Discipline is such a tricky thing. You have to train a small person in the intricacies of both moral and social boundaries, expect them to remember these boundaries, and then also remember to follow all of them yourself. One mess up on your part, and that small person will call you on it faster than you can blink, even though they never actually remember it applies to them too. You have to implement all of these boundaries simultaneously in the heat of the moment to show them in action, and you also have to think of new, creative, and memorable ways to demonstrate them to a person whose attention span is about 35 seconds.
then you have to do it again. And again. And again. And again. Until the very thought of mentioning “don’t pick your nose” sends you into a frustration level that might cause all of your teeth to shatter because you’re grinding them so hard. Or maybe that’s just me. I should state here that I’m surprised I still have all my teeth.
When Micah hit the terrible twos, I went on a mission to educate myself in discipline. Being who I am, I wanted to find a well laid out plan and then follow it. I read a lot on all sides of the spectrum, from the permissive side to the hard line side, and I tried a whole lot of things. Not surprisingly, what I came away with wasn’t in any books, and it has worked beautifully for me. I say beautifully because in the messiness of the terrible twos, I’m able to see the big picture and see Micah being molded into something incredible. What I discovered was that discipline is about two things: perspective and consistency.
The more I read about discipline and tried to implement it, the more I discovered something disturbing. I began to view Micah as the enemy. A problem to be solved, a squirming sin nature that had to be brought into rightness, a defiant creature who had to learn just who is in authority around here, dang it. A selfish child who, for the love of all that is good and holy, would just not stop pulling my poor hair. One day, as I looked at my sixteen month old baby, I thought I didn’t really like him. And that scared me into changing my strategy. I did some praying and then I decided to take seriously the verse in Psalm 127 that says “children are a blessing from The Lord.” I’ve never heard of a blessing from God that manifested itself as a curse, and so I was pretty sure something was wrong here. As I prayed and allowed God to speak into my mindset, I realized that discipline is about relationship, not about rules. It’s not about creating a hierarchy of authority that must be respected at all costs now so that my kids don’t sleep around or steal cars later. It’s not about saying No a hundred times or about being able to give a command and the living room is magically cleaned in the next five minutes, or bedtime happens with no fits, or the kids never have a meltdown in the grocery store. It’s not about that at all.
It’s about seeing the core of my child, the individual that God created him to be, and focusing on molding that person. My child is not a problem to be solved. He is a diamond to be hewed. Sometimes there are huge rocks to be cut away, and sometimes there is fine chiseling. Sometimes the tools are sharp and hard, and sometimes they are gentle brushes. Both are needed, and both are used at specific times, but both are used to extract what is beautiful inside. Discipline shouldn’t ever be about shutting my child down. It should be about teaching and molding character so that he can thrive. It’s about being to my child who God is to me.
He is a God of few no’s, and many more yeses: I try to do this by picking my battles. Does it matter if micah rips all the paper off the crayons? Not really. Does it hurt anything for him to dump every single toy out of his drawers? No. I try to say yes as often as it doesn’t matter for me to say it, and I try not to say no just because it will be an inconvenience to me if he does it.
He’s a God who doesn’t hold our sin against us: it’s so easy for me to get frustrated when I say not to do something a hundred times, and then he does it again. But I have to remember that it’s not just my child who is doing that, and he isn’t doing it to get on my nerves. I do it with my sin too, and my God doesn’t respond to me in an ugly way when I do. He treats each instance individually, and he doesn’t hold a count of how many times I’ve messed up. He remembers who we are, that we struggle with sin and cannot overcome it on our own. Just like Him, I need to remember who my child is. I need to remember that he doesn’t have the capability to be perfect, and I need to take each instance of disobedience in the moment, not calling up a whole host of offenses to come and influence my reaction.
He is a God of gentleness, slow to anger, and rich in compassion: so many times my compassion flies out the window in the heat of a battle. Our wills are clashing, and I only know one thing: I. Will. Win. But if God is calling me to be like Him, then my response to disobedience or defiance has to be like His. Yes, there are times when defiance needs to be met with strength, but so far for me, those times have been few. More often than not, God’s prompted me to curb my response. To be slow in my anger and to pause to remember the big picture. Often this means I remember that he is actually only two, and I am twenty-six. Who has more ability to control emotion? Oh, that’s right. Me. It also means I remember developmental phases. Are those evidence of rebellion in my child’s heart? No. Determining the big picture and then responding after a deep breath enables me to be more gentle and compassionate. I can change my body language to love in the midst of struggle instead of anger in the midst of war. I can speak quietly and calmly instead of tensely and short. And there is not the pressure to establish my authority in this moment. He isn’t going to encounter one moment with me and know for the rest of his life that Mom is In Charge. It’s the product of a string of gentle and firm moments that will teach him the right perspective of authority.
He is a God of kindness: if there is one thing we talk about more than anything else (except maybe trucks), it’s being kind to one another. How I feel like I beat this idea to death! But God has been drilling this in my heart for three years, and kindness is the law I try to live by in every moment outside of discipline, in hopes that in the midst of it, kindness is my natural response. There is so much in my heart about this that I think it needs its own post. Stay tuned…
He is a God of consistency and accountability: God has standards that we have to live by. Some things are just non negotiable, but some things He leaves grey. The non negotiables have consequences, and He allows those consequences to happen, even if we repent. Like my dad always said to me, “God isn’t going to let you get away with sin just because you’re a Christian.” Then there are grey areas – drinking alcohol, for example. For some people, it’s a huge stumbling block and should be considered a sin, but for others, it isn’t a struggle at all and doesn’t play a part in their uprightness. So I’ve found it to be in discipline. There are some non negotiables. Defiance, for example, cannot go unanswered. This sin needs a consequence every time. For our family, being ugly to someone also cannot go unanswered. Micah is learning that he can’t turn his nose up at Ana and refuse to speak to her just because he doesn’t want to and think that he can get away with it. I tell him repeatedly, “being ugly to someone else means trouble every time.” He has learned the specific things that are non negotiables in our home, and he knows that he will be in trouble if he crosses those lines. By being consistent in our discipline of those issues, we have instilled in him an understanding of when he is bordering trouble. He has even brought up the consequences on his own in the middle of disobedience. For example, he will yell at Norah and then look at me and say, “I’m sorry! I don’t need a time out!” Because we work really hard to be consistent, he still gets a consequence, even if he apologizes. This way, he knows there are always consequences, even if we regret our actions.
The grey areas are different for every family. We each pick and choose what issues are most important to us, depending on our values and priorities. One grey area for us is putting feet on the table. Micah knows that I get to flick whatever toes I see on the table, and my flicking fingers have gotten a lot of practice.
God always forgives us when we repent of our sin, but He still allows us to experience consequences for our actions. He firmly and lovingly doesn’t protect us from them. If we remove consequences, then we remove our kids’ ability to understand that their actions affect them and the people around them. If we are consistent in our discipline, then they will learn to think about what they are doing.
That day when I saw sixteen month old Micah and realized I needed a new discipline strategy, I knew that part of God’s plan for giving me a child was for me to enjoy him. This time of his life is too short for me to feel constant animosity or dislike toward him. My baby is an incredible and unique person! I can’t waste my time feeling frustrated with him – I want to invest my time in getting to know him as he is, before he is tainted by the world of sin and insecurity. I decided that if ever my discipline strategy started causing me to dislike my baby on a daily basis that I should throw it out and search and pray for something new. God gave me something beautiful, and I refuse to take my eyes off of that beauty.