skate. Modano’s sprawled on the floor. The fans are booing. They’re going crazy. And let’s just say, in this hypothetical game, that the referee blows his whistle, skates over to the opposing player who has tripped Mike, and says the following: “Son, did you trip Mike on purpose?” What if the opposing player went, “No! It was an accident!” And what if the ref goes, “Well, don’t do it again! I want you to apologize to Mike, and you guys hug. Behave now, all right?”
Several plays later, let’s say Darryl Sydor—I’ll pick on Darryl—is getting pounded by one of the New Jersey players in the head with their stick. Let’s say Darryl is out on the floor, nearly unconscious. Again, our referee skates up to this horrible act going on. Let’s say that the ref looks at the player while he’s pounding Darryl and goes, “Look into my eyes. I’m gonna count! When I hit three, let me tell you something, mister, you’re going to be in trouble! I told you we were going to Chuck E. Cheese tonight, but if you don’t stop hitting Darryl. One… Okay, don’t let me get to three! Two….”
I just described to you the way many homes play the game of discipline. Hockey is a beautiful sport when it’s called consistently, but it’s an ugly sport when it’s called like the typical family calls discipline. It’s an ugly game. We have to have clarity.
We also have to download consistency. Our children are begging for it because, Mom or Dad or step-parent or single parent, when we’re consistent, let me show you what happens. Consistency leads to reliability. Our kids go, “Whoa, I can count on Mom and Dad. When I mess up, there’s a consequence. From infraction to infraction, from parent to parent, they’re consistent.” Reliability gives our children confidence, a strong self-esteem. That’s something money can’t buy. That something a trust fund can’t touch. That’s something an Ivy League education can’t even put a finger on.
Conversely, if we’re inconsistent, like the hypothetical game I just described, what happens? Children see their parents as unreliable. Then they’re insecure. They’re tentative. They misbehave. They try to control their own world, and everything suddenly becomes up for grabs. Clarity. Consistency.
Another one is unity. We must present—when it comes to discipline—a unified front. Mommy and Daddy, Mother and Father, together. Here’s how a lot of discipline plays out. The mom is often on the front lines of discipline, and she is sort of seen as “the heavy.” Then sometimes the father is seen as Mr. Cruise Director. “Well, let’s just have a great time on the cruise ship of non-discipline.” Lets say a daughter asks her mother something and the mother says, “No.” Children—it’s amazing—learn how to play one parent against the next at a very, very young age. Let’s say the daughter runs from Mom to Dad and asks Dad the same question, and Dad says this: “What did your mother say?” Dads, here is the moment of truth. Here is where we don’t want to cave in. We support our spouse. “But, Ed, I might disagree with her or him!” We support our spouse. We watch their back. We are loyal to them. We present a unified front before them. Now, if you disagree with the way your spouse is handling discipline, don’t disagree in front of the kids. Wait until you’re alone and then go, “What were you thinking?” Why is it so important to present a unified front? Because it shows your children that you are partners. It shows your children that the marriage relationship—I’ll say it again—is the most important aspect of the home. The Bible unashamedly says that marriage is the most important relationship in the home.
Let’s do another one: Personality. The personality component of discipline. It amazes me how my four children are so strikingly different. Take our twins, for example. Go back to our vacation. Landra, one of our five-year-old twins, usually wore what she’d eaten for breakfast and lunch on her swimsuit. Sand was everywhere—in her hair, all over her. When she hit the ocean, I’d have to hold her back. She wanted to go deeper and deeper and deeper. A friend of mine had a sea-doo down there. She got on the sea-doo with me and she said, “Dad, let’s go faster! Let’s speed! Let’s jump the waves!” Landra, a throttle-to-the-firewall daughter.
Her twin, Laurie, the polar opposite. Laurie would spread her towel out neatly on the beach. There was no popsicle or anything on her swimsuit. She wouldn’t have a grain of sand on her towel. She would ask Lisa to pick her up and carry her from the towel to the ocean. She would stay in the shallows. She rode the sea-doo with me once and had an expression like, “Don’t go too fast because you might get me wet.”
How do I discipline them? I’m a fellow struggler here. I haven’t cracked this code. But I have learned this: when I discipline Landra, I can’t just talk to her in a normal voice. I have to get in Landra’s face, or she’ll just zone me out. Laurie? I can just talk to Laurie, and she gets it.
My father has written a lot of books, and he’s written several books on parenting. One of the chapters in one of his books talks about discipline, and he describes his three boys and how he had to discipline each one in a unique way. It says—I’ll quote him—it says, “With one of my sons, as far as discipline went, I just had to look at him and he would get it.” He said, “Another one of my sons, all I had to do was talk to him, converse, and he would get it.” He said, “Another one of my sons, I had to take out a belt to him.” Take a wild guess which one I was. It was called Black Beauty, baby. That thing worked, too. Oh, boy.
Well, moving right along, let’s go to another one. Before I tell you what this one is, let me share with you what happened to me about six months ago. I was running into the church in some running shoes, trying to take the steps in a rapid-fire succession, and I whacked my big toe on the concrete step. I’m sure I broke it; I had a hard time walking for a while. Parents, a lot of you trip up, a lot of you stub your toe on this next one. Apology. We have a hard time articulating these four words to our children when we’ve made disciplinary mistakes: “I,” that’s right, “want to apologize.” Our children know when we’ve messed up. They know when we’ve fouled up. They know when we’ve fumbled the ball. Parents, for the most part, we’re right. We’re right most of the time. Teenagers, children, if you’re hearing me, your moms and your dads are right about 99% of the time. But that 1%, we fail. We mess up.
Over the last several years people have talked about that bull market. “Wow, the stock market. Whoa, it’s going out of sight. That’s great. Making money. Stocks. Portfolios. Yeah.” Do you want your children to have a bull market? Do you want your children to have their stock go up concerning you? Apologize to them. Say, “I want to apologize.” “Well, Ed, my children are grown. Ed, my children are older.” Write them a note. Make a phone call. It’s so important because it communicates to them the value of authenticity. It communicates to them that you’re living out the Christian life. God has richly and continuously forgiven you and forgiven me. We should take that—because we have the ministry of reconciliation—and seek forgiveness with our children.
I’ve been blessed to be married to my wonderful wife and a woman who’s a great mother for almost nineteen years now. I’ve been blessed to have four children and also to have the privilege of speaking to literally thousands and thousands of teenagers and children over the last decade or so. I’ve come up with what I call the Significant Seven—seven aspects of discipline that I think are from the Bible. And I truly believe that if they are applied and appropriated, they can do some truly great things. I want to share them with you. The great thing about these is the fact that they rhyme. The Significant Seven. The first one’s going to seem weird, but let’s just look at it.
Start Soon So You Won’t Raise A Loon. That’s definitely an “Ed-ism,” but it’s Biblical. I’ll tell you why. I saw a restaurant the other day called Loons on a Limb. Parents, if we don’t do what Deuteronomy 6:7 says, we will raise loons on a limb. If we don’t do what Proverbs 22:6 says, we will rear loons on a limb. Our children will be out there floating on the seas of relativism, just hanging there on a limb, wondering what’s up with life. They’ll be totally insecure. They’ll see us as unreliable. They’ll lack confidence because we did not capture the moment and begin to discipline. Start now. Start now. Start now.
Discipline For Motivation, Not Humiliation. Discipline should be a teachable-moment thing. You’re talking about taking moments and communicating in a great way? Some of the best communication happens during and after a disciplinary event. Remember, discipline is something we do for our children, not to our children. We teach them through these things and we discipline in private, not public. We don’t humiliate them. “But Ed, what if my kid’s going nuts in a restaurant? I’ve got to go off on him or her in front of the people and the patrons.” No, you don’t. Take them to the restroom, and talk to them. Say something like this before you discipline them: “I love you too much, and God loves you too much, to allow you to get away with this behavior.”
When You Give In, No One Will Win. I saw it again. Speaking of restaurants, I saw a muscular Metroplex father giving in to his child. He was just cowering. He was trying to avoid conflict. Here’s what parents don’t understand; here’s what this guy didn’t understand. When you avoid conflict with your child, you’re signing up for more and more conflict. It’s better to deal with it one time so you don’t waste your time and their time.
Get Proper Pay When They Disobey. The punishment must match the crime. The punishment must match the infraction. One of our children was having a struggle with selfishness. Lisa and I talked about it, and we took away her favorite outfit for ten days. It worked.
I was lying on my bed doing some studying. One of my children—I will not name them—did not know I was in my bedroom, walked into the bathroom, and said a bad word. I said, “What did you say?” I took some soft soap and kind of washed out the child’s mouth. They’re going to think long and hard about that again. We can be creative, can’t we, when we discipline?
Talk about a controversial verse, Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod spoils the child.” The word “rod” is mentioned also in Psalm 23. The Psalmist said, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The rod is used to guide, to provide, and also to discipline. I believe in spanking. Lisa and I spank. It’s not our first option; it’s usually our last option. I think you can spank from the time a child is about 18 or 24 months to the time they’re a teenager. That’s an option. After that, when they’re a teenager, you can get really creative! You can add chores, do restriction. The punishment and the crime must meet.
Call It Tight, And You’ll Do Them Right. If you’re going to err, err on the side of strictness, not looseness. I’m not saying to be some militaristic-type parents. I’m not saying that. But I am saying that it’s easier to loosen the reins, to give rope, than it is to tighten the reins. A lot of parents I see are just too loose because discipline takes work.
When You’re Specific, You’ll Be Prolific. Boy, I failed at this one so miserably. We hired a sitter to go out on a date, and here’s what I told our children before we left. Is this sad? I said, “Okay, uh, y’all make sure to behave. Bye.” What is that? Behave? I should have said, “You do what the sitter tells you to do. After you eat the pizza from Domino’s, help her clean up. Go to bed when she tells you to go to bed.” That’s what I should have said. We’ve got to be specific. So many children are running around these days, and they don’t know the details. They don’t know the boundaries. They don’t know the clarity. We’ve got to be specific. We can’t discipline them if we have not told them and shared with them where the boundaries and lines are.
A Bribe Sends A Bad Vibe. Boy, I’ve tried that before. Bribing. Like with our eight-year-old son E.J. E.J. is a terrible eater. When he eats chicken or steak, he gags. E.J. has a three-word mission statement: “Eat Junk Food.” I’ve tried to bribe him. “E.J., if you’ll eat, you’ll get this. E.J., if you’ll eat, this and that.” Don’t do that. The other night, I figured it out. We had gone through yet another meal, and the chicken was left unscathed. I said, “E.J., here’s a timer. See this timer on the oven? I’m going to set it for ten minutes. If the chicken’s not gone, we’re not going to go out tonight and play basketball. You’ll go straight to bed.” Ten minutes later—beep. He looked at me with those big brown eyes, and it would have been so easy for me to cave in, to cower. I said, “That’s it. You’re going to bed.” The next night we were at dinner. I walked to the oven, turned the timer on for ten minutes, and E.J. looked like a great white shark eating baitfish. His eyes were rolling back in his head. It was incredible.
Some of you right now have these thoughts bouncing in your brains. You’re going, “Ed, hey, you know, I appreciate the concepts. Nice rhymes, but my teenager is balking at my boundaries. My kid is out of control. They’re always arguing with me. What do I do?” I’ll answer that next time.