When you hear the word “discipline,” what comes to mind? Probably some sort of consequence for a misbehavior. And you would be right. At least partially.
But, discipline is more than just correcting what you don’t want with a consequence. A big portion of discipline (possibly the most important part) is training.
The importance of training
If you think of this in terms of a sports team, training in parenting is like an offensive maneuver. Correction is defensive. We need both, but without a good offense, you won’t score any points.
Take a moment ant think over the last week of your parenting. Where did you spend most of your energy? Was it mostly in correction? Correction gets the most “air time” because it demands it. Things that require correction are obvious and in our faces. They require a response.
Now think about training. How much time did you spend teaching your kids what you would like to see when behavior was not a problem? If you are like most parents, probably not that much. It’s understandable. Training always takes a back seat when a limited resource like time is involved.
As Christian parents, it’s important to do both. It’s the training moments where we get to lay the foundation of our family values and teach our children how to live a faith-filled life.
What does training look like in everyday life? Here are some ideas:
Keep your eyes out for the positive
Let’s say you are at the park with your kids. You notice a boy pick up a ball and give it to his sister. You can simply observe together and then say out loud, “That was so kind of that boy to give his sister the ball.”
It probably seems too simple, but that was a powerful training lesson. Your children got to see something you think is important acted out in real life. And they got to file away that little truth for the future.
Now that doesn’t mean that your son will always will give his sister the toy. And it doesn’t mean that you can now say, “Why don’t you treat your sister like that little boy we saw in the park?” You are building a foundation of family values, brick by brick. Simply noticing the kinds of things you want to use as raw building materials is a great place to start.
Another way to focus on the positive is to have an eye out for godly actions. When you see your children demonstrating fruits of the spirit, point it out. Consider using our Fruit of the Spirit printable as a way for you and your kids to keep track of how God’s good gifts of the spirit are showing up in your day-to-day life.
“Practice makes permanent.” Doing something over and over again doesn’t mean you will be great at it. It just means it will become natural. The same is true for training in parenting.
Role play is simply acting out a scenario and testing out different ways to respond and react. When we employ role play in a fun and non-punitive way, it can become an excellent avenue for training your children in your family’s values.
Your degree of comfort with this may vary. You may feel silly playing “pretend” with your kids. That is okay. If you are not comfortable doing the acting and you have more than one child, you can take the director role and simply help them act out the issue you are trying to address. Kids who have sufficient practice with role play will have a ready-made playbook of behaviors to use in real time as the issues arise.
Here’s a simple example of a role play activity: If your kids have a hard time using their inside voices, practice whispering every day. Make it a game by setting a timer. Make it fun by seeing who can talk the quietest but still be heard.
Here’s a more involved role play activity: If your kids have a hard time with self-control when mad, have them act out a scene when they are upset about something. Give them a key phrase to say as they walk away, such as “I need to cool down.” Have your children reverse roles. It’s okay if they get a little silly with this process. Remember, training is not a consequence. It’s practice.
Story time with a purpose
Story time is a favorite time for most parents and kids alike. It’s a time to connect, be close and get lost in another world together for a while. It’s also a wonderful time to train your children.
Periodically (but not too often so as to not soil the magic), you can ask questions about a character in the story such as, “Why do you think he said that to her?” or “What would have happened if he did ___________ instead?” or “What do you think of his choice?” At the end of the story, you can review what happened, how the characters choices may have helped or hindered them, and how your child thinks she would have acted in the same scenario.
This dialogue will give you insights into your child’s heart and give you the information you need to create training opportunities that address their heart.
Regular family meetings
I know that it is hard for many families to find the time to all be at home at the same time, never mind be intentional about a family meeting. One way to make it work is to combine it with something fun you are already doing such a pizza night, movie night or ice cream sundaes.
These can be brief meetings that focus on what is going right in your family and the progress you are noticing. Keep the atmosphere light and encouraging. You can take individual children aside at other times to address any on-going issues, but by keeping these family meetings positive and forward-focused, you will get greater engagement.
Meetings structured in this way sort of level the playing field for kids who may self-identify as the black sheep or the “problem” kid in the family. By pointing out what is going right for everyone, you plant seeds of encouragement and positive expectation. Remember: what we water grows.
There are many other ways we can train our children “in the way they should go.” What are some of your ideas? Feel free to share in the comments.