The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Discipline

The Need to Lead our Kids by Example
February 28, 2018
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The Need to Lead our Kids by Example
February 28, 2018
Empowering Your Children to Spend Time with God: A Practical Pattern
March 29, 2018

As parents, one of the important roles we have is to bring discipline to our children. Empowering our kids means that we value them and treat them like real people, but it does not mean that we put them on a pedestal or allow them to “run the show.” Wanting our children to like us–at the expense of respecting, honoring, and obeying us–is a dangerous trap.

The fact is, children need consistent discipline. Without discipline, they will not grow and mature properly, and will not learn the valuable lessons that will carry them into adulthood. Discipline is so important for the well-being of children that the Bible goes so far as to say that to withhold discipline is to hate our children!

“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (Proverbs 13:24)

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Discipline

While the importance of bringing correction and discipline to our kids is clear, it is also critical to understand that how we discipline is a very important part of this equation. The Bible warns parents not to provoke their children to anger or to cause them to be discouraged (see Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). We must lead our kids by example first and foremost, and work to build a genuine connection with them. In this context, we can discipline our children in a way that produces good fruit.

In Hebrews 12:5-11 we find a key to determining whether our discipline is healthy or unhealthy:

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

This passage shows that part of being children of God is to receive His correction and discipline. In fact, a few verses earlier it says that whom God loves He chastens (see Hebrews 12:6). In the same way, it is clear that part of loving our children is to discipline them. Discipline involves short-term pain but produces long-term fruit.

But the part I want to highlight is verse ten, which says that God disciplines us “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” His discipline is for our profit; truly for our good. Here is the key: healthy discipline is for the benefit of the one who receives it, not the one who gives it. Parents, here is a question for you to consider: Do you discipline your kids for their sake or for your sake?

If you are disciplining your children for your sake, your discipline will be unhealthy. Some characteristics of this type of self-centered discipline are as follows:

  • You discipline to “show them who is boss”
  • You are out of control with anger when you discipline
  • You are unreasonable in your discipline
  • You don’t ever take time to explain why you are disciplining
  • You use belittling, harsh, and destructive words
  • You punish in a way that causes shame and guilt
  • You discipline because you don’t want to be embarrassed

Fits of rage, abuse, derogatory words, and guilt-driven punishment are totally unacceptable and are not true discipline at all. This is lazy and selfish parenting, and will not produce the fruit that healthy discipline will. There is a time to be firm, to spank, to correct, and to give instruction. But we must not allow ourselves to discipline in a way that will actually cause long-term harm instead of good.

Parenting is not easy…and giving consistent and healthy discipline is arguably one of the hardest parts of the job. But we have to get this right. Repent where you have failed. Ask God for grace, wisdom, and the help of the Holy Spirit. Commit to not only discipline your children, but to do it in a way that will reflect God’s heart to them!

For Reflection:

  1. Do you take the call to discipline your children seriously? Are you consistent in your discipline?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the health of how you discipline?
  3. Do you discipline your kids for their sake or for your sake? In what ways can you shift the focus of your discipline from being about you to being about benefiting your kids?
  4. What are some positive aspects of how you discipline? What are some negative aspects that need change?


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