How To Practice Gospel-Shaped Discipline
By Courtney Chambers
There are some classic cartoon characters that, when angry, change colors and have steam come out of their ears. Their anger is visible, and the situation usually ends badly for the character. I doubt many parents have visible steam that comes out of them or change colors when angry, but we sometimes feel that way. But one of the hardest places to navigate our anger is in the midst of disciplining our children.
Most parents will agree that disciplining their children is the hardest part of parenthood. And correcting our children can easily sway between two extremes: harsh to nonexistent. We all want our children to behave and listen to adults, yet the approach to reaching that goal varies. When disciplining our children, anger can quickly arise, affecting how we conduct discipline within our home.
As Christians, we also feel the importance of training our children in the ways of the Lord. Training our children in the ways of the Lord is a command that is to be fulfilled in all aspects of parenthood, including discipline. How should we successfully do this daily? How do we discipline without allowing our emotions to be the driving factor in what we do? I think the answer is easy to write down, but it requires much work in the parents’ hearts. To rightly discipline our children, we must never forsake the gospel.
Daily heart preparation for parents
Proper discipline begins with the parents. Our hearts must be able to shepherd and guide their children to discipline them smoothly. To do this, it calls the parents to be active in the Word of God, studying, reading, memorizing, and praying daily. Our lives must be a reflection of daily spiritual disciplines. We must be daily running the race and depending on the grace of Christ.
When a parent is living in communion with God, it will help give a clear mind as we seek to discipline our children. Shepherding children is exhausting in all areas. We often feel inadequate and ill-equipped to do so. This is where daily gospel reminders are so important. We can press on and cling to the gospel daily and, through it, find the strength to continue doing hard things in parenthood, like discipline.
Being a stay-at-home mom means that breaks from my children are few. I have often found that my weakest moments in parenthood are the days I have forsaken God’s Word and do not make communion with God a priority. Those days are the ones I find myself vulnerable to reacting in anger amid challenging parenting moments. We need the gospel; we need the Word of God every day.
Teach our kids not to let emotions rule them
In my biblical counseling training, it was often said that emotions are signal detectors to the underlying problem. If we are not careful in disciplining, we will use emotions as the cause instead of digging for the root. Anger and sadness can be rightly displayed, but we must remember that emotions do not control or dictate us. Emotions are the response to the situation at hand. I can be angry or sad in situations and not sin. This is what we must teach our children amid discipline. One way this can be taught is through ourselves as we control our emotions in front of our children.
Disciplining in anger could lead to a harsher punishment or words we might regret. We can be angry or sad about our children’s actions without letting our emotions control us. Sometimes, they influence us, and we sin against our children. We can teach our children through our sins by apologizing to them and correcting ourselves in front of them.
It also calls us to teach our children the importance of emotions. Emotions are good because God created them, but our sins can quickly distort them. I often tell my children when they are arguing and fighting among themselves that it is okay to be sad or hurt by the actions of others. The feeling of sadness isn’t bad; it is what we do with that feeling. We can react and hit our siblings, or yell and say mean things, or we can talk to each other and forgive as Christ has forgiven us.
Bring the gospel into every discipline moment
Finally, let’s consider how the gospel might be brought forth in every moment of discipline. Correcting our children is loving and good. God calls us to train our children in the ways of the Lord; if our children seek unholy things, this is not in line with what God calls us to do. Whether our children are believers or not, they need the gospel. Sinners need the gospel because apart from Christ, no hope is found. Our unbelieving children need to see the realization of their sin and their inability to wipe it clean; disciplining with the gospel provides that hope. It points them to a savior who died for our sins and perfectly covered it all on the cross.
For believing children, it provides hope to continue in their faith. We make mistakes and are imperfect, but we grow in Christ’s likeness each day. Being disciplined and being corrected by their parents allows them to see their sin and find ways to turn away from it. Disciplining this way requires more work for the parents; it calls us to walk with our children and help them find solutions to their problems. It calls us to point our children to Jesus, even when they have wronged or angered us.
Disciplining is difficult. It humbles us daily because we are sinners, just like our children. We needed a savior just like our children. Thankfully, there is hope amid parenthood, and that hope is Jesus. No matter how hard the moment might be in disciplining, we can always cling to Jesus and depend on him for strength.
Courtney Chambers is a pastor’s wife and mom of three living in northeast Missouri. Courtney has a Bachelor’s in World Missions and a Master’s in Biblical Counseling. Courtney is passionate about biblical theology and reaching the next generation. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and baking. You can find her @courtneyrchambers and @thereformedlife