Disciplining my Cinderella

I wish I could tell you it’s never happened, but it has. I’ve rounded a corner to find my two-year-old daughter about to start dancing on the counter. Yeah, she’s that kind of kid. Wow, do I love her for that!

I figure it’s all a part of the plan. God decided, “Since I’ve decided they’re only going to have one child, I’m going to give them one that’s going to thrum with life.” And she does. She lives life to the hilt. I’m pretty sure she thinks she’s not really living unless she’s somehow perched three feet off the ground.

What do you do with a daughter like that? Sometimes I just grin when I see her antics. How can you not when she looks at you with her big blue eyes and her classic, “What, Dad? This is totally safe,” kind of look? Other times a grin couldn’t be more out of place; where there’s something far more insidious going on; where we just know. We know it’s more than just innocent curiosity and it’s more than just vibrant wonder. When we see the look that says, “Dad, I know you told me not to and I don’t care,” we know it’s open rebellion.

For us, how we discipline is often decided by her attitude—the why behind it all. We have lots of patience for her fearless approaches to whatever climb she’s after next—metaphorical or otherwise. We’re happy to teach and guide with all the gentleness and tenderness we can muster. And we’re happy to parent her like that as long as she is innocently learning her world, but never when she’s trying to overthrow it. When she becomes self-willed, “whys?” us to pieces, or has that rebellious glint in her eye, we never tolerate it. We move swiftly and firmly to let her know that’s never okay. We love her too much not to.

I suppose everybody’s anxious to know what that looks like. In my experience, it always looks different. I’ve found that it’s a judgment call based on 1) the danger level of the activity, 2) her level of understanding about that activity, and 3) her attitude about whatever it is that she’s up to. Once I’ve ascertained those things, I’m ready to discipline her.

What is the right way to do that with your two-year-old? Yours is different than mine so I can’t tell you. Does any open rebellion demand some sort of physical reminder? Is a time-out the most attention grabbing strategy? Do you have a tender little conscience in your care that only requires a verbal reprimand? I’m not sure. And what happens when your two-year-old becomes a more nuanced and sophisticated preteen? What does discipline look like then? Ah, somebody help me!

No matter what you decide as a parent, we’re probably after the same thing. We want our children to “get it” when they sin so that we can comfort them with the gospel until they “get” that too.

In moments when my little girl grasps the seriousness of her situation, there’s no greater joy than asking her in that same moment, “What did Jesus do with your sin?” and having her respond, “He wash it all gone.”

I’m convinced that’s why Elliana lives with so much pep and confidence. Sure, sometimes I’ve rounded a corner only to find her expressing that gospel confidence with an attempted counter dance, but, hey, that’s in the job description too. I’m always more than happy to grab my little Cinderella, explain the danger in a clear and animated way, and be her Prince Charming by dancing with her on the living room floor.

The root of “discipline” is “disciple”

As our kids become older, I have come to realize that discipline doesn’t have to be a negative thing, fraught with tears and drama and anger. After all, the root of discipline is disciplea student who is guided by a wise teacher and spreads that teacher’s beliefs.

What if we start to look at discipline as discipling? It changes the focus. It becomes less on punishment and anger and more on correction and guidance. What a blessing for our children when we discipline in love, according to God’s perfect wisdom! “Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law” (Psalm 94:12).

Do you remember the first time you held your newborn? So perfect. So innocent. Discipline was the last thing on your mind. But then the dreaded day arrived: the first time those pureed peas came flying right back at you. Or the first toddler tantrum, during the quietest part of the sermon. Even our precious babies are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:15).

I admit that discipline is tough for me as a parent, since my nature cringes at conflict. Thankfully, my husband, with his quiet spiritual wisdom and practicality, has balanced me out as we do our best to discipline our boys in love as a united team, using God’s Word as our guide.

As our boys age, our methods of discipline have changed. No longer does a time-out alone in the bedroom cut it. That is every teen’s dream. Our disciplines have taken on age-appropriate forms, like loss of the car keys, not being able to attend a concert or game, or the loss of technology privileges. These disciplines are customized to the age of each child and each situation. They are designed to get this message across: We love you and God loves you, and his Word is very clear on right and wrong. If you break the house rules and God’s rules, there will be consequences. But there is always forgiveness as well.

Parents, let’s hang in there when it comes to discipline in the home! We all want our kids to be honest and hardworking citizens. We want them to be faithful witnesses of God’s Word, living embodiments of Christ. It is our duty and privilege as Christian parents to “discipline those we love” (Proverbs 3:12) as we guide our kids in God’s truth. This is so easy to say but often so hard to do—especially as our society increasingly blurs the lines between right and wrong and dismisses moral absolutes.

As our boys become adults, it is getting even trickier to discipline as their choices become bigger and more life-impacting. And sometimes kids simply make poor choices, despite our best efforts and despite hours spent in family devotions, prayer, and worship. That’s when we need to hang on and pray like crazy. We need to keep showing them our love and forgiveness, while not compromising what God’s Word says, in all its perfect wisdom.

Our discipline flows from love

Discipline. The past 14 years of Tad’s and my parenting adventure have included many trials and errors. Just when we thought we had it down, a different child, with a different personality—and, therefore, different needs—showed up. But here are a few basic, underlying things that we strive to do.

We start early. The battles when they are little may seem difficult at the time because who doesn’t want to give that cute two-year-old whatever she wants? The earthly consequences when they are little aren’t that big so it is easy to cave. However, that same behavior looks much different when they are in their teen years—and the earthly consequences are much greater. The truth is, disciplining when they are little is much easier than when they are older.

We follow through with consequences. Sometimes that means we, as parents, miss out as well. Although, Tad and I are getting better at picking consequences for our children that don’t punish us in the process.

As our children get older, we let them have a say. As much as possible we share with them why we have the rules and consequences that we do. If they can understand and be part of the process, we believe this helps teach them discernment. This wisdom will be with them even when we are not with them.

We choose what hill we’re willing to die on. Our house rules really fall into two categories: love God and love others. If a rule doesn’t fit under one of these, then we look at the reasoning behind it. Is it because of our personal preference? Because that’s the way we’ve always done things? Because we are concerned about how the outside world will view our parenting?

We let our creative 10-year-old girl go out in public with the most unique choices of clothing. We let our older boys grow their hair out way, way longer than we’d like. If it isn’t a character issue, we won’t die on that hill. If it involves how we love God and/or how we love others, that’s a hill on which we will stand, fight, and die.

We try to model our heavenly Father. He disciplines out of love for us. He wants the very best for us, which is a relationship with him. Our discipline is out of love for our children. We want the very best for them with Christ as the center of their lives. None of this works if we don’t have a loving relationship with our children.

As much as we know these concepts work for our family, we still struggle with our own flesh, our own agendas. Only by God’s grace are we able to implement these things out of love for our children. We know the work pays off. We enjoy our children as they grow in God’s grace.