"Disciplining the tender children is a thing of the past. Man has matured a lot, and today he has better methods than brutality to care for these flowers blossoming in his home". This is a very popular slogan today, and many Christian parents fall for it. But this is a wrong way of looking at discipline which is based upon a wrong conception of discipline, and also of children.
Brutality is not discipline, and only the most subjective person will equating them with each other. Nor is punishment a synonym of discipline. Disciplining of children is a broad process through which the parents build up their children to face the world, and punishment constitutes only a small part of it all.
There are at least three things in man’s nature that tend to produce unwanted behavior in childhood and also when the child grows up. Only systematic discipline administered from a very early age will minimize the possibilities of such behavior. The first of these three is the sin nature inherited by every baby. This fallen nature motivates even small children to break common norms which they are expected to observe. Second is the inclination in every person to follow the path of least resistance, leading children to a lot of unwanted behavior. Third, all habits whether good or bad are learned behavior. If a child is left to itself, it will inevitably pick up plenty of bad habits. Only preventive discipline can minimize the problems caused by these three factors.
Preventive discipline is all discipline that aims to prevent problems that might arise in future. There are two preparatory sides to it: to anticipate future problems which are common to all children, and second to anticipate future behavior which might be specific to the child being disciplined. This might include stubbornness, selfishness, and bullying one’s may through life. All kind of undesirable behavior, whether in the general category or in the specific one mentioned above, manifests itself very early in life and the wise parent should start tackling these symptoms much before they become pronounced. The following principles should be used as practical guidelines for the general preventive discipline of all children:
First, every child should be given some responsibility according to his or her capacity to handle a job. This might include putting of their books and shoes in the proper place, or helping mummy and daddy in certain tasks at home and outside. The children should be helped to understand that no one can live without accepting a certain number of responsibilities; parents and others will always be there to help and motivate, but they themselves still must do all what is expected of them. Children disciplined in this way will be less likely to avoid the serious responsibilities of life when they grow up.
Second, every child should be taught and required to respect authority. This includes the authority of the parents, elders, teachers, and the authority of the Law. Almost all children will start to defy the authority of their parents from a surprisingly early age, and it will be fatal to overlook that. The child should be told lovingly but firmly that defiance will not be tolerated. If he does not change in spite of that he should be punished immediately to teach him that defiance does not pay ! Love for children should not cause parents to condone defiance. This will only lead to more difficult problems in future. Parents must understand that if a child knows how to defy authority, then it has enough intellect to understand that this behavior will not be condoned in future.
Third, parents should be objective in all walks of their life, and they should elicit the same attitude from their children. It is very easy for parents to become subjective when they judge their children. As a result they may get into the habit of blaming the whole world for the shortcomings of their children. The children are quick to get the hidden message — they are responsible for all their achievements, but it is OTHERS who are responsible for their shortcomings !
Once such children grow into adults, they will never be able to see or own their personal shortcomings. This will force them to be always on the defensive about their mistakes. Parents should instill the values necessary for objectivity right from the childhood. Children should be made to understand that making of mistakes, and falling short of goals is quite common in human life. A mistake is not the sign of weakness, but not owning what one has done and blaming it upon others is definitely a sign of weakness. It takes great courage and strength of character to accept and correct one’s own shortcomings, and parents have to instill this behavior pattern in their children.
The three principles for general preventive discipline explained above will lay the foundation for more specific discipline required for each child’s specific problems. Whether it is stubbornness, selfishness, bullying, or any other problem, it manifests itself in the child at a very early stage. Right from the moment such behavior is noticed, the child should be made to understand that he is not welcome to behave in that way. For example, a stubborn child should never be given what he demands till he learns to request in a polite way. But if parents miss the first few opportunities to correct such behavior, they may practically never be able to change that stubbornness in future.
Implementing the above suggestions is not easy because parents often get carried away in their subjectivity and emotionalism. Many of them reason, "Oh, it is only a childish prank. It will all change when the child grows older". This is self deception; it is now or never in the case of preventive discipline. If the symptoms are not checked now, it will become almost impossible to cure it in future.
Punishment is a definite part of discipline, and parents who shrug away from it are only working against the future welfare of their own children. Sparing the rod, when it is needed, is not love but hatred in the long run ! However, all punishment should be administered with proper balance — objectively and commensurate to the offense — never in rage. When seen in proper perspective, punishment constitutes only one part of the broad process of preventive discipline.
Today there is a big outcry against all forms of discipline. Most proponents of such ideas are motivated by humanistic philosophies in which man is perceived as the most exalted creature in the world. However according to the biblical viewpoint, man is born with a sin nature, and he is susceptible to evil; some form or other of preventive discipline is a must for him. For a Christian, the Scriptures represents the highest authority in this matter. So why not look at the following verses before you quickly accept the dictates of subjective humanists: Proverbs 13:24, 19:18, 22:6&15, 3:13, and 29:15 & 17.
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