Parenting Advice: Discipline with Hope

Caleb has always been our joy boy. Caleb has a sparkling joy that resonates from the inner depths of his soul. He really does. He is someone that makes you feel just plain happy!

The other distinguishing characteristic about our third born son is that he is always on the move. It’s one way that he releases energy, thinks and processes, and has fun. This energetic disposition has been something that has been a key component of Caleb for his entire life.

Another characteristic of our kid is that he has a curious, inquisitive, and explorative nature. He enjoys visiting new places and asking questions. These are all wonderful and affirming attributes as a third-culture kid – one who has spent the majority of his life living in a country outside of his birth nation. We love and embrace our joyful, energetic and curious Caleb for who is and who he is becoming!

When our family moved to South Africa in 2006, Caleb was 2 ½ years old. As I shared, just as he is joyful and energetic now, he was joyful and energetic then. And inquisitive and curious? Oh my. I remember that first year of our missionary life, following Caleb around every new place we visited. We allowed him to explore. We encouraged him to run. However, before we set him loose and then proceeded to follow, we would outline the boundaries of his exploration.

Swimming pools are common in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Nearly every home we visited had some kind of swimming feature. In addition, many of the homes we were invited to, didn’t necessarily have families with a toddler anymore. Thus, these homes were not what we would call ‘toddler-proof.’ John and I would inquire of our hosts if there were any ‘off-limits’ areas or ‘no-touching’ points in their homes. Once we had located the ‘no-go’ spaces, we would inform Caleb of these boundaries and then let him explore to his little heart’s content. However, we knew that Caleb’s curiosity might get the better of him – as a result, John and I took turns following this little dude – and when (not if) he strayed too close or toddled himself into an area that was off limits, we would pick him up and redirect him.

I remember one day when Caleb was determined to jump or to step or something into our friends’ swimming pool. Caleb was resolute in his aim to get near that pool. I was even more resolute in my aim to keep my 2 ½ year old safe. It became a battle of will.

Finally, I picked my joyful explorer up and stood him against the outside wall. I told him to stand there for a minute.

When time was up, I let him run free.

Only to see him go back to the pool and begin to step into the water…

Oh. Boy.

I darted after him and picked Caleb up and stood him against the wall again.

Another minute or maybe two of time out.

After the time was up, I set him free again.

This time he didn’t run toward the pool, he decided to move in a different direction. However, it was a bait and switch maneuver. Caleb stealthily – well as stealthily as any two and a half year old can be – moved back toward the pool looking around to see if I was near.

Not observing me, Caleb rushed towards the pool.

I swooped in and captured my kid and returned him to his wall space.

Friends, this battle of the wills continued for at least a thirty-minute period. I kid you not. This memory is permanently etched in my memory. As I evaluated what was happening, I knew that on this particular battlefront I would need to be victorious. Caleb’s life depended upon it. When we visited a friend’s house, especially in the late spring, summer, and autumn months, pools were a common entertainment spot and as such, were open for recreation. Water-safe kids were encouraged to swim, splash, and delight themselves in the water for hours at a time. Caleb wasn’t water-safe yet. He didn’t know how to swim and if he should jump in the water – especially at a time when it was unattended – that would be it.

Caleb’s young mind didn’t comprehend this truth. He merely saw another place to explore.

So on that particular summer day, Caleb and I engaged in a lengthy and determined struggle of will. Although it may have looked a little crazy to see Caleb and I continue to go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, I didn’t care. I really didn’t. I wanted my son to know that boundaries are put in place for his benefit, his safety and security, and for his life.

So, here we are. It’s 2017. Caleb is definitely water-safe now. Caleb is definitely free to swim to his heart’s content whenever he desires.

However, this little episode with Caleb immediately came to mind as I read another hope verse in my trusty NIV bible. I was surprised to uncover the importance of hope in matters of child discipline.

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope;
do not be a willing party to their death.

New International Version, Proverbs 19:18

If ever there was a verse that coincided with Caleb’s and my resolute exchange eleven years ago – this verse is it!

Discipline comes from the Hebrew transliterated word, yacar. Yacar means to chasten, instruct, and discipline. The point here is for parents like us is to instruct and discipline our children while they remain in our care and while there is still time. As soon as some pattern of behavior or foolish choice develops, we are encouraged to address it and correct it.  Lifelong habits and behaviors are sealed within our children as a result of our parental efforts – good or bad – positive or negative – healthy and life-giving or just the opposite. What we choose to do or not do with our kids matters!

And what of hope?

The hope that King Solomon identifies in this psalm is the Hebrew transliterated word, tiqvah. Tiqvah is a cord, a hope, and an expectation. I like to call it the cord of hope. King Solomon exhorts parents to discipline their children when it is appropriate; for in so doing, parents are leading their children to take hold of a cord of hope that is grasped securely and resolutely by their God. For the Lord has placed boundaries upon our lives to secure and protect us. We are not to live a I’ll-do-whatever-I-like-type-of-existence and believe there are no consequences. King Solomon cautions against the foolish indulgence of our children. If they are not disciplined and instructed in love, they may grow up to be spoiled, self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-reliant individuals who have no need for God or the cord of hope that He offers them. Instead, they will take hold of another cord that promises an altogether different kind of hope – the hope they put in themselves and in the people, opportunities, and things they hope for.

In a world where comfort and convenience reign, it seems that King Solomon’s words remain critically relevant. The time is now to parent well. For those of us with children who are still young enough to remain in our care and who are still open to words of loving instruction and guidance, we can guide them. Before their hearts begin to harden, we have the opportunity to direct our children in the way of hope – by doing what is most right and good and life-giving for them. Our children need to be able to identify the truth that boundaries are put in place for their benefit, their safety and security, and for their lives.

I know it isn’t easy.

The battle of wills with a toddler is just a big a deal as the battle of wills with a child, a pre-teen, a teenager and a young adult about to embark on his own. Yet, how we engage – makes all the difference. I’m not placing my 13 year old Caleb against a wall for a minute or two when a behavioral concern develops anymore. Instead, we talk it through and if the behavior continues – then a privilege may be revoked for a period of time or another appropriate discipline measure may be introduced. You see, John and I are determined to raise Caleb to be a polite, considerate, and outward focused young man. We had this goal in mind years ago – and that goal remains.

I never realized that as we are taking these steps of discipline with our children – hope is involved.

It makes sense to me.

John and I pray that the discipline decisions we make for each of our sons contribute to a life-giving hope in Christ. This remains our goal.  As King Solomon says:

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope;
do not be a willing party to their death.

It’s great parenting advice from a king, don’t you think?

 

 

2 Comments

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  1. Wow…this is one powerful message! Love your blog…you have so much wisdom to impart. Keep it coming!

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