The Truth About Parental Discipline

First things first, whenever you talk about childrearing tactics and philosophies you should be prepared for a great deal of push back. Why? Well, talking about how people raise their kids is like indirectly talking about how they too were raised. Simply put, you are now talking about their momma and as the line goes, “them fighting words.” So, before it goes there, let\’s just take a minute to agree that the Christian parent wants what God wants for their child and we need His Word and Spirit, and the support of the local Church to get there.

Most folks\’ parenting styles are shaped by a desire to either live up to a parent or avoid turning into a parent. Just like sin, our issues too will find us out and parenting can be a 3-D movie showcasing our unresolved past hurt. The good thing for Christian parents is that the Bible is not silent about the clear, God-given mandate parents have to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Scripture also emphasizes the importance of disciplining our children and states without reservation that to not discipline them is to demonstrate that we do not love them. However, where the controversy arises is over the term “discipline.”

Let me offer you a challenge, how many times have you heard the expression “spare the rod, spoil the child” compared to “Fathers, do not exasperate your children but bring them up in the fear and instruction of the Lord?” For starters, only one is actually a Bible verse and my guess is you have heard the former more frequently.

The Apostle Paul writes in the book of Ephesians that parents are not to provoke their children.

“What?! Seriously Paul, you must not know my kids.” Think about this verse in light of some of the reactions about childrearing today describing parents as too weak, soft and desperate to be the friends with their kids.

“Time-out! Please, that doesn\’t work; we believe in knock out over here!” But Paul\’s words are right there in the text so it is important and Spirit-inspired. Paul is instructing parents (fathers, by name) to guard themselves from the temptation of parenting in such a fashion that hardens their children. Our parenting impacts how our children see God.

The answer to our children\’s sin problems some say are swifter and harsher physical discipline measures. However, that doesn\’t ultimately fix their problems nor would it fix ours and by the way don\’t hear me saying that there is not a place for physical discipline. The solution to our sin problem is not a practice but rather a person: Jesus.

Jesus, himself through the means of His relentless grace and sacrificial love gives us a new heart. Our discipline and training practices must intentionally point to Christ. Instead of “Junior, I cannot believe that you did THAT, it is “Junior, without the grace of God…there I go!”

Our kids must know that while we may be disappointed in their choices, there is one to whom we owe everything. He is our creator and we owe Him obedience. The gospel-saturated home sees even the disobedience and mishaps of children as an opportunity to do what Scripture calls for us to do which is to point that child to Christ. Just meditate for a moment on the story of the Prodigal Son and these themes bubble up to the surface.

The goal of the Christian parent\’s consequences for their children is to teach repentance and point to Jesus as savior. This is why we mustn\’t be sinful in our words or practices when dealing out warranted consequences.  I recall my mother saying to me in passing as a spunky teenager that “I cannot see everything you do, but God does.”

Her tone wasn\’t harsh but rather firm and, in retrospect, filled with grace. She was right and one day our kids are going to leave from under our view and fearing Momma won\’t be enough to restrain them from acting out any sinful desire. Our kids need Jesus, just like we do and the way we parent them speaks volumes about how much we really believe that.

Our parenting beliefs and practices are a platform that shows forth our theological underpinnings. We might not take that seriously but guess who is watching? Our kids are watching (and of course, God Almighty). As a psychologist that is happily married to a preacher, my number one parenting goal is that my daughters will one day say and know that my husband and I were really who we said that that we were—followers of Jesus Christ. After all, it is pretty hard to hide your character from your kids.

In Ephesians, Paul runs through the various stations in life and shows how the Gospel itself is brought to bear in all these callings. Positions that we might think of as high and those that we think of as low are all flipped on their heads by the life-giving and changing Gospel. Paul speaks directly to workers, employers, the old, the young, spouses, parents, and children that collectively make up the Body of Christ. Paul, a former Jewish traditionalist and Pharisee, would have been likely old-school like many of us in regards to parenting. It is not likely that he was informed by some new-age, kids-run-all-over-you parenting mentality but despite this, his word to parents is, “YOU, don\’t provoke your children.”

There is no cookie-cutter approach to raising another human being. We need God every step of the way. As the parent of two small children and a counselor for many families, I know first-hand the frustrations that parents go through in raising kids. It is heartbreaking to see a mother who feels like she has tried everything but to no avail in redirecting her child\’s threatening and damaging behaviors. To that parent, I want to encourage you to cry out to our Heavenly Father whose parenting plan is 100% effective and remember to point your child to that same awesome God along the way. We should be intentional about living a Gospel-saturated life that is filled with grace to others, especially our children.

Will you join me in praying that God would:

  • Help us to seek Him first,
  • Forgive us for our parenting practices that don\’t consider Him and His will for our kids and for us,
  • Empower us to release the debt that our parents\’ owe us from our emotional ledgers and/or
  • Remove parenting figures as idols in our minds, and
  • Shape us to into Gospel-people that are pointing our kids to Christ as their only hope.

Parenting is hard, humbling and sanctifying work. This idea, that parenting is as easy as “just jacking them up” or putting them in “time-out”, or solely utilizing any other extreme or trendy measure is erroneous. Christian marriage is hard because you have a sinner saved by grace married to another sinner saved by grace.  Considering that, why would parenting be a cakewalk?

Christina H. Edmondson, PhD, LLP is a psychologist, college instructor and speaker. Although, much of her time and love are spent being a full-time wife and a mother of two. Please send family and relationship topics that you would like to hear about to or visit.  Visit her at