What's the Goal of Discipline?

by Dr. Juli Slattery

One of my sons does not like to get up in the morning. He's the type of kid who needs a bucket of ice water to get him out of bed! In my attempt to get him downstairs, fed and ready for school, I would yell, nag, scold and take away almost every privilege he had. What a terrible way for both of us to begin each day.

I eventually realized that our morning battles were producing the same abysmal results. Punishment alone simply wasn't working. It occurred to me: My job as a mom is not primarily to punish bad behavior, but to teach and discipline — or disciple — my children.

To accomplish this task, God has given me, and all mothers, a toolbox of ways to teach. We can instruct, model, encourage, reinforce, redirect and, yes, punish. Keep in mind that punishment may be a form of discipline, while discipline is a broader concept. Even though we tend to think of "discipline" and "punishment" as two words that mean essentially the same thing, discipline, in fact, should involve very little punishment.

Unfortunately, most of us have so overused punishment as a parenting tool that we have lost the bigger picture of discipleship and training. In hopes of refocusing, let's ask ourselves the question, "What do I need to teach my child?" In my situation, the obvious answer was I needed to train my son to be responsible enough to get himself ready for school on time. This discipline is an essential step toward maturity.

The second question is, "What tools can I use to teach in this area?" Whether we're trying to get a 3-year-old to tell the truth or a 15-year-old to choose good friends, we should be using several different tools from our toolbox.

So what tools did I use to discipline my son in hopes of training him toward maturity? I gave him an alarm clock and taught him how to set it. I explained my expectation that he would get himself up for school, and we discussed the consequence of tardiness. Then, whenever he got ready on time, I would let him know I recognized his accomplishment.

Working within this broader context of discipline takes more time and thought than simply reacting when our kids don't behave. But take it from a mom who's still learning — the effort is well worth the reward.


This article appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2012 by Dr. Juli Slattery. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.


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