I love my kids so much I’d give my life for them. But I also don’t love them as fully as I wish I could. I’m an imperfect parent. Once I became a dad I saw more clearly than ever just how wicked and sinful my heart really is.
Let’s be honest, our kids sometimes scream in ways that could peel paint off a wall—that’s assuming they haven’t already used markers to turn it into an art gallery.
They also bicker and fight, get snippy, don’t eat when we want them to, fall asleep when we don’t want them to, and know how to get us so frazzled we give in to behaviors we never thought we would when we didn’t have kids.
And disciplining my children is where I began to see the condition of my own heart. That’s because we all act normal when things are going well. Not until we become anxious or stressed do we see our true relationship styles emerge.
Since we’re imperfect parents, here are eight mistakes we make when disciplining our kids:
- We fail to set clear rules. Think about it. If we’re not clear on what the rules are, how should we expect our children to be?
If you’re disciplining your child for walking through the house with shoes on one time, but not doing so the next because you want to keep your shoes on, perhaps it’s time to get clear on whether it’s really a rule.
- We set too many rules. More rules = more consequences = more power struggles = more emotional breakdowns. Set clear rules, but be sure they’re rules that matter.
Perhaps it’s not necessary for shoes to be removed in your home. Be strategic and age-appropriate.
- We’re inconsistent with the rules and give in to our kids. Our children’s brains are rapidly growing and adjusting to their relationship with us. When we’re inconsistent in following through on the rules—perhaps because they’re whining and complaining about them—we teach them that we really don’t have control and that manipulation works.
Research shows this mistake can be one of the most costly, creating entitled children who have more authority than the parent. If you feel like you’re walking on eggshells around your children, you may need to become more consistent with discipline. This is admittedly my Achilles heel.
- We spank in anger. Punishment and discipline are different. Simply put, punishment isn’t safe; discipline is. In punishment, we react to misbehavior; in discipline, we respond to it. The short-term outcome of punishment may be obedience, but the long-term outcome of discipline is self-discipline.
When we spank in anger, we’re not self-disciplined.
- We yell at and shame our kids. Do you like it when people yell at you?
Shame, guilt, criticism, and contempt are behavior-focused, but they wreak havoc on the heart of our child. Remember, punishment focuses purely on behavior and lacks grace for the child. As a consequence, our kids may be well-behaved in the short term, but they lack the skills or the self-worth to make wise decisions in the long run.
- We use our relationship as a punishment. Our relationship with our children should be central to everything we do. When we withhold time spent playing with them as a consequence for their actions, we’re showing them that our love for them is conditional on how they behave.
- We discipline not for disobedience, but for behavior that annoys us. The greatest danger here is punishing our children for who they are, not what they’ve done wrong. This is especially significant for parents who have a child whose personality is completely different than theirs (Type A driven parent; Type B laid-back child).
- We undermine our spouse. If we’re not on the same page as our spouse when it comes to discipline, our kids will smell it out and pounce on it faster than flies on pig manure. And we all know what pig manure smells like.
Though children—and especially strong-willed children—can be exhausting and difficult, if they’re guided by emotionally safe parents, we can raise a generation of excellent leaders; namely, kids—because they’re content with who they are and know they’re loved—who live, love and lead their generation well. Not because their will was broken, but because it was shaped.