Nov 11

Q & A – The Bible, Discipline, and Freedom

I got another great set of questions, mostly focused on discipline, and a little bit more about housekeeping…


“How do you reconcile Heb 12 where it talks about discipline being painful with the gentle no pain approach to parenting. It would seem to say that there are times when consequences hurt. Not spanking per se but things that aren’t pleasant. Any thoughts?


This is the scripture she’s referring to:


No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)


First, I think it’s important to look at the word, “discipline.”  It’s often used as synonymous with punishment, but discipline and punishment are two different things.  Discipline simply means teaching (or on the part of the child, learning).   It means practicing a certain action, skill, or behavior in order to get better at it.  Sometimes it does hurt, absolutely.   I did 250 hours of yoga training to earn my RYT.  It was painful on many levels, but the self-discipline was worth it.  My 13 year old taught himself to play the guitar.  Lots of guitar playing wreaks havoc on your fingers early on, but he will tell you that the discipline made him a better player.  And all of us have learned lessons (or have been disciplined) by making poor decisions and reaping the natural – and sometimes painful – consequences.   It is a part of learning, and a part of life, that sometimes discipline is painful.

But do I think that it’s my job as a parent to purposely inflict that pain on my children through punishment, or that that’s what this scripture is instructing me to do?  Absolutely not.  My job is to support them, to hold their hands, and to be their soft place to fall when life deals them those hard blows.


Also what do you do for repeated childhood habits like not keeping the room clean or leaving everything out in the bathroom that the whole family shares?


I don’t think those are childhood habits.  I’ve lived with adults who do the same thing!  This is a house that we all share, and as such we all compromise and work together to respect each other’s space.  Generally speaking, if a mess is bothering me, I will clean it up.  If it’s someone else’s personal mess, and it’s in my way, I’ll just ask whoever it is if they can please come get it/clean it.  And they will.

From what I’ve seen in my own family, it’s very much just a matter of personality, and how tidy or not you may be is largely hard-wired from birth.  I have one child who is one of the neatest people I’ve ever known in real life, much like his father…. and three more who tend to make a mess everywhere they go, much like their mother.

How does it work?  We compromise.  We give and take.  We help each other out.  We take accountability for our own actions.  We speak up when something isn’t working.


I want to allow them freedom but when it prevents others from having a clean place how do you handle that?


Freedom is sort of a myth, especially when you live with other people.  I would like the freedom to curl up on the couch and watch movies all day, but there are things to do and people to feed.  :)   And “freedom” should never involve stepping on someone else’s happiness/enjoyment/peace in his or her own home.  The way this question is framed almost makes it sound like there are two options:  1) to give the kids “freedom” and then let them take advantage of you and leave you to trip over their stuff all over the house, or 2) to make them behave a certain way through coercion, punishment, etc.  But there are other options!  It’s never all or nothing.

You can simply ask, “Hey, can you please come get xyz from the living room?”  You can pick up together.  You can keep baskets, bins, etc around the house to toss stray stuff into (just don’t make anybody have to earn it back!).  You can take a few minutes to gather up their things, and drop them for them in their rooms. You can talk to them about how you’re feeling. You can brainstorm for answers with your kids input (sometimes my kids come up with more creative and sensible solutions than I do!).


Or for example I sent the kids to clean the room today, 20 min later NOTHING is done! I want to honor them & give them freedom but I want them to learn how to follow instructions as well.


Well, first, if they have caring and involved parents, kids will learn how to follow instructions.  :) It’s a part of life, and they’ll learn it.

As for the room, was it a reasonable request or a requirement?  Was it a punishment?  Were they given a choice?  Were they wanting/needing to do something else at the moment?  Were they pulled away from something they were enjoying?  Was the job description too vague? Too overwhelming?  Too tedious?  Were there too many distractions?  Were they tired/hungry/angry/bored?  None of these are questions to actually answer, by the way, just questions to ask in the moment.  There are so many reasons why a person would or would not do something, and the only way to figure it out (as well as to determine the appropriate course of action the next time) is to take a step back, and look at the situation with an objective eye.  A lot of times when I’ve felt like the kids didn’t do something that I thought they should, upon reflection I realized that the problem didn’t lie with them at all.  It was me.


What if one child is being unkind to others? Or if everyone is arguing a lot? Or being aggravating to others? Is there ever a consequence after you’ve spoken to them about it several times that day?”


That was actually happening in our house yesterday.  The solution?  We suggested getting out of the house and going for a hike.  The whole family took a lovely 1.5 mile climb up a local mountain, enjoyed the views, enjoyed each other, and got some exercise to boot.   Sometimes, all it takes is a step away and a change of scenery.   Sometimes, they need to retire to their own activities for awhile.  Sometimes, it all stems from boredom. Sometimes, we need to help them figure out how to work it out.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is give them the space to figure it out on their own.

It wouldn’t be very kind or loving to simply ignore it if a child is being abused (verbally or otherwise) by a sibling. Nor would it be kind or loving to dole out some type of punishment when what the child is asking for is help.  So in that sense:  yes, yes there’s a consequence. The consequence is that Mom and/or Dad steps in and 1) protects the child who is taking the brunt of it, and 2) helps the child who is dealing with feelings so big that he can’t find another way to handle them besides lashing out at his siblings…. whether it means extra attention, time alone, or a long, beautiful hike and a big, beautiful mountain.



  • Antoinette

    Thank you for this post! I especially appreciate the part about the child needing help dealing with emotions to big for him. Light bulb moment!!!