At some point while you're raising children, you're going to have to make disciplinary corrections. Whether you're going toe-to-toe with a toddler, a tween or a teen over a broken rule, here are a couple of foundational ideas to help you win the heart in the midst of a heated moment.
Start with Dignity
The internet makes us weird. Sometimes it's just for fun, like the bus stop dad going out to greet the kids in a new costume every day. We laugh at dog-shaming photos, where the poor pooches sit next to signs depicting their bad deeds. Parents shoot videos as they shame a child for bad behavior. The internet reacts with cheers and cringes simultaneously. Sometimes our weirdness isn't so funny.
We always have the opportunity to model what respect looks like to our children. When I've been demeaned or demoralized, it's hard for me to respect the person who treated me that way. When I look at how God, who made us, values people, I recognize that He is the model for me to follow. God breathed the breath of life into Adam (Genesis 2:7, see also). It's awe-inspiring to recognize that the Creator breathed life into humanity. We are valuable simply because God made us. Children and teenagers are no less deserving of respect because they were designed by the Creator.
So let's start there with a built-in level of dignity and respect. We can recognize that this young person has a mind, will and emotions of their own. We realize that, in many ways, the way in which we relate to a child shows him/her a bit of who God is. Respect is like trust. It's built over time. Invest it and it usually pays back dividends with time. You'll depend on that storehouse of mutual respect more and more as you shift toward relational influence.
Kids are going to make mistakes and bad choices. It's important to distinguish behavior from character. It takes a pattern of behavior to characterize a person. My wise friend, Carri, recently shared a phrase they often use in their home. It struck me so much that I immediately grabbed a pen and wrote it down. She gave this example of a way they phrase behaviors, "In our family, we are not liars. So, tell me, why did you lie?" There are consequences every time we sin, of course. But in the same way, you wouldn't label a kid a "bad student" for earning a bad grade, parents should choose words of correction carefully. Doing something wrong doesn't destine a person to always make the same choice. Let's choose not to speak that over our children. Even when the Samaritan woman encountered Jesus, she said he told her everything she had ever done. Notice, He didn't tell her who she was or label her. The power of the gospel to transform us is infinitely greater than the power sin has to define who we are. As we correct our kids' mistakes and bad choices, let's point them back to Jesus.
Fight for the Heart
When it comes to discipline, it's hard and it's awkward. Those are the moments I most doubt my competence as a parent. It's tempting to take the shortcut that will demand good behavior without prioritizing the relationship. These two ideas have helped me navigate some pretty stormy moments as a parent. I've noticed that when I am careful to start with dignity and speak life in correcting our kids, we'll often end the day later on with some really bonding moment, like belly laughs or a little extra show of affection. Isn't that a glimpse of how God relates to us? When we fall short, He doesn't heap down shame upon us. Instead, we are so valued by Him that Jesus gives up His own life for us. He draws us near and calls us His friends. He fights for our hearts. Likewise, we can let that be our aim.