Why Discipline is Important
Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death. Proverbs 19:18
I frequently have parents in my office who are afraid to discipline their children. They know there is a problem but they feel helpless to solve it because it would lead to temper tantrums in young kids and outright hostility or defiance in older children. I think the truth is that discipline is hard. It goes against our loving nature that wants to give our kids every indulgence, allowing them to be their happiest self at every moment. I hate to see my kids sad. I feel like it is my job to make them feel better.
It starts when they are babies. It is not difficult at all to stop them from doing things we know will hurt them. No parent has ever said to me, “I just can’t stand it if she cries when I stop her from running into the street,” or “Will he still love me if I don’t allow him to fall 10 feet off the balcony?” This sounds ridiculous but the discipline comes easy in these situations because the consequence could be devastating and immediate.
It becomes harder when the consequences will not be realized for years to come. What if your child doesn’t like to eat fruits and vegetables and prefers only goldfish crackers? What if she cries when you have to cook dinner and can’t play with her right then? What if he looks at you and screams, “Mamamamamama” over and over again when you put him in his crib and say goodnight? In the short term, goldfish will not do any harm. Neither will 15 minutes of screentime to allow you to cook dinner, or another cuddle to help calm him down to sleep. In fact, all three of these solutions will actually make the present moment a little bit easier. This is the tricky thing about discipline.
God does not usually make our lives easier in the short term. Instead, He is invested in growing us up to be the people He knows we can be. He promised Abraham and Sarah a baby but it took decades before this happened. He promised the Israelites the promised land but first, they wandered in the desert for 40 years. During that time, so many adults turned on God that only Caleb and Jacob were found worthy to receive their reward.
By God’s example, we need to be thinking of who we want our children to be in years, not just what is easiest for us at the moment. Creating children who are obese or who are so picky they can’t eat at a friend’s house because there are no food options they consume is not helpful. Teaching them to fill every moment of downtime with a screen will not help them focus in school or be innovative problem solvers. Rescuing them every time they cry will not teach them how to sleep.
I encourage parents to create a vision of where they want to be. If a family plans to cosleep and share a family bed until the child is old enough to prefer her own room, then there is nothing wrong with going to them whenever they cry. My intent when talking about discipline is not to make families do things the way I would do it, but to prayerfully decide what the goals are for their own family and to walk alongside them as they try to execute their vision. No parent envisions their obese child struggling with depression or their game addicted teen failing out of school. Since decisions and pathways we choose when they are young do impact who they become, it is crucially important we follow the wisdom of Proverbs and begin discipline early.