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Discipline, Punishment, Honour Killings, and More
Recently on this blog we've been debating discipline techniques.

It's been argued by some commenters (and I think I largely agree) that discipline should be concerned about the child's character, not about his or her impact on us. Thus, discipline should be done to shape character, not as retribution or punishment.

I see the point, but I still struggle with it. There are times, for instance, that a person has to pay simply for what they have done, whether or not it reforms their character. Let's say, for example, that your child broke a window with a baseball. Let's also assume that your child is very, very sorry, and that they have learned their lesson. Let's assume that the child would never in a million years break a window again. They should still have to pay for that window, even though this isn't concerned with their character, since they've already learned the lesson. Sometimes you pay simply because actions have consequences.

I also read in the Old Testament many times when God was angry at Israel when He punished them, as Terry commented below. So I'm not sure anger is necessarily wrong; there may be times when we are angry.

I think the difference is not anger, but shame, as Mrs. W. alluded to in her comments. If we're disciplining because we're afraid of how our child's behaviour reflects on us, we're doing it out of shame, and that's wrong. Where I may part ways with some commenters is that I think it's only human that there will be times we discipline because we're angry. As long as we're careful in this, and we do it simply to correct their character, I don't think we should be hard on ourselves. Of course we must still show grace, but even God was angry. So I think that's a tough line to demand that we are never angry. I'm not sure it's practical. But I do think we must be sure that we're disciplining--or punishing, or whatever you want to call it--for their good, not ours.

I live in Belleville, Ontario, which is a little town east of Toronto, quite near a university city called Kingston. Last week there were two mass drownings in Kingston, both of families of Muslim girls. In one case, three girls and their "aunt" (really their father's first wife) were found drowned in a car that had been driven into the canal. In another case, two girls and their mother were found drowned in the pool at the Best Western hotel. I don't know why Kingston was singled out for this dubious honour, but it was. In the pool incident, the girls were 11 and 14. My daughters are 11 and 14. A little too close to real life for me.

Interestingly, when Keith and I were at Queen's University in Kingston twenty years ago we led a discussion group on religion with the Muslim Students' Association, telling them about the gospel. So I feel a bit of affinity to these cases, and a lot of heartbreak.

We don't know that these were honour killings, but in the first case, the parents and a brother were arrested as they were trying to leave the country. And they fit with the honour killing motif: a bunch of females are killed when they bring dishonour on a family. In many Islamic societies, the only way to expunge the shame and get your honour back is to kill the girls.

It's disgusting, it's outrageous, and it's infuriating. I don't think there are enough words for it. Despicable? Deplorable? Inhuman? Monstrous? Evil incarnate? Whatever we call it, it needs to be condemned loudly and vociferously, and not partially excused in the name of sensitivity to religion.

Yet the whole thing got me thinking. The Old Testament does call for stoning of children who disobey. I have never been comfortable with that passage. And yet Jesus, the only time He commented on the stoning custom, said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone..." insinuating, to me, that grace will rule rather than punishment.

Of course, it was still in New Testament time when Ananias and Sapphira were struck down dead for lying to God and to the disciples, so it is not as if God does not punish in New Testament times. But grace still rules.

So how do we reconcile all of this with how we should treat our children? I'm still struggling with a lot of the concepts, that I didn't really think too deeply about until we've gotten into this debate this week. Is punishment legitimate? Is anger in punishment legitimate? What is the Christian response?

And I'm left with this: Discipline should be conducted primarily to shape a child's character. Sometimes, though, there will be consequences for actions even after the child has repented. You can call this punishment if you like, but it is a fact of life. It is only human to at times be angry at your children. To say that we will never discipline in anger may be a little self-righteous, since I'm not sure how any of us could live up to that, and since God Himself does it. But anger should not rule. Grace should, as should love for our children, which means that we desire them to develop godly attributes. We should never discipline or punish them because we feel shame; only because we're trying to help them. If we're concerned about our own shame, we are not acting in a godly manner at all.

It's a little long, but that's what I think. What would you add? Take away? Let me know, and then I hope this will be the final word on this for a while!

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At 8:51 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I agree. There must be consequences at one point or another because that is a more tangible way for children to learn. No, this won't always be the case, but it should happen often enough and I believe it CAN shape the character as well. It puts discipline in action.

We can teach, we can train, but ultimately when it's time to decide between right or wrong, it's the child's decision to choose which path he/she will take. If chosen the wrong path, remorse mixed with consequences (or punishment--however you want to word it) can be excellent in shaping character through real life experiences. It puts their training into action. It challenges them.

Great article! :)


At 9:52 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

While I believe we shouldn't discipline in our anger, there are times I do and wish I hadn't. My boys NEVER get what they could out of it.

With the broken window example, to me, if the kid deliberately broke then window, then yes, they pay for it. But if it was an accident, maybe they could pay a little just so they learn the principle of restitution, but then the parent could pay the rest and get it fixed. I certainly hope I would not punish my children over an accident unless that "accident" was caused while doing something they were told not to do, then it is disobedience. Or if the child is very clumsy and it's not a medical issue and they need to learn to be careful. But sometimes actual pure accidents happen. I hope I wouldn't punish my kid for that.

I remember as a little girl when my parents were building our house. I was asked by my aunt to go get her coffee mug, and so I did. As I picked it up, however, it slipped from my grip through no real fault of my own, and it smashed on the concreted. My parents totally flipped out and started yelling at me like I'd done it on purpose. I was told to "stop crying or I'll make sure you have something to cry about" and "you better go tell your aunt what you did and apologize" along with "you WILL buy her a new cup exactly the same".

I never understood why I ended up getting a spanking and having to pay for a cup when it was an accident. I might have understood paying for the cup if my parents had explained the principle of restitution to me, but they were just plain angry the cup had been broken, and they didn't care it was an accident. They knew it was an accident they'd seen the whole thing.

If I'd have been clumsy with the mug, I'd have understood exactly why I had to pay for a new one. If I'd done something stupid like throw it up in the air and try to catch it, I'd have understood. But a spanking and paying for the cup when it was an actual accident?

Anyway just thought I'd throw in a real life example. I think that we tend to punish our children to embarrass THEM more when we are very angry with them. When my parents would "spank" (I don't really call being beaten with an electrical cord a spanking, but anyway...) us, if they were angry, they wanted more of an audience for the spanking. They wanted it to "hurt as much as possible" and for us to feel as much shame as possible. Maybe this kind of treatment is why my husband and I are wary of a lot of parenting methods that seem overly strict.

And, should not a child know why they are being either disciplined or punished? My husband recalls an instance where, when he was a teen, his father came into his room before he was even awake, and he was woken up because his father was spanking him. He woke up to the spanking. When asked why he got a spanking he just got more and was told that he ought to remember the annoyance he caused his mom a FEW DAYS AGO. So not only was he spanked for something from several days ago (which can be done with a teen if you really have to because they remember), he had to figure it out for himself, and when he did, it wasn't something he'd actually done WRONG, it was just something that had caused annoyance to his mom.

Anyway this comment is already long, but I am passionate about this subject because my husband and I want to train our children correctly, without implementing the cruelty of our parents. Sometimes it's tough to know the balance.


At 10:34 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Mrs. W:

I didn't mean to imply that the broken window was an accident. I meant it as something that was done through a child's carelessness or deliberate action, makes no difference. Breaking a mug is completely different than playing baseball on your yard and throwing a baseball through a neighbour's window, in my opinion.

I would never ever discipline a child for something that was a complete accident. But some things they should be held accountable for!

I'm just still not sure that I really see the difference between punishment and discipline. I think it's semantics. You ask whether children should know whether they're being punished or disciplined, but what's the difference, really?

The main point, as you made earlier, is that you should be taking action to shape character, not taking action out of shame. And the action you take should be applicable to the child's age, understanding, and temperament.

But arguing whether it's discipline or punishment seems a little beside the point, unless between you and your husband you have thoroughly differentiated between the two terms. I'm not sure that I have, which is why, I suppose, I keep going on about this.

As long as we agree about what we should discipline our children for, and the attitude with which we should do it, I'm not sure words per se matter. Do you see what I mean? Or is anyone else getting this? Maybe I'm just confused about something that everyone sees is perfectly obvious, but I really don't know what the difference truly is between discipline and punish.


At 10:39 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

Hi Sheila

I'm sorry I didn't get the point across bad. What I meant was, whether you choose to call it punishment or discipline (which I personally see a HUGE difference between and don't understand how it could be just semantics, but that is just me) is that the child should know why they are "in trouble".

Are there really parents that don't let their kids play baseball in the yard? I thought that is what yards were for, lol. Now playing baseball in the house, yeah, I definitely draw the line there.

I really think we agree about a lot of the principles.


At 10:44 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

I think we agree on a lot of principles, too!

As for the baseball in the yard, it depends on the size of yard! We had a neighbour kid throw a baseball through our window once and then run away. We couldn't prove he did it, and the dad didn't admit that he had done it, so we were on the hook for the $250 it cost to replace that window.

I think if you're playing baseball in the backyard, away from neighbours' windows, it's fine. In a small yard where a stray ball could easily go through a neighbour's window, and you're acting recklessly.

That's what parks are for, if you're lucky enough to live near one!


At 11:17 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

Wow, $250...I guess that is why, in the highly concentrated redneck area that I live in, you tend to see a lot things, including windows, "fixed" with duct tape...


At 11:45 AM , Blogger elaine @ peace for the journey said…

Totally off point here, but wanted to contact you to figure out how to download the listening guide to go with your teleseminar on "launching a speaking ministry." I've purchased it via paypal and am able to listen, but not sure how to get the guide as well. Any help you can offer is appreciated.



At 11:51 AM , Blogger Michael and Annalea said…

This is an interesting topic and one that I struggle with myself more often then I'd care to admit.

What we try to impliment at our home is basing the discipline on whether or not the act was done from "childishness" or "willful disobedience". This has helped a lot in determining the outcome for our children's consequences. And, even as God forgives us, He doesn't necessarily protect us from the consequences either which, prayerfully, will shape our characther.

As you said, Sheila, shaping their character should always be considered and I'm the first to admit that I need to work on this.



At 1:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I think we have to be careful that 'punishment' and 'discipline' doesn't fall into the category of child abuse. Spanking a child - if you choose to spank at all - with anything other than your hand is abuse. I know many people who spank with shoes or with wooden spoons. I, myself, got beat with wooden spoons. I feel this is abuse because when you chose to hit your child with something other than your hand, you are hitting them to hurt them. I don't believe that this effective - at all.

That said, I believe that all situations have consequences. With the baseball, the window is broken. It needs to be replaced. It doesn't really matter if it was an accident or not - the result is still the same. With the mug - accident or not, it's still broken.

Sometimes, I believe, that the natural consequence is enough of a punishment. Personally, I do not believe the mug needed further punishment (speaking personally, I know my kids would be heartbroken if they broke the mug).

I do believe there is a balance. And from the comments thus far, I think we can all safely say that what we feel comfortable doing with our own children relies heavily on how we, ourselves were raised.

For example, I choose not to spank my kids at all. Instead, I take away privileges. I have a friend who spanks (with her hand).

I think it's an issue that all parents struggle with. Sometimes we get it right (when we effective discipline calmly and patiently) and sometimes we totally blow it (like when we get frustrated and yell).


At 1:47 PM , Blogger Mrs W said…

What is the point of a spanking that doesn't hurt a little? There is a difference between spanking with a wooden spoon and yes, making the kid's butt sting, than there is between chasing them over the house to beat them "till they are black and blue".

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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