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Children are a gift from God, and he designed their little minds to be easily shaped and molded by those who participate in their upbringing. In his design for our world, God gave us the wonderful and crucial responsibility to positively influence their tender minds and disciple them for Christ.
Now I want to level with you and say that I’m not a mom yet, but as a kindergarten teacher and children’s ministry director, God has given me the privilege of being a part of many children’s everyday lives. So whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, aunt, uncle, or if there is simply a child in your life who you have the opportunity to influence, we should strive to take our responsibility seriously.
One crucial component of discipling children is learning to discipline them in a loving way that builds them up and helps lay the groundwork for them to have a relationship with Christ.
In fact, discipline is such a crucial part of making disciples that it’s in the Bible!
According to Merriam-Webster.com, “discipline” comes from “discipulus,” the Latin word for “pupil,” which also provided the source of the word “disciple” (albeit by way of a Late Latin sense-shift to “a follower of Jesus Christ in his lifetime”). When it comes to knowing how to use discipline as part of discipleship, we can concentrate on three main areas: giving children positive attention, taking the time for training, and creating boundaries for them. And of course, through it all we can always turn to Scripture for advice. As it says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV).
- Fill Their Bucket With Positivity
Imagine that each of us has an invisible bucket. When our bucket is full, we feel great. But when it is empty, we feel awful. Have you ever read the story How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer? In the story, a boy named Felix begins to see how every interaction in his day either fills or empties his bucket. He then realizes that everything he says or does to other people fills or empties their buckets as well. All kids need attention. If we don’t fill their “attention bucket” with positive attention, they will seek out any attention they can get. They will push our buttons with their negative behaviors because, to them, negative attention is better than no attention. Proverbs 16:24 reminds us that “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (ESV). Encourage the children in your life. Take time to play a game with them or read their favorite book. Put your cell phone away and invest in a relationship with them. When you positively fill their attention bucket, they will become more cooperative.
- Train Them Well
Helping a child make better choices is another great way to discipline. You can role-play right choices and wrong choices. For example, show them how to clean up the playroom and reinforce the behavior by saying, “I really love how you cleaned up the room so neatly after you were done playing.” Also show them the wrong way and what it looks like to not clean up after playing. Be encouraging when they make the right choice. “I see how hard you worked to clean up your toys all by yourself! Thank you!” Then switch it up and pretend that you are the child and have the child direct you in how to make the right choice. As it says in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV). Little things we can do to instill and reinforce good decision making in our children will impact them for the rest of their lives!
- Show Them the Boundaries
Kids thrive when they know their boundaries and have structure. Proverbs 29:15 tells us, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (ESV). While the literal “rod” mentioned here is not the approach to take in disciplining a child today, setting clear rules for acceptable behavior, establishing consequences, and following through with the consequences when rules are broken is essential to raising self-controlled, well-balanced children.
Remember, as you use discipline in the discipleship of your children, the goal is not just to modify the behavior, but to model Christ-likeness and instill this discipline in the child. This starts with you modeling Christ. Ephesians 6:4 instructs us, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (NIV). To train and instruct kids, we must follow Jesus in all we do and allow them to see us doing that. While we want them to choose good behaviors, we ultimately want them to choose Christ. The building blocks of a firm foundation rooted in Christ begin with consistent discipline through discipleship and grace.