By Jennifer Slattery, Crosswalk.com
Few if any of us want to be known as the mom who establishes the boundaries or the father who enforces consequences. In fact, for those who were raised by a controlling authoritarian or experienced abuse, the very word ‘discipline’ might have us texting our spouse, hoping they’ll take on this less enjoyable act of parenting.
We all long for close relationships with our kids, and, at times, it may feel as if our rules are pushing our children away. In the moment, they very well may be. But love blends truth and grace and focuses not on the momentary comforts of today but the growth our children will need to succeed tomorrow.
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Scripture puts it this way.
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). This verse isn’t telling parents to beat their children. Instead, it’s encouraging them to guide and train intentionally.
It also indicates a few things.
1. Disciplining has always been hard, and our hearts will always prefer to withhold it.
2. When we’re permissive, though we may feel loving, we in fact are not.
When we fail to do so, we risk crippling their future relationships, career pursuits, and dreams. Conversely, when we honor the role that God has given us as parents, grandparents, and guardians, we help lay a foundation for future integrity, emotional and spiritual health, and fulfillment.
Here are 10 long-term benefits of disciplining our children.
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1. It demonstrates the seriousness of sin.
Scripture is clear: sin is a huge deal. It destroys relationships, shatters mankind’s intimacy with the Creator, and (if left unchecked) leads to spiritual, and for some, physical, death.
Pride, infidelity, and lust fracture marriages and families. Manipulation and lying can create irreparable damage to the longest lasting friendships. And some of the most gruesome crimes have arisen from selfishness and greed. But if we truly want to understand the devastation of sin, we simply need to remember the cross, for it was our sin that cost Jesus His life.
When we ‘wink at,’ justify, or downplay our children’s rebellion and defiance, we’re in essence saying that sin isn’t that big of a deal. This is a dangerous message to convey. When we hold our children accountable to the rules we’ve established, we let them know that their behavior matters.
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2. It teaches accountability.
Spend time with nearly any addict or abuser and you’ll soon notice a common trait—an inability or refusal to take responsibility for their behavior. They blame others, their circumstances, or their past for their drinking or angry outbursts. Not only is this dishonest, but it keeps them stuck in their toxic behavior.
In order to change, one first must recognize that they need to.
Similarly, in order to rest in one’s Savior, and experience the life-transforming power of grace, one first must realize they need saving. Self-awareness is hindered or heightened by personal accountability.
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3. It trains them to have self-control.
Children notoriously lack self-control. A two-year-old overcome with frustration is more apt to scream or hit than calmly express his emotions. An eight-year-old will likely find it difficult to bypass those cookies sitting on the counter in order to save room for dinner. And a middle-schooler left alone with a television or Internet access will likely find it hard to honor media restrictions.
We all long for our children to make wise choices, whether others are watching or not. But integrity is developed, not inherent. Consistent guidance and lovingly-enforced consequences are powerful ways to help our children develop self-control.
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4. It let’s our children know we believe in them.
Children crave boundaries. When a parent or guardian invests time and energy in the growth of a child, it helps that child feel valued and safe. When parents place few demands or expectations on their kids, they may think they’re being kind, but they’re likely sending messages they don’t intend.
Permissive parenting, in essence, says, “I don’t believe you can do better. I don’t believe you’re able to self-regulate or grow in this area.” Children raised without consistent boundaries will grow up feeling unsafe and insecure.
It’s normal and healthy for children to test their limits. It’s not healthy for adults to expect, through permissive parenting, kids to set their own. This will leave them confused and uncertain and could hinder their desire to succeed.
When my daughter was in high school, she had two types of teachers. One had very few expectations for the students. My daughter felt like, as long as she showed up, she was practically guaranteed an A.
She had another teacher, however, who was much more challenging. She had high expectations of her students, and, though she wasn’t stingy with her praise, she also didn’t lavish the youth with unwarranted compliments.
Whether holding the kids accountable for missed assignments or challenging them to try harder, her actions consistently communicated, “I see great potential in you.”
The result? My daughter lost her enthusiasm for the subject taught by the overly-relaxed teacher and poured her heart and energy into the work assigned by the stricter one—and she did this with joy. She did much better in the class with high expectations and developed a lifelong love for the subject. Her confidence to master the material grew, whereas in the class with lower expectations, it decreased.
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5. It counters entitlement.
If done well and consistently and in line with the ideals presented in Scripture, discipline can help counter our culture’s pull toward entitlement.
When our children treat us disrespectfully and we indulge their behavior, we’re telling them their emotions in the moment take precedence over other people’s feelings.
When we allow them to throw fits unchecked, and even more so if we give in to them, we’re saying it’s perfectly acceptable to use negative behavior to get what they want. We’re also indicating that their desire in that moment supersedes human kindness.
An undisciplined, indulged child begins to make themselves the center of their world. They grow in self-love, which is malignant and destructive, rather than emotional and relational maturity. Once they become adults with careers and families of their own, these individuals won’t suddenly develop the character traits they need to succeed and build healthy relationships. At least, not without intentional effort on their part, and often after a great deal of pain.
By helping children recognize, through boundaries, accountability, and lovingly enforced consequences, that their behavior affects others, adults encourage emotional maturity.
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6. It teaches respect for authority.
Obviously, we don’t want our children to cower when we walk in the room or to feel unable to share their thoughts and feeling with us. But they do need to understand that, in life, some people make the rules and others must obey them.
A boss has the right to set the expectations for his team. Police officers are empowered to uphold our laws. In each of these situations, a certain amount of respect is warranted.
If our children don’t learn to respect us, their first line of authority, they likely won’t respect others. They won’t respect their bosses, their spouses, or their friends and neighbors, and sadly, they will suffer for this.
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7. It teaches them to accept instruction.
We’ve all experienced the frustration of holding a conversation with someone who believes they know everything. No one wants to work on a project with the person who’d rather prove he’s right than solve a problem or improve a situation. Conversely, teachable employees who are lifelong learners are in high demand, even more so than those who are inherently gifted.
By consistently disciplining our children, we let them know, in a loving way, they still have much to learn. This creates an expectation of growth that will, God willing, carry on into adulthood.
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8. It communicates and develops values.
When we hold our children accountable for certain behaviors, we communicate our family’s values and help them to adopt them as their own. Obviously, this assumes we’re being intentional regarding the rules we set, making sure they’re in line with our beliefs and ideals.
As parents seeking to honor Christ, we should emphasize those attitudes and behaviors prioritized in Scripture. This means not elevating personal preference above our children’s emotional, relational, and spiritual growth.
Scripture encourages us to parent to our children’s heart because, as Proverbs 4:23 says, everything they do will flow from this. This means focusing on the attitudes and motivations behind a particular action.
For example, when a child hits his sister, we should be less concerned with the hurtful behavior than the lack of love for others or self-control this displays. We should be saddened by the relational damage this causes and the lack of integrity it demonstrates.
In each of these situations, when we communicate our expectations and hold our children accountable when they don’t meet them, we show them, in a tangible way, what we do or don’t find important. Over time, they will likely learn to feel the same.
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9. It allows for biblical conversations.
When our daughter was young, my primary goal was to help her develop a biblical worldview. To do this, I first needed to understand what Scripture did and didn’t say regarding certain behaviors and issues. This in turn shifted our discussions from personal preference, such as, “Mom wants me to share,” to God-honoring choices—“The Bible tells me to be generous.”
When she grew frustrated, I would empathize with her while pointing her to Jesus. For example, I might say something like, “I can understand how difficult it can be to show kindness to your friends when you’re upset. But God wants us to love others (John 13:34), and, according to the Bible, love is kind and not easily angered” (1 Corinthians 13:5).
This did three things:
- First, it shifted the battle from one between her and I to one between her and God, which is what it should be anyway.
- Second, it provided concrete reasons for my rules and instructions.
- And third, it provided a backdrop for us to discuss biblical growth and maturity.
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10. It communicates we’re on their team.
Few if any parents discipline out of boredom or for selfish reasons. We honestly want to help our children grow into the most successful and well-adapted adults possible. In short, we want them to become all God created them to be. When we see potential threats to that, like selfishness or impulsivity, we step in and guide, coach, and train our children toward increased emotional and spiritual health.
When we share the whys behind our rules and consequences, we help them understand that we truly do want what’s best for them. We have an opportunity to let them know we’re on their team. We’re invested in their future success.
Raising children, whether we’re grandparents, parents, or guardians, can be tough. Sometimes it might feel easiest, in the moment, to sort of ‘check out’ and ignore or allow certain behaviors. But when we remember the long term benefits of every boundary and discussion, we’ll find the motivation and renewed energy to persevere.
May we consider how our responses to our children’s mistakes and poor choices will impact their lives 20, 30, and even 40 years from now. When we’re deliberate to teach and do so with consistency, love, and thoughtful intentionality, we are communicating care to our children and helping them develop the emotional and spiritual maturity they’ll need in the future.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Restoring Her Faith and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team love to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event, and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE to learn of her future appearances, projects, and releases.
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