Discipline your children while there is hope.
Otherwise you will ruin their lives.
Proverbs 19:18 (NLT)
Well, how’s that verse for heavy? I looked up Proverbs 19:18 in a number of translations, and they all state it a little differently. The English Standard Version says: “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.”
The New King James Version says: “Chasten your son while there is hope, And do not set your heart on his destruction.”
The general gist of Proverbs 19:18 – no matter which version you’re reading - is two-fold:
1) There is a time to discipline and train up your children… and there is a time when it is too late.
2) Failing to discipline your children is akin to destroying or killing them. At best, it ruins their lives.
Hm… Yep, that’s really heavy, and a little culturally unpopular.
I’ve had a number of people argue with me that Proverbs 19:18 doesn’t really mean what it says. I would take issue with a liberal application of the verse. You see, I raised two kids (full-time) from the ages of 8 and 10 ~ from a really rough background. They’re all grown-up now, and they’ve launched out on their own lives. I’m careful how I write about my family. I think our kids have the right to some privacy. But, let me say this clearly: our children’s foundational years will affect the rest of their lives. Your discipleship of your children in their first three years of life will set the tone for their childhood, their teen years, and their adult life. I’ve had the opportunity to observe, first hand, how training and experiences in those first few years can truly form a child. Proverbs 19:18 is vividly real to me, because I’ve walked it four times now.
The good news is that, if your children are still young, there is still time to discipline, guide, and train them for the Lord. If your children are no longer young, and you are regretting the foundation you’ve laid for them (or if someone else laid that foundation), the good news is that our Father in Heaven is in the business of redeeming lives. Our job is to be faithful, to sow seeds of the Gospel, to walk upright before Him, and to love our kids sacrificially with our lives.
“Kids, Mommy’s Not a Liar!”
One of the most heartbreaking mistakes I think we tend to make in the early years with our little ones is lying to them.
Parenting and training are hard work. The baby and toddler years are all about constant, unending, grueling, repetitive training. We train them to walk, to eat, to use the potty, to dress themselves. We train them not to run in the street, strip naked, or throw their spaghetti over their brother’s head.
It’s exhausting. Constant. I’m tired just thinking about it.
Enter the lying mommy. It is so much easier to threaten our children than it is to actually discipline them. I can’t tell you how many times I see mothers at the grocery store threaten, cajole, and actually beg their kids not to do something. Their child does whatever it is they’re not supposed to. The mother then raises her voice, complains, capitulates, or pretends she didn’t see it. There’s no follow-through, no discipline, and no consequence.
What did the child just learn? Mommy’s a liar.
Mommy says things that aren’t true, and mommy doesn’t mean what she says.
This is a devastating thing to teach our children at an early age. That lesson – learned at the age of two – will translate to something much tougher to deal with at the age of 15 than the tantrum your child is currently throwing in the middle of Costco. Believe me, you want to train your children NOW to believe what you say. You want to establish a loving, healthy relationship now, to point them to Jesus now, to overcome your exhaustion and train them up well now.
Build a good foundation for your children now, and later, your journey with them will be easier, not harder. All those warnings people give you about waiting for the terror of the teen years? Do a good job now, and the teen years are an exciting time of helping your children discover God’s plan for their lives, rather than trying to patch together a faulty foundation.
I won’t discuss the methods in which you should discipline your children in this post. There are lots of great, biblically-based books on discipline. My favorite is the Bible. :) I will say this: beware the formulaic, “guaranteed” system books. Children are human beings, not dogs. Our job as parents includes developing individual relationships with our kids, pouring energy into training them in the way they (individually) should go, and pointing them to Christ. Our job is to touch their hearts with Scripture, with our relationship, with our love. Be certain that any advice you act on is truly Scriptural.
What does this have to do with discipling our kids? If we’re going to teach our Littles to follow Jesus, they must first believe us. Establishing our authority in their lives is vital. In doing so, we’re teaching them about God’s authority in their lives.
So… tell your kids the truth. Do it in love, and follow-through with your promises.
If something isn’t worth disciplining over, don’t correct them in the first place. It’s ok to have areas in which we give our kids more rein. But… if you set a boundary, make sure you keep it. If you choose to train your child in any given area, be sure you complete the training, no matter how long it takes.
Train in love, train with a smile, train gently… but use these years to train your children for the Lord. And to use the toilet. Both are important.
* * *
“Kids, Mommy’s Not a Liar” is part of a five-month series on discipling our children (see the launch post: Raising Grown-Ups ~ The Great Commission at Home). This month, we’ll be talking about the vital years from ages 0-3. Next Friday: Bible for the Littles ~ Pointing our Toddlers to Jesus.
What do you think? How do you approach training and discipline in the toddler years?
We educate our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to the glory of the Lord, in the joy of the Lord.
(Eph. 6:4, 1 Cor. 10:31, Phil. 2:14-15)
~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is a children’s writer with a love for God’s Word, history, wisdom and small people. Her work has appeared in magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr.; Upper Room Ministries’ Pockets and Devozine; CBH Ministries’ Keys for Kids, and Cobblestone Group’s FACES and Odyssey. Her work also appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters.