Max on Life: Finding Balance in Discipline

Over the next few weeks, beloved author of our Hermie and Friends series, Max Lucado, will be sharing parts of his new book. Max on Life. In this new book, Lucado tackles some of life’s toughest questions, while giving his classic encouragement and insight. We hope you enjoy this miniseries!

Max on Life: What is the balance between not enough and too much discipline?

I grew up in a home with no discipline. My parents let me do anything I wanted to do, and I did. In raising my kids, I don’t want to follow their example. I don’t want to over-discipline either. What is the balance?

Gardeners know how to straighten a tree. Some saplings are strong and healthy but are headed in the wrong direction. They suffer from a lean. Wanting the tree to grow straight, what does the gardener do? He ties a rope to the trunk, straightens the tree, and stakes the rope into the ground. Henceforth, as the tree grows, it is pulled in the right direction.

Children need the same correctional tug. The Bible calls this discipline.

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. (Prov. 22:15

A refusal to correct is a refusal to love;
love your children by disciplining them. (Prov. 13:24 MSG)

Scripture never endorses physical abuse or irresponsible chastening. The Bible does teach that punishment is a deterrent for defiant disobedience. In fact, under the Law of Moses, rebelling against parents was a capital offense (Deut. 21:18–21). There’s no mention in history of its ever being used, but for sure it was threatened!

Discipline is not easy, but these principles helped Denalyn and me.

Be careful. Be quick to interrupt misbehavior but slow to punish it. Place a child in time-out while you both cool down. Punishment is never a license for cruelty. If you are enjoying the administration of the discipline, you need to stop.

Be consistent. The punishment must fit the act. Seek to discern the cause of the action. What motivated this behavior? It’s one thing to slam a door out of disrespect. It’s another to slam it because the ice cream truck is on the street. Forgetting to clean the room is one matter; stomping a foot and refusing to clean it is another. Oversights are misdemeanors. Rebellion is a felony.

Be clear. Explain what the punishment is and what the offense was. Do not assume the child understands. Do not punish a child for “being bad.” The child may have done a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean he is a bad child.

Be compassionate. One mistake does not a child make. One season of waywardness does not a child define. “Love does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Cor.13:5 tev). But love does keep a list of things done well.