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Discipline vs. Grace?

Dear Family Legacy,
Where do I draw the line with my kids between discipline and grace?
~ Good Cop, Bad Cop

Dear Good Cop:
Good question. First, let’s define some terms so we’re both on the same page.
Discipline: to train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior.
Grace: often used as a synonym for mercy, means compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish.
Punish: to inflict a penalty or sanction on (someone) as retribution for an offense
Most often we confuse punishment with discipline, but the distinction is important because the goal of each is different. The goal of discipline is to change the heart first and the behavior will follow. Punishment attempts to change the behavior hoping the heart will change as well. Always, in the Christian home, grace should abound (Col. 4:6).

Another way to think of it is that discipline works from the inside out – changing the heart of your child. Punishment works from the outside, but won’t necessarily change the heart (and may embitter your child).

But the question is about when discipline and when mercy. The answer is always discipline. There should always be training. How you train and the goal of your training is what we need to decide.

Sometimes the mercy offered is part of the training.

For instance, years ago the Lord told us specifically to offer mercy to our son regarding his grades because the consequences of his lack of discipline were enough. He was beating himself up already and needed cheerleaders. Staying up late, doing extra credit, going to tutoring…that was both discipline and punishment. Mom and Dad not beating him up, that was mercy. He learned a lot in that season (I’m not saying he didn’t get a few lectures here and there).

Also consider the ages of children involved.

Ages 0-5: Tight discipline is required to build a foundation of discipline and obedience. First time obedience is a must.
Discipline begins as early as a child disobeys. If a baby throws food, a firm verbal “No” and a light squeeze on the arm tells him he should not do that.
If a toddler disobeys, a spanking is in order (or time-out, removing privileges) depending on your discipline philosophy. Proverbs 13:24 (NIV) He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

Ages 5-10: Spankings decrease IF the foundation is set. Now you are able to give more choices and reason with children at this age. The idea is that we’re teaching the child self-discipline so he can learn make logical and educated choices. If your child makes an unwise decision, the discipline must be related to the offense. Allow him to communicate his thoughts to you. The parent should respect these thoughts, encourage the thought-processes, and direct or correct them.

Ages 10-17: It is not advisable to spank at this age. By now, hopefully, the foundation for self-discipline has been set. Relationship is key to positive discipline now. Your child is thinking at much higher levels, so involve him in the discipline process. Ask questions like: “Why is what you did wrong?” “What do you think your punishment should be?” “Have you asked God to forgive you? Your sister? Your mom?” Your child knows he messed up. So let him be a part of making the change. Lots of communications is vital! Pray with your child.

Note: No matter what age group your child is in, obedience and respect for parental authority is required. In our home, we allowed our kids (age 10-17) to petition us and to negotiate the discipline they were facing. Kids can be very creative! (“You shouldn’t let me eat broccoli for a whole week!”) However, negotiations only work as long as their intentions are to obey even if we don’t bend their way.

For example: If we ask our daughter to clean her room, after she agrees she might ask if she can wait because she is in the middle of something or she has made other plans. WE can then choose to give them a bit more time (or not).

So, Good Cop, since you love your child and want what’s best for her, the answer is “yes.” Discipline and grace go hand in hand. We learn that from our Heavenly Father because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in (Proverbs 3:12, NIV).


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