How do we start biblical discipline when our children are already older?


I have a question in relation to child discipline. I have a 13-year-old son and an 8-year-old son. My wife and I realized of late the problems we caused by following non-biblical consequences with our boys. My oldest son has been lying and my youngest has problems with obedience. I read your parenting articles and was wondering how we could establish control.

I want to be able to point them out their errors. We followed the timeouts and such like that modern people use. I was wondering what you would recommend and can you give me guidelines for spanking? What kind of rod should I use on them? What things should I do before, during, and after a spanking?

My wife and I are really concerned about the way we let things slide. My wife thinks our oldest son is too old for spanking. Please tell me how to implement and use the Word of God when it comes to changing their heart.


It is good to hear that the knowledge of God's will has made an impact on you and your wife. As you noted, the discipline methods popular today are not very effective. They might work for some children, but they do not work for most. Changing course in mid-stream can be difficult as everyone gets used to the new situation, but such a change is not impossible.

Children are no different than you and I. We want to know the rules before we start to play a game. We aren't comfortable until we know where the boundaries of correct and incorrect behavior are located. Therefore, I urge you to take time as a family and study about family discipline from the Bible. One day your boys will be husbands and they need to know how best to "bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). In the meanwhile, they will see that the changes you and your wife begin to implement comes from God and not personal whims. It doesn't have to be a marathon study session. Take it point-by-point and leave plenty of opportunities for discussion.

As you establish the need and correct methods of discipline, illustrate what kinds of misbehaviors would warrant disciplining. If possible, use examples from their recent past. Also, let them know that you and your wife have come to realize that you have mishandled the discipline in the past, but you are now determined to change.

Perhaps the hardest part is consistency in punishment. Few of us enjoy confrontations, even when we know they are necessary. Hence, we tend to put things off as long as possible. Ignoring the problem doesn't solve anything. Instead, the problems build until we reach a breaking point and we lash out in anger. Instead of fixed boundaries, we have ones that vary based on our moods. To avoid this, set down guidelines of "do"s and "don't"s. You need not cover every possible infraction. Just touch on the current major ones. If something comes up later, tell the boys why this behavior is wrong and what the punishment will be if it is violated again. And if they do violate the rule -- follow through. Never threaten something that you are not willing to follow up. Even when dealing with our children, our "yes" must be "yes" and our "no" must be "no" (Matthew 5:37).

You might be angry when you must punish your child but punish because they have broken a rule, not because you had a bad day at the office.

While spanking is a very effective tool in modifying a child's errant behavior, it should not be overused. Use it for willful misbehavior; such as, when the child gets that glint in his eye that says, "Let's just see who is the boss here." I also recommend using it in response to violent behavior, such as punching a hole in the wall or hitting the boy next door. Reserving spankings for grave situations makes its impact all that much more effective.

When children get to their mid-teenage years, I generally try to give them a choice in punishments; usually, something that is long-term or something that is over with quickly. One boy that I worked with lived with his aunt. He punched a hole in wall in a fit of anger one day. Since he was far too big for his aunt to handle, I was asked to deal with him. I told him that he had to repair the damage since he created it. I would teach him how, but the actual repair was his responsibility. I then gave him a choice of not seeing his girlfriend for a month (he was talking to her on the phone when he lost his cool) or having a spanking. He raged about how unfair it was, but eventually, he chose the grounding. When selecting an alternative punishment, try to make it fit the crime. If it happens to suppress further occasions of repeat violations, even better.

The Scriptures dealing with corporal punishment refer to the use of a rod (Proverbs 10:13; 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15). The word refers to a small branch from a tree or bush (see Jeremiah 1:11or Genesis 30:37). In modern English, we usually call it a switch. You want one that is about a quarter-inch in diameter and about eighteen to twenty-four inches long. It should be big enough not to break in usage, but still flexible. However, it shouldn't be so flexible that it becomes a whip. Fresh, green wood works best. An advantage of going to get a switch is that it gives you a chance to cool off a bit, so the punishment is not delivered in the heat of anger. Try to make sure there are no knots or bumps. You might have to do some whittling.

Take the offender off to a private place. The punishment is between you and him. It should not be an opportunity for his brother or others to get their jollies seeing another get punished.

State clearly what the child did wrong and remind him of what was stated would be the punishment. Also, state how many blows he will receive. A rule of thumb would be about ten. Decrease it for first-time infractions or ones with extenuating circumstances. Increase it for repeated misbehavior.

For older boys, consider having them drop their trousers. The effectiveness of a rod comes from the sting in its use, not from the power of delivery. Jeans or other such material deadens the sting and just means you have to use more force or more blows to reach the same level of punishment. Another advantage of using the rod is that it doesn't require a lot of strength to deliver an effective punishment. However, once a boy reaches puberty, it is best to leave the spankings to dad since his pants will be down. Once he feels the first sting, the natural reaction is to protect his bottom with his hands. Avoid accidentally hitting his hand. Place one arm across his back to keep him from jumping up when the blow comes. Spaces the blows out several seconds apart. It makes each one more effective than a dozen delivered quickly in a row.

I have had several "tough" teenagers tell me that spankings are nothing -- up until they received them in this fashion. When given a choice of punishments they will usually take the spanking the first time one or two, but then suddenly the alternative punishments become more popular. Some will take the punishment quietly. Others will wail all out of proportion to what is happening. Just remember Proverbs 23:14-15, "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell." Some children learn that by making a lot of noise, the punishment is reduced. Keep to the punishment that you stated.

When you are done, allow the child some time to compose himself. If you can, give him a hug, tell him you still love him, and that you hope he will do better in the future. Don't expect a loving response back. After all, "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" (Hebrews 12:11). I have had children, after they had a chance to calm down, come and snuggle up with me for a while. I think they just want to have some quiet reassurance that I still loved them. If that happens, don't use that time for further scolding; now is the time for positive quiet time.

You will notice that I don't think teenagers are too old to be spanked. It is true that if you train your children well in their early years, the need for the rod will decrease as they get older. However, as long as a child lives in my home and is dependent on me for guidance, the threat of the possibility of a spanking remains. Now a teenage boy will become too old for his mother to spank, but by this time a short delay in punishment will not reduce its effectiveness. Mom should simply state that Dad will be informed of the misbehavior that evening. Write it down and post it on the refrigerator. Now Mom, don't hit Dad with the problem as soon as he walks in the door. Give him some time to unwind from work, but set aside some time in the evening to deal with the day's problems at home. And Dad, don't dismiss the problems your wife brings to your attention. Deal with them to show your respect for her.

If a child is old enough to be on his own, and he refuses to take whatever punishment you deem is best, then it is time for the child to leave home. In a very real way, it will be a form of punishment because the responsibility for everything is never as a teenager imagines it to be. If the proper habits of obedience have not been instilled by this time, it is best to contain the problem by removing him from your home.

When a teenager becomes involved in illegal acts, such as violence, doing drugs or stealing, the parents must be prepared to report the child to the police. Hopefully, you will be able to instill habits of good behavior so that this never becomes an issue. Most of us do not want the government involved in our lives, but you must remember that God has given governments a role to play. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil" (Romans 13:3-4). A teenager is old enough to know that society does not approve of such actions and he must come to the realization that his parents will not shield him from the law. Remember, problems unresolved only become worse. "Saving" your teenager from the consequences of his immoral behavior will give him the belief that he can get away with wrongdoing.

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