Loving with Discipline

Over the years, the topic that I receive the most questions on, write and speak on most frequently is discipline.

I’ve written several books on discipline that you can check out, including a new one coming out soon co-authored with June Hunt called Bonding with your Children through Boundaries, the follow-up to Bonding with Your Teen through Boundaries. And this Friday I will begin a 12-part weekly series called “Discipline By Design,” so be looking out for that!

The reason this topic continues to be so prevalent is for two reasons: children need it, and adults are often not comfortable doing it.

I’ve titled this article “Loving with Discipline” because the truth is that one of the main ways we show love to children is through discipline. This discipline is training in righteousness, setting boundaries, and using natural consequences that heal the heart and retrain the brain.

Notice I did not call the article “Loving to Discipline”! Because the second reality is that adults usually don’t like to discipline. It’s hard, and it makes us feel “mean.” We become afraid our children won’t like us, or we simply become too tired and swamped to keep up with it the way we should.

But our children need it. Discipline actually makes them feel safe, loved, and secure. They know where the boundaries are and that you care enough to set them.

Just as you can’t learn in a class that is chaotic and without boundaries, you can’t enjoy your home when it is in chaos. You can show love without discipline, but you deepen that affectionate, tender love when you ground it in a love that is willing to do the hard work of discipline.

FILLING YOUR CHILDREN’S “LOVE BUCKET”

At the recent “Grace for Your Day” luncheon, I spoke about the importance of keeping your child’s “love bucket” full.

Basically, a love bucket is like your emotional ‘love tank’ – it’s how much you feel loved.

The concept of love languages is very powerful because it reveals to us that unless you are expressing love in the other person’s ‘currency,’ your message likely isn’t reaching them.

For example, if someone needs encouraging words and does not get them but instead gets quality time, they might only feel smothered, despite the intentions of the one taking the time to show love. We ‘hear’ love in our ‘love language’ because that is the commodity that fills up our love bucket.

So, when a child’s emotional tank is full of love, he or she can respond much better and more appropriately to teaching, discipline, disappointments, and training.

DISCIPLINING THROUGH LOVE LANGUAGES

If your child responds best to discipline when their love bucket is full and if love languages are a great way to keep that bucket full, then the logical conclusion is that we can use love languages to discipline.

The most important point here to keep in mind, though, is that we should never use their love language against them! That can feel like rejection and betrayal that will only put up defensive walls in our children and possibly even harm their ability to experience and express love through their love language.

For example, if your child’s love language is physical touch, then you need to be extra careful in how you discipline. For all parents, it is important to remember never to discipline in anger. If you need to cool down first, that’s what you have to do. That is especially true if you ever use spanking with discipline, and it is double-true for a child whose love language is physical touch.

So what do you do? One, again, please don’t discipline in anger.  If you do choose to spank, do so calmly. Two, don’t use your hand. Instead, use something like a wooden spoon but not anything that could ever truly harm a child. That way your hand remains something to express love and not something to be feared. Also, taking the time to find the ‘spanking spoon’ gives you time to calm down and collect yourself. If you use your hand, you are more likely to respond in anger, causing additional layers of emotional damage in your relationship with your child.

Likewise with other love languages, make sure you do not withhold something in their love language. For example, if their love language is encouraging words, don’t use demeaning words as you discipline or purposefully withhold encouraging words in a punitive spirit.

If your child’s love language is gifts, don’t use them to bribe or say, “I will not buy you anymore presents if you can’t learn to behave better.” The same goes for withholding acts of service.

Finally, I believe there is never a reason to use sarcasm. It is passive-aggressive, extremely difficult for a child to interpret, and teaches them to do the same. Just avoid it altogether. If your child knows you say what you mean and knows your words are only to build-up or gently redirect, they will always feel safe around you.

Love Language Positive Way to Use Lovingly with Discipline Something to Avoid in the Discipline Process
Encouraging Words “I like the way you picked up your toys right away.” “You never listen to me and always make such a mess!”
Physical Touch Gently redirecting them (young child)

A pat on the back or gentle hug (older)

Slapping a child’s face with your hand. Spanking in anger using your hands.
Acts of Service “I know you are very busy these days with extra activities at school and so I did your chores for you today.” (Don’t do this on a regular basis or it becomes enabling, but when it is a special time, or doing something of service that is out of the ordinary, it counts as an ‘act of service’. “Since you can’t seem to remember to do what you are told, I won’t be cooking your meals or doing any of your laundry.” (First of all, this is sarcastic and ‘over the top’, and secondly, these are things you do for your child anyway.)
Spending Time “Each Saturday afternoon is our special time. Be thinking of what you would like to be doing this week. I can’t wait because I love spending time with you.” “Since you have been disobedient to your mother this week, I’m not going to spend time with you this Saturday. I hope this will teach you a lesson.”
Giving Gifts “I was getting groceries and was thinking of you. I know how much you love cars. I saw this snack in the shape of cars and wanted to surprise you with it.” (It is about the meaning and not the cost.) “Since you never seem to appreciate anything we get for you, I’m not going to be getting you any more new toys. Just forget it!” (Again, sarcastic, and you know you won’t follow through. A waste of words and hurtful to the child’s spirit.)

PRACTICAL POINTS TO PRACTICE

1. Show love by disciplining. It is a form of love – a crucially important one, too.

2. Never ever discipline in anger.

3. Use love languages to fill up your child’s love bucket so they are more receptive to redirection, correction, and discipline.

4. When you do discipline, it is okay to do so in their love language, just make sure you do not use their love language against them.

5. Hugs are wonderful! So are encouraging words, quality time, acts of service, and gift giving! Use them every day to fill up your children’s love buckets!

LET LOVE BE YOUR GUIDING LIGHT

Mark 10:16 tells us that Jesus took the children in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them. What a beautiful use of love languages to fill up those children’s love buckets.

Unconditional love is real love, a guiding light that illuminates the darkness and enables us as parents to know what we need to do to raise our children. No matter what our child looks like, no matter what annoying things they do, and no matter how childish their behavior, it is LOVE that will ultimately win the day and win your child’s heart to you.

Once they know how much you love them and once you keep their buckets full by using their love language, they will respond better to the discipline they so desperately need from you.

I have always said there is a direct connection to the amount of discipline in a classroom to the amount of learning taking place.

The same is true of discipline and love. When discipline is present, love begins to shine even brighter – for discipline is not the antithesis of love, but just one of the ways we express our commitment of love.

(I encourage you to read “Love Languages for Children” by Dr. Gary Chapman)

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jodycapehart@churchleaders.com'
Jody Capehart has more than 40 years' experience as a children's minister. She's the co-author of The Discipline Guide for Children's Ministry and the author of numerous other books. She currently teaches Sunday School at Stonebriar Community Church.