A Different Perspective of Discipline
In my opinion, and from years of parenting several children through much trial and error, discipline should be a last resort in parenting, especially as your child grows older.
Let me explain, however, that I do not mean to say that a child should not be disciplined if he misbehaves. What I am saying is that parenting should be about so much more than discipline, and the issue of discipline should play a much smaller role than it often does in a parent's relationship with the child.
The Word Discipline
The word discipline, comes from the Latin word, discipulus, which means, to disciple. While we often associate the word, disciple, with the early followers of Jesus (the 12 Apostles.), I am using the specific definition of the word which means to teach, train or lead.
Biblical parents should practice discipleship long before discipline. In fact, a wise parent will disciple their children so that discipline is only an occasional necessity. Training your children teaches them your rules and expectations of them. Training is more than just handing them a list of do's and don'ts. Training is teaching them how to behave the way you expect them to, and leading by your own example.
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." ~Proverbs 22:6 KJV
The Cycle of Bonding and Attachment
So, let's go a step further now that we have established the idea that training your children--discipleship--should come before discipline. Let's start from the beginning, the birth of your child.
A baby is born. He gets hungry--cries--momma nurses him--he is satisfied--baby learns to trust that his need will be met--mom and baby form a bond. This is an example of the cycle of bonding. Baby has a need--parent meets need--baby is soothed--baby learns he can trust his need will be met--deeper attachment is formed.
As a side note: this is also true in nearly all our relationships-our closest relationships, in particular. Bonding and attachment is developed in a relationship when both people are actively involved in meeting each other's needs; therefore, trust develops and a deeper attachment--or bond--is formed. A healthy adult relationship is established when both individuals in the relationship are equally committed to the relationship, and equally work toward meeting the other person's needs.
In a parent/child relationship, the child is not able to meet any of the needs of the parent; however, the parent bonds with the child because of the work, time and dedication it takes to meet the child's needs. This is why an adoptive parent can build just as close a bond with her adopted child, as a biological parent.
In the beginning, meeting the child's need is done more out of a sense of obligation and that "it's the right thing to do" as baby's mommy or daddy. Yes, there's a feeling of love, and definitely a sense of compassion and empathy for the crying baby, but love is not a biological connection. You do not automatically love your child just because he is biologically related to you.
As time goes on and the baby gets older, the parent forms a deeper commitment and love toward the child as a result of all the love and hard work that goes into raising the child. Note here that the word love is meant as a verb: meaning, something you do and not just a feeling. True love is action! I love my husband, but I don't always feel it!
Parenting is so much more than just meeting your child's basic needs, as I am sure you are already well aware. In my experience, meeting your child's needs is just the beginning to forming a bond with your child. A strong parent/child relationship also requires active parental involvement by meeting your child where he is at, on his level. I call this tying heartstrings.
Tying heartstrings is the additional things you do as a parent that goes above and beyond meeting their basic needs. It's the cuddling your baby long after he has fallen asleep. It's tickling his chin and making goofy faces to make him giggle. It's getting on the floor and playing Barbies with your daughter or Legos with your son. It's reading stories, kissing boo-boos, giving hugs and praising your child for all the good things he does. Meet your child on his level, where he is at. Tying heartstrings is all that and more! And a parent who realizes the importance of tying heartstrings with her child, is a parent that has her child's heart; thus a child who wants to behave because he wants to please his parent. The child has learned that he gets ample positive attention from his parents, so he doesn't feel the need to gain attention by misbehaving.
What Tying Heartstrings is Not
Granted, Proverbs 22:15 says that "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child," so tying heartstrings with your child does not guarantee that your child will never misbehave. There will, indeed, be times where appropriate discipline is needed. However, tying heartstrings does, in my experience, greatly reduce the frequency of the necessity of discipline.
Heartstrings is not a way to bribe your child. In fact, I do not count buying stuff for my children as tying heartstrings with them. Tying heartstrings is also not the absence of discipline, rules, or expectations. Children need boundaries, and feel most secure when parents have established healthy boundaries with their children.
Our Heavenly Father's Example of Tying Heartstrings
As Christ-followers, we should always go back to God's example as our basis for how we live and parent. Think about it for a moment, why do you love and serve God? As Christians, we have a relationship with the Father, it's more than just a religion. True Christianity isn't because we were born into it, nor out of tradition or ritual. God didn't bully or threaten us into conversion. No, "we love God because He first loved us," (1 John 4:19) "and gave Himself up for us." (Ephesians 5:2). Again, the word love here is an action word; it's not passive; it's not a feeling. God loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), so we desire to please our Father and serve Him, because of the heartstrings He tied with us. God met us on our level, where we were at. He saw our need for a Savior--He met our need by sending His own Son--our need was met--we learned we can trust God to meet our needs--a closer bond was formed with our Heavenly Father--heartstrings tied. Such a beautiful picture of the cycle of bonding and attachment.
I encourage you to follow our Heavenly Father's example toward us, and begin to make a conscientious and dedicated effort to tie heartstrings with your children--every day. Childhood is such a short period of time and passes so quickly. Really think through what you can do to show love to your children and truly be involved in their lives, on their level. You won't regret it and God will bless it.