There’s been a lot of controversy when it comes to disciplining children. When my grandpa was a teacher, it was common to use a paddle for corporate punishment—something he didn’t do very often. Today, push ups are an inappropriate form of punishment at school.
So what do we do when we read texts in the Bible like these?
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;
he will give delight to your heart.
Proverbs 29:15, 17
It’s clear that discipline is good for children, but what kind of discipline works best? I’m not a parent, and I can’t say I have an incredible amount of experience when it comes to kids, but let me tell you what’s worked for me.
As Boys Director at Camp Wawona, a Seventh-day Adventist summer camp in Yosemite National Park, one of my responsibilities is dealing with kids who are disobedient and not listening to their counselors. What do I do? I take them aside and talk with them for a while. I ask them if they’d like to tell me what happened, and then I talk to them about what they could’ve done differently. I ask them if they’re enjoying camp, and what their favorite activity is. I make sure that they feel like they can trust me, and that I have their best interest in mind. If the offense is particularly bad—something that could be grounds for sending them home—I tell them this, let them know that this kind of behavior is not something that’s safe to have at camp and I ask them if they’d like to stay. Then, depending on the circumstances, I tell them that I’m going to give them one more chance to change their behavior. And then we talk about what they can do to change that behavior.
But it doesn’t end there. Proverbs 29:19 says, “By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not respond.” There are two more crucial steps I use to solidify the conversation we’ve had. First, I pray with them. No matter how bad the offense was, I ask them if I can pray with them and ask God to help them change their behavior. Then–and this is key–I treat them as if they had never made the mistake in the first place. When I see them around camp, I do my best to treat them just like I do the other kids. It’s something called grace.
Why do I use this method? Because that’s the same method God uses with you and me! “Come now, let us reason together,” He says in Isaiah 1:18. When we mess up, I think God asks us, through our conscience, through the Holy Spirit, if we really want to remain in a relationship with Him. And of course He’s desperately hoping we say “yes”! Then He talks to us, continues to build that crucial relationship with us, and helps us find out how to choose better actions next time. He might do this through the Bible, through other people, or even through our conscience.
But then He uses those two crucial steps. First, He prays for us. Hebrews tells us that Christ is our Great High Priest who is always interceding on our behalf. Then, He treats us as if we had never sinned. He looks at us and sees nothing but Jesus’ righteousness—something I can’t come close to doing, try as I might, when I look at kids who have misbehaved.
Discipline might not always be fun, but if it’s done right, it is always redemptive. I’d rather be disciplined by God than not disciplined at all, because I know He has my best interest—and your best interest—in mind!