One of the most common questions I get is about how to discipline. We live in a child-centered culture. A culture that often says our primary job as a parent is to make sure our child is always happy.
Of course we all want our children to be happy, but that’s not our primary goal as parents. Our primary goal is to raise adults with a solid faith who will make a positive contribution to society.
How does this happen? What is important at each age?
Let’s look at different age groupings for some suggestions about how to discipline at each stage. This is not a complete list, but it might help spark some good conversations amongst you and your friends.
How to Discipline Ages 0-6:
*Be the firmest in these years and then slowly loosen up. Too often parents placate young children and then crack down in the teen years. But this doesn’t work. Why?
*Our young kids are learning, “Who’s the boss?” It’s us, the parents who should call the shots. Not a strong willed 4-year old. This breeds insecurity, not security, in the child. God did not create this child to have control over his parents. Instead the child needs to know that “no” means “no” and not “maybe,” if I pitch a fit.
*Do not let little ones sleep in your bed. (Sickness may be an exception.) Your marriage is the priority and the marriage bed is sacred. Our child’s security grows when they sense that mom and dad’s relationship is the primary one. If they have “night time fears” send them to a sibling’s room.
*Hug them lots and say, “I love you just because you are mine.” Our love is not dependent upon their behavior, but simply because they are ours. This will enable them to gain a better understanding of God’s love for them.
How to Discipline Ages 6-12:
*Continue to have clear expectations and consistent consequences. Your child is learning that he or she can rely on you. You mean what you say.
*Turn over to them as much as you can. Making their own beds, fixing their own school lunch, completing their chores on time, washing their own clothes! Praise their growth. If you want to raise a confident child they need to learn early to do things for themselves so that by the time they graduate they are confident in their own ability to “do life.”
*Notice their gifts and explain weaknesses. You may have a sensitive child that cries at everything. This can drive you crazy. It’s time to explain gifts and weaknesses.
“Honey, God has made you sensitive. This is a gift. You will be a compassionate person who cares for others. Mother Teresa was like this. (Give them a role model.) However, every gift has a weak side and you are easily hurt so you will have to learn to toughen up and not take things so seriously. I will help you.”
* Focus on character. Character matters. We live in a world that no longer values honesty. Yet personal integrity is the cornerstone of character. Expect complete honesty. Talk about integrity at the dinner table. “Who do you know who always tells the truth? Why does it matter?” Mealtime can be a valuable time for family discussions.
If your child does something wrong they should receive an appropriate punishment. But when they tell the truth about it the punishment may be less.
How to Discipline Ages 12-18:
*During the teen years it’s crucial to have clear expectations with specific consequences and follow through. Be sure to be on the same page with your spouse or the child will divide the two of you. It can help to write out expectations and consequences so there is no confusion. We always want to know where you are, who you are with and when you will be home. Call if your plans change. Have curfews. They provide protection.
*Make church attendance mandatory. You will hear, “It’s boring I don’t want to go.” School is often boring too but we make our kids go. If we stress school but let them off the hook for church what we are communicating is that education has a higher value than God. In worship they are taking in God’s word and one day it will bear fruit. Be sure they are also involved in an active youth ministry. Use summers for spiritual enrichment. During the teen years our kids need to hear God’s truth from folks other than mom and dad.
*Don’t have boyfriends or girlfriends on a family vacation or let yours go on one. This puts our kids in awkward or even tempting situations. I call it “false bonding.” The girlfriend or boyfriend is not a member of the family. This closeness can make them feel more committed than they should at this age.
* Remember you aren’t running for the most popular parent. Your kids will think you are unfair, etc. However, it’s not nearly as important what your child thinks of you now as it is what he or she will think of you 20 years from now.
*Give them hope. It’s easy for a teen to lose hope. And easy for them to tune out when you reassure them. Leave post-it-notes in their room, on the bathroom mirror. Write them a letter and leave it on their pillow.
Sweetie, I know you don’t like us your parents or even your siblings very much right now. You may not even like yourself, but I can promise you this. We will come through this time and we will be friends. I think you are amazing. (Point out some of their specific gifts.) Don’t expect a thank-you or even an acknowledgement of the note. But you may find it folded up in a drawer one day.
How to Discipline Ages 18-on:
*Ahh. Here it gets tricky. We have to take care to balance between being a “helicopter parent” and a “hands-off parent.”
Express confidence in them when they leave home. Don’t smother them with calls, texts, advice, etc., but don’t adopt the attitude, they’re on their own now. Transitions are awkward-both for you and for the child. Ask, “What’s on your schedule for this week, and how can I pray for you?”
*When your child marries, your priorities change. Your priority is no longer your relationship with them but their marriage. And the person they marry is your new son or daughter.
Wherever you are in this season of parenting remember:
*God has given you the exact children in the exact birth order with the exact personalities not merely so that you can raise them but in order for them to be his tools in your life to mature you into the women (and men) he has created you to be. Ask, “What am I learning from this child? How can I grow closer to God in this time?”
*Our main responsibility is to pray for our kids. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see answers for a while. God is working while we are waiting and he hears our cries. Psalm 116:1 reminds us, “I love the Lord for he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.”
*Forgiveness is the most important ingredient in the family. When you wrong a spouse or a child be sure to ask for forgiveness. No, you won’t feel like it! We apologize out of obedience not feelings. It can take time for healing to come and trust to be restored but this begins with the asking and granting of forgiveness. God willing, we are raising future husbands and wives who will need to forgive their spouses. How will they know how to do this if they don’t see it practiced in their home?
*There is no magic formula for parenting. We will often feel like we’ve ruined our child. But our ability to ruin our child is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem him (or her.)
Luke 1:37 says, “Nothing is impossible for God.”
Here are some of my resources that I hope will be helpful to you:
If you have kids ages 0-6:
If you have kids ages 6-12:
Character Matters, Raising Kids With Values That Last by John and Susan Yates
If you have kids ages 12-18:
And Then I Had Teenagers, Encouragement for Parents of Teens and Preteens by Susan Yates. (Also the above book on Character)
If you have kids 18 plus:
Barbara and Susan’s Guide To The Empty Nest by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates
Click on the books section on this site to order any of these.
Every family should have a copy of Andy Crouch’s book, The Tech-Wise Family.
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