When my oldest son was about four years old, we were eating a meal. My wife reached over without his “permission” and snagged a couple of his french fries.
He angrily said to her, “Mom! Get OFF my FOOD!”
So, I sprang into action, “Hey pal! That’s not how we talk to our mom. Do you want to try that again and show your mom some respect?”
His reply, “I think she got the point.”
I tried – I really tried – to hold it together and not laugh. But, I failed. I cracked up, and the teachable moment was lost forever!
Question: In your discipline, do you engage the heart or only seek behavior change?
““For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” —Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
The strategy in this article is just a snippet from The Connected Father digital course—full of videos, podcasts, eBooks, tip sheets and bonus resources to help you be the dad who leads with no regrets. Snag the full course at The Connected Father.
How to discipline a child: engage the heart instead of only the behavior
That night, my son had caught me just right, and he got the “grace” card. But, I don’t normally let things like that slide. Most of the time, my wife and I took that stuff very seriously when our boys were younger.
The ideas around biblical parenting and training them up in the Lord, showing their mom complete respect, obeying the first time we asked them to do something, and so on – those were things that we rarely ever laughed off.
Many dads in the Manhood Journey community often express significant frustration in this area. Their challenges included things like these:
- Dealing with back-talk, disrespect and disobedience
- Fighting a spirit of entitlement
- Setting appropriate expectations, boundaries, making the rules clear – especially as their children aged and matured
- Instilling responsibility – getting them to follow through, being motivated to take action
- Balancing high expectations with grace
- Dating relationships and raising teenagers
I can relate!
I have five boys, with sixteen years between them. So, on any given day I might be helping one of my sons navigate work related issues while also teaching another one why we don’t throw toys across the kitchen. The “opportunities” for training them are endless!
Seek more than just “fixing” the behavior
In his excellent book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp explores this idea of caring more about our kids’ hearts and character development than just changing and controlling their behavior when it comes to how to discipline a child. He says, “All behavior is linked to attitudes of the heart. Therefore, discipline must address attitudes of the heart.”
So, taking this back to my young son’s disrespect of his mother:
- Do I want to “fix” that behavior just so we’re not embarrassed in public?
- Or, so that he appears to be a well mannered little boy?
- Or, do I want to address it because one day he’ll have a wife of his own.
Well, he will need to cherish his wife and respect her above all others. A heart which does that first learned how to do it with his own mom!
You’re the chief disciple maker in your home
As a dad, my job is not just to produce obedient children–that’s foundational–but my job is much more like a rabbi than a police warden. I’m supposed to be the chief disciple maker in my home.
I’m the guy who needs to help my children to love what God loves, and to hate what God hates. My first role with my children is to be a disciple-making dad.
How to discipline a child: you gotta be doing your own heart work
Just recently, I was talking with one of my teen sons about his anger. I told him he’ll know he’s mature when the things that anger him are those things that anger God, and nothing else.
This means that sometimes he’ll have to do extra chores because his brother’s working a job. That shouldn’t make him angry.
And just so this point is not lost – you are the chief disciple maker in your own home – it’s not someone else’s job to disciple your kids.
- …not the youth pastor.
- …not the school administrator or teacher.
- …not the sports coach.
- …not even your wife.
It’s a father’s primary job! When teamed up with a godly mom, there’s no stopping you!
If you want to be a Connected Father, focus on training your kids’ hearts more than just their behavior.