Sunday, January 31, 2010

Intentional Parenting - Part 2; Intentionally Disciplined

It’s funny that I should be writing about discipline because, truth be told, sometimes I feel like the most undisciplined person ever.

It’s not that my parents didn’t discipline me—they did. For sure. They made sure I behaved properly. They made sure I finished piano practice and homework before I watched T.V. They made me play outside and get plenty of exercise.

My parents tried their best to raise disciplined children . . . and yet . . .

And yet I fail so often.

I have many days that my lack of discipline has me getting up late, rushing to get kids to school, foregoing my workout in order to get other things done, leaving my kitchen a mess until dinner, neglecting my time with God.

And just last week I found it much easier to rationalize the behavior of one of my kids so that I didn’t have to do the hard work of disciplining her. I just didn’t want to do it. (But I did.)

So, really, me? Write about discipline? I want to laugh and tell you it’s a joke, but that wouldn’t be the truth. The truth is, I know how important discipline is in my life because I lack it so much.

And another truth . . . I see how important it is going to be in the lives of my daughters because they aren’t naturally self-disciplined either. Who really is?

So today I want to explore this idea of intentional discipline. What is it? Why is it important? What does it mean for our kids?

What is Discipline?
First of all, let me say what discipline is NOT. I am not talking about the old “to-spank-or-not-to-spank” question. (Remember, intentional parenting asks “why” not “how.”) There are plenty of how-to-discipline-your-children books out there—some of them very good.

I’m not here to tell you how to discipline your kids, but rather to encourage you to really do the hard work of discipline so that your children will enjoy happy, productive lives and relationships.

So, I’m not talking about spanking. I’m not talking about shaking a finger at your child for spilling his milk. The discipline I’m talking about is self-discipline—helping your kids monitor their own behavior so that, ultimately, they will become well-disciplined adults.

Does this require sacrifice on the part of a parent? You bet it does. It also requires paying attention, giving your time, and doing some hard work.

A lot of hard work.

Why Discipline?
I’ve already hinted at this, but I’ll say it a little differently: I’m afraid that undisciplined kids become undisciplined adults. And being an undisciplined adult is a very hard person to be.

This may seem like a simplistic example (and it probably is), but even on the days when I give in to my slothfulness, I feel out-of-sorts. I feel like my day just doesn’t go quite right. I feel like my lack of discipline affects not just me, but everyone around me. I can’t imagine living like that every day.

And, worse yet, when I am undisciplined about my time with God, my relationship with Him is affected. I don’t enjoy the peace that I would normally enjoy on a day when I’ve taken time with Him. I don’t enjoy that closeness with God, all because of my own lack of discipline.

So, you see, my relationships are affected when I lack discipline.

Undisciplined adults also tend to lack stick-to-it-iveness. When situations become hard, undisciplined people give up. They don’t have the inner fortitude to just hang in there and keep going. A strong sense of discipline will help a kid become an adult who can handle tough situations without wilting under pressure.

Finally, we discipline because God calls us to do it. The Bible has a whole lot to say about discipline. God disciplines us for our own good—because He loves us; as parents, we should do the same. God calls a person who lacks discipline evil (Proverbs 5:22-23). Now there’s a scary thought, huh? And the Bible says that a person who is disciplined is called “blessed” (Psalm 94:12).

To show our children love, to save them from evil, and to ultimately bless them—these are the reasons we take discipline seriously.

Intentional Discipline
So when I encourage you (and me) to discipline your kids intentionally, what do I mean? I mostly mean don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to set rules and to follow them consistently. Do the hard work it takes for your kids to become the well-disciplined adults you want them to be.

Some friends of ours have been fantastic examples of this. They have set the expectation that each of their children will spend time reading their Bibles every morning before breakfast. (What a wonderful discipline to instill in our children!) But just telling their kids to read their Bibles every day wouldn’t be particularly intentional. Our friends take their expectation to a new level when the family meets together for breakfast in the morning. Our friend (their dad) asks each of his kids what they read in the Bible that morning. If one child has not had time to read that morning, perhaps choosing a few more minutes of sleep over Bible reading, our friend sends them back to their room for a few minutes to spend time reading the Bible. No breakfast until his children have fed on God’s word first.

Personally, I have a thing about getting homework done (probably because my mom did too), so one rule in our home is that homework and practicing instruments must be done before any television is turned on after school. (My parents were more strict—no T.V. until 6:30 p.m.) If my child chooses to put off homework for a little while after school, that’s O.K.—they do need a little break sometimes—but they understand that they will not watch T.V. until all chores are done.

It might sound like a small thing, but I hope this is teaching my girls that they must be disciplined with their use of time. Sure, they have choices about how they use their time, but they also need to realize that they have to prioritize their time in order to get the most important stuff done first.

So guess what? It takes discipline to discipline your kids. Really. It takes determination. It takes setting rules. It takes follow-through. Sometimes it takes time and energy and even tears on your part in order to see the fruit of strong discipline in the lives of your kids.

And I fail. Every day I fail at this. But I have to keep telling myself that it’s worth it. It really is. Because I’m seeing results every day.

So, let’s talk. What are the things that you are intentional about in the area of discipline? What discipline is it important for you to see in your child? What’s hard about discipline for you?


  1. nice post. thanks.

  2. Hmm. I really struggle in this area. I'm not nearly disciplined enough - with Bible reading, church going, healthy eating, exercising, house cleaning, budget following. (I think those are the big ones. Yikes!) But I've actually wondered if part of my undisciplined behavior is because my parents were SO disciplined and strict. NOT that I blame them! No way - I wish I were more like them in these areas!!! But I just wonder if by them enforcing discipline so much when I was growing up if I never learned how to self-discipline. Does that make sense? And if it does (because, honestly, I'm not sure if it does), then how do I help Annalyn become disciplined herself? I just don't know...

    (Sorry to ramble. This is just a big area of concern and confusion in my life - both as an individual and as a parent!!)

  3. Mary, I think consistency is the key. Deciding what areas are important for you to be disciplined with your daughter about and really sticking to it. Without frustrating her, of course. That's a fine balance, isn't it?

  4. Find myself very guilty of sloth lately. Good prompt here, thanks Shelly.

  5. Shelly, these are really great thoughts. Discipline is not my strong suit, but I can do better!

    My husband is very disciplined. Our daughter is pretty good. I'm the slacker in the family.

    I have made little goals, and that helps. Little changes add up to big changes if one keeps at them long enough. I know you're talking about disciplining your children, but even us "big kids" need these reminders, too.

    Are you a fan of the Intentional Living Christian radio program? I just discovered it recently and really like it. I love the emphasis on personal responsibility.

    Thank you for your lovely blog.

  6. Ah Shelly, we are two peas in a pod indeed! I too suffer from a lack of discipline many days and it shows up in the exact ways you named - an unmade bed, a messy kitchen, no quiet time (shudder), etc. Not good. But I'm really working on that this year and so far, so good.

    I definitely appreciate the need for sound, intentional discipline with my kids. I agree with every thing you said, but it's just so dadburned hard!!! So much work! Ugh!

    I am inspired by your friends who have their kids reading from their Bibles each morning. I think I may start that with my daughter too. In fact just this morning as she was surfing the web before leaving for school, I thought to myself, "Reading her Bible or having a short prayer time with me would be a much better use of this time!" It's just so hard when your kids are already so busy with so many other things. Then again, I can't believe I even said that. What is more important than helping them form a thriving relationship with God? Nothing! And that takes discipline!

    Amen to everything you said, wise sister!

  7. I struggle with self discipline in a lot of areas. I have found that when I stay up late, the ability to be disciplined the next day (starting with getting up in the morning for devos) is greatly diminished. Going to bed at an appropriate hour helps provide enough sleep for the night, which allows me to get up when I ought, have the energy to focus on my girls and the motivation to do the chores I need to do. Not that sleep fixes all my other lackings....just that it is my best place to start setting things right. Thanks for your wise words Shelly.

  8. As I was reading this, I felt like you were describing me. Especially the part about putting off exercise to do other things and not cleaning the kitchen until dinner time!

    I'm trying to instill a sense of discipline in my kids - especially with getting important things like homework done first. As I write this, my 8 year old is pouting because I made him go do one piece of homework instead of putting it off until tomorrow. But, he'll get it done, and he'll appreciate his whole day of TV time later in the week!

    The thing is, lately I've been somewhat convicted of this and I've apologized to my kids for it - I expect them to put their things away, and then at the end of the day, I look around and I have stuff everywhere. I'm not doing the things I expect my kids to do, and that's just wrong.

    I'm trying to improve in that area, but it's so hard to break the habit of procrastination!

  9. I'm a genetic freak. Naturally self-disciplined. When I have a lazy day, it's because I planned it. When I leave the kitchen messy, it's on purpose.

    Like Mary, I fear that my strong sense of self-discipline will backfire on my children. Sometimes I literally find myself moving my son from one task to the next and moving his hands to do things like brush his teeth or erase a wrong answer to a math problem. Left to his own devices, I'm afraid he will self-destruct!

    So, for me it is a constant balance of modeling self-discipline but not using my own sense of structure to cripple my kids in the future.

    This parenting thing is hard.