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10 Principles to Consider for Parents on Healthy Discipline of Children

As a pastor, I’m consistently asked about disciplining children. I am not an expert – and every family is unique, with different parents and different children – but, I have learned some things personally and from watching others. Plus, I know some things I would do differently if I had the early years of parenting to do again.

There is always special interest in the subject of spanking – whether it was appropriate or not and whether I believe in it or not. While I believe discipline is a personal topic for parents to decide where they land, I do believe there are some helpful principles for all parents to follow. I am probably less inclined in this area to talk about what I did and more inclined to talk about the principles I believe are even more helpful.

I have written my basic overall plan for parenting in an earlier post. You can read it HERE. Since I believe the most important thing is you have a plan for your parenting and where you are trying to steer children as they mature, I decided to share some principles I believe can help the discipline part of your plan.

10 principles for parents on healthy discipline:

Goal set first. 

Proverbs 29:17 says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” You should understand the reason behind discipline. You are taking your children somewhere they need to go. There is great value then in discipline. Just as you have to discipline yourself to do anything of value – or just as they have to be disciplined to master an activity in which they are involved – your parenting needs to include healthy discipline.

Never discipline in anger.

When you act in anger you will say things you do not mean and do things you should not do. Discipline done in anger is rarely productive and usually harmful long-term.

Discipline yourself first.

At the time of need for discipline, remember this 3-step process: Stop/Think/Proceed. This takes practice on your part, but keep in mind, you’re supposed to be the maturer one. This also means you’ll do less yelling in the moment and take more decisive actions when you administer discipline. Obviously, when they are younger you have to make quick decisions. If your 2 year old is about to stick their finger in a socket – react fast. Decisions regarding discipline get more difficult as the child gets older, however, so you may need to take longer with each of these steps.

Be consistent in your discipline plan.

It will mean nothing to the child otherwise. You must help them learn how you will respond. The discipline may not be the same, but your attitude towards them and your follow through should be. As they get older, they will test this one.

Pre-think principles, rather than pre-planning specifics.

You should have some value-centered, character-based goals you want discipline to promote in your child. But, be careful declaring what you will do when your child does something specific. Avoid saying things like, for example, “My son will never wear his hair long – and if he tries I will…” You may regret those words someday. It should go without saying, but I believe Biblical principles are always best – and should come first. 

Differentiate discipline for each child.

To spank or not to spank should not be as big a deal as what works best for the child. Every child is unique and what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. The more you individualize your approach the more successful your plan will be.

Do not make threats with which you are unwilling to follow through

Your children will catch on quickly when you do. It’s probably best not to make threats at all. Again, be goal-driven, value-centered. Threats usually cause more harm than good. Either they push you in a corner to respond – or, depending on the will of the child – encourage them to test your threat.

Use age appropriate and action appropriate discipline

As a child matures the discipline should mature with them. Be careful not to overkill a minor incident or ignore a major occurrence. Remember a 3 year old is 3. They are learning – and sometimes they can be so cute doing things the first time. But, if it’s a character issue – such as lying – treat it seriously. (Usually you don’t have to do a whole lot to convince a 3 year old it’s serious, either.) It becomes a lot more serious when a 13 year old is still lying to parents – especially if they were never disciplined about it at 3.

Always discipline the child for results, not your comfort level.

Discipline in its concept is not necessarily pleasant, but it reaps a reward if done right. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Many parents refuse to discipline in the name of love. All parents love their children. And, punishing people we love – even when needed – is difficult. Don’t discipline in a way which is comfortable for you – discipline in a way, which is productive in producing maturity in your child.

Discipline should never teach a child he or she is unloved.

Actually, if done right, discipline should reinforce the love a parent has for the child. (Hebrews 12:7-10) This is especially true as they get older. They should be able to look back and see – while you may not have done everything right – you always disciplined in love; you always cared for their best interest – even ahead of your own.

The discipline part of parenting is the hardest – and we all make mistakes. Keep this thought in mind: we parent our children to eventually be adults. Begin with the end in mind. What characteristics, values and morals do we want them to have when they are grown. This thought helped me many times when deciding which discipline to use – and certainly the severity of which I should view a matter needing discipline.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Fia says:

    Great, I love this post. Thank You so much

  • Great post Ron. I appreciate the well-balanced advice, I think that all parents should be taught this from the start. It'd certainly help make the world a better place.

  • dellyden says:

    Excellent tips Ron, I am very impressed by this article and I would like to save this post for future use. For parents, discipline part is the hardest part because our mistakes reflect on children, so with their health care we should understand all these things. Thanks for sharing

  • jimpemberton says:

    Good list here. I would observe that discipline is necessary because our kids take after their parents: they are sinners just like us. It's a ubiquitous theme in all of our disciplinary efforts, both for ourselves and for our kids. So this leads me to at least a couple of observations:

    First, I see parents who hold their kids to a different standard than they hold themselves. That is, they expect their kids to act like good people when they fail to see their own flaws, or they expect the kids to submit to their discipline when they themselves won't submit to the discipline of someone who has been placed over them. we can't expect our kids to do anything that we wouldn't do, at least on some age-appropriate level. We need to practice what we preach to our kids.

    Second, I see parents who focus on behavior and fail to address the deeper issue of sin, or think that focusing on behavior will take care of the deeper issue. It actually works the other way around. There are at least three layers of sin/righteousness that I observe in the Scriptures: Behavior, Intent, and Relationship with God.

    Righteous behavior is simply doing the right thing in the right place at the right time in the right situation. Sin is simply not doing what is right.

    Righteous intent involves having godly reasons for doing the right things. We can have evil reasons for doing the right things or the godly reasons for doing the wrong things. On this side of the resurrection, our intents often still falter.

    A right relationship with God is that relationship that justifies the sin we commit on the cross of Christ through no good work of our own. It necessarily results in a gradual purification of our intents and actions. However, there are people who can have largely good reasons for doing godly things and still be in rebellion against God. Now, we didn't start off with a right relationship with God and we have to understand our kids' position in this matter. They start off unsaved and hopefully become saved. In formulating our discipline, we should understand whether our kids are saved yet.

    All that said, discipline must not only address behavior or only address intents, or only proclaim the Gospel to our kids. It must do all three. So our discipline must have a Gospel flavor to it. There must be forgiveness at the end of the tunnel, both from us as parents but that also points to the forgiveness from Jesus Christ which we have also obtained for our own sin. We should also mourn our evil intents as they crop up and seek forgiveness for them. Our kids will learn from us how to love God because of this. And so our behavior will exhibit these intents that transcend the "old man" that still plagues us. They will see that our remorse is genuine, our willing sacrifice for them and their other parent who is our spouse (without us using it passive-aggressively), and our overall repentant and humble demeanor as we ourselves submit to words of Scripture as the special Revelation of God.

    My own kids have accompanied my wife and me for many years now whether we have gone across town or overseas to proclaim the Gospel. A few years ago they told us that we could have many nicer things, but they sow how we used what we have in an effort to proclaim the life-giving Gospel of Christ to people who were dead in their sins. They all agreed on their own that they have enjoyed a far happier childhood with less. As my teenage son presented the gospel to a group of kids in Venezuela, my wife looked at me with a tear of joy in her eye and told me, "I never thought that I would come down here to be my son's ministry assistant." God is good, especially when he reigns in our discipline.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Such great thoughts! This is a blog post – certainly adds to this one. Thank you.

  • Many childern learn mot of their behaviours from their parents. Hence, to discipline one's children, it is imporatnt for parents to live a role model life. They should set an example by their acts ad behaviours. Otherwise, children can consider them as hypocrites and may go astray.

  • Robin Smith says:

    Great list, Ron. I would add this one: let your discipline be an affirmation of your love (which is what God does with us). For example, telling your child "I love you so much, that I can't let you get by with that attitude." Or, "You are much to good of a son/daughter, and I love you so very much that I must address this mistake/dishonesty, etc." Parents must remember (especially dads) that we are called to represent the deeper reality of Father God, pointing them to the truths about His love.

  • This is closely tied to your first point, but I've had to remind myself that discipline is about serving my child and not my pride. Discipline is stewarding this little one that has been entrusted to me. But sometimes I've made discipline about creating a nice, behaved child that I can display as some trophy to others. It's so easy to make it all about my pride.