Punishment or Discipline?

June_22_preteen.jpg“What did you say?” I asked my almost 12-year-old son. When he admitted his guilt of intentionally using an obscene word, I responded with a small tirade, complete with restrictions from video games, an explanation that God insists we not talk that way, and threats for washing his mouth out with soap if it happened again.

As I stormed off, the thought of “at least he was honest with me” made me pause.  He was honest.  I did not want to squelch that with an excessive reaction.  What I wanted was his understanding that this wasn’t about me, but about God’s direction for his life.  He needed to understand that cursing was a choice against God, not a choice against me.  My son was at a critical point in his life where he was increasingly choosing his own reasons and influences for his behavior.  I wanted him to see God’s Word as a positive source of authority in his life.  If his choices were solely to gain my approval or to avoid punishment, what would motivate him when he was alone?

So breathing a silent prayer, I returned to my son.  I thanked him for being honest with me and reiterated, calmly this time, how it is God’s Word that directs us not to curse.  I explained that using those words can easily become a bad habit, one difficult to break.  I wanted to spare him that by helping him to not even get started.  Therefore, I was going to offer him a choice, and he could decide which one would help him not to talk like that again.  He could be on restriction from video games for 24 hours, or he could learn a verse from the Bible where God says not to talk that way.  He would write the verse and learn it so he could recite it anytime I asked.  He eagerly chose to write the verse rather than give up his video games.  It felt like he’d chosen the easy route, but after he’d memorized it within 36 hours, I wondered just what I had stumbled upon. I had never thought to do this before.  Had God just introduced me to a new discipline technique?

In my own life, when God brings a struggle to my attention, I often do a word study in Scripture or search out related verses and then saturate myself with God’s Word to help me overcome the issue.  Didn’t it make sense to teach my son the same process?  As a teacher, I had always avoided using writing or reading as venues for punishment.  But God helped me see that this process wasn’t about punishment.  It was the training mentioned in Proverbs 22:6.  This was about building a lifelong discipline into my son’s life, not just a momentary punishment for an isolated incident.

When I overheard my son correcting another individual several days later for using some choice words, I knew the process had helped him.  Looking at Scripture, I understood why.  When we read about the armor of God in Ephesians 6, we are introduced to many protective pieces, but only one weapon: “The sword of the spirit, which is God’s Word.”  By committing Ephesians 5:4 to memory, my son had picked up a spiritual weapon against the temptation to speak obscenely again.  And this was a weapon always with him, even when alone.

I also realized that when I instituted excessive consequences as punishment in my desire to eliminate the behavior, I was teaching the wrong motivation and authority.  If my son behaved out of fear-fear of making a mistake, fear of rejection, fear of my wrath-I was actually reinforcing a negative stronghold in his life.  If his behavior was shaped by avoiding punishment, wasn’t his motivation more about serving pleasure and self rather than the Word of God?  If I wanted the Word of God to be the authority in his life, it is important that I follow God’s pattern of correction.  When Jesus confronted the adulterous woman, he did not expend his energies on judging and condemning her actions, but rather providing God’s standard for her to follow.   

This has been a radical change in my approach to raising a preteen.  It is now about discipline rather than punishment; about grace rather than judgment; about the future instead of the past.  It honors his growing need for autonomy, and it makes God’s Word his authority.  I’ve found it important to keep the verses short and very specific.  Using multiple translations helps me find the best wording for the most powerful impact.  It has brought an added bonus in that our entire family learns the scriptures, not just the individual.  Most importantly, it is creating a life-long discipline that will serve my son well for his entire life.  And isn’t that what parenting is supposed to be about?

Sample scriptures for memorizing:

Anger- Ephesians 4:26
Arguing/Complaining- Philippians 2:14
Attitude – Philippians 2:5
Bickering – 1 Thessalonians 5:13
Bragging- Galatians 6:14
Cursing – James 3:10
Greed – 1Timothy 6:8
Grumbling – James 5:9
Laziness/sloppy work – Colossians 3:23
Lying – Colossians 3:9
Obedience – Colossians 3:20
Peer Pressure – Galatians 1:10
Pride – 1 Peter 5:5
Respect – 1 Peter 2:17
Retaliation – 1 Thessalonians 5:15

Juli Lubelczyk is a freelance writer from Elkridge, Maryland, where she lives with her husband and preteen son.  An elementary teacher, she is currently on leave to care for her son who battles mitochondrial disease.

Showing Grace to Our Kids

Pie graph.jpgIt is so easy to get impatient with our kids! Sometimes I think Dads like myself are short on patience. We want things done right but don’t always take the time to explain and teach our kids the skills necessary to succeed. I found myself reacting with impatience while helping my son study for a math test today. We were doing fine until we hit the pie graphs — yikes! Fractions are one thing, but I found interpreting them through a pie graph was not as easy for my son. I wasn’t sure if he wasn’t getting it or just was not trying hard enough to understand! So I began to get impatient.

Times like these remind me that it is best to err on the side of grace in our dealings with others, especially our kids. After all, I would want the same grace extended to me! And since today I found myself, in addition to not being a perfect father, not being a perfect leader or friend or spouse. Notice the theme here? Much like the Golden Rule from the Sermon on the Mount, I need to show grace to others in the same way I want grace extended back to me. Whether that is in relationship issues, life on the job, or those evil pie charts, God has shown grace to us moment by moment. God calls us to do the same with our kids!
Are there times when you need to show extra grace to your kids? What are the triggers or areas of life where you have to guard yourself against reacting with impatience?

Where Do You Go for Parenting Advice?

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Have you seen the latest research on parenting? A study released by LifeWay Research, the research arm of LifeWay Christian Resources, conducted a survey of 1,200 parents with children under age 18. The study reveals that most parents are consistently looking for guidance to help them be better parents. But where do they look to better themselves? Research shows that parents primarily depend upon their own experience to guide them in their decisions as a parent. Only about 14 percent of parents look to the Bible as a source of parenting advice. Even Christian parents look to the Bible at a low rate.

But parents do express the need for help. Ninety-two percent of parents say they need encouragement in parenting. These numbers show the great need for parents to have support, understanding, and mentoring in the task of parenting. But many times parents are too busy, stressed, or even embarrassed at their failures to seek help. So the question is: How can we make time in our schedules to form relationships with other parents where we are vulnerable, willing to listen, and use our weaknesses to help others?

I was challenged this weekend on our Sunday School class retreat to do just this — to see my story with its successes and failures as a gift from God. As parents, this is so important as we face the uncertainties and questions that come with parenting our kids. I want to challenge you to do the same and to be willing to impact other parents in your life — to be an encourager, to be available to follow God’s plan for your life, and to be real with your challenges as parents.

ParentLife is so grateful to be a small part of your parenting journey. When we developed our slogan — Encouraging and Equipping Parents — we recognized how important these tasks are in helping parents carry our their sacred calling as parents. We hope this blog and each issue of ParentLife will encourage and equip you to be a better parent.

Do you agree that parents need more encouragement? Where do you find encouragement as a parent? Let us know how we can better partner with you in your parenting journey.

Super Bowl® Parenting

I love this time of year! Nothing is better than football in January (except maybe March Madness). You might be thinking, “But the big football game is now in February every year!” That’s true … but also part of the reason why I say that football in January is so great.

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Let’s face it. Super Bowl games can be duds. The best games often are in earlier rounds of the playoffs. The Super Bowl gets so much hype and attention. How could it possibly pay off?

Have you noticed that once your kids entered school that parenting becomes a lot more event centered? You have to take them to practice, rehearsals, school, church and all the corresponding games, performances, recitals, plays, parents’ nights, and other important events. Ever beat yourself up for missing some of those big events?

As Dads, we sometimes put too much emphasis on the things we do or a few big things in life — Christmas morning, a birthday party, or a family vacation — when those events may not live up to expectations either. The heart of parenting comes in the day-to-day time you spend with your child — being there, talking, loving, and even drawing boundaries fairly and consistently. This knowledge can take the pressure off trying to perfect those big events and back on how you live today.

Don’t worry about tomorrow! Take some time for your child today.

Let me hear from you: What are some of the things that stand in the way of you doing all that you want to do as a dad?