As I said in the introductory post to this series, because we believe that our children are on their own individual journeys with God, we do not punish them.
In a way, parents prepare their children for relationship with God – children who had very terrible relationships with their fathers, for example, often struggle with understanding God as a Good Father who will take care of them. Children who felt unloved by their parents have trouble understanding God as loving and compassionate.
So when our babies, at 10 months, started intentionally throwing their food onto the floor, we had to decide how we were going to “train up our children in the way they should go.” I had no idea what to do. I had learned through their colic that they were not trying to manipulate me. I had learned that they had needs that must be met – my job is not to crush their spirits. I called my sister, who told me to read Love and Logic. Brian and I read it, and it talked about natural and logical consequences – no spanking! Ever!
We asked ourselves – is this right? Is this consistent with the Bible? Doesn’t the Bible tell us to spank our kids? Aren’t parents supposed to give pain intentionally, in addition to the physical or social pain they may already experience from a poor decision, so the kids know that the parents disapprove of the behavior?
So we considered God. How does He respond to me when I make mistakes or bad decisions – even ones that I know to be wrong? Does He intentionally cause me pain to punish me and “teach me a lesson”?
No, of course not. God teaches me gently. He does not prevent me from experiencing the consequences of bad choices – but He does not add pain to it. And He is always, always there with me, feeling with me the pain I so often have brought on myself. He cries with me. And He is always there to comfort me.
Over months of prayer and discussion, Brian and I made some decisions:
- Spanking is not an option in our house. It violates their little bodies and hurts their spirits.
- Other punishments are not a desirable option in our house. God does not punish us. Rather we work toward reconciliation of relationships that are broken through bad decisions (that is, in fact, the ENTIRE point of the Cross).
- Rewards are not a desirable option in our house. They are not puppies that we’re training. They are people with lessons they need to learn in this life and we trust that they will learn them without artificial rewards. Good decisions bring their own positive consequences.
Since then we’ve learned even more:
- Our responsibility is not to teach them to be our version of acceptable humans. It is to support them in becoming the people God wants them to be.
- Our goal is their hearts, not behavior modification. God is love. We want them to 1) know that they are impossibly deeply loved and 2) learn how to be loving and compassionate people.
- We listen to their emotions and input, and we act on it whenever wise and possible.
- We maintain developmentally appropriate expectations for our kids.
None of this means that we do not discipline our children. We do have a sacred responsibility to help them learn what it means to live in society and take care of the people and things in God’s world. But discipline means “teach.” It must not be confused with punishment.
We do not shield them from natural consequences of their actions. For example, if they refused to believe me that they’d get burned if they touched the stove, I let them touch the (outside of) the stove. They got (a little) burned. And they learned that the reason not to touch the stove is because it hurts – not because I will get mad at them. But I will be sad with them about how badly it hurts, and I will put lavender essential oil on the burn so it will stop hurting right away.
Some things have obvious natural consequences, like touching a hot stove. Other things have more subtle natural consequences – like social consequences – if you play rudely or never share your toys, no one is going to want to play with you. If you say something mean, your friend will cry – and that doesn’t feel good.
Some things would have natural consequences if you let them happen, but they would also hurt other people in the process – like hitting another child with a toy. Obviously, I don’t want one of my children to hit another over the head until the hurt child is refusing to play – I must protect all the children in my care.
This is where logical consequences come in. If my son uses a toy to hurt someone, he loses the opportunity to play with that toy. If he just keeps trying to hit the other child, then he must stay next to me for a while – he is not being safe for the other children to be around.
In every situation – the goal is to reconcile relationships. We reconcile with the other children by apologizing (when the offender is legitimately ready to apologize and understands what he did wrong) and, wherever appropriate, doing whatever he can to fix the damage he caused. And usually the offender was hurting already – something was wrong is his heart that caused the hurtful behavior – and so we make sure that gets healed as well.
Another situation in which natural consequences are inappropriate is when the natural consequence is severe injury or death. We have a pool. As fun as pools are, they are also *extremely* dangerous. Because the natural consequences of breaking our pool safety rules is a high risk of actual death, we use logical consequences for breaking even one of our safety rules even a little bit. If they do not obey my voice right away, out of the pool. If they go in the pool without a grown up, they can’t go outside at all without a grownup until I feel they can be more responsible. Et cetera.
These sometimes feel like punishments – but consequences always, always have to do directly with the actual problem. We never, for instance, take away TV time or dessert for breaking a pool rule. We never take away pool time for being disrespectful. And the purpose of them is NEVER to hurt, but rather to prevent damage to a thing or a relationship or a body. Logical consequences help prevent decisions that lead to natural consequences that are too high.
Basically, we run our home like a miniature church. We respect each other and our journeys with God. We comfort each other when we experience negative consequences of poor choices. We celebrate when we experience positive consequences of good choices. We encourage each other in the Lord always. We warn each other when we see danger ahead. We do everything we can to be understanding of those who are less mature than we are. And we love each other intensely, as Christ loves us, submitting to each other in everything and putting the good of the others above our own interests.