Discipline. It is not a word we hear much anymore. Are we permitted to mention it? It seems that to many people it’s a concept that’s not ‘politically correct’ anymore, and it isn’t a popular topic among parents today.

Before we go any further, let’s settle on an appropriate definition of ‘discipline’. To discipline a child is to encourage, guide, teach and inspire. I’m not talking about punishment, unkindness, hitting or abuse—these behaviours are unproductive and damaging to children. Appropriate discipline is responding to children in a loving and thoughtful way so that they develop enduring qualities that will enrich their lives and others who know them. 

Reflect for a moment on the way you were parented. We tend to parent the way we were raised, unless we determine to make some changes and give our kids a better start than we were given. As I write, I think of things I have done as a dad that could have been different and delivered much better results. We’re all responsible for generating positive change, not just doing what we have always done or what was done to us. There is always room for improvement.

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.

– Deuteronomy 8:5 

Some parents believe that children will be happiest if they are given everything that they want. That doesn’t work with adults or children. We’re all happier when we’ve worked for what we want or need and earned our rewards. Undisciplined children set their sights low. They focus on unimportant things that offer instant gratification. They make poor judgements, bad choices, mix with the wrong crowd and find it a challenge to achieve good outcomes with their life. When faced with difficulties they often have few techniques that help to produce positive results. It doesn’t make sense to a child during their early years; especially when they see other kids being treated differently and getting whatever they want. Unfortunately, whatever they want is usually harmful; think sugary foods, dreadful toys and poor-quality, time-wasting activities.

Hebrews 12:11

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Children look to their parents for boundaries wrapped in love and respect. When those boundaries are clearly and firmly provided, children thrive; they are free to play, dream, wonder and explore their world, knowing that their parent (or caregiver) will watch over them. There are multiple distractions for children: there will always be more fun, seemingly important and instantaneous alternatives to what their parents want them to do. Through discipline, parents can help children steer a course that allows them to develop, progress, and mature. 

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.

– Proverbs 22:6 

As with many things, disciplining children starts with our ability to govern ourselves. How do we deal with stressful and difficult situations? Do we treat others with respect and kindness? Are we able to defer self-gratification when working toward our goals? Can we express emotions in appropriate ways? Our children will often notice and emulate what we do much more than what we say

Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.

– Proverbs 25:28 

Our challenge as parents is to guide children in a positive way: to avoid methods that belittle, discourage, humiliate, hurt or frustrate, and instead look for parenting approaches that encourage, mature and uplift our children. It is vital for parents to be attuned and compassionate to each child’s emotions and encourage them to express how they feel. Love and concern are the boundary ropes that guide and encourage, not restrict and limit, our children. As they grow, they can take charge of themselves using the methods of discipline we use in their daily lives. 

Discipline is not just a tool we use to manage children—it’s a tool we give them to manage themselves! 

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

We won’t always be around. We won’t always be able to give a word of advice or caution—certainly we won’t always be there to yell ‘STOP!’ The idea is to pass our expectations on to our kids, so they carry them forward in their lives. Here are a few ways that we can potentially have a substantial influence in our children’s lives if we remain firm with them:

  1. They will eat more healthily. They’ll understand what’s good for them and when to say no to food that has poor nutritional value. Statistics show that startling numbers of people who lose a significant amount of weight put it all back on again. Very few keep it off—some surveys put this at only 3-5 percent after three years. Discipline taught early may very well stop the weight gain in the first place. Naturally, modeling this is also crucial.
  2. They will work more effectively. They’ll be on time, have a better work ethic and want to do their best. Advancing to more senior positions will be a natural progression in their chosen vocation. Having and keeping a job will also be the norm rather than the exception.
  3. They will have more emotional stability. Expressing feelings in appropriate ways and being empathetic to the feelings of others will help them to develop well-rounded relationships and reduce conflict. 
  4. They will manage money better. Having sound financial goals will be a strong foundation for a thriving and generous lifestyle. A person needs self-discipline in order to save effectively and to manage debt wisely.
  5. They will use time better. Balancing time pressures and external demands will be more achievable. Having time for the important things of life will be more of a natural focus rather than a struggle.

Discipline is one of the primary keys to a successful and rewarding life. It outranks skill, talent, intellect and ability. People with those gifts and no self-discipline are not guaranteed to do well, even though it might appear to be a natural outcome for them. Those who understand and practice discipline will leave the talented ones behind—and those with both discipline and natural aptitude will be unstoppable! 

The leaders and society-shapers of tomorrow are the ones who have a good plan and stick with it till it’s done. The ones with true values, and the understanding and determination to live by them, will recognize those who gave them the head start by teaching and modeling discipline.

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