Late Discipline

Question

My husband and I haven’t done the greatest job in being consistent in how we discipline our 4-year-old son. Now that we have another child (22 months old), I can see that we’ve created a problem. Is it too late to start over with our son — and do you have any tips for how we can do it better this time?

Answer

The good news is that it isn’t too late to “start over” with your son. The bad news is that he probably isn’t going to like it so it will be important for you and your husband to have thought through and prayed through what this new chapter in parenting is going to look like. Here are a couple of important tips that other parents in similar situations have found helpful.

First of all know that one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is consistency, stability and clear boundaries. Your decision to be consistent is one of the most loving things you will do for your children. One of the great tragedies for this generation of kids is the fact that the word discipline has become a dirty word in the homes of many families. In the past 25 years many parents have abdicated their God-given role to train up their children in the way they should go. They’ve abandoned their authority and given it to their kids. Rather than functioning as adults who provide clear guidance, direction and consistent discipline, they beg, bribe, suggest, consult or cajole. The tragic results are too numerous to list.

Next, be careful not to overreact. We’ve worked with many parents in your situation who, with the best of intentions, overreacted to the problem and in the process created an even greater problem. The two of you need to determine in advance the difference between discipline and punishment and what they both look like. Three books many parents have found especially helpful are How to Really Love your Child by Ross Campbell, Keys to Your Child’s Heart by Gary Smalley and Parenting with Love and Logic by Cline and Fay.

Prayerfully plan ahead. What are the kinds of situations you can anticipate needing to discipline your kids? Talk to other parents. What’s worked for them? As you work on more consistent discipline don’t forget to cultivate fun times with your kids. Research tells us that discipline is most effective when it is accompanied by positive time with the kids. In fact, there should be at least a 7 to 1 ration of quality time with the kids to time spent disciplining them.

We’ve found that the most effective discipline takes place when you don’t just react but have prayerfully prepared your hearts for an anticipated interaction. Have yourself under control (Proverbs 15:28). It’s okay to have anger but don’t let your anger control you (Ephesians 4:23-24). Have a soft tone of voice (Proverbs 15:1). Let your discipline reflect respect for your child (Colossians 3:21).

If you find your anger starting to get out of control don’t lash out to correct immediately. Separate yourself from the child for a few minutes, admit to yourself that you are angry and ask God to help you, ask the Lord to help you discern why you are angry and identify the real issue, ask your spouse to pray for you and with you and then, when you are calm, go to your child and then take action to correct him or her in ways that will shape their will and cultivate healthy hearts.

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