Discipline without Harm Part 1

In this series we will be looking at how to biblically discipline our children without inflicting pain on them or harming them in any way.  Some of the discipline strategies that we will be discussing throughout this series are modeling, child-proofing, validating feelings, fulfilling the child’s physical and emotional needs, setting realistic limits and boundaries, helping children comply, giving choices, and using natural and logical consequences with children.  The Bible says that we are to encourage each other (2 Corinthians 13:11).  All of the discipline strategies in this series do exactly that with our children.  In this first piece, we will be discussing authoritative parenting versus permissive parenting.  We will also discuss how to child-proof, modeling, and introducing God to our children.

Authoritative versus Permissive Parenting—Not Spanking does NOT Mean Wild, Rebellious Children

Pro-spankers often accuse or claim that parents who do not spank or use any type of punishment with their children of having wild and rebellious children.  This simply is not the case for parents that use the authoritative parenting style.  There seems to be much confusion over the three types of parenting styles.  We discussed the authoritarian parenting style in great detail in Part 6 of my series, “The Effects of Spanking,” which you will find in my new book, “Gentle Firmness.” As we begin to focus on how to gently but firmly discipline children, we need to examine the other two parenting styles: authoritative parenting and permissive parenting.

Just as there is a huge difference between authoritarian and authoritative parenting, there is also a huge difference between authoritative and permissive parenting.  Let’s look at authoritative parenting (attachment parenting falls under authoritative parenting) as all of the discipline techniques that we will be looking at throughout this series fall under authoritative parenting.  And, as we will see, authoritative parenting is biblically supported and accurate as God is authoritative with us.

So, what is authoritative parenting?  Santrock (2008) states:

“Authoritative parenting encourages children to be independent but still places limits and controls on their actions.  Extensive verbal give-and-take is allowed and parents are nurturant and supportive.  An authoritative parent might put his or her arm on the child’s shoulder in a comforting way and say, ‘You know you should not have done that.  Let’s talk about how you can handle the situation differently next time.’  Children whose parents are authoritative often behave in socially competent ways.  They tend to be self-reliant, delay gratification, get along with their peers, and show high self-esteem” (p. 76).

Authoritative parents are firm but gentle with their children.  They take the time to learn about child development, and know at which stage their children are developmentally in order to gain a better understanding of their children’s behaviors.  Authoritative parents set firm, realistic boundaries and limits for their children based on the developmental stage of their children.  While these parents stick to their guns on some things such as bedtime and not allowing their children to eat cookies before suppertime, they always listen to all of their children’s feelings and validate those feelings.  In situations where negotiation can occur such as allowing five more minutes of playtime before having their children clean up, these parents do so.  These parents also give their children simple choices when appropriate, but they are not afraid to let their children know when something is not a choice and compliance is absolutely required.  When children don’t comply, authoritative parents will gently but firmly help their children comply.  And these parents use natural and logical consequences with their children instead of punishment.

In sum, authoritative parents give much grace to their children, and aim to work with their children instead of against them.  They teach the Word of God to their children instead of using God’s Holy Word to justify hurting them.  As Robin Grille (2005) states, “Authoritative parenting is more effective, since it is assertive rather than aggressive or manipulative” (p. 214).

Permissive parenting, on the other hand, is the direct opposite of authoritative parenting.  Permissive parenting is just as harmful and abusive to children as authoritarian parenting even though these two parenting styles are on the two polar ends when it comes to parenting styles.  Permissive parents do not set limits or boundaries for their children.  And when these parents do set limits and boundaries for their children, they often don’t consistently enforce them.  Some permissive parents allow their children to “walk all over them,” to have whatever they want, and rarely do these parents give their children appropriate consequence when necessary.  Other permissive parents outright neglect all of their children’s needs.  They do not even give their children appropriate and necessary care.  All of permissive parenting, as I said above, is abusive because either type do not provide children with what they need to thrive.  It also exasperates and frustrates children not to have any discipline just like spanking them does.  Permissive and authoritarian parents breaks God’s charge for parents not to frustrate or exasperate their children in Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21.  “Permissiveness is disrespectful and does not teach important life skills.  True discipline guides, teaches, and invites healthy choices” (Nelsen, Erwin, & Duffy, 2007, p. 8).

For this reason, I would never advocate for permissiveness, just as I would never advocate for authoritarianism.  Allowing children to have and do whatever they want is as bad for them as hitting them.  And permissiveness simply is not biblical.

Now that we have a clear understanding of the three parenting styles, I want us to see why authoritative parenting is what the Bible supports.  God is our Perfect Parent.  He treats us with respect, love, grace, and mercy.  He wrestles with us and puts up with us when we question and argue with Him.  In Genesis 32:22-25, God allowed Jacob to wrestle with Him.  He did not punish Jacob, even though Jacob limped away the next day from wrestling with God all night, but instead, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel because he wrestled with God and humans and overcame (Genesis 32:28)!  Later in Exodus 4:1-17, we see Moses argue with God about going back to Egypt to get Pharaoh to release the Israelites.  Yes, God eventually got angry with Moses, but instead of punishing Moses, God makes it easier for Moses to obey.  Look at this passage:

“Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it” Exodus 4:14-17.  God lets Moses’ brother, Aaron, go with Moses to help him do God’s Will.  God definitely disciplines us but in a gentle but firm manner.
Jesus often had to discipline and rebuke His disciples.  His disciples could be unruly at times, but Jesus only corrected and rebuked them.  Never once did Jesus punish His disciples.  Luke 9:51-56 is a perfect example of how Jesus rebuked His disciples.  Let’s take a look at this passage:

“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them.  Then he and his disciples went to another village.”

James and John wanted to have fire rain down from Heaven to destroy the Samaritan town because the town rejected their Savior.  But Jesus made it quite clear to James and John that just because they had the power from God to have fire come out of Heaven did not mean they could go around destroying towns because they were angry with the people of the town.  This is how God disciplines us.  And we should follow God’s example when we discipline our children.  God is authoritative because He is a God of relationships.  He wants loving relationships with us, and He wants us to have loving relationships with each other.  “It is clear throughout Scripture that God is very concerned with relationship.  He desires relationship with us and we receive much instruction on how to conduct ourselves in our relationships with each other through reading his Word” (Lutton, 2001, p. 24-25).  We must always keep this in mind as we seek to discipline our children in a gentle but firm manner.

“Start Off Children on the Way They Should Go”—Discipline by Working with Children’s Personalities

Proverbs 22:6 is a very important verse to study as we get into how to discipline our children.  But before we get deeper into this verse, I want to once again remind everyone what discipline truly means because, as I’ve mentioned throughout my work, discipline and punishment are two very different things.  We must stop equating discipline with punishment and “training.”  Discipline means to teach and to guide children.  As Nelsen, Erwin, and Duffy (2007) state, “Discipline with very young children is mostly about deciding what you will do (and kindly and firmly following through) than with what you expect your child to do.  And it’s never too early to lay a foundation for respectful, effective parenting” (p. 4-5).  Discipline must begin at birth.  Sadly, because so many parents equate discipline with punishment and “training,” they either don’t mindfully discipline their children until toddlerhood or they begin punishing, and most likely abusing, their infants.  Here is a perfect example of why we must stop equating discipline with punishment.  Ruth Ann Hammond (2009) states in her book, Respecting Babies: A New Look at Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach, the following:

“A parent at the orientation for the infant-toddler program at Pacific Oaks once asked, ‘When should we start disciplining our toddler?’  In my head, I thought, ‘Well, if you’re just now asking, it’s already too late,’ but of course I did not say that.  What I did was ask the group, as Magda had regularly done, what the word discipline really means.  In any group, there is always someone who says, ‘punishment,’ and I think the father in this story had this concept in mind when he asked his question.  This question was often the jumping off place where Magda would begin to discuss her perspective on discipline, as in ‘disciple: a follower or pupil of a leader, teacher, philosophy, etc.’ (Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, 1998), wherein a person would want to conform him- or herself to the likeness of an admired other.  The father was correct in presuming that punishment is inappropriate with infants; his question, I think, was really about when punishment can be utilized Magda never advocated punishment as a deterrent; her ideas were much more subtle and presumed that the child’s inner agenda included a desire to have the parent’s approval” (p. 70).

Now that we have an understanding of what discipline truly means, let’s take a closer look at Proverbs 22:6.  Most of us know the old version of this verse by heart.  “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  But the updated version is the one I have used for the subtitle of this section which states, “Start off children in the way that they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (2011 NIV).  I know I have explained this before, but the imagery of this verse is more of a road, and we want our children to follow the road that God has set out for them at conception.  However, we can’t really train children to follow this road.  All we can do is set them down on the road and allow God to help us guide them down this road.  However, on whatever version one chooses to concentrate, this is one verse about discipline that is very important to understand in order to correctly apply it to how we are to discipline children.  “Proverbs 22:6 is the master verse of Christian discipline…The Book of Proverbs is noted for short verses with deep meaning.  Dig into this verse and discover what God is saying to you.  God is reminding you of your awe-inspiring responsibility to discipline your children.  What you do now will affect your child’s whole life” (Sears & Sears, 1997, p. 328).  We must do all we can to accurately apply this verse.

Despite what many Christian pro-spankers claim, this verse is not meant to be a promise that if parents diligently spank their children then the children will grow up to be godly adults.  As we have seen throughout my series, “The Effects of Spanking,” this, unfortunately is not the case, as many that have grown up in Christian homes where they were spanked, even “lovingly,” have turned from God.  Since we know that God never lies, it is obvious that God did not intend this verse to be used as a promise for spanking.  Actually, God intended us to understand this verse in the direct opposite way that most pro-spankers do.  God wants us to parent our children in such a way that we truly know our children and can see from their personalities and temperaments as well as interests, which way God is leading them.  We need to work with our children, and help them to channel their energies into positive things.  For infants, this means gearing their care and your responses to them in a manner that fits their temperament.  A high-needs infant will need more interaction and care.  A low-needs infant still needs plenty of interaction and care, but may enjoy more down time to him or herself.  A high-needs toddler will require more active gross motor play to expend his or her energy than a low-needs toddler that may enjoy more quiet activities.  God does not want us to battle against who He made our children to be.  Yes, we all tend toward sin, but we need to work with our children to help them learn how to fight the battle against sin, and to know what to do when they sin.  After all, we all sin every day throughout the day.  So instead of fighting a high-needs child to fit into what we want/need him or her to be by treating the child harshly or ignoring the child’s needs, we need to ask God to help us to figure out ways to work with the child to meet his or her needs while still making time for our own needs.

This verse also means respecting children’s interests even if they are much different than your own.  For example, if your boy likes dolls, encourage that in him.  God may be preparing him to be a teacher or a pediatrician.  If your girl enjoys playing with trucks and dinosaurs, encourage her.  God may be preparing her to be an archeologist or a missionary that drives trucks full of supplies for poor and needy people.  “Biblical scholars suggest the latter interpretation of this verse [The one we have been discussing].  Each child has an individual bent or ‘way’ and therefore an individual plan.  What God is saying to you is to know your child, be tuned in to his individual bent, keep your radar system attuned to the direction he should take, and keep him focused in that direction (which may not necessarily be the direction you want for him).  This concept may be hard for parents to understand: ‘How do we know what direction God has for our child?’  If you have parented your child in a way that has helped you to really know him, this question is much less difficult to answer” (Sears & Sears, 1997, p. 328).

The objective of discipline is not to break children’s wills, but to help God mold them.  We are born broken due to sin, so God wants to mold us into the people He wants us to be.  Of course, we’ll never be perfect until we reach Heaven and there is no more sin.  But as long as we live on this broken Earth, God will continue to discipline and mold us according to His Plan for us.  As Jeremiah 18:4 states, “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”  God knows us better than we know ourselves as He created us in our mother’s wombs.  Therefore, He works with us to help us overcome sin.  We need to do the same with our children.  Here are ways we can do this.  It begins with the environment.

Setting up a Child-Friendly Environment

Our first job as disciplinarians is to create a safe and child-friendly environment.  This helps getting compliance from children easier.  It is up to us to make it as easy as possible for children to comply/obey.  For infants and toddlers, our main objective is safety.  The environment in which infants and toddlers explore should be completely safe to the point that if we were to accidently get locked out of our house, our infant or toddler would be safe inside.  My suggestion is to pick the room in your house where your family spends the most time and completely child-proof it.  Begin by placing covers on all electrical outlets.  Put all electrical wires out of reach from the children.  Tie up blind and curtain strings out of children’s reach.  Secure all televisions, bookshelves, and any other furniture that your child could pull down onto his or herself to walls.  Place all breakables out of the children’s reach.  Use child-proof locks on cabinets and drawers that you do not want your children getting into.  Keep all objects smaller than a tennis ball out of the children’s reach as they are choking hazards to infants and toddlers that naturally use their mouths to explore objects.  Furniture with sharp corners should either be removed or have padding installed on the corners to prevent unsteady infants and toddlers from falling and banging their heads on these sharp corners.  Child-proof doorknobs should be installed on all doors.  And, of course, medications and cleaning chemicals should always be kept out of children’s reach.

Do this for every room that your children have access.  As far as other rooms, it is important to use baby gates and or shut doors in order to keep children out of unsafe rooms when we are not with them.  I highly recommend keeping children younger than 3-years-old out of the kitchen while cooking is taking place.  Use a baby gate to do this.  At any rate, the kitchen should still be child-proofed as much as possible.  Cover all of the stove’s knobs and use child-proof locks on all drawers and cabinets.  If you choose not to keep your child out of the kitchen, then having one drawer filled with safe things for your child to play with can make children feel special.  While cooking, I highly suggest giving your child a special job to do to keep him or her occupied such as holding a towel, sorting dish towels, or giving him or her his or her own dishes and pots and pans with which to play.

Safety is so important as infants and toddlers cannot be expected to keep themselves safe.  And it isn’t fair for us to punish our children for playing with things that we do not want them to break.  Some pro-spankers claim that we should “train” infants and toddlers not to touch things by slapping or swatting their hands, but it is up to parents and caregivers to make the environment safe for them as well as to supervise them in all environments.  This is what God does for us.  Crystal Lutton (2001) beautifully states:

“Let’s look at how God handles new Christians to see if we can find a model to follow.  Maybe you remember when you were a new Christian or when you last talked to one.  Didn’t it seem like the world was fantastic for them and nothing could go wrong?  Maybe they were even struggling with sin issues, but they were still floating.  I believe that this is because God is only holding them accountable to the broadest of boundaries.  Essentially these boundaries are the Greatest Commandment given in Matthew 22:36-40 when Jesus said we are to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  What new Christian doesn’t love God, themselves and others?  Even Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:2 explains that he has fed the Christians at Cornith with milk and not meat because they could not bear it yet” (p. 66).

Therefore, God keeps young Christians away from certain dangers until they are mature enough to handle them.  Even Jesus did not tell His disciples everything that He could have because He knew they couldn’t handle it all at that time.  “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” John 16:12.  And 1 Corinthians 10:13 clearly states, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  It is important to note that “temptation” and “tempted” can also mean “testing” and “testing” in the Greek translation of this verse.

Now this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t begin to teach children about danger as they become mobile toddlers.  We can do this by telling toddlers about danger such as the stove will hurt if we touch it while it’s on.  Or holding toddlers by a road and talking about how fast the cars are going and that if we run out into the street, the cars will hit us.  Toddlers will not understand this immediately, so we must take every precaution to keep them out of dangerous situations.  However, if a toddler happens to get away from you, and is headed for the street, for example, you need to say, “Stop!” or “No!” in an urgent, fearful tone as you run to the toddler and swiftly pick him or her up.  Hitting the toddler will not teach danger.  But when toddlers hear such an urgent, fearful tone of voice from their parents and get swiftly swooped up by their parents, they learn the seriousness of the situation.  This is particularly true of toddlers being raised using a combination of the Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Approach and Attachment Parenting as parents usually tell their children from birth before they do anything with them and wait for some type of response from the children before moving on.  (See my article “Attachment Theory-Why NOT to Train a Baby” for more info).  After the toddler is out of danger, sit the toddler on your lap and look the toddler in the eye and firmly say, “The street is dangerous!  You must not go out into the street without me or Daddy!”  You may also tell your toddler how frightened you were when he or she tried to run into the street without you, but keep the verbal lecture short and simple so the child doesn’t lose the lesson amidst the words.  Again, do not spank or punish the child.  Do the same for a toddler reaching for a hot stove.  Say, “Hot!” “No!” as you swiftly pick up the toddler.  If a toddler gets hurt while doing something dangerous, do not rub it in by saying, “That’s what happens when you don’t obey me.”  Instead, say, “Yes, the hot stove burned your hand when you touched it and hurt your hand.  I’m sorry.  Let’s make your hand feel better.”  Comfort the child, validate his or her feelings, and help him or her feel better.  After all, this is what God does for us!

Finally, set up the environment so that children have easy access to their books and toys.  This will make it easier for them to help us clean up.  Low shelves and plastic storage containers work great for children to get and return toys and books.  Child sized furniture can also help children to feel more comfortable.  Since boredom can cause children to act up, try to rotate some of their books and toys every week.  But be sure to leave out a few favorites for them.  Also, make sure the home exudes peacefulness as over stimulated children will also act up more.  Parents and caregivers are often surprised at how some behavioral problems disappear by rearranging the environment.  This is a very important factor of discipline.  “One of your most basic jobs as disciplinarian is to create an environment that does not foster a conflict of wills.  Having to fight you constantly will not help your child develop good relationships with authority figures.  Having you control him constantly does not allow him to learn or become his own person.  Remember that discipline is mainly guidance.  If you make your home and your family into a place where it is not too difficult to be a child, the environment will help discipline the child and you will avoid many conflicts” (Sears & Sears, 1997, p. 338).

Just as making the environment is a crucial part of disciplining children, so is mindful modeling.

Mindful Modeling Appropriate Behaviors to Children

Mindful modeling is performing behaviors and values in which we want our children to learn and copy from us.  Beginning at birth, children are watching and listening to everything we say and do even when it doesn’t seem like it.  Infants may not understand all that is happening around them, but they are like little sponges, and are soaking everything in, which will undoubtedly influence them as they grow and mature.

Every parent wants his or her children to learn to respect him or her as well as others.  The primary way that we teach respect is by being respectful to our children from birth onward.  We also teach respect to children by being respectful to everyone we encounter.  “You can’t expect your children to say kind things about people if you’re pointing out the faults of others.  If you break something that belongs to someone else, you pay for it and say you’re sorry” (Kuzma, 2006, p. 657).

It seems like parents seem to forget to model the values that they want their children to learn such as prayer, worship, Bible study, and other ethics such as not lying or cheating.  “You must live by the same code of ethics you are trying to instill in your children.  You can’t expect them to resist lying, cheating, or watching questionable movies or television programs if you do any of these things yourself” (Kuzma, 2006, p. 657).  I have witnessed many devout Christian families not put an importance on saying a quick prayer of thanks to God before eating.  If we want children to have a great prayer life, we must model that to them by regularly praying throughout the day and before eating even a snack.  Prayer, worship, and Bible study needs to be introduced to our children at birth.  This means doing these things throughout the day by ourselves and with our children.  We must make a commitment to live Christian disciplined lives.  “Make a commitment that Christian discipline is a top priority in your life as well as in your relationship with your children.  We stress this term commitment because it forms the basis of all parenting.  You are well on your way to effective Christian discipline of your child if you love and fear your God and walk in His ways” (Sears & Sears, 1997, p. 329).  I’m not saying that parents should not spend quiet time alone with God every day.  Alone time with God is very important.  But our children need to see and hear us doing this as well.  Children are never too young to be introduced to our loving Lord and Savior!  Christ must be at the center of our family so that our children will want to pursue a relationship with Him as they grow.  “It is much easier to bring God into discipline at this stage if God is already at the center of your life, your marriage, and your family.  If you have already made this commitment, you are well on your way to helping your child experience God’s presence in his life” (Sears & Sears, 1997, p. 332).  Start simple by praying short, fun prayers with the new baby during daily care routines.  My sister-in-law would pray with her son when he was a baby.  She’d hold his little hands and pray happily, “God, thank you for this day and for Wyatt!”  Wyatt would smile, coo, and giggle every time she prayed with him.  Infants love praying.  They also love being involved in family worship and singing.  Dr. William Sears (1997) shares the following story of his infant daughter enjoying worship and even reminding them to pray before meals:

“Initially, Erin would simply watch this family praise.  Eventually, she began raising her hands when we did.  By fifteen months, as soon as the mealtime grace was finished, in anticipation of the praise song to follow she would raise her hands right on cue (sometime reminding us to sing).  Praising the Lord was being imprinted upon her heart even before she could grasp intellectually the meaning of what was being sung.  As we all joined hands, bowed our heads, and became quiet for prayer, she did the same.  At seventeen months she was able to remind us to say the blessing by reaching for Dad’s hand on one side and Mom’s hand on the other side” (p. 333).

It is very important to tailor prayer time, worship time, and Bible time to your children’s ages and developmental stages.  These times should be upbeat, fun, and short in duration for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.  Children this age can only handle 10-15 minutes.  And they should be acting out songs and even some stories through flannel boards where they can attach characters and animals in the story to a board.  As children grow they will be able to handle more and more, but these times should still be fun and geared to their interests.  Plus, they must see us truly enjoying ourselves when we spend time with God.  It is totally unrealistic to expect young children to sit quietly for an hour at church.  And be sure to plan these times of prayer, worship, and Bible study at times when children are happy and well rested.  God does not want us to force our children to worship Him otherwise it will become a negative, legalistic experience for them and us.  God wants true worship, not forced worship.  If your toddler or preschooler refuses to pray or join in family worship, do not make a big deal about it, just begin praying or singing and your child will more than likely join in with you as most young children hate to be left out of things.  How we help our children form their first impressions of God will impact them for the rest of their lives.  Teresa Whitehurst (2003) states:

“Children form impressions of God based on what they observe in and experience with their parents.  For good or for bad, children tend to view God as they see their parents, including their habits, attitudes, even hair color!  Through our words and symbolic conduct, we send the message that God is a harsh judge, who is always looking for reasons to criticize, correct, and punish, or that he is a loving parent who is always looking for opportunities to listen, forgive, and guide” (p. 145).

Many parents forget how important play is for children.  Play is the primary way that young children learn, so play is also a great tool to use to model appropriate behaviors and social skills to their children.  As Dr. Kay Kuzma (2006) states:

“Play also increases social skills.  When parents play with their children, the parent-child bond is strengthened, but it also tends to improve children’s behavior.  A study from Oxford University found that the more time children spent playing with Mom at age three, the better their behavior by age four.  Apparently, by getting down on a child’s level to play, you not only show interest and commitment to your child, but you teach cooperation and social skills much more effectively by modeling this behavior than you can teach through telling” (p. 426).

Along these same lines, as with worship and prayer, I don’t believe in forcing toddlers and preschoolers to say, “Please,” “Thank you,” or “I’m sorry,” when they don’t mean it.  When we force this on them at a very young age, we teach them to say things when they don’t mean it.  We need to be constantly modeling how to say these things to others because if children hear us saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” to them and others, then they are much more likely to follow suit.  Jennifer McGrail uses modeling as one of her discipline strategies with her children and has had positive results from it.  Here is what she says about modeling:

“One thing that I think a lot of people are confused about is how children can learn things like manners, respect, and the like without it being somehow drilled into them.  My answer is this:  I model the behavior that’s important to me.   I say please and thank you.  I say excuse me.  I’m polite to waiters and bank tellers and cashiers.  I’m true to myself.  I respect other people’s things.  I respect other people’s feelings.  I don’t lash out at strangers on the internet because they do things differently than me.  I say I’m sorry when I make a mistake.  I treat my kids – and other people – the way I’d like to be treated.  My children have learned it because they have lived it” (McGrail, 2011, http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/2011/04/gentle-discipline-so-what-do-you-do/).

Now, of course, no one besides God is perfect.  And it is actually good for children to see their parents occasionally make mistakes.  This is especially true if their children also get to see their parents right their wrong.  It is so important that we turn our own mistakes into learning opportunities for our children.  I really like how Dr. Sears (1997) explains this:

“When we blow it—and we have—we correct it, so that the impression our child gets is ‘Yes, adults make mistakes, but the right thing to do is correct them.’  In fact, we have come to understand that there are no mistakes, only lessons.  It’s up to you to make sure the lesson is constructive rather than destructive.  This is hard to do because it is a new way of being for many of us.  Remember Romans 8:1, ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.’  God never condemns us as believers—He convicts us.  What a difference that makes for us!  We need to be sure our children experience conviction from us, never condemnation.  From this they learn a valuable discipline lesson: a person takes responsibility for their actions” (p. 367).

So, is modeling biblical?  As a matter of fact it is indeed.  Jesus’ entire life was a model for us to follow in dealing with others.  We need to model to our children what God models to us.  “He got down on our level, was born a man, and taught us while He modeled for us how to behave.  He loved us and sacrificed himself for us.  He became a servant for us.  He warned us about natural consequences and, when they are not too dangerous, allows us to experience them.  Ultimately, He died so that we don’t have to” (Lutton, 2001, p. 26).  One specific example of Jesus modeling how to be with each other is when He washed His disciples feet in John 13:1-17.  Jesus wanted to model an attitude of servitude as His disciples often argued among themselves about who would be the greatest.  But Jesus wanted them to learn how to be humble and serve each other as He knew His time with them was quickly coming to an end.  Therefore, He modeled this very important lesson to them, and to us!  We must do the same for our children and others.  “To teach a child to love God and have Jesus as a friend and a role model in the way He treated people is to give a child a wholly different approach to morality.  The child will still value the Commandments, but will now aspire to ideal far beyond the mere minimal requirements of the Commandments” (Whitehurst, 2003, p. 24).  Let us be sure that we are consistently modeling God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to our children starting at birth.


We have seen the difference between authoritative and permissive parenting, and that authoritative parenting is God’s parenting style.  We have discussed Proverbs 22:8 and how God wants us to work with our children as we strive to discipline them.  God creates us, so even though we all have a sinful nature, He created us to become who He wants us to be In Him.  And that we must stop equating discipline with punishment as they are completely different.  Finally, God wants us to make it as easy as possible for children to obey us, and that we must model God’s goodness to our children.  As we proceed through this series, it is my hope that you will see that, when done consistently, all of these discipline strategies work as well as help to lead children to God instead of away from Him!  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” Proverbs 3:5-6.


Grille, R.  (2005). Parenting for a peaceful world.  New South Wales, Australia: Longueville Media.

Hammond, R. A.  (2009). Respecting babies: A new look at Magda Gerber’s RIE approach.  Washington, DC: Zero to Three.

Kuzma, K.  (2006). The first 7 years.  West Frankfort, IL: Three Angels Broadcasting Network.

Lutton, C.  (2001). Biblical parenting.  Salt Lake City, UT: Millennial Mind Publishing.

McGrail, J.  (2011). Gentle discipline: So what do you do? http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/2011/04/gentle-discipline-so-what-do-you-do/

Nelsen, J., Erwin, C., & Duffy, R. A.  (2007). Positive discipline: The first three years.  New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Santrock, J.  (2008). Educational psychology (Illinois version).  Boston, MA: The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Sears, W. & Sears, M.  (1997). The complete book of Christian parenting and child care.  Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Whitehurst, T.  (2003). How would Jesus raise your child?  Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Rewell.

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Discipline without Harm by Steph is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.whynottrainachild.com.



  1. Steph on April 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I did a little more research on that quote that Patti said I had omitted from Luke 9:51-56 and there is a small note saying that *some* manuscripts do have that quote. Due to the scholarly research that biblical translators have put into the 2011 NIV translation of the Bible, I hold firm to that version when it comes to its accuracy. Thank you for pointing it out as it is very important that I am careful not to omit anything out of God’s Holy Word!

    • Steph on October 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      I just want to point out to anyone who may read these comments that I no longer believe that the NIV is the most accurate version. I read many versions now and think the NASB is more accurate than the NIV, but I believe in reading multiple versions of the Bible.

  2. Patti Blount on April 24, 2012 at 6:21 am

    I’m sorry I did not read your entire article, but before it really got started I found 2 places where you tried to make Scripture fit what you believe is the best way to parent. In the example you gave about Moses, you said God let him argue with Him, and then he provided help to Moses in the person of Aaron. All this is true, but then you made a statement that God didn’t punish Moses. While in this instance all of that is true, but at another time, when he “hit the rock” instead of speaking to it, God did punish him. He prohibited him from entering the promised land. So, to use the first example, and then say that God doesn’t punish across the board,when he did punish Moses later for disobeying is to taints the total truth. I’m sorry if this does seem “nit picky” but I am a truth lover and a truth seeker, and if something isn’t true always, I don’t feel it’s the truth.
    I like what you say about parenting. When I raised my children I needed to be more authoritative, but sorry to say I was authoritarian. And God is trying to show me his grace, more and more, as I was raised in a rule-based environment, so I followed suit in my parenting. And I am sorry for it. Still I can’t ignore the truth that God did punish Moses.
    Then again, using when John and James wanted to call fire down from Heaven, and you wrote that Jesus rebuked them. You omitted what He said which was, “You don’t know what spirit you are from” Yes, this was a rebuke, but it was almost something that would cause them to feel ashamed. And doesn’t this kind of rebuke feel like punishment? It’s like when people have said that their parents disappointment was worse than a spanking.
    So, if we are using examples in the Word to run parallels to parenting, using these 2 examples above, couldn’t it be said that sometimes God does punish us, and sometimes He can even say things to us that may cause us to feel guilty, so that we won’t do something again? Wouldn’t that be closer to the truth, instead of making something seem like it’s supporting our beliefs?
    I will continue to read the article, as I am seeking to know more about parenting, although my time is past for that, but my daughter and I were discussing modes of parenting last night, and that is why I came to your website. I do believe in, as you call it, authoritative parenting as described, but I am still not sure about what to do with the sin nature of a child. I’m talking about the self-centered, I want what I want when I want it, part of all of us which dominates us until we are born-again, Then, we have access to His Spirit to learn to walk in His ways by His power, and to deny our selves. That has to factor in somewhere, doens’t it?
    I encourage you on your walk with the Lord day by day. God Bless. I hope you didn’t take this a criticism,but as one sister sharing with another. And, if I have interpreted what you have written wrongly, I am sorry.

    • Steph on April 24, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      Thank you for your comments, Patti! God does not punish us but He does give consequences. Yes, God did give Moses a meaningful consequence after hitting the rock instead speaking to it as God commanded which I will bring up when I get to using consequences. And Jesus corrected His Disciples not to make them feel bad, but to correct and teach them. That is what God does with us. He convicts and corrects us but He takes our shame and guilt away and gives us grace, mercy, & forgiveness and that is what we are to do with our children. Guilt and shame are from satan. Godly sorrow is from God as it makes us think about others and makes us want to TRULY repent instead of focusing on ourselves and repenting out of fear, guilt, and shame.

      Please read my other series as I cover sin nature and some of your other questions there.

      I am often accuse of using Scripture to fit my beliefs. I take James 3:1 extremely seriously and do not do this. I, too, am very passionate about the Truth and this is why I’m writing a book and these articles. God is a loving, merciful God!

      I’m so glad you want to learn more about godly parenting and to help your daughter parent. Please keep reading and researching God’s Word as I am. God bless you my sister!

      • Steph on April 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm

        Hi again Patti! I wrote my reply to you last night before bedtime and didn’t have a chance to look up the passage I used about Jesus rebuking His disciples. Here’s the passage as stated in the 2011 NIV on biblica.com from where I copy all Scriptures that I use in all of my articles. “51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”. 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village” Luke 9:51-56. Can you please tell me where you got that Jesus said, “You don’t know which spirit you are from?” It is not in the passage that I cited in this article as I’d never purposely omit anything from Scripture. I just don’t see that verse in this passage or chapter. Thank you for your help. God bless!

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