When my oldest was 3.5 I went for a walk around the neighborhood with a friend of mine who was a life stage ahead of me. I had basically texted and begged her to take a walk with me so that I could escape for just a few minutes of sanity. You see, jokingly (but kinda serious) I say I would have sold my son at that point. He was difficult and no matter what I did, it didn’t seem to make a difference.
I loved him so much, but I dreaded being with him because I dreaded disciplining him. I was in survival mode and I had no idea what I was doing. I just didn’t want to damage him anymore than I already had.
I confessed to my friend “ I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t make him do anything right!”.
My very dear friend looked at me and said one thing that I’ll never forget: “Emily, you’re right! You can’t make him do anything but, that isn’t your job.”
What if I told you that your job as a parent is not to make your child do things right? What if I told you that all the doubt you have over discipline is because of a lie you believed?
I know you’re reading this skepticism. You’re thinking: “Of course I have to make them do things right! If not me, than who?”
If it’s not our job to make our kids do the right thing, then what is our responsibility? What is the secret of discipline with confidence? Influence their soul.
To be able to discipline with confidence you need to understand your job as the Godly authority in your child’s life; to face them toward God, allow them to encounter the state of their own heart, and cultivate an atmosphere of grace.
Face Them Towards God
The great news about this strategy is that it doesn’t require a lot of time and it will help you parent with confidence. The bad news, it requires a tidal wave of intentionality!
The lie that “it’s our job to make our child do what is right” is so engrained in us that it’s our default mode. I speak from experience as this is a daily struggle in our house. I constantly come up with parenting strategies that will get my children clean up their room, say kind things to their sibling, or take responsibly for their pet. But in the end, that’s not my job.
We have to change our job description from “corrector of wrongs” to “liaison for God and the Holy Spirit”. When we are the “corrector of wrongs” we correspondingly become “director of what is right”. In the short term “director of what is right” might produce the results we want. But in the long term we’re teaching them that the responsibility to choose what is right falls to others. My child is now reliant on others to hold him accountable for his actions, rather than relying on him/herself and the Holy Spirit within them to hold them accountable.
But what happens when they grow older and we can’t be there all the time? Who is going to be the corrector of wrong? Who is going to tell them what is right?
Our job is to demonstrate that they are a child of God who is real and active in our daily life. Our job is teach them that the Holy Spirit lives inside them and He has the power to tell them what is right in this world. Our job is to help them understand that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength, even when they are tempted or think they can’t. Our job is to teach them that with all of this comes the ability to act on what is right.
I am a child of God.
I ought to listen to the Holy Spirit inside me.
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
I will use all of this to choose what is right.
Help Them Encounter the State of Their Heart
Remember that our soul is just as much a tangible part of our bodies as our physical being and mind. The Bible states that none of us are free from sin. It is our job to teach our children about the sin they have in their heart. (Note, I said teach them about the sin, not condemn it.) In order to discipline with confidence we have to see our job is to simply bring them into contact with the sin and the feebleness of the human heart and soul.
In the moment when they are choosing to do the wrong thing, its because of sin. All to often we forget about the heart and soul, instead focusing our aim at altering the exterior behavior. Which overall isn’t necessarily bad however, we are forgoing the long term for the short term reward.
Imagine that you went to the doctor with a rash that appears every time you eat dairy. Instead of telling you that you should eliminate dairy from your diet to treat the problem, the doctor gives you a cream to use every time the rash appears. We are treating the symptom but not the underlying problem. This isn’t the solution to the problem. My job as a Godly authority in my child’s life is to help them see that the dairy (sin in their heart) needs to be eliminated from their diet. Not just keep giving them cream (discipline that alters behavior) to take away the rash when it appears.
When your child lies, has a bad attitude, disobeys or any of the other 42 million terrible choices they will make in their lifetime, they are all sin. And each time you encounter a sin it is your job to first turn them toward God, and then help them encounter the sin in their own heart.
We cannot be so hasty and dull out consequences that only pertain to changing the external behavior. We must make them aware of the underlying problem within their heart and soul: sin. Give it a name and guide them in an atmosphere of grace.
Cultivate an Atmosphere of Grace
Have you ever been to a wedding where there is a lot of soft light and rosy flowers? Or a worship service with quiet music playing during the reflection time?
These elements cultivate an atmosphere. The soft light and rosy flowers at the wedding adds an air of romanticism to the evening. The quiet music in a worship service aide the audience in reflective response to the message given.
In order to discipline with confidence we need to create an atmosphere of grace. What are elements needed for an atmosphere of grace? Author and pastor Tim Kimmel details this in his book Grace Based Parenting. Here he states there are four very distinct elements every grace based home portrays:
1. Freedom to be different
2. Freedom to be vulnerable
3. Freedom to be candid
4. Freedom to make mistakes
So after you have helped your child understand that there is a living God inside them that can help them choose what is right and they come in contact with the sin that is inside their heart, give them room to be different, vulnerable, candid and to make mistakes.
When your children are presented with these elements it’s so much easier for them to not only recognize their own wrong but also work out how to correct it. How much easier is it for you to admit you were wrong when you feel like its okay to make a mistake. How much easier is it for you to see your own sin when you feel safe to be vulnerable?
It will make it easier for you children too!
What Does It all Mean
If you are reading this and you’ve been pulling your hair out because you just “can’t make him/her do anything right!” Feel liberated in hearing me say, that’s not your job! Your job as their Godly authority is to face them toward God, help them encounter the state of their own heart, and cultivate an atmosphere of grace. Your doubt over disciplining your child is because of a lie. Be set free and parent with confidence as a Godly authority in your child’s life. God never meant for us to take on the role as “director of right”. All we have to do is influence their soul.