Three Steps to Discipline Your Children

The biblical principle of discipline applies to all parents and families alike. God himself established discipline, demonstrates it, and entrusts it to parents for their children. However, the next logical question entails how then do I discipline my child?

First, a story.

Sarah stepped into the kitchen busying herself with today’s lunch menu of macaroni, cheese, and broccoli. Her three-year-old son Jonathan sat in the entranceway between the living room and the kitchen playing with his toy train set, occasionally watching his mother prepare their meal. Filling a large metal pot with water, Sarah turned the stove top dial and began heating the metal coil in order to bring the water to a boil. Several minutes passed as she washed, cut, and prepared broccoli to add to the macaroni and cheese. A cell phone ring tone echoed from the living room just as steam began rising from the metal pot. Laying down her knife, Sarah washed and dried her hands before eyeing her son on the floor still preoccupied with his train set. Stepping into the other room, Sarah retrieved her cell phone and answered the call. Jonathan looked up from the kitchen floor to notice the metal coil beneath the pot of water changing colors from black to orange. Fascinated by a potential new toy, the toddler walked over to the oven and stretched out his hand. Sarah turned the corner into her kitchen to witness her three-year-old son inches away from a heated metal element.

“Jonathan! Don’t touch that. ” She rebuked the boy.

The three-year-old recoiled his hand in surprise at his mother’s harsh entrance and tone.

Sarah bent down on one knee, took both of her child’s hands in hers and said, “Mommy loves you, and because I love you, you cannot touch the stove top. It will hurt you very bad, and then mommy will hurt very bad. Do you understand me? If you touch the stove top, not only will you hurt, and mommy will hurt, but you will have to sit in the corner on time out.”

Tears welled up in Jonathan’s eyes as he shook his head yes, understanding the severe consequences if he touched the stove top. Sarah hugged her son, escorted him back to his trains, and then finished making lunch for the two of them.

The Three-Step Process

So how then do you discipline your child?

I would propose a biblical three step process:

  1. You address and identify your child’s inappropriate behavior.
  2. You correct your child’s inappropriate behavior and offer a “second chance” to institute the appropriate behavior before consequences occur.
  3. You punish your child’s inappropriate behavior accordingly, contingent on their response to the first two steps.

Sarah addressed her child’s inappropriate behavior with a harsh reprimand. She corrected her child’s behavior, giving an explanation of the consequences and offering a “second chance” to institute the appropriate behavior before consequences occurred. There was no need for her to begin step three because the first two steps were fulfilled by her child and he obeyed her correction.

The Three-Step Process in the Bible

Scripture gives us a clear picture of this three-step process as well.

Step One

God first addresses and identifies our inappropriate behaviors by identifying sinful actions that are wrongful.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

The apostle Paul listed additional inappropriate behaviors as sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft. Furthermore, he says hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like are wrongful behaviors and sinful actions (Galatians 5:19-21).

Step Two 

God then corrects our behavior by giving us Scripture to teach, reproof, correct, and train us (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and even offers us a second chance through Jesus Christ. According to Scripture, we are all given a second chance to correct our sinful behavior because “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ is the second chance offered to all of humanity because we have all engaged in inappropriate, wrongful, and sinful behavior (Romans 3:23) and will experience the phsyical consequence of death for those actions (Romans 6:23).

Step Three 

God finally punishes us according to our actions. For Christians who have received and believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 1:12) eternity in heaven awaits us after death. For those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus, God will bring punishment of eternal destruction on them (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).


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