I was reading some articles on disciplining your child on the internet that were pretty interesting. Most of them dealt with the issue of rebellion and setting limits. The interesting thing is that all of them were talking about dealing with infractions few dealt with teaching and instilling value. Like most parents, I believed that discipline was all about punishment but the biblical verse “Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)”, stopped me in my tracks. I realised, albeit a little late, that discipline was not just punishment, it included training: training my child towards their destiny.
In the beginning when the boys were younger, I found myself punishing them for infractions that they were not aware of. For instance I once spanked Tj for jumping up and down the chair while we were out visiting, yet I had never told him it was wrong when he did it at home. I was embarrassed and I took it out on him. The truth is that jumping on furniture is not good behavior but how was he to know that if he had not been taught? How was he to know the way that he should go? I learnt that punishing a child because I wanted to save face or because I was embarrassed was not what discipline was all about. Training them about right or wrong and then punishing willful rebellion, that is discipline.
One of the themes that kept coming up in the articles, that I agreed with, was the need for a parent to not only say but also act. Threats that are not followed through NEVER work. I see it all the time. In the supermarket a frustrated mother keeps telling her child, “If you don’t stop making a fuss I will beat you” over and over as the child throws a full fledged tantrum. I have heard it in my house when someone comes visiting with their child, “stop hitting the glass table with your shoe or mommy will spank” yet nothing happens as I sit there alternately praying for our table and hoping against hope the visit will soon come to an end. I have heard parents threaten, “Junior am telling you for the last time to…” then a few minutes again, “Am telling you for the very last time …” Been there, done that, bought a tee-shirt. The truth is it doesn’t work and only confuses the child concerning boundaries.
Tony and I attended a parenting class when our children were much younger which I believe has greatly influenced our parenting. There the facilitator, Dr Stanley Mukholwe, taught us the fundamental commands that all parents should teach their children at the earliest time possible: Come, No, wait. We were reminded that as parents we had the awesome responsibility of preparing our children to be respected functional global citizens. Being friends with our children was not the key goal, parenting was. Our children needed to learn early that there were some expected social mores and rules and their ability to respect authority depended largely on their ability to honour and respect parental authority. He urged us to extrapolate our children’s behaviour to the next 10 or 15 years. It may look cute when your little child throws a cup on the floor or hits you, but it’s not so cute when that same child is a 20 something year-old threatening to beat you if you don’t give them what they want.
I thank God that I learnt early that true discipline focuses not on punishment but in developing a road map of values that will guide my child in the ways he should go. It included punishment for infractions yes, but it also included teaching values and giving opportunities for expression of talents and gifts latent within my child. This mental shift has transformed the task of parenting from one of frustration to one of great satisfaction as I continually strive for opportunities to train and to coach my sons towards their destinies.