Child Discipline

I am partly responsible for three new human beings occupying this earth.  In causing them to come into this world, I accepted a duty before God to prepare them for adulthood, a process of education for which none of us are terribly well trained. School teaches us many things, but how to choose a mate for life, and how best to bring up our offspring, is largely overlooked. Most of us fumble along, at first thinking that we know it all, determined not to make the 'mistakes' our parents made.  But as the realities of parenthood sink in, we realise that our ideals fall far short of the expectations we started out with.  It becomes a matter of trial and error. Each child is different and each needs a unique approach to bring out the best in them.  

Immediately after the supreme goal of guiding them into a personal relationship with Jesus, I believe the most important objective is to enable them to stand on their own two feet. They start off being totally vulnerable and dependent. Slowly we watch them grow, with our heart in our mouth, as they learn by making their own mistakes.  Hopefully by the time they get to adulthood, (which really is a different age for every individual), they can handle the pressures of the real world well enough to get by on their own.  In the process of getting them ready for this turning point, we face thousands of decisions, many of which in hindsight we could or should have handled differently.  As parents, we usually can't do enough for our kids.  We continue to do things for them which they are quite capable of doing themself.  In the mindset of wanting the best for them these days, we spoil them rotten and thereby teach them a negative value - to use others to further their own ends.  Finally the only way to break that cycle is to actually push them out of the nest.

In this materially focussed society, things have become a lot harder. By the time the 'pushing out of the nest' comes, many children still haven't learnt the concept of 'making do'.  They want to start off at the standard they leave.  Often they are not willing to start off small and work their way up.  They take out a huge mortgage to start off with a home bigger and better than the one their parents live in. Materialism has taken over.  Commercial consumerism has become the prevailing value system.

Schooling today teaches kids their rights, but little about their responsibilities.  God has been taken out of the class room and the play ground.  The traditional value system based on the Ten Commandments has been replaced by a flexible one, based on humanistic values. As long as what you do does not infringe on the rights of others, anything goes. The Bible has lost its impact. The Gospel message has been watered down and brought into question. That message asserts that man needs salvation because of the original sin, committed by a real person around six thousand years ago.  Take away that basic tenet, and Christ's death and resurrection becomes meaningless.  The millions of years of existence proposed by the theory of evolution bring into question the authority of the word of God.  It is taught, not as an alternative explanation for life on earth, but as a fact.  Kids can't pass their exams, unless they subscribe to it. Suddenly the rest of God's word has no more wisdom to offer. The reason why God's stated values should not be questioned has been undermined.  Our kids are left floundering with the uncertainty of a value system they can make up themselves. Is it any wonder that teenage crime, drug taking and sexual promiscuity is rife?  And Christian parents are at odds with that system, trying to convince their children to adhere to values that no longer have a solid foundation.

When my boys were 13 and 14, they had learned in class that Social Security would give them a rental deposit, plus a living allowance and rental assistance. All they had to do was say they couldn't get on with their parents.  Centrelink, the administrators of the funds, had no compunction about handing out the money, but neither did they care what happened to my children as a result.  They were there just to follow the rules determined higher up. So they gave them money to rent a house in Cabramatta, the drug capital of Sydney.  The kids learned to play the system, by taking turns with friends to approach Centrelink, so that when the money ran out, a fresh supply would be forthcoming.  How can a parent of average means compete with a Government that’s offering them hundreds of dollars a week?  I saw a news report recently where 13 year olds were using the home deposit handed to them by Centrelink to buy drugs and sleep under a bridge! I thank the Lord my boys survived this Government neglect in tact, and came good.

In this environment, the concept of physically disciplining your child has been redefined as assault.  The alternatives of handling discipline are vague concepts, understood by few parents. "You are grounded" has no more impact. The idea of children 'divorcing' their parents is gaining credence. We are permitted to use only words to convince our children that Biblical values are the way to go. But it is an uphill battle while the class room counters our every argument.  Thus parental guidance has lost its power and the naive and uninitiated young are taught by the system to be selfish.  This impotent merry-go-round is producing globe-wide problems never foreseen by its authors.  And these authors are committed to maintaining the status quo, to save face and the embarrassment that comes with admitting they were wrong. Thousands of them are struggling to find alternative solutions to problems of their own creation. But the solutions remain elusive, a series of unsuccessful societal experiments, having no more effective impact than our attempts to stop global warming. The system is out of control and no one has a clue where it is leading.


I come from a background where the smack on the leg or bottom, in the right circumstances and administered in love, was considered to be an acceptable way of teaching your child that an action they had taken was bad.  Obviously, the smack was the last resort and came only after repeated warnings. It was always considered wrong to discipline a child in anger, although the frustrations inherent in youthful rebellion didn't mean this was always the case.  Sometimes parents are driven to the point of screaming desperation, and discipline turns into an unacceptable outlet for anger. Today, this type of discipline can land you in jail.

So what does the Bible have to say about administering physical correction? 


"He who spares his rod, hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently." (Proverbs 13:24)

"Discipline your child while there is hope, and do not desire his death."(Proverbs 19:18)

"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15)

"Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod and save his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)

"The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother." (Proverbs 29:15)


Having well-behaved children was a prerequisite to hold the position of elder in the New Testament church:

"(Elders must be) above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion." (Titus 1:6) 

The Lord Himself disciplines His children:

"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him. For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives." (Hebrews 12:5-6)

Receiving discipline is not easy.  In my walk with the Lord, I, myself, have been constantly disciplined by Him and still am, sometimes to the point where the pain is so great I feel I cannot take anymore. At such times we tend to lose track of the big picture - that we are being prepared to be a perfectly fitting part of the Bride for Jesus. We are all different and we all are intended to be different parts of the overall Bride. The whole of Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians deals with the body of the Bride and the way it should fit together.  Paul says it rather beautifully in Romans, drawing on prophecies in Isaiah:

"Who are you , O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this?' will it?  Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honourable use, and another for common use?"(Romans 9:20-21)

The truth is that, while growing up, children do not have the wherewithal to make wise decisions about what is good for them.  The process of developing laws protecting children's rights cannot succeed on its own.  Simultaneous development of ways to deal with the consequences of such legislation must take place. It is not right to hold parents responsible for their children's actions, and at the same time to disempower them.

The purpose for disciplining children is to steer them into ways that allow them to live a healthy, independent adulthood, in tune with God and in tune with who they are, having a real a sense of purpose. It is only at that point that we can be shaped further for that greater purpose, becoming a part of the bride of Christ. The person who has no sense of personal identity and purpose has great difficulty coming to terms with another enigmatic principle of the Gospel message:


"For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses hislife, for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
(Matthew 16:25-26)


All four underlined words are the same word 'psuche' in Greek. (See my essay on "Body, soul and spirit").  We cannot begin to comprehend the Gospel principle of 'taking up our cross', until we know who we are.


Discipline is always painful.  There is no way that I am in favour of indiscriminate physical correction every time a child does something wrong. But there are circumstances where a smack that causes no injury is more effective than a verbal instruction. If a child is about to burn themselves in a flame, the smack on the hand is just a non-damaging metaphor for the burn they are about to receive. If a child is experimenting with drugs, the pain of physical correction is just a non-damaging metaphor for the long-term pain of addiction.  Sometimes words are just not adequate to get the message across. The natural curiosity we all have to experiment with the unknown, in the complex process of growing up, sometimes calls for hard decisions on how to best to handle the situation. God recommends physical correction in circumstances where the outcome of the experimentation will be harmful in the extreme.


In a world where children bring knives and sometimes guns to school and teachers are afraid to come to class because of the threats made by the pupils; a world where respect for the elderly is a thing of the past; a world where many of our children are on a path of self destruction; where fourteen year old girls bash taxi drivers to death; where teenagers have worked out how to get Government handouts to buy drugs and where youth suicide is at an all time high, we really need to reassess our priorities. 

It is obvious that our politicians don't have the answers. They keep on vacillating between the incompatible tenets of their man-made value systems, torn between the principles of human rights and their destructive outcomes. The system is out of control because it has no foundation. The values keep changing.

The problem has its source in the abandonment of Biblical values.  Those who don’t want to acknowledge a Creator push the right for everyone to determine their own values.  And that has backfired so badly and quickly, no one ever saw it coming.  


Our children are our most precious resource. We owe it to them to give them the best chance in life. We have to come back to the Biblical standards of behaviour, so without hesitation we can tell our kids when they ask us 'why?': "It is because God says so!"

And if, in certain extreme circumstances, teaching them those standards calls for the inclusion of a measure of controlled physical discipline, always administered in love, then so be it. 

The most important judgment call for parents to make, at that point, is to examine their own heart to see whether it is love or anger that makes them want to smack their child. They should make that call before they do it. If having to do it breaks your heart, it must be love.

What don’t we like about God?  We hate discipline. We especially don’t fancy being disciplined ourselves. 

Where our kids are concerned though, we are bamboozled by new laws protecting children.  It is another confusing man-made conflict for Biblical approach.  Many parents having kids out of control would like permission to administer corporal punishment to their wayward children to bring them into line.  But they are prevented from doing so by child protection legislation