Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Discipline vs. Punishment

Last month I did a series on what a child really needs.  The more I parent and talk with other parents, the more I see the actual truth that meeting a child's basic emotional needs is at the heart of good parenting.  And, so you know, there are plenty of days when I skip ahead, miss the mark, fail to slow and end up looking over my shoulder realizing what I wish I had done differently.  Other days, these days that are getting more frequent as I focus, heal my own heart and become more intentional, I realize that meeting my children's needs builds the very foundation they need and prevents so many of the problems we can otherwise encounter.  I encourage you to read the posts here if you are interested in hearing more about the specifics of what a child's basic needs are and how to meet those. 

At the end of that series I mentioned that I would start writing on the difference between discipline and punishment.  Over the next four Wednesdays I am going to be discussing the distinguishing elements and thinking through what we can do to help our children live healthy lives. 

In his book, "Help, I'm a Parent!" Dr. Bruce Narramore asks a simple question: "Does God punish His children?"  I wonder what you would answer to that if you gave it some thought.  A thorough exploration of scripture in the original languages reveals that God disciplines His children, but does not punish them.  You may be asking what the difference even is, or IF there is a difference.  When we receive Jesus in our hearts and lives and acknowledge His death on the cross, we know and personally accept that the punishment for all sin was placed upon Him.  He paid it all for us.  If we fail to accept that gift, we are not received as children of God, but once we accept the gift, we actually are called children of God.  That is what we are.  As His children we have access to Him and His forgiveness.  We have entered into discipleship and we have exited a life which would be destined for punishment. 

I think it will help if I discern between discipline and punishment here:

Punishment is the getting even, taking vengeance or paying back for wrong done.  Punishment focuses on behavior, a behavior we don't want to see, and says, "You will pay for that."  Discipline, on the other hand, comes from the root word, Disciple, which means to be a student and to be teachable.  Discipline has at its heart, instruction, which looks towards the future rather than repaying the past.  Punishment seeks to balance the scales.  Discipline seeks to help the person grow.  Because of the misguided approach of punishment in human relationships, the result of punishment is often a temporary or superficial compliance while inwardly the child is not moving their heart even one inch.  Discipline can involve using a firm approach or giving a consequence which is not pleasant for the child, but the heart of the parent and the mode of approach is a world away from that when the practice is punishment.

Consider God's statements here as a reflection of the difference between punishment and discipline:
And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. (Is 13:11)
Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law (Ps 94:12)
Even Proverbs begins with this admonition:  "Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching."  These are the words of a father, asking his son to listen and learn -- to be a disciple and receive instruction.  The Father's heart is a heart of love and care which desires wellbeing for His children.  All discipline comes from a heart of love with the desire to bless the child being at the heart of the discipline.

The purpose of punishment (as outlined so beautifully by Dr. Narramore) is to inflict penalty for an offense.  The purpose of discipline is to train for correction and maturity.  I have had moments wherein I punished my children when I was irritable, impatient, short on sleep or they had just pushed too far on a given day.  I have raised my voice or given consequences to get them to stop what they were doing instead of looking deeper into their hearts and further down the road in their lives.  I have sometimes let fear of what might become of them run the show and determine my choices and reactions as a parent.  When I have punished instead of meeting unspoken needs and disciplining, I have seen the fruit of my punishment in my relationship with my boys in their own hearts and lives. 

I have grown more and more as a parent over the years and I continue to grow.  I have become more and more loving, by God's grace, and more patient.  I have learned to be more focused on the security and welfare of my children than on my need to gain immediate control.  As I have grown, I have continued to change and refine the way I respond to misbehavior -- I have changed the way I relate to my boys overall.  I was never a "momster" full time (as we call it) but my lapses into using punishment were more frequent than they are now.  I am living testimony that a gentle and patient approach combined with appropriate boundaries, meeting a child's basic needs and giving or allowing consequences for misbehavior in order to train them into mature living is a very profitable approach to parenting.  My boys reflect the wisdom in this approach.  Our heartstrings are connected.  They are confident, respectful, healthy children.  We have an open relationship.  They are not sneaky and they don't tattle on one another.  Neither of them is about to take a walk on water, so know that I am not raising perfect children and am not boasting about them in any way.  I want to share the fruit I see in their hearts and lives as an encouragement that when you use discipline, over time, your child will become a more healthy and well-rounded person who lives out many of the traits you may be trying to bring out using a punishing approach.  Discipline takes more time and patience than punishment, but the results are real and they are longer lasting because they are rooted in a heart of connected compliance rather than a conflicted heart which outwardly obeys while inwardly avoiding pain and fearing punishment. 

I encourage you to evaluate the difference between punishment and discipline and to continue to join me here over the next three weeks on Wednesdays while I discuss topics such as:
  • What is the focus of punishment or discipline?
  • What is a healthy parental attitude in discipline?  
  • What does good discipline look like at various stages?
  • What can we expect from our children?
  • What is the fallout or fruit of these parenting choices?
God bless you as you parent those children of yours.  They are gifts from God entrusted to your care.

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