One of the great joys that Kasey and I have in our lives is being the parents of Kylene, Tommy and Kayla Monaghan. God has used them to teach us both so much and they add so much joy, and frustration at times, to our lives. As a mentor told me long ago, parenting is a quite the ride...sort of like a roller coaster, high highs which are sometimes followed by low lows. What we have learned is that if you focus well when your kids are young you can give them a life trajectory that flowers into something pretty cool. The following are a few quick tips that we learned parenting our kiddos through the young years – toddler to school age.
I’ve given it a cool acronym to make it memorable DTPL (G) – which pretty much means nothing other than Discipline, Teaching, Presence, and Love (Grace). Today we will only cover Discipline, but will likely roll these out over time here or on the JWell blog as I tend to get a little long winded at times. Also, I’m speaking for Kasey and me when I use the pronoun “we.”
The Scriptures are pretty clear that parents are to bring their kids up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Too many times we might think of discipline as punishment but we need to see it differently. The right use of discipline helps a child to focus their energies into patterns of life that unleash true freedom, create a learning environment in the home, and a family where people both love and respect one another. It really is for everyone’s good that we discipline our kids.
Establishing Right Authority
There are a few important principles of discipline we’ve maintained with each of our children which have helped the culture of our home. First, our kids never get to disobey their parents. The scriptures teach “children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” and they are to “honor their mother and father” (Ephesians 6:1,2, Exodus 20:12). I want to restate this. Our children NEVER get to disobey their parents. Do they? Of course they do. They are kids. They never “get to” without discipline. Now I’m not talking about parents acting like arbitrary rule-setting dictators and just making kids obey their every wish. What I am saying is that when I ask my kids to do X they should do it. If not, then there is direct disciplinary action. As kids get older they learn to reason, discuss and ask questions. We never discourage that. Here I’m talking about the toddling years. They need to learn to respect their parents and do what they say. They also need to accept a clear “no” answer without continuing to badger Mom or Dad.
So in summary:
- Direct defiance and disobedience – always discipline right away
- Not accepting “no” for an answer – always discipline right away
- When they clearly break one of your household rules or do something wrong – always discipline (maybe not always right away – smile). We’ll share more on this below in establishing household flow.
This may sound exhausting and constant and guess what. It is. Yet it yields a harvest in the home where children respect authority. This respect builds toward a future where reason- ing, questions and dialogue with kids can take place.
Establishing Gospel Rhythms
The other important aspect of discipline in the home is not simply practicing punitive discipline, but gospel rhythms in our discipline. Kids should understand what it means to apologize, repent, and be explained the nature of what they did wrong. When they sin they should apologize specifically and be forgiven specifically. This requires patience in us as parents to not simply get angry and punish kids. It requires us to discipline them, in order to teach them, forgive them, and love them like crazy.
Establishing your Household Flow
Finally, you need to be clear about rules in your house. Obviously breaking commandments and sins against God are not good. The law, specifically the Ten Commandments, can be used as a teacher and good summary with kids. Even then, teach them why lying, stealing, killing etc are wrong. Usually our dishonoring of God or people made in his image is at the root. In addition to biblical truth, there are also “household rules” that you will establish for your family. What things are toys, what are not? Learning not to run sprints on top of the furniture? Or if that is cool in your home, that it may not be cool in public or the homes of a friend?
Loving discipline will help young kids know good boundaries and allow them the freedom to flourish. A young kid that grows up without respect for authority will have trouble in school, on the job, and can lead to even worse realities for them. Furthermore, a young kid that learns how to adapt to authority and appropri- ately interact with it will go a long way in this world. Yet most importantly we want our kids to learn to respect God, follow his ways, and understand his love and forgiveness when we sin. Your kids can learn all of this at home through consistent discipline over time in the toddler years.
One last thing. If you get on this when they are young and don’t bend or waver, their lives will be much easier to lovingly lead as they get older. If you think a two year old is terrible, wait until you have an undisciplined, disrespectful twelve-year-old. As John Witherspoon, the 6th President of Princeton, once wrote: “There is not a more disgusting sight than the impotent rage of a parent who has no authority” (Letters on the Education of Children, and on Marriage).
No kids are perfect; we should not expect this in any way. We should not expect our parenting to be of a flawless heavenly character either. Yet we can have courage to discipline, courage to follow through, and courage to love our kids in this way. There is a harvest from this effort that is indeed a good thing. As Hebrews 12:9-11 teaches us:
 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  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.
Discipline also must be accompanied by teaching/instruction, your presence in your kids lives, and extra loads of love topped with grace. We will take up those topics in the future together.
Also see the following sermons in the series “The Home Team”