Monday, July 07, 2008
The Rod of Discipline In My House
Recently, the readership of my homeschool blog has gone up dramatically. I'm not sure if it's readers from White Washed Feminists or if it's readers who've come from Tulip Girl's blog spurred on by Michael and Debi Pearl of No Greater Joy. In any case I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss our beliefs about discipline and parenting.
In the book of Proverbs we read: "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." Proverbs 13:24. This verse has been taken to mean that one must spank in order to properly discipline. But I don't believe that Scripture ultimately bears that out. Another Proverb talks about the "rod of correction" meaning that correction itself is a rod. A rod, of course was something used by shepherds to care for their sheep (for more on the rod and why it's not an instrument for spanking, see my post here). I think it's important to remember also, that Proverbs should never be applied as law. They are called proverbs for a reason.
"A stitch in time, saves nine" is an old secular proverb. It reminds us that doing a little work now can save us more work later. That's a sage piece of wisdom, but not a promise or a law. The book of Proverbs discusses the importance of disciplining children, not spanking.
Parenting is a tough gig. It's one of those jobs that you don't really get graded on until your child is grown. We do a lot of guessing and second guessing of our choices. And parents that don't, probably should. This is way too important a job to breeze through like you have all the answers. Parenting a child is being given stewardship of one of God's precious children. That's a huge job, and a humbling one.
So, what exactly do kids need? Well, manners are awfully nice. So is a good attitude, cooperation, and (yes I'm going to say it) obedience. Now, with obedience, I don't mean that they should be mindless followers. I want my children to obey because I have authority over them and because they trust me to make the right choices even if they don't understand them.
I teach manners through example. "May I have that please?" for a toy, and "thank you" when it's given or "you're welcome" for a thank you. In my experience there's been no better way to teach my children the importance of opening doors for people, giving up a seat to an elderly person, and all the other manners that I'd like my children to display, then by modeling it for them, and by play acting it out at home.
Attitude is always a struggle. Proverbs 17:22 says "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." It's one of those verses I use to remind my kids of how important a good attitude is. In the end, emotions don't matter so much as actions. And I tell my kids that they'll be happier if they have a good attitude. But if they can't be happy about something that's okay. But they are not allowed to mope around or spread that attitude to others. They are allowed to have whatever feelings they'd like. But they can not act any way they'd like.
Our kids have to cooperate, and they have to obey. They're allowed not to like it, and they're allowed to want to know why. That doesn't mean that they can get out of doing it, or that they're going to be given long explanations. Sometimes the answer is "because I said so" and because they have to trust us. Still, that's not always the case, and when we can explain, we do. We want our children to understand that we don't ask them to do things arbitrarily, but because there's a real reason.
So, what happens when they don't do it, or when they misbehave? Well, we work hard to make sure that the boundaries are clear. We try to give direction at face level with them and make it clear what expectations are as well as consequences. We also try to teach the behavior we want to see rather than the behavior we don't want to see. For example, "You must remember to use gentle touch with your sister" rather than "no hitting!"
We do use time outs as one way to enforce boundaries. A child gets a warning and then time out if the behavior continues. Our ten year old may use his time out as a time to reflect on his behavior and write down what was wrong with it. Also, after the time out they may have to clean up if they made a mess, or in some other way, correct their action. Time outs can be used very effectively, and I encourage parents to learn about them. I would also say that children do test us from time to time with their behavior. They have to know that we can slay monsters for them, and if they know we can't even stand up to them, they won't be able to trust us to slay monsters.
Mostly, we know that we can't force our children's hearts or their respect. We don't want to break their spirits, we simply want to mold their passions toward positive things. We strive to earn our children's respect by showing them what it means to be respected as human beings. We show our authority by creating strong boundaries and holding to them. And we seek to foster the strong bond that will allow us the insight to be able to parent each of them distinctly, in the way they need to be parented.
Like I said, parenting is a tough gig. I'm not going to sit in judgment of those who do it differently than I do. But I draw the line at being told that the only way to discipline is with spanking, or that they know how to parent "God's Way". God parents us with mercy and grace, and I will strive to do the same knowing that even when I fail, God will forgive me. Hopefully my children will see that, too.