We've all seen the funny posts of the parents who gave their ungrateful or rebellious children a taste of their own medicine. For example, the kid who wished he ruled the family was forced to go to work all 40 hours with his dad that week and put his siblings to bed. The daughter who lied about hanging out with friends got a visit from her parents who were dressed in their Halloween costumes. And, of course, there’s the classic picture of a dad wearing short shorts in hopes that his daughter would dress more modestly.
This is amusing but it’s not new and I would argue that it is not good parenting. The kinds of parenting anecdotes that are much-praised on social media these days tend to humorously portray a frustrated parent’s creative, no-nonsense way of communicating to their child “I’m not going to put up with your disrespect.”
On the receiving end, the child pictured usually looks guilty and deserving of punishment, and also very sad and/or angry. The child receives non-abusive consequences for his or her actions, the parent relishes in a job well done, and the world laughs and applauds.
While I read stories or see posts about this, I can’t help but wonder, “What is going on in the child’s heart right now? What does this kind of ‘discipline’ actually accomplish for the child?”
Sure, an embarrassed-for-life teenager might be prevented from lying, but how in the world did shaming her (and exponentially doing so if your post becomes viral) help her as a person?
My oldest is only four, so I can’t pretend to know much about parenting as I have so little experience, but I’ve got to believe that pragmatism like this isn’t the only way. It seems to communicate to the child, “I don’t take you seriously. I will correct your behavior no matter the cost. And I’m going to laugh about it and tell my friends.”
I'm not the only one upset by these types of stories. Many rightfully suggest that this is harmful to the child and endorse “gentle parenting” instead. Should we just teach our kids that we’re their best friends and they can do whatever they want without any real consequences? Is that the only alternative?
I think we need to ask ourselves what the best case scenario is for these parenting philosophies. With tough love (like the Youtube-famous dad who sat in a field and shot rounds into his daughter's laptop), it seems the goal is that the child feels regret for what they did. Successful gentle parenting leads to a child who feels unharmed and respected.
But I’d argue, especially after learning from moms I admire and reading Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp, that there’s a better path: caring for your child’s heart. What is my parenting doing for the overall health and wellbeing of my child? Let us stop and consider what our discipline will communicate to our children.
When I discipline my kids, I hope to communicate the following:
-Before I discipline you I will make sure you understand what you did wrong and why it was wrong.
-I will help you figure out what was going on in your heart that caused you to make this poor decision.
-You are not your own god.
-You are not in charge of our family.
-I love you too much to let you keep believing those things.
-I will be here for you every time, to help you remember reality, for your own sake. Your life will be happier and our family will function more joyfully.
-I have self-control and will tell you your exact punishment before I give it. I am not ruled by anger and your punishment will not be open-ended.
-After discipline is over, it’s over. We are on good terms, I love you, and I’m not mad at you. You can have a fresh start.
-You will do your best to make things right (apologizing, cleaning up, etc.) and then you are free to play.
As a Christian, I also try to communicate the following:
-You sinned against God because your heart keeps trying to push Him off the throne. Adam and Eve did this too and it didn’t end well for them.
-God’s punishment for sin hurts way worse than my discipline.
-Hopefully it’s clear now that you really need someone to save you from your sin.
-Only Jesus can be that savior. He died on the cross, taking God’s punishment for those who would believe in Him, and He rose again. There is certain forgiveness for all who trust in Him.
-His arms are not closed to you but open wide. He will not turn away anyone who comes to Him.
-I will pray with you that God helps you grow in love and obedience, but most of all that He saves you and gives you a new heart.
(Even tiny children well under the age of two can understand these things on some level, trust me.)
This does not mean I spend an hour lecturing my child every time they steal ice cream from the freezer. No way. Even during a quick session of discipline, we can communicate these truths to our children if they've already been established over time. (2-year-olds tend to need discipline quite a few times each day, so there are plenty of opportunities to explain the why's of discipline, ha!)
As we all learn and grow on this parenting journey together, no matter what we decide about our parenting philosophy, no matter how old our kids are or how many we have, may we all ask what our parenting is actually doing for the child's heart.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today