Advocate Parenting–heartfelt discipline

Love is patient, love is kind………

I have noticed over the years that, in an effort to be good parents, many of us tend to extremes. If rod oriented, then we can tend to use it all the time, over-correcting, and expecting too much of even little ones in a desire to be sure children are disciplined. This often produces rebellion as it is outward oriented and can neglect the heart issues and personality and needs.

However, I have also noticed that those who think of themselves as grace-based parents, can tend to let everything go and not train their children at all, because they think that grace-based means being lenient. And these children can be out of control and never learn self-control. Neither extreme serves children well.

I have also seen parents be diligent and serving and yet children, can still rebel when they are teens on in their twenties, in this difficult world.  And that is why our Lord gave the story of the Prodigal child–to give us hope. None us us is perfect or will do it perfectly and so God calls each of us to give grace and compassion to each other and to pray for the blessed outcome for each family. No finger pointing allowed.

It seems to be that a key factor for reaching children’s hearts, is that the children seem to feel greatly loved and connected to their family. Jesus himself gives us the priority of love in scripture–it sums up all the law and all the commandments–to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I know that children have a great desire to be loved and cherished. When they start out being loved, touched, sung to, nursed, cherished, their heart needs and physical needs are on their way to being connected in the brain in the right way. However, when babies are left to cry for long periods and not cherished and touched and cuddled and enjoyed, there is an essential chemical imbalance in their brain that causes them to be more apt to be irritated, fussy, less responsive.

Even as my children grew older, in the midst of very high ideals and training, I sought to pour into their lives and hearts in the areas of believing in them, liking who they were (even in times when I had to do it by faith!), making our home the best place to be, and teaching them that they could trust us with their secrets and insecurities and failures, by responding to them in love and respecting them where they were—if I wanted my children to learn to honor me, I had to honor them so that they would understand this attitude of respect.

So, I would say that essential for children is that “love” factor even from the beginning. This factor to me means, loving who your child is–his God designed personality, antics, delighting in your child and communicating that with words, gestures, tone of voice, and time spent playing and delighting in an listening to and affirming in front of others. 

This did not come naturally to me, but I followed it obediently by faith and saw the results in my children’s lives. I was more of an “adult” person as I had never been around children, but as I read many books about babies and researched scripture and studied Christ, I knew that love would be the foundation to reach the heart of my children with the messages and truth of God, so I sough to reach their hearts by cherishing the essential design of who they were. 

We also need to consider scripture as our basis for following in our parenting principles.

Scripture is very clear that we are to discipline and train our children. Deuteronomy 6 is sometimes considered the Magna Carta for a happy family. 

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit  in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deut. 6: 4-10

Discipline is not really an area I know how to write well about, because it was for me an overarching journey and relationship– –and so when people ask me about circumstances and specifics, I do not always know how to answer, as I would approach each day, each minute, each child with my grid of expectations of the way I wanted to train them and then I would by faith, try to discern the need of the moment. There was an overarching call to use every moment, each day as a teachable, training moment toward ideals and maturity-

That all the days of our lives together as a family would be consistent, focussed and intentional in our following of the organic life of Christ and His values in our home–over and over, day by day.

 I had developed an internal filter that clearly focused on the results I knew I wanted to accomplish with my children and then would be with them all day, operating from that filter. I sought to simplify my goals by reading and synthesizing scripture and all the books I had read. 

I knew two things that I was supposed to require from my children:

Honor (honor your father and mother) which focus’s on attitude.

Children obey your parents in the Lord. This focuses on behavior.

Both were a part of what I knew I needed to secure–but age appropriate and child appropriate. And so from the time they were infants, I would talk to them all day long about what “Mommy and Daddy” expected. Children need to know what is expected of them before we discipline them for not obeying. Yelling at the moment may be needed at the moment when a child is in danger–but usually a child should know to obey ahead of time and that a parent will surely take action if the child does not obey. I have noticed that many young parents neglect to listen to their children and ignore them and then wonder why their children do not obey them. Little children need to be attended to and taught and instructed often when little so that they have a learned pattern of obedience and know how to follow.

For instance, before we would go to someone’s house, I would tell them when we are there, I want you to use your best manners–which we would have talked about at our own dinner table many times, and I would review them–and talk about being a blessing and sharing toys or not whining or whatever, and then if they misbehaved, Clay or I would take them away from the crowd immediately and talk to them about their behavior and hold them or seclude them until they would choose to obey. They knew that if they did not behave, they would lose the privilege of playing with the others. Follow through is a must. But also getting down on their eye level and talking to them calmly and listening to their part of the story is also very important.

We developed the 24 Family ways so that our children would know what to do, what was expected, how to live their life pleasing God and then we would have a consistent plan from which to discipline–”What is the Clarkson way about work? What does this scripture say?” (24 Family Ways)

I also focused on will training a lot–as in Deuteronomy-God gave Israel a choice–life and prosperity or death and adversity. God told Israel that He would bless them if they would obey Him and that there would be consequences if they chose not to obey Him. And so we taught our children that–we wanted them to learn to obey us so that we could bless them–but that if they chose to disobey, they were choosing to be disciplined by our consequences.

So, if a child neglected to obey me–for instance in public–I would say, “You have a choice to make. If you come to me right now or quit what you are doing, then Mommy can bless you. If you choose to disobey me, this
will be the consequence. I cannot make you obey, but there will be consequences.” 

But then, I followed through, even though it was rarely convenient-especially when dragging a baby and having a toddler hold on–and so on. But the earlier babies and children learn to obey, the easier they are when older. However, I had two very strong willed children that took longer and had more issues, but they also taught me a lot about humility and patience and both learned to love to obey eventually and to conform to our ways as a family and even to have pride in their own training.

Getting on their eye level, being very clear, and learning the difference between immaturity or lack of understanding and a rebellious deed was a filter for me. 

My children did not mature at the same rate, either, so I had to just keep moving each child forward on the compendium of ideals– rather than to expect each to be able to carry the same load. My adhd child needed to be treated according to his own ability, an introvert needed different training than an extraverted, loud child.Praying, praying all the time for discernment.

Words of praise go a long way. “You showed such a strong character. I am so proud of you obeying Mommy.” or being a peace-maker or working hard or whatever–you are becoming such a strong boy.

Will training teaches a child that they have the ability to use self-control and to become “strong inside” but that there are consequences for sin and rebellion.

All excellence and training of children requires so much from parents and years of us giving up our own time to accomplish our goals, but so well worth it. But it was the most difficult, demanding thing of my life in that discipling my children has required focused time and is still going on–but they listen and want our instruction as their friends and mentors now, and for that I am so grateful–it takes investing in the younger years, to produce strong relationships in the teen years.

We had very high standards in our family–as my children will attest to! But there is also a positive peer pressure that went along with my whole gang–when the first ones are trained the others tend to follow

The “this is what we all do” came to be expectations of how Clay and I expected them all to behave and they would help each other–a sort of camaraderie developed between our gang.

I might  set a timer each morning, put on music to see if we could get our work done before the timer went off–cleaning the kitchen or straightening up at 5 each afternoon, and they would all have areas to clean or to subdue. Having the older ones used to the routine, made the younger ones follow and do the same. And all knew that if they did not do their job, they would not be able to play or have free time afterwords and would have to do more work.

There is so much that could be said, but discipline and training was a way of life, all the time, every day. And it always started off with devotions each day. Truth by truth, principle by principle so that they had very clear understanding of God having His ways for us to follow for our blessing and ours to practice each day so that we could please Him and become righteous. Building into them a sense of being called to be Daniels–leaders in their lifetime–in the midst of their own Babylons–gave them a sense of purpose and calling for this righteous life.

Then, we depended on God’s grace to work and it took years and years–but when I studied Jesus for writing my book Ministry of Motherhood, I could see patterns of His training took years and years, days and days even with adults, but always given with patience, consistency, understanding and repetition and eventually the disciples “got” it. But all done from the servant leadership that Jesus exhibited. Loving, serving, instructing, teaching, correcting, celebrating life together. 

Out of time and off to my day. 

But my favorite resources were Heartfelt Discipline by Clay, and Hints on Child Training  as well as anything written by Ryle. Also, How to Really Understand Your Child. Grace and peace today.

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  1. says

    Thanks for these posts. I am rereading Heartfelt Discipline right now and I even found an extra copy at Half Price books to lend out or give away!

  2. says

    Sally, thanks for this article. After nearly 35 years of being a mother, I am still learning so much about what it means to parent with wisdom. I recently studied James 3:17 and saw so clearly how understanding Godly wisdom is crucial for building lasting relationships with our children. Being peaceable, easily entreated, gentle,and without hypocrisy are what our parenting ought to resemble. If it does not, it is not from the Lord.
    Have a blessed day.

  3. says

    i can’t tell you how unbelievably perfect this is for me today. i am the parent of a fetal alcohol syndrome teenager and the challenge of loving him is no small task. today was an especially horrible morning and i came here by chance (*wink*) to find just the encouragement and refreshing i needed. thanks to you and to Jesus for meeting me here.

  4. Julie says

    Sally, Thank you Thank you! The timing of this post, was amazing…I have been ‘second guessing’ myself..Wondering if I am too strict or not strict enough. I find such encouragement and wisdom in all of your books. Thank you. May God bless you and your ministry!

  5. says

    I so look forward to all of your posts. Thank you for sharing your heart with us all as we’re walking in the Spirit, striving to raise these little warriors!

  6. says

    Thank you so much for this post! This is an area that I am currently struggling with. I feel like I am failing and am so discouraged by that. Your words have so encouraged me and challenged me!
    Thank you and may God continue to bless you.

  7. says

    Girl – this has been one of the toughest parts of parenting – trying to figure out what consequence fits the crime! When they were little I read every book I could get my hands on including “Hints for Child Training”.
    At this stage (kids are 5 and 7) I feel like I finally have my bearings and am seeing fruit of my labor.
    I must admit there is a piece of fear in parenting – what if I don’t get this right and the child rebels? That question kills me BUT I know that God was a perfect parent to Adam and Eve and they still chose to sin. So I pray and trust that God is in control.
    Thank you for this beautiful post – it keeps me on track!
    Much love,

  8. says

    thank you so much for this post… was exactly what i needed to hear. God brought me to your site today through visiting another site….He is so kind to give us what we need right when we need it. looking forward to reading more of your posts.
    ~patty r.

  9. says

    Thank you so much for this, Sally.
    I am in the process of letting go of a punitive-based approach to parenting and learning the ways of grace-based parenting. It is, indeed, very hard to make sure I don’t slip into being permissive. In fact, a grace-based approach is much more time-consuming in the early years because there is SO much hands-on interaction – actually getting up and following through on my directions and helping my children to obey when they don’t choose it on their own (particularly my two year old, not so much my five year old as she is really internalizing the concept of obedience now).
    I find that even in a grace-based approach, there is SO much correction and training needed in those early years. It can be exhausting, but when the fruits of all of that work begin to blossom – oh! Such encouragement!
    Your husband’s book has been instrumental in helping me shift my views on parenting. I refer back to it often.
    Each of you have poured so much time into ministering to families. I pray that God is pouring out blessing on you to reward your faithfulness!

  10. says

    I am so glad to have found you!!!! Yours and your husband’s books are pretty expensive on Amazon–yikes!!!! :)
    I love your balanced approach….I will be reading and following you, and I already passed on your info. to some friends.
    God bless you!

  11. Rébecca says

    Thank you for this post. I am definitly reassured in understanding a little bit more what you mean as far as child training goes. I’m glad to hear about a more balanced approach than a “no discipline” educationnal style.
    I have looked into Hints on Child Training (which is online in full text !) but I can’t find “How to Really Understand Your Child”. Is it still in print ?

  12. says

    sally, i have been on the hunt for your husband’s book today, and came across this post. just finished making parenting goals for the year using your GIFTS model, and have been thinking about discipline for our two-year-old for some time now. thank you for this post, it was truly inspiring to read.

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