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How To Discipline Your Kids (Because Obedience is a Big Deal!)

“Let’s get these toys picked up.”
“I will NEVER pick up my toys!”
*cue crying and more weepy shouts*

Well, here we go. Why did I think instructing my kids to do anything would be a one-and-done thing? Should I fight this response? Or ignore it and just pick these darn toys up myself? Or let go of my dream of having a tidy living room right now, and choose the harder way: to disciple my son in obedience?

Lest you think I’ve got anything together over here, I write this because I’m the mom that has two toddlers pulling each other’s hair and biting foreheads. (Apparently, sharing toys with your twin is a real struggle). I’m the mom whose son yelled earlier today, “I WILL NOT clean my spot at the table NO MATTER WHAT!” I’m the mom who often feels like discipline is hard and discouraging. Add in COVID? Discipline is just plain exhausting.

With four kids five and under, I don’t think I’ll be getting off the discipline train anytime soon. But discipline is a vital part of discipling our kids to know, love, and follow Jesus.

Here are four patterns from the Bible about how to discipline your kids, AKA the little disciples in your home.

1. Discipline with authority.

I know it’s crazy, but God has placed your specific kid(s) in your specific family for you specifically to parent. He has given you primary responsibility for your children and calls each of us to train our children in the ways of the Lord (Deut. 6:5-9). Children are commanded by God to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1). And as their parents, it is right to help them learn to do this, to obey the appointed authorities God has placed in their lives. To obey you. Big deal, or nah? Big deal! Obedience in Scripture is a huge deal – ignoring the commands and ways of God leads to death. But God disciplines his people in order to give them life.

2. Discipline with relationship.

God’s parenting style to us as his children is centered on relationship. Over and over, the disobedience of God’s people is met with the loving discipline of God. This is not because God is vindictive or wants to give them what they deserve, but precisely because he sees them as his children (Heb. 12:7-11). Discipline proves sonship. As their Father, it is infinitely more loving for God to discipline and correct his children than to let them wander away and rebel against his good designs and intentions for their lives. When my four-year-old rides her bike into the middle of the street, it’s more loving for me to correct her and face her disappointment than it is for me to stand by as she rides out in front of the car zooming past.

We are a stiff-necked people (Ex. 32:9). We are stubborn and controlling and prone to go our own rebellious way. We make mistakes and we repeatedly drift back to former sins. The outbursts in my heart aren’t much different than the outbursts of my son. And yet, God doesn’t treat me as I deserve: he looks on me with patience and gentleness. He is slow to anger (Ex. 34:6). He’s not surprised by my sin but compassionate towards it (Ps. 103:13).

Do I fail to parent as God does? YES! Regularly. When my children challenge my personal idol of control, I tend to respond with anger and frustration. But I want to follow God’s pattern as best as I can because I represent God to my kids. Are my kids going to see God as a cold, distant judge who simply doles out consequences? Or as a shepherd who gently leads us in the way that is right?

3. Discipline with the end in mind.

One of the best things we can do for our children is to train them in righteousness now when they are at home and the stakes are low. If I don’t deal with the sin patterns I see in my kids, those same patterns will plague them into the future. If I don’t teach them to willingly obey my authority as their parent, how can they learn to submit themselves to King Jesus? Discipline lays down tracks for the gospel to be known and believed. And those are tracks I want to ride to their ultimate destination – helping our kids follow and obey Jesus, rather than their own wants and demands.

4. Discipline with a sacrificial heart.

Let’s be honest here: we all have too much on our plates. We all feel stressed out. And now, with kids at home, our lives have radically shifted. But let’s not parent passively! All good things are worth the time and energy they take. Discipline is no different. At the end of my life, when I stand before God and look back on the lives that God has called me to steward, I’m convinced that I won’t regret sacrificing my time and energy (and 87th Instagram scroll) to train and disciple our kids well.

Let’s let the heaviness of this call not cause us to despair, but encourage us to look to Christ, moment by moment, relying on him to help us. After all, he is the one who will enable us to walk in his ways (Ezk. 36:27).

Dive Deeper:

Interested in some practical steps on how to incorporate these biblical principles of discipline into your family’s life? Check out this blog post from Rachel Tiemeyer about how to respond to a child who does wrong.