TIP #3 Discipline out of Love…Not Anger
Discipline is a reality of parenting, yet it’s one of the most challenging and frustrating things to figure out. It’s hard to find that delicate balance between being too severe and too lenient. The problem gets compounded by the fact that the disciplinary style that works with one child doesn’t necessarily work well with another.
One thing that we have learned is that discipline done in anger isn’t very productive in the long term. It may terrify children in obeying at the moment, but it carries a heavier cost.
Who’s angry? I’m not angry!
The first thing I need to consider when I am tempted to discipline out of anger is, why am I so angry? Often my anger says more about me than it does my child. In most cases, anger is a defense mechanism in us that arises when we feel threatened and insecure. When my child disobeys and it evokes anger, is it rooted in a concern for my child, or in the fact that my child did not respect me, did not love me and did not bow to my authority? Notice all the “me’s”?
Often my anger will reveal my own insecurities about where my sense of value and love come from. It happens when I buy into the lie that people need to affirm and respect me in order for me to feel good about myself – even my children. When they don’t…watch out…
Goal of maturity, not punishment
I want to make sure I discipline my child out a loving concern for them to grow into maturity as opposed to venting my own personal frustrations. I don’t want to react simply because they didn’t meet “my” expectations. In my anger I will usually give them a harsher consequence that I will later regret or not follow through on.
We had a family day planned for the zoo. But of course, before we go, one of the kids started acting up. We gave them a few warnings and finally in exasperation I said, “If you do that one more time we are not going to the zoo!” As soon as I said it my wife inwardly groaned…she really wanted the family day at the zoo. Sure enough our child disobeyed again. We have a policy that we don’t utter empty threats (and so teach our children to ignore them) so I reluctantly had to cancel the day event. Then I had to explain to our other child who now missed out, how we are a family and the choices we make affect the entire family.
Why was I so exasperated? What was it that was evoked tense feelings in me? Why did my child’s actions affect my joy and peace? Why did they prompt me to utter a threat, though not unreasonable, I later regretted? Before I disciplined from that time forward, I made sure I did a self-check to make sure my response was rightly motivated and reasonably thought through.
When we discipline in anger, children think they got the punishment because Dad/Mom got angry, not because they did something deserving of it. Or, they interpret that because they failed to measure up in some way they are no longer worthy of love and respect.
Anger as a choice
Anger, in itself, is not always wrong. There are times when anger is appropriate for wrong action. But anger should always be a choice, as an appropriate response, as opposed to an emotional reaction. There are times when it is appropriate for me to express anger to my children – out of love for them. This is done in a calculated, loving way as opposed to simply yelling and screaming at them and then doling out some later-regretted consequence.
Every time we disciplined our children, it was with a stern, yet calm voice, accompanied with an explanation as to why they were getting a consequence, and that we loved them fully despite the behaviour they chose to act out. It means treating them with respect, even when they do not act respectfully.
It may mean holding off giving them a talk and consequence until you are in control of your own emotions and making sure you yourself don’t buy into the performance lie. Then consider what would be the best response that would encourage them towards repentance and maturity before you quickly dole out an overly zealous consequence.
This is where you need to consider each child and what will be most effective in raising them. Each child will need a different type of response. Remember, the goal is not punishment; the goal is an effective consequence that will lead them toward repentance and maturity.
- Don’t always immediately react – if you can, take time to consider the best response
- Don’t diminish their worth or significance simply because they chose a wrong action.
- Evaluate your own heart to determine what is evoking anger and frustration in you. What is being threatened? How might you be buying into the performance lie and making them pay for it?
- Consider how you can specifically talk with your child to bring them towards repentance.
- What consequence will help restrain the bad behaviour and lead them toward maturity
- Affirm that you love them despite the behaviour they “chose” to act out.
Ephesians 4:26 (NIV)
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry
Most of our anger is self-centred. Our sin-oriented defense mechanisms kick in and we respond with either fight or flight. Both reactions are not godly actions. They are motivated by fear.
At those times I usually need to reflect to see what is going in me and why I am responding the way I am. Sometimes I allow the anxiety to rise so I can get a better sense of where it is really coming from. Then I bring that area before God and confess that I was distrusting his love and provision. Shifting my focus onto God, I can then find peace and freedom to choose a more appropriate response, knowing I am loved and respected by him.
Try not to let the length of time that you brood in anger or frustration last too long. Especially if you go to bed at night, your mind will keep replaying the scenario (from your own perspective) and build crushing, argumentative cases against whoever angered you. Don’t let that happen. Follow the biblical principle that encourages you to not let the sun go down on your anger. Resolve matters quickly and teach your children to do the same.
God gets angry when evil and injustice is done – but not as an uncontrolled emotion. It is a thought through choice to give an appropriate response to that evil and injustice. It is not over-reactionary or dismissive – it is a carefully weighed response to determine the right consequence.
As a parent, anger, as a choice and in the right situations is appropriate. But be careful that you do not justify or act out anger which is really a defense for your own worth, which feels under attack. Trust your life to God, and then lovingly and wisely parent your children toward maturity.
All Posts in this Series
Developing Your Child’s Sense of Worth: Defeating the Performance Lie