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Why Discipline Is Not Punishment

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I love this story about Emerson as a boy, told in his own words. When I was around nine or ten, I locked my mom and sister, Ann, out of the house.

I have long ago forgotten why. I do recall that they kept knocking and asking me to open the door, but I refused as I peered through the window at them. I was not happy about something, and neither were they at this point. Interestingly, as Mom gazed at me through the window, she did not scream at my disrespectful behavior. Instead, after she made several dignified requests for me to open the door, she turned around and walked to the car with my sister. They got in and drove off.

Thirty minutes later Mom and Ann returned. I watched her car come down the hill, but what I saw next took my breath away. A police car was following her right to our house! I broke out in a cold sweat. Mom must have lodged a complaint, and the policeman intended to jail me! By then I had unlocked the door, and as Mom walked by me, she nonchalantly said, “There is someone in the driveway who wants to talk to you.” Mom did not rant and rave, screaming things like, “Boy, are you in trouble now!” She went into another room and expected me to go see our visitor. I did.

As I walked up to the state police car, chills went down my spine as I noticed a shotgun propped up on the dashboard. Then I saw a huge man with a “Smokey the Bear” hat on his head, seated behind the steering wheel. He got out of the car, and I stood there trembling, looking up and up. He was at least six foot five, and he may have even been closer to ten feet tall!

With a deep voice he asked, “Do you always lock your mommy and sister out of the house? What kind of a man are you? Is this something you plan on doing again? I am thinking that you are never going to do this again. Is that true? Want to see my shotgun?”

Sheepishly I said that I would never do it again, and yes, I wanted to see his shotgun. Somehow in that exchange, as we sat there looking at his shotgun, he made me feel as though I were a man and that men do not do this kind of thing.

I never locked my mom out of the house again. Real men don’t do that.

The wisdom of consequences

I wish I had been the cool, calm, and collected kind of parent that my dear “mother in love” was, as I affectionately called her.

She was not afraid to allow Emerson to experience the consequences for his actions which taught him invaluable life lessons. What a wise woman she was!

She knew he needed discipline, not so much to punish him but because she was looking ahead to the future, and what kind of a man she wanted him to become.

Most often parents think of discipline as punishment. And many of us are familiar with what the Bible says about bringing children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

The word “discipline” really has the idea of “correcting.”

Train them to do the right thing

We are to correct our kids for future good, not just point out past mistakes. This involves helping them change, make adjustments, and improve their choices and behavior.

Emerson’s mom could have called a locksmith and then sent him to his room for such defiant behavior but instead she made it easier for herself. She put a healthy fear of authority in him which made a lasting impact that he still talks about today. And she got in the house faster and for free!

She was training him to do the right thing.

Even though discipline should produce sorrow and hopefully a repentant heart, the goal should be to help them get back on the right track.

We can send a positive message of correction without a tone of “you will pay!”

Is it defiance or just childish?

Not all behavior that irritates us as parents is wrongdoing. Yes they do many things that are childish, immature and annoying but they are not disrespectful defiance.

How do we know what is a real reason for discipline?

I know from experience that is the tricky part.

A (not so) funny story

A funny story now (but not so funny 27 years ago) was when our son David, who was 9 at the time, wanted to make a strike zone for pitching practice. You see he had dreams of playing in the big leagues. Somewhere he had seen that you could take some tape and outline a strike zone on the back of the garage. And this was before DIY became so popular.

What he didn’t take into consideration was that the garage was aluminum siding and every pitch would leave a dent!! And of course it was on the back of the house so who would even notice or care?

Innocent “stupidity” vs intentional wrongdoing

He recalls not getting into that much trouble because as he said, “You guys realized how important baseball was to me, and I innocently did what I did. Stupid? Yes, but not intentionally wrong.”

Now had he done this to the front of the garage, would we have responded differently? Perhaps a contribution to a garage door fund?

It is not always easy to make a judgment call on the spot as to what is disobedience and what is childish irresponsibility.

Why stay the course?

For us, we took comfort in Hebrews 12:10 that says, “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them.”

We realized early on that there are no formulas. Oh we wanted them badly, but we realized it was ok to sometimes wait in the uncertainty as we weighed the pros and cons. I too often reacted instead of waiting to respond.

Let’s face it, discipline isn’t fun for us or them. So why do we stay the course?

True discipline is love

Because as it says in the scriptures, the Lord disciplines us because He loves us. So we should follow His example.

We discipline our kids not to punish them but because we love them.

Because we care about them now... and in the future!

From my heart,


Sarah Eggerichs

Questions to Consider