This article looks at love and discipline going hand in hand. The author also discusses corporal punishment, punishment and authority, and values in parenting.

Source: Clarion, 1985. 6 pages.

Loving Discipline

An Outdated System?โค’๐Ÿ”—

Corporal punishment seems to be outdated in our modern society. The Bible speaks in many places about the use of the rod to discipline a child. The rod is the symbol of corporal punishment. Above this article we quoted two texts, and later on we will mention a few more, in which discipline is discussed. The main emphasis must be on the fact that discipline is a matter of love. That applies to every relationship in which we are confronted with authority and the obligation to obey. The discipline exercised by the civil government is different from the discipline exercised by the office-bearers in the church, and parents will discipline their children in a different manner than the teachers at school. However, the basic rule and guideline for every form of discipline has to be love, the intention to help, to correct, to educate, or even to rehabilitate the person. That is the meaning of the above texts and we will further elaborate on them in this article.

Proverbs 13:24 says that to spare the rod means to "hate" your son, while love makes one diligent to discipline. In Hebrews 12:6 the Bible teaches us that the Lord shows His love in the way He disciplines us, while those who do not receive discipline are considered to be illegitimate children. Discipline, also corporal punishment, has to be based upon and carried out in love.

Nowadays corporal punishment is considered outdated. According to the principles of modern pedagogics, children should be left free. No moral standards and values should be imposed upon them, and they should be given the opportunity to develop their own standards and their own value system. It disturbs their individual development when adults, either parents or teachers, instill in them certain ideas. They should only be provided with factual information, and even that has to be subject to their preference. They should not be bothered too much by what the teacher thinks is important, but they should be occupied with what personally interests them. In this way they can freely develop their own personality and their own ideas about good and evil. They can freely grow according to their intrinsic capacities. That is the concept of modern, humanistic child rearing and in philosophy there is no place for discipline, let alone corporal punishment. No parent or teacher has the right to impose his ideas upon such a tender child; he is too vulnerable to be treated in such a rough way. It will do lasting and irreparable damage to his concept of justice and create feelings of frustration, aversion, and rebellion in the mind of the child. This whole theory is based upon a humanistic idea about mankind. Mankind is good in itself. Evil thoughts and actions are only caused by environmental influences. A human being, left to himself, without any bad influence, supposedly develops into a perfect being, at least he is potentially capable of developing that way.

This idea has been developed and practiced in education everywhere. Some educators practiced it only to a certain extent, others have gone to the very extreme. However, it does not work. The generation of children, educated according to these principles is not happier, more satisfied, or more mature and independent, with a greater awareness of responsibility than the previous generation. On the contrary, there appear to be feelings of disappointment, disillusionment, emptiness, and sometimes desperation. According to statistics the suicide rate among teenagers in the U.S.A. has climbed to an all-time high of five-thousand a year, while for each of these registered cases there are about fifty to a hundred youngsters who unsuccessfully attempt to commit suicide and, according to specialists, many fatal teenage accidents are disguised suicides. That is an alarming development instead of an encouraging result of modern child rearing and education.

Biblical Guidelinesโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

In this series of articles we will discuss some aspects of discipline. We will first pay attention to how the Bible speaks about the task of those who are set in authority and those who are subject to it. Authority begins in the home. That is where children first are confronted with authority and loving discipline. It is there that they have to learn the basic rules of authority and discipline. If they are not taught to obey authority and to appreciate loving discipline as something that protects and guides their life, they will never rightly understand the meaning and value of it.

Lord's Day 39 says that I have to:

show honour, love, and faithfulness to my father and mother and to all those in authority over me, โ€ฆ since it is God's will to govern us by their hand.

Discipline may be felt as unpleasant at the moment it is applied, but children should be taught, and they should experience, that it is meted out with loving care. In Hebrews 12:11 we read:

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The two texts, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him," (Proverbs 13:24) and "โ€ฆ the Lord disciplines him whom He loves" (Hebrews 12:6) contain the ongoing teaching of Holy Scripture. Discipline is not a matter of being hard, tough, and merciless. On the contrary, discipline is and should always be a matter of tender loving care. It is to protect the person from a danger of which he may not even be aware. It is to keep the child on the right track and to teach him what really matters in life. In Proverbs 1:7 we read:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and understanding.

That is the basic rule and foundation of all instruction and discipline. The word "fear" in this text does not mean in the first place anxiety, being afraid of some punishment that might be coming, but it means to have a great respect and regard for the Lord and His commandments, to obey Him in thankful submission.

By allowing children to be free and letting them grow up without discipline, we are not doing them a favour. Proverbs 13:24 says instead that it is a matter of hate. It means denying the children one of the most elementary "rights." The Lord Himself shows His love towards us in the way He disciplines us. Those who do not receive discipline are called illegitimate children.

Parents should not be afraid that corporal punishment, used with love, will damage their children. Proverbs 23:13,14 says:

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod he will not die. If you beat him with a rod you will save his life from Sheol.

That is clear language. He will not die, on the contrary, he will live, he will be saved from Sheol. Proverbs 22:15 says:

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

Also Proverbs 29:15 speaks about the instruction, received via loving discipline. "The rod and reproof gives wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."

That is what we very often see. Children are left to themselves. They do not get the discipline they ought to receive, and finally they bring shame upon their parents. That is the result of a lack of loving discipline. That is what Proverbs 13:24 calls to "hate" your child.

Discipline should not begin when a child becomes a teenager, because then it is too late and the damage is done. It should start right from the beginning. Proverbs 19:18 says:

Discipline your son while there is still hope; do not set your heart on his destruction.ย 
The absence of discipline, at an early age, is called his destruction.

Such discipline is not always felt as a matter of love, not even when parents are well aware of the purpose of discipline and exercise it in a fair and consistent way with tender loving care. In Hebrews 12:11 we read:

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

When we stick to the Biblical rules of discipline applied in love, children will sooner or later acknowledge that the parents have shown them tender loving care in exercising discipline. They will "yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness" instead of the bitter fruits of unrighteousness, lawlessness, and desperation, caused by a lack of discipline.

Now that we have discussed the Biblical rules, principles, and guidelines for discipline, we will turn our attention to a number of practical aspects of discipline.

Growing to Maturityโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

The statements that children do not like to be disciplined, that they should not be disciplined and that they prefer freedom without any imposed rules are simply not true. In the previous section we have seen that the Bible teaches us clearly: "he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him."

Experience shows that we cannot ignore this divine rule without doing great harm to the children and to society at large. It might be true that children, at the spur of the moment, enjoy the absence of authority and enforcement of rules. They like to get off the track once in a while. But in the long run they feel fair and consistent discipline as something that gives security. They know that they do not always do the right thing and that sometimes they cannot gauge the consequences of their deeds. It gives them a sense of security to know that somehow, somewhere, someone takes care of them, keeps them away from going too far off the track, and is ready to help if they really get into trouble. It gives a feeling of security to know that, if worse comes to worst, someone would step in and help them.

Many examples can be mentioned. If in a classroom a teacher cannot maintain order, the children like it for a while, but finally they get fed up with it and do not appreciate it at all. They feel that no one is at the helm and that their time is wasted. They become bored and the situation gets out of control. On the other hand, if a teacher maintains order in a strict, fair, and consistent way, the children may say at first that they do not like it too much and that the teacher is "tough," but in the long run they love the teacher, respect him, and enjoy his discipline.

The same counts for parents. It is not true that children are better off and happier, when the parents do not impose certain guidelines and definite rules. On the contrary, they become dissatisfied and bored, and finally rebellious. Because they have never learned to obey rules, they will not even be able to cooperate and work together with others according to certain rules. They have missed in their life a very important thing, that is learning self-restraint and respect for others.

A young and tender plant cannot grow to maturity without being guided in the right direction. Neither can a child mature properly without this guidance and direction of loving discipline. Guidance in growing to maturity is not less necessary than food. The greatest source of unhappiness among teenagers is that they have been denied one of the most elementary things in growing to maturity, namely, loving discipline.

As we mentioned already, such discipline should be fair and consistent. These are the next points on which we will focus our attention.

Discipline should be Fairโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

Every form of authority and discipline should be fair and consistent. That applies to parents and to teachers, to the civil governments in their law-enforcement and in their judicial systems, and to discipline exercised by the church.

Children, in general and in the long run, do not mind strict discipline, as long as it is fair and consistent. They have a strong sense of fairness and are very sensitive to inconsistencies. When children feel that punishment or the disciplinary measures are not fair, the authority โ€“ either parent, teacher, or whoever โ€“ should try to explain the reason behind it, but parents or teachers should not open a debate about the correctness of their decision. Many decisions will not be appreciated or agreed upon at the time of discipline. Children always like a little more room to maneuver, trying to see how far they can go. The final decision should be up to the one in authority.

However, to want a little more freedom or to disagree with a decision is something quite different than to feel that it is unfair. If children are punished for some wrongdoing, they do not immediately appreciate the punishment. In Hebrews 12:11 we read:

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

However, if children are wrongfully accused of something or are punished for something they have not done, they feel it as unfair. It may also happen that they are punished much more severely than they had expected. The reason may be that they do not understand the impact and the seriousness of their wrongdoing. It is also possible that the parent or the teacher just happens to be in a bad mood caused by completely unrelated matters. The children receive the recompense for the unvented frustration of the one in authority. In both cases the children feel treated in an unfair way and rightly so.

In the first case the parents or teachers should try to explain to the children why they are treated and punished so severely. It should be made clear to them that what they have done is for one reason or another exceptionally serious. That makes the discipline much more effective and avoids unnecessary feelings of unfairness.

It is also possible that the punishment was too severe, or even unjustified, because the parent or the teacher made a wrong presumption about the guiltiness or a wrong assessment of the situation. It is even possible that the authority later feels that the decision had been made in a fit of anger. In such a situation the authority should not hesitate to correct the measure as best as possible, and to admit that a misjudgment has been made.

Some are afraid they will lose their authority by admitting that they have been wrong. However, the opposite is true. Children do not lose respect if a parent or teacher admits that he has made a mistake. They only learn that also those in authority are just human beings, who make mistakes. They will appreciate the fact that they are fair after all, and that they have the courage to admit their mistakes. The result is that the parent or teacher stays on the helm and is even more respected by the child.

That is a completely different situation than when a child tries to challenge the authority. It is part of the game that children try to test authority. It becomes a matter of challenge. If that is the case, they should be answered in a proper manner, and no child will be shocked if he finds out the hard way that he cannot challenge the authority. To test authority is also a matter of seeing how "real" it is. If children find out that they can challenge the authority and that the parent or the teacher gives in and does not "stand the test," they may seem to enjoy it for a while and see it as a victory, but basically they are disappointed. Their trust and confidence is gone. They do not feel secure anymore. One of the most important aspects of authority and discipline is that the children feel that they are protected from going too far off the track, and that parents will use their moral authority to help them when they really get into trouble. However, if the authority cannot stand the "test" of being challenged by the children, they will not have much confidence in such authority when it really comes to the point that they need help.

Discipline should be Consistentโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

Another important aspect of discipline is consistency. Also in this respect children are very sensitive. Inconsistency makes them feel insecure. They do not know what to expect and what to obey. If parents one time let it go when children clearly violate the rules or ignore authority and another time severely punish them for the same thing, children lose their feeling of justice. They do not know what to expect, and feel at the mercy of the authority. That is devastating for their development. They have to learn what it means to obey the rules and what the consequences are of ignoring the rules. They will readily learn their lesson if they know what is coming and what they can expect. It is confusing to be always in limbo about what is going to happen. It will not give them the correct view of what justice is all about.

Once, years ago, I heard a story which struck me and showed me the importance of consistency in discipline. A widow, whose youngest child was about four years old, tried to teach the boy good behaviour. Once he had done something he knew that was wrong and would result in a spanking. However, his mother was so concerned and occupied with other things, that she paid little attention to what the boy had done. She cleaned up the mess he had made and left it at that without any disciplinary measure. The result was that the boy became confused. He expected punishment but it did not come and he did not understand why. He even drew a completely wrong conclusion. After a while he approached his mother and said, "Do you not love me any longer?" His mother was surprised and asked, "Why do you say that?" His reaction struck the mother and shook her. He said, "I deserved a spanking but you did not care about me." This reaction, how strange it may seem, shows clearly that an inconsistency in discipline made the boy feel insecure. He did not mind getting spanked when he deserved it, but he got upset and confused when his mother failed to exercise loving discipline in a consistent way.

Teaching a Value Systemโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

One of the main points in teaching a value system is to eliminate or discourage bad behaviour and to teach good behaviour in an effective way.

To be able to make decisions in their own lives, children need a value system to relate to. Such a value system has to be developed and learned. That can only be done by proper guidance. It is a wrong and very dangerous approach to leave it up to the teenager to develop this on his own. It not only makes him feel insecure, as we have seen before, it also denies him the guidance he needs and deserves. It presents great dangers. He might develop a completely wrong value system because of his lack of experience. He has to learn everything the hard way. It also conflicts with the Word of God. Parents and teachers have the duty to teach the children the one and only correct value system according to the Word of God. In Proverbs 29:15 we read: "โ€ฆ a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."

There are basically two ways to teach a value system and that is by discouraging bad behaviour and by encouraging good behaviour. Both principles have to be applied simultaneously and in proper balance, because the one does not work without the other.

Discipline and punishment is meant to discourage bad behaviour. One of the basic principles is that children, as well as adults, do many things not just for the fun of it, but rather for the pleasant and desired results or consequences of it. Although fortunately many people enjoy their daily job, still many would do their work with considerably less enthusiasm if they did not have the prospect of a pay cheque at the end of the week or month.

Not only money is a reward. To make other people feel happy or to be respected by others can also give satisfaction and encourage people to do a job which they otherwise would not appreciate very much. Another reason why we do something or refrain from doing it can be the awareness that punishment will follow. To obey traffic rules or to pay taxes may not be our greatest priority but the enforcement of the law by the civil government makes us prefer to obey rather than to get a ticket or to pay a fine. That is also a matter of considering the consequences. In this case the consequence of not being bothered by penalties. Of course, for a Christian the main reason for obedience should be that the Lord requires from us to respect the authorities. We should not even obey the Lord out of fear of punishment, but in thankfulness for all that He has given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Still satisfaction and reward are important factors in human behaviour. Psalm 19:11 says that in keeping the ordinances of the LORD there is great reward, and in Proverbs 11:18 we read:

A wicked man earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.

As is the case with many things, we should not make it an either-or issue but we have to be aware of the fact that it is the one as well as the other. The same counts for children. They have to obey their parents in love. Lord's Day 39 says that I have to show honour, love, and faithfulness to my father and mother. Still, in education we have to use the method of positive encouragement no less than discipline and retribution to discourage bad behaviour.

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