Should I confront bad behavior in my children if doing so might trigger rebellion?
The Bible makes it clear that disciplining children is a basic parental responsibility.
“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24 NIV).
Tragically, this scriptural principle has been taken out of context to justify “discipline” that is wrongly understood, wrongly motivated, and wrongly administered. I have seen parents “spank” a toddler with 50 hard swats of a plastic sandal. Why? They were upset that the child had a “defiant” look on his face. I have met adults who thought it appropriate to spank a 10-month-old baby for crying. One of my mentors was “disciplined” as a teenager by having his hands beaten with a rod so severely that they were misshapen and crippled in adult life.
Before a parent administers discipline, he or she needs to understand its purpose. Proverbs makes it clear that the purpose of discipline isn’t enhancement of a parent’s sense of power or an easier life for a parent who doesn’t want to be awakened by a hungry baby. Nor is proper discipline an opportunity for a parent to use a child as a scapegoat for personal anger and frustration. The purpose of discipline is the well-being of the child. A loving parent administers discipline because he knows that if he doesn’t do so, life will teach his child the same lessons later in a harsher fashion.
“Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death” (Proverbs 19:18 NIV).
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (Proverbs 23:13-14 NIV).
“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother. When the wicked thrive, so does sin, but the righteous will see their downfall. Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul” (Proverbs 29:15-17 NIV).
The model for healthy discipline is a heavenly Father who disciplines His children in love. In Psalm 23, David describes the security he derives from God’s “rod and staff.”
“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:2-5).
In the hands of a good shepherd, a rod and staff are instruments of care, not cruelty.
“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12 NIV).
Of course, as mentioned above, the understanding and motivations of human parents are sometimes misguided and sometimes evil. This means that parental discipline should be tempered by humility and self-examination:
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NKJV).
Parents need to examine the purity of their motives. Discipline in the heat of anger is dangerous, as is any severe discipline administered under stress. Parents should consciously understand that the purpose of discipline is to help children gain more insight into their behavior. Accordingly, discipline should be appropriate to age and circumstance.
Regardless of the care with which discipline is administered, people who undergo discipline, whether adults disciplined by God or children disciplined by parents, are naturally inclined to resent discipline and misunderstand its loving purpose.
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15 NIV).
Ultimately, God holds us, as His children, responsible to properly assess His motivation for discipline. If we are wise, and if our hearts are right, we will eventually realize and acknowledge that His discipline is for our good.
“And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11 NIV).
Similarly, a child’s temporary rebellion shouldn’t dissuade us from administering the discipline necessary for his healthy moral and spiritual development.