The other day, my son was playing with a ball in the house (yep, you know where this is going). At first, he was doing a really good job of keeping it on the ground. But slowly, as the pace and intensity of play increased, so did the height of the ball. I warned him. I told him that if the ball went to high and he broke something that he would get into trouble. He said that he understood, but then a few minutes later he kicked the ball high enough to relocate a knock-off Yankee Candle from the mantle to the brick hearth. I don’t know if you know this, but when a candle encased in glass falls five feet and lands on brick, it shatters. As a result, that was the unfortunate fate of a prized coconut and pineapple yellow candle. It was so beautiful. It smelled so nice. Now it’s gone.

I wish I could say that I responded like a good parent would, with “discipline” in mind. But instead, I—well—kind of lost my mind. To my shame, I yelled and immediately sent my son to his room. That day, I punished my son, I didn’t discipline him. I punished him because I reacted in a way that caused in-proportionate pain—the emotional pain of being yelled at by daddy—and I “made him pay” for his mistake by sending him to bed early. If I had disciplined him, I would have seen this as a moment for learning. He didn’t mean to break the candle, but he did disobey me which caused the candle to get broken. If I had disciplined my son, the consequence would have helped shape and mold him so that he could learn from his mistake.

There’s a huge difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is about making a child pay for wrong behavior. Discipline is about training your child to become a successful adult. Punishment comes out of wrath and judgement. Discipline comes out of love and mercy. Both punishment and discipline can involve pain, but punishment is pain without gain and discipline is using discomfort to mold and shape your child’s life and behavior. If you are going to be an intentional parent, you will have to learn to discipline your children.

Here’s an acronym to help you remember 6 keys to successful discipline:

Shape behavior—good discipline is about modeling, molding, and shaping behavior. It’s about helping your son or daughter become a successful adult. When he or she does something wrong, your response should be in a way that helps them grow more fully into who God has made them to be.

Help your child—one way to show your kids love, is to help them pay the consequences for their behavior. You shouldn’t do this all the time, but as with the example above, helping my son clean up the candle communicates love to him (if only I had done that instead of responding in anger). It shows that I’m here for him even when he makes mistakes. Also, this is even more important when your kids are younger and can’t clean up a mess like broken glass.

Apply the discipline to real life—use the opportunity to teach your kids how their poor decision-making and bad actions will cost them later in life. Punishment may make your son or daughter pay for a bad decision, but discipline will communicate to them why this type of behavior is so damaging to them in the long-term.

Pray with and for your children—if I wasn’t trying to be so acronymistic (no this is not a word)—I would put prayer at the top of this list (unfortunately PSHAED is not a word). It is important to pray with your kids when you discipline them. Model for them what it looks like and sounds like to ask God for forgiveness. (And if you have screwed up go ahead and ask God and your kids for forgiveness so that your kids can hear you confess too, after all we don’t outgrow that one!)

Encourage your son or daughter—good discipline includes reminding your son or daughter that you love them and want the best for them. I always try to remind my kids that I am disciplining them because I love them, and I want them to succeed in life.

Discipline them—consequences are still important and should be proportionate with their poor decision-making. Your child should still be held responsible for whatever they did wrong. Just remember, however, that this is where the real shaping happens. Consider what type of discipline will help them be sorry, yet learn from their mistakes.

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