Often people decide to stop spanking when they learn that the Bible does not teach it is a requirement for parenting, but deciding what NOT to do is only the first step. Too often parents resort to other forms of punishment still believing that God desires them to have an adversarial relationship with their children — the age-old war between parent and child where one must win and the other must lose. Other times parents’ only tool was spankings and without them they feel powerless and don’t know what TO do.
This is where I come in. I do a lot of work with parents who want to make the transition from punishments to what I’ve termed Grace-Based Discipline (GBD).
There is no Biblical command for parents to demand obedience from their children
Many parents who punish (with or without spankings) are very concerned about forcing their children to obey them. They do not realize that the commandment to obey was written to the person expected to obey. There is no Biblical command for parents to demand obedience from their children. Yet many fear that without punishments they will fall into permissive parenting where children are allowed to get away with anything. These are not the only options.
Grace-Based Discipline is about fulfilling the instruction of Ephesians 6:4: “Parents do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This requires a paradigm shift and it takes time. Let me share with you some things you can expect once you make the decision to stop punishing your child — and some ways you can be successful during the transition time.
Things may get bad before they get better.
This is true — things may get worse before they get better. But it will get much MUCH better and it’s worth sticking with it.
You are learning to extend grace to yourself and your children
Why do things sometimes get worse? This is easy.
YOU are learning something new. When we attempt to change something so fundamental to us as the way we discipline, we will encounter issues that we must deal with, including our relationship with our own parents and our understanding of God. Many Christian parents were raised with punishment and have come to see God as a Father who is looking to punish them. However, God’s punishments are reserved for His enemies while His blessings are for His children. It’s important to remember you are learning to extend grace to yourself and your children.
Discipline means “to teach” and you need to give God time to teach you these new skills
You are LEARNING something new. Learning takes time. Just as you will learn to give your children time to learn new lessons (instead of demanding the appearance of a lesson learned) you must give yourself time to learn a new way to discipline. Discipline means “to teach” and you need to give God time to teach you these new skills. You will sometimes struggle with picking a tool to use in a given situation, but the more experience you get with each tool, and the more tools you get in your parenting tool box, the more competent you will become.
You are learning something NEW. Transitions are difficult for many people — children and adults. You will have impulses to react out of habit. You may even find yourself resorting to old tools and needing to cast aside tools until you figure out what to do instead.
Your children will also need to adjust. Because love and discipline are so intertwined children come to view their parents love as being equivalent to how they discipline, and especially if they have been told, “I’m spanking you because I love you,” they may well fear the loss of love from a parent who stops spanking. Regardless of how you’ve been parenting, as things change they will test the boundaries. This is normal and it’s important that you convey to your children firm boundaries, even though you’re now doing it in a kind way. As you both get used to the new way of doing things you will find that everything gets much MUCH better and you will all be glad you stuck it out.
So where do I start?
Many parents report that their most successful first step is sitting down with their children and apologizing for things they have done in the past that they now regret. This may include spankings, time outs, yelling, or any punishment or permissiveness that they have fallen into. They assure their children that they were doing what they thought was best, but they are learning something new and want to change the way they get along. They also ask their child’s forgiveness for what they have done. It is empowering to a child to know that your love for them is not attached to their behavior and it is humbling to you to seek forgiveness for a wrong you have done.
You may also want to tell your children that you’re not perfect and will no doubt make mistakes, but that you will also take responsibility for them and it’s not their fault if you slip. This is very important if punishments have been given under the idea that the child is making the parent punish them due to their behavior. Children need to know that Mom and Dad are responsible for their own choices before they can begin to take responsibility for theirs.
The most important tool we have for parenting is what we model for our children
Figure out who you are supposed to control
So much about punishments is a focus on ‘other control’, but we only have enough control for ourselves. Even if we can create the illusion of control over our children’s behavior, we cannot control what is in their heart and mind. The most important tool we have for parenting is what we model for our children. When we direct our control towards ourselves we are modeling another fruit of the Spirit for them and we are teaching them one of the most valuable things we can teach our children. Self-control is a tool that will serve us and our children throughout our lives.
What is a reflection on me is not another person’s behavior, but my response to it
Remember that parents should not be judged by their child’s behavior, but by their response to it.
Because we are all individuals, we need to separate ourselves from our children and our identity from their behavior, especially since too much punishment occurs because a parent is embarrassed. What is a reflection on me is not another person’s behavior, but my response to it. The same is true of our children.
Children misbehave and lose their self-control for so many reasons including disappointment, frustration, hunger, being overtired, and others. Once you begin to see your child as a full person who is deserving of respect and kindness you will find that you can respond to their emotions without being caught up in them. This is an especially difficult idea to embrace because our culture truly believes that people need to feel bad in order to do better. But it is people who feel good who do better! So making someone doing bad feel worse does not motivate them to do better. When adults are upset we suggest taking a break or doing something to get them refocused. GBD tools do the same for children.
Perhaps the most important part of transitioning to GBD is discovering and developing new tools. You will come to realize that you are only limited by your imagination. The most important aspect to GBD tools is that they are proactive. You will find yourself less worried about figuring out a way to respond to something that has already happened and more focused on how to move forward from a situation. You will find that you are not imposing penalties for power struggles as you are no longer engaging in them. Your child may begin expressing anger inappropriately and you might challenge them to do an angry dance or draw you a picture of their anger. You might pick them up and shake out their grumpies.
Life can be fun while you teach important lessons and keep your children safe
A child might not want to hold hands in the parking lot, but they may link their train to yours as you go chugging to your car. “Wait,” you might be saying, “That sounds like you’re just having fun.” My response is that life can be fun while you teach important lessons and keep your children safe.
I count to 3 with my children but it’s not because something bad will happen to them if they don’t comply to my wishes by the time I get there — it’s so that they know how long they have to transition to what I’m requiring of them. If they can transition themselves, they have more say in what it looks like. If they need my help, then I get to have all the say. Limited choices help children feel powerful over their lives, but only over as much as I’m willing to give to them and that is only as much as they are ready for.
The key is that even though I set the standard for behavior in my family (and many people are surprised to learn that my standard is much higher than even most spanking parents) I do not expect my children to be able to meet the standard until they are ready and able to do so. In the meantime it is my responsibility to fill in the gap between the standard and what they are capable of doing.
Because courtesy is important to me, I will say “Thank you” to someone if my child is being shy, thereby showing courtesy to both my child and the other person. Because respect is important to me, I will speak respectfully to my child and only listen to them when they are speaking respectfully to me. Because gentleness is important to me, I will not raise my hand or any object to my child and I will not allow them to raise their hand to me.
You are the authority in your home. You don’t need to abuse that authority to raise well behaved, respectful, genuine, God-loving children. In fact, the less you abuse your authority the more you will be able to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
We are the first lesson to our children of who God is, let us make sure it is a real lesson. We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Despite what you may have been told about a child needing to fear you, we are told in 1 John 4:18 that there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.
Let’s get the fear out of parenting. It’s time to start modeling appropriate behavior and the fruit of the Spirit for our children. It’s time to be kind and firm, teach and correct, respect and be respected in a way that can only come from relationship.