Using discipline, “the rod and reproof,” to correct the bent toward evil and guide the child toward a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a necessary part of parenting. Dealing with rebellious, defiant behavior requires discipline on the part of the parent because no one likes being the “bad guy” to the child. But if it’s done correctly, the discipline process actually creates more opportunity to bond with him or her and to focus on the aspect of parenting we find more enjoyable.
Then, just as the Lord knows each of His children intimately, we must seek to know our child well. That requires time, keen observation, patience, interaction, and lots of prayer. But if we put effort into this crucial responsibility as a parent, our children will reap benefits long after they have become adults. I can name at least three.
First, every adult longs to have memories of a parent’s love. I have found some measure of healing in my own life by giving my own children what I desired so much from my parents. It’s an odd kind of melancholy relief that I find soothing. Whatever else I may have done poorly, I know that my children know that I love them.
Second, every adult wants to have a strong sense of personal control—control of life’s circumstances, control over self during temptation, control over choices that affect the future. I took no command of my life when I graduated from high school. I merely followed in the steps that seemed to come next. I had no particular passion, no specific pursuit. Fortunately, the Lord took control of my life through a series of circumstances that made little sense until many years later. How much better for a child to know who he or she is, the Lord’s plans for the world, and how he or she will serve Him. That knowledge gives an adult the tools necessary to make wise, responsible, God-honoring decisions.
Third, every adult desires to feel the security of self-respect. When a growing child understands how God put him or her together, when adulthood comes, he or she enjoys well-defined personal boundaries. These boundaries provide a person the strength to stand his or her ground in the face of injustice, abuse, or attempted manipulation. Because others have little room to toy with his or her identity, he or she is virtually immune to exploitation. This, by the way, includes Satan’s attacks as well. A strong sense of identity in Christ is the best defense against the devil’s chief weapon: deception.
Action Steps Worth Taking
Now let me turn these into actions we can apply.
First, determine to know your child’s uniqueness. Knowledge of your child will not come to you automatically. This will require keen observation and sensitive determination to seek the knowledge you need. Turn each day with your child into an opportunity to discover who he or she is on the inside. I’m not suggesting you watch and record their actions like they’re a bunch of lab rats. Learn to know them like you would any other person—a friend, a mate. Spend lots of time with them that has no agenda. Communicate. Ask questions. Observe what makes your child happy, bored, stimulated, agitated, angry. Look for natural gifts in athletics, music, and academics. Talk to teachers, youth leaders, and other parents. Be deliberate about discovering each child’s identity.
As you do this, you will cultivate a deepening love for your child. You cannot love someone you don’t know, but knowing him or her allows greater opportunity to feel and show love. The child, in return, will gain self-awareness, the first step to self-discipline.
Second, discipline yourself to set limits on your child’s will. This is hard work and it’s unpleasant… But curbing his willful defiance at age ten will help you gain enough control over his behavior to help him control himself by the time he reaches older adolescence. This doesn’t mean that children will never disobey or push against your boundaries, but it will keep chaos from ruling the home and destroying any hope of normal development.
A wisely disciplined child will grow into an adult who can handle himself or herself in private. When he’s in a hotel and he can watch anything he wants, he learns to avoid X-rated channels because he learned self-control at home. Road rage isn’t a problem for her because she learned to control herself from you. He only knows that yelling and screaming during an argument will only bring heartache and regrets because he learned to guard his actions and watch his words when his emotions are running high. Your consistent, firm, yet loving discipline taught him those skills.
A child gains self-awareness from being known. A child gains self-control from being disciplined.
Third, affirm your child’s value. This is more difficult than you might imagine because affirming a child’s value without resorting to flattery will require discernment. My good friend Jim Dobson is a strong proponent of building a child’s self-esteem, but many have twisted his counsel into something bizarre. For fear of wounding a child’s self-image, teachers, coaches, and parents won’t challenge him or her to excel. Poor performance as a result of little or no effort is typically met with gleeful cheers. A child is given compliments and affirmation that have no basis, which only seems to confuse him or her.
Flattery will amount to nothing ultimately. Instead, look for an authentic basis for compliments. Base your affirmation on characteristics that you genuinely see and truly admire. Reward real effort with encouragement, recognizing that his or her qualities and achievements will have child-sized proportions. To do this, you will have to know your son or daughter well. Furthermore, you will have to know what motivates your child, how much encouragement he or she will need, when to challenge him or her to try harder, and when it’s appropriate to try something else.
The result for the parent is a growing respect for the child. The benefit for the child is he or she gains self-respect. And a child with a healthy respect for self will be prepared to enjoy healthy relationships as an adult.
As you determine to know your child’s uniqueness, discipline yourself to set limits on his or her will, and affirm his or her value, take notes from the perfect Father. He knows you intimately, which puts Him in the best position to develop your maturity. He doesn’t give you everything you want but never fails to meet your every need. And because He knows you, He knows the difference. His desire for you is that you grow into the kind of believer who enjoys the personality and the gifts He has given you, and He longs to see you fully alive. As the Lord develops your maturity, do the same for your child.
There are few responsibilities more rewarding than this… So don’t wait to get started! Even if you’ve not done these things before, I urge you to begin. Remember, it’s never too late to start doing what is right.
*excerpt from Parenting: From Surviving to Thriving, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), p. 38-42
Charles R. Swindoll
Charles Rozell "Chuck" Swindoll (born October 18, 1934) is an evangelical Christian pastor, author, educator and radio preacher. He founded Insight for Living, currently headquartered in Plano, Texas, which airs a radio program of the same name on more than 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. He is currently the senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church, in Frisco, Texas.