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If You Love Your Children, Discipline Them, Please!

Is it just me or are parents getting more and more "permissive"? Parents afraid of their 3 and 4 year olds and SO EXHUASTED of parenting that they have already given up. I always imagine old episodes of Maury Povich when women would go on there, crying that their 10 year old beat them up. This blog is my two cents on discipline. After a being a mom for 1 year less than TWO DECADES, I think i am qualified. My two oldest are quite the little high achievers, both get great grades and in my biased opinion, are good citizens.

In a mom group I attended a while back, they were all reading a book promoting the ridiculous idea that time-outs 'withhold love' and therefore are not healthy. The place was so filled with whiny, clingy, out-of-control children it made my skin crawl. My feeling is that time-outs are best executed like Super Nanny, where the child is first warned once, then put in time out with no explanation until the time-out is completed. (One minute per age of your child). Then you let them know you love them, but you will not tolerate hitting, tantrums, etc. It is fine to allow your child to be angry, and let them know, but that bad behavior while angry is never okay.

Realize that if you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, like your kids are out of control and there is no peace in your home that it is YOUR FAULT. Not theirs. They are acting out, BEGGING for discipline. Strong discipline teaches self-discipline later. When you fail to discipline, they feel out-of-control, that you DON'T love them. They are begging for boundaries. The Bible says that withholding discipline is not love, it is actually a form of hatred toward your child. Discipline, executed on a foundation of love, will pay dividends in the their future and yours.

An idea I have come across recently is that Self-Esteem comes from being PRODUCTIVE. Productivity is simply, "doing what you said you would do." And it takes SELF-DISCIPLINE to do that. So disciplining your child will lead to him having a better self-esteem. If his self esteem improves, he will be more productive.....hmmmm.

Here are my discipline 'nuggets' i have learned along the way:

1. Set boundaries. Setting boundaries with your child teaches them to HAVE boundaries. Setting boundaries does NOT mean controlling them until they move out. Setting boundaries often means offering two choices, one that carries a consequence. If you threaten and threaten, and never follow through, they will not learn. You are essentially 'rescuing' them from the consequence. Many parents struggle with this because they feel 'guilty' if they are the ones imposing the consequence. Consequences in life are often painful. Your firm hand now can prevent much larger and more painful consequences later. If they cannot take your 'no', life will hand them a 'no' eventually. Whether from their teachers, future spouse, future boss, or worse, the law. If you think boundary setting is difficult when they are 3, wait until they are 15. You will be the mom doing their homework so they don't flunk out of their grade, or continuing to pay their room, board, and parking tickets when they are 25 and still living with you.

Do you think all those 16 year old girls on MTV's '16 and Pregnant' become pregnant because their parents were too strict?? Overly diligent in knowing where they were and who they were with??? Being strict in NO WAY means being a control freak. It means continuing to be diligent enough to set boundaries that are age appropriate and still allowing your teen to face the consequences. The sooner you EMPOWER your child with choices and LET THEM KNOW that they are making choices that can possibly affect the rest of their lives, then you will save them a whole lot of heartache. Think 'tough love'. Do not rescue them, but ALWAYS let them know you love them, no matter how badly they mess up.

2. Spanking is not 'hitting." I am sick of the politically correct bologna that says spanking is child abuse. Spanking, executed correctly is beneficial. The article found points out that ALL punishment can be abusive at some point. Yelling excessively can be emotionally abusive. Time-outs can become isolation and abusive. It is absurd to assert that all spanking is harmful. However, just like all forms of discipline, it should have boundaries. For starters, No spanking should EVER occur after your child has begun puberty. That only results in humiliation. I think most spanking should occur from about 2 to 7, but spanking should end by about age 10. I firmly believe the teen drug issues, the unplanned teen pregancy issues, the alcohol issues, the entitlement issues we have in our culture have more to do with permissive parents turning a blind eye than from 'rebellion' (going against the rules). One of my children has hardly ever got spanked. I think i can count on one hand the number of times he has gotten a real strong correction. He never needed it. My daughter has gotten a swift spank much more often.

Appropriate spanking is under the following conditions: a) Almost ALWAYS and ONLY on the buttocks. The only exception in my mind is when they are under 2 and get strong tap on top of their hand. b. Never done in anger. c. In my experience, rarely even 'hurts' but establishes authority. Leaving welts, dropping their pants, using belts, or excessively repeating swats is dangerously crossing the line to child abuse, in my opinion. d. Spanking should ONLY be done in times of 'willful disobedience'. WILLFUL DISOBEDIECE is when your child purposely disobeys, shows definance or rebelliousness. I learned this term from my mother-in-law shortly after having my oldest son. Example: A toddler defiantly throwing a toy across the room after being told to pick it up.

Another misconception about spanking is that it teaches your child to hit. NOT TRUE! I have observed several friends' children whose parents do not believe in spanking hit their parents and other kids. In fact, I can't recall a moment where my children tried to hit me. I think my friend's out of control children hit and bite MORE if they are not spanked! They suffer no consequences! My observation is that friends who do not spank tend to feel more out of control of their children and end up 'losing their cool' more often as well. I have seen many 'non-spankers" yell at their kids at home and even in public! I am rarely angry with my children. There is not really a need to be.

To clarify: Willful Disobedience is NOT taking your two year old to a nice restaurant at 8pm (Bedtime) and they melt down because they are tired. That is a two year old acting like a two year old. Spilled milk happens, that is not disobedience. When they take a swing at you, when they continue behavior that they know is wrong, or they show their rebelliousness, this is disobedience. My belief is that spanks should occur most often between 3 and 5 years old and by the time they are 6 or 7 years old, if they are still defiant or 'out of control', YOU have not done your job. They should know by then that when mommy/daddy/grandma says it, they mean it.

Also in my experience, a small hand flick when your 18 mo old is trying to touch the fireplace is a good start. Better a small hand flick then falling in the fire to get burned. This is a good analogy for ALL Discipline. Better for you to spank periodically when your child fails to be obedient then to run in the street because you said NO and they asked "WHY?".

As for other types of discipline, the consequence should simply match the offense. Overly punishing children for a minor offense is not teaching them appropriate boundaries, nor is giving an explanation for every single move you make from the time they can understand. In our house, my 4 year old is now old enough to understand that if she does not eat dinner, she will not get milk, dessert, or anything else but water until morning. We remind her of this when she is refusing to eat. Suddenly, she seems to be enjoying my cooking. Sometimes you have to be a little creative to come up with a consequence appropriate for the circumstance.

3. QUIT EXPLAINING. If you are explaining every little thing to your 3-5 year old, you are not teaching them to obey nor to 'have their own voice'. You are teaching them that everything you say is negotiable and authority can always be questioned. This will not work when they are in a classroom with 30 other kids and the teacher tells them to "BE QUIET". You will get the phone call and asked why your child cannot respect authority. I am all for understanding where your child is coming from and acknowledging their feelings, but more often than not, I see parents coddling their kids to the point beyond spoiling them. It is the children of these parents that I cannot stand to be around. Neither can anyone else.

That being said, there does exist in psychology, a 'heirarchy of needs'. After the basics, food, shelter, water, etc, we need to feel secure. From birth to about one year, babies need to learn that their needs are going to be fulfilled, even their emotional needs. They must feel secure. This is why you cuddle them as a baby and don't put them on some arbitrary 'schedule'. You respond immediately when they cry. Did you know that a baby's cortisol or stress hormones spike only 9 seconds after they begin to cry?? This makes for irritable babies. This is why i love co-sleeping and breastfeeding mommies....but that is another blog.

Next, we need to feel accepted. A sense of belonging. Unconditionally loved. This is where it gets challenging as they get older. They need to perceive that even when they suffer a consequence, they are still loved. This is the model of Christ. He is going to allow us to suffer consequences in life, but that doesn't mean He doesn't love us. It means we need Him as a Savior from ourselves. To read more about the subject of needs and the balance of discipline, I highly recommend the book, "How to be a Hero to your Kids," by Dick Daly and Josh McDowell.

The more consistency and strict your are early on, the easier it gets and the more enjoyable parenthood becomes. By the time they are ten, they are self-disciplined, wide-eyed little people who respect you and feel secure enough to explore the world and try new things. Their 'why' becomes a genuine curiosity, not a form of manipulation. Then, as the teen years approach, they are beginning the process of breaking away, testing their own boundaries within the context of a loving, but firm foundation. Again, just like your toddler, you need them to experience EVERY consequence of their actions. However, these consequences require less work on your part, because they are ususally 'natural consequences.' They don't do their homework, they fail. They don't call you to say what time they will be home and who they are with, you stop paying the phone bill and keep them home (depending on age). My first college course was Child Psychology. My professor suggested allowing older teens to 'set their own consequence'. This way, you avoid the 'I didn't hear you' argument, or the confusion or miscommunication. They simply know they are grounded for the week or whatever because it was THEIR idea. They need to learn that they can set their boundaries how they want, because they are empowered to make their own life choices, but they will always be within the confines of a bigger picture. For example, first they are confined by the rules of your home. Last, they are confined by the laws of society.

I don't mean to sound harsh, but after having gone through some stuff with my own teens, we were able to regain peace in our home quickly by setting boundaries and allowing them to reap what THEY SOWED. At this age, they are well aware of the fact that they have the power to ignore the boundaries, but I have taught my children that along with choosing their actions, they will suffer the CONSEQUENCES of those choices. I always remind them that i love them, but that someday they will not have just me to answer to, someday they will answer to God.

The bottom line: Discipline must be laid on a foundation of LOVE. Any form of discipline without love is control. Second, not disciplining your children sends the message to them that you do not care about them. You do not love them. Toddlers without discipline don't feel secure. Teens without discipline don't feel important enough for you to pay attention. Setting strong boundaries allows them to feel secure and ensures they will grow up with a healthy self-esteem because they will have lots of self-discipline and end up being productive, respectful members of society.


Townsend, Dr. John and Dr. Henry Cloud. Boundaries, When to say Yes, When to say No to take control of your life, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan,1992.

Mom. "Spanking: Effective Discipline" Mom vs. The World 30 November 2010. Date Accessed: 2.16.2011


  1. I wish I was as certain about anything as you are about this. The basic premise I don't disagree with and hope is happening in our home. The specifics, maybe not so much (spanking is a big one, but as an interesting aside, the only cohort that does not respond negatively to spanking is Children in Conservative Religious homes. As I said, interesting. We don't for a host of reasons, but glad to know they'd be more likely to be okay if we did... although maybe I'm not conservative enough. A topic for another day...)

    Anyway, I will reread this again in a bit to see if I feel a bit less defensive. Discipline is a tricky one to talk about in my experience but I'm always encouraged to hear from people who have completed so much more of the journey than I have.

  2. Do I think you can have kids 'turn out well' without spanking? Absolutely. I think its just another 'tool' in the old toolbox. Sometimes it is an effective means for certain children, other times it may not be, but I know from experience that a well timed swat saves often saves a lot of heartache later.


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