Getting it right with discipline in children: the Right Approach

...persuasion into a new level of exciting and effective parenting experience.

A neighbor shared a heartbreaking story of how her husband’s nephew, an undergraduate, who came to spend his holiday at their place suddenly developed an excruciating stomach pain. He was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital where an appendectomy was quickly done to avert a rupture. She said that soon after the operation was completed, the child started demanding for water. Even after the doctor explained why he would not be allowed to take water immediately, the child kept demanding for water. At a point, he requested to go to the toilet. When he returned to his bed, his condition got worse. My neighbor said she was shocked when the doctor disclosed that the child just drank a lot of water. The battle to save his life continued until he gave up the ghost that same day.

As usual, I got worried after a heard the story. I thought of what could have been done to get him obey the doctor’s instruction. Perhaps, if his parents were around they would have known how to get him to achieve the required compliance. Am I then saying that his parents would have known how to stimulate him to obey the doctor’s instruction?

Yes,that’s what I am saying because it is in the hands of parents to understand and establish the things the child would respond to in the process of achieving discipline in the child’s life. I was then led to embark on a studied look at the factors that should ideally provide the drive for obedience and discipline in children.

The following factors, in order of importance, provide this drive, and are essential in setting up the right disciplinary atmosphere in the home.

  1. Good conscience that is anchored on the fear of God: A child with the fear of God will be divinely guided on the path of righteousness. The child, when tempted into disobedience, will reason like Joseph in Genesis 39:9, “… how then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” A parent who has made fruitful effort to lay a solid foundation of godliness in a child will only need to make God guided efforts in parenting and rely on the fruitfulness that God will grant.
  2. Bond of love and trust between the parent and the child: Where this bond is strong, the parent becomes the child’s close confidant with whom the child shares his thoughts, experiences, excitement and challenges with. If the child treasures this closeness, he will normally refrain from anything that will upset his parents. He will be willing to explain issues and apologise if necessary to restore the treasured normalcy. A parent in this relationship will have little difficulty communicating his values, ideas, expectations and discomforts to the child. It will then be easy for the child to respond to the following persuasive techniques.
  • Blaming the child when he or she should be blamed.
  • Withholding of smile. When the parental relationship is a happy one in which the child and the parents share assuring smiles, a simple withdrawal of smiles may be all the child needs to be drawn into obedience.
  • Frowning at a wrong behavior.
  • Withholding a reward when the child does not deserve it.

It should be noted that provision of the basic necessities of life such as food,sleep, moderate play, medical attention and education are not seen as reward in this context. They should never be withdrawn for any reason. Withdrawal of such is inhuman and would produce no positive result. Non-essential provisions include allowing him play with the computer game and extended play time.

  • Letting the child start a favourite activity earlier than normal to motivate him to hasten up with a task he avoids.
  • Arranging the order of activities so that achieving the ones he avoids will be a prerequisite for the ones he enjoys. For instance, “you will watch the TV when the plates are washed” or “please eat the rice before drinking the fruit juice.”
  • Demand for explanation. The parent in a cordial relationship with the child can simply demand for explanation of the reason for an unacceptable behavior. The parent is expected to listen attentively and patiently to the child’s explanation before deciding on any corrective action. Mary, the mother of Jesus, provided an example in Luke 2:48. She was so composed to ask her eight-year-old son whom she found after a three days search, “…Son why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you”
  • Mild caution.
  • Praise
  1. Firm understanding and conviction on parental values. The bible in Deut. 6:6-9 recommends that godly virtues be communicated at all times, in all places and with all things. In a cordial parental relationship, these can be communicated through jokes, counseling, testimonies, stories and the parents’ reaction to daily life issues. One major way of communicating faith in God to children is by sharing God’s faithfulness with them through testimonies. For instance, children learn humility easily and acquire it as a personality attribute if they observe humility in the parents’ interactions with other people.
  2. Good understanding of the issues for which obedience is demanded and the processes required in achieving a given task satisfactorily: Parents should patiently make explanations to the child and guide him properly to deliver instructions successfully without making threats of punishment. Threatening the child each time instructions are given pollutes the disciplinary environment in the home. It is not necessary. If possible, the steps to achieving a task may be written down so that the child will get it right.

It should, however be noted that the age of the child is a factor to consider in accessing the ability of the child to carry out specific instructions. The parent’s expectations should be realistic in line with the age and maturity of the child. Parental presence may be required during the child’s tender ages to maintain discipline as the child is guided to gradually develop and mature.

What if on any occasion, the drive from the four factors above were not enough to secure discipline and obedience? Such incidences will be rare in a parenting relationship where the four hallmarks of healthy parenting discussed above are passionately established.  A child in a healthy parenting relationship will be responsive to rebuke as a disciplinary measure.

Rebuke as a Disciplinary Measure

“Rebuke” is the disciplinary measure recommended in the bible for correcting wrong behavior in children. According to Chambers 21 century dictionary, rebuke is to “speak severely to someone because they have done wrong.”

God was angry with Eli in 1 Sam 3:13 because “…his sons made themselves contemptible and he failed to restrain them.”

Rebuking children who have erred is a biblical injunction and it does not mean flogging with the cane. If cane was intended, the bible would have recommended larger doses of it in Prov. 17:10 instead of admonishing that “A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes (to) a fool.”

I am sure that readers must be wondering at this point how to handle a child who fails to respond to rebuke. The bible truth is that everybody (adults, youths and children) who ignores rebuke is heading for the rod of discipline, also called the rod of correction.

The Rod of Discipline

God applies the rod of correction to draw us back each time we derail.  Proverbs 26:3 says “A whip for the horse, a halter for the donkey and a rod for the back of fools.”  The rod in this context does not necessarily mean cane or whip. Such things are intended for animals. In using the rod on us, God simply withdraws his divine protection so that we face the harsh reality of the consequences of our actions. God through Moses in Lev 26:17 said to the children of disobedience: “I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies…”Adam and Eve experienced the immediate impact of God’s rod when they realized that they were naked. That’s probably why Job, in Job 9:34, talked about “someone to remove God’s rod  from me.” In His revelation to David about Solomon in 2nd Sam. 7:14, God said He would punish Solomon with the rod of men when he disobeyed. Is there any record in the bible where God physically flogged Solomon with a cane or whip?

Is it then fair to interpret the rod to mean cane or whip only when children are being disciplined? Is there any reference in the bible where a child was flogged?

Well, I believe that achieving discipline and obedience in a child poses a challenge to many parents just the same way that getting a human being to live a righteous life is a challenge to God.

No wonder Prov. 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.’

Since rod in this context does not necessarily imply cane, it is then obvious that parents need to stretch forth their hands in helplessness asking God for a clearer understanding of the relevance of the rod in child training.

The rod-permissive parent rarely uses the cane.

A parent that is rod-permissive guides the child properly to avoid disobedience and its consequences, but allows the child to face the reality of the rod so that the child will be disciplined accordingly.Please note that parents are to perform this task with lots of love for the child, bearing his age and developmental stage in mind.No wonder we are told in Prov. 13:24 that he who spares the rod hates his son. The child is guided to develop discipline as a personality attribute which enables him to develop innate control over his desires so that he can obey rules and regulations and to understand and avoid actions that bring up bad results.

The rod is meant to produce the life changing “godly sorrow” that was referred to in 2 Cor7:10. When godly sorrow has been excited, parents are supposed to guide the child through genuine repentance and follow up carefully avoid relapse.

I believe that it is imperative to caution parents not to spare the rod because they are usually protective of the child from birth. A parent who permits the use of the rod will be willing to withdraw parental protection for the child to experience and learn from the consequences of a wrong action under parental supervision, without compromising the health and safety of the child. The following are examples:

  • Resolving not to assist the child to pass his examination, and ensuring that he repeats a class if his results are poor.
  • Allowing him make his mistakes when he insists (to the extent that it is safe) so that he will learn from the results of his actions.
  • Ensuring that the child understands, for certain acts of disobedience, the rod he immediately experiences. For instance the hotness the child experiences when a lantern is played with, the discomforts and pains of an unmarried teenage mother, the pains experienced by a child who got a bone fracture as a result of rough play.

The rod-evasive parent tends to use the cane a lot to scare the child.

Most of such parents ignorantly believe that the cane is the only rod and the responsibility to utilize the rod is their exclusive preserve. Children in such a parenting relationship are not trained to reason out the implications of their acts of disobedience. They suffer emotional torture, which deadens their consciences. The sorrow experienced by such children is referred to as “worldly sorrow” in 2 Cor. 7:10. It leads to destruction. Parental love and affinity are usually absent. Parents rarely discuss with their children since they can always threaten them with violence and obtain momentary relief from the child’s disobedience.

Such children rarely acquire discipline as personality attributes. Parents in this group ignorantly have a narrow-minded understanding of discipline. The products of such parents are children who appear to be “disciplined” as long as their parents are present, holding the whip. Their parents ignorantly train them to respond only to flogging and other hash treatments.

Oh! I am getting emotional now. This is a very sorry state. It is possible that this parenting method produced our politicians and government officials who seem responsible when they talk in public, but turn into monsters behind closed doors. It is very unfortunate that the rod experience of the child in my introductory story was terminal. I believe he would have found it easy obeying if he was raised in a healthy parenting relationship.


Main Action Points

  1. Parents should ensure that the four hallmarks of good parenting relationship are properly established.
  2. Parents should build up their skill to use the persuasive techniques of inculcating discipline in children.
  3. Parents should be restrained from going beyond rebuke if healthy and obedient children are to be raised.


  • Uchenna N. Nduka


  • Bible quotations were taken from NIV



4 thoughts on “Getting it right with discipline in children: the Right Approach

    • Hi Uche. This is quite a good piece. The challenges in today’s society(parents inclusive) is time and how to make ends meet. No reasonable parents would want their children to become embarrassments to themselves.

      A good percentage of parents in our present day African setting, can not afford to bring up their children in the way our parents raised us, in our time. This is majorly due to the poor leadership style our so-called leaders have succeeded in making us to accept their selfish and inept leadership, in the name of governance.

      Is it not when a mother is able to feed her child and save that child from dying of hunger, before she can understand what it means to train up that child? Ours have become what Jimmy Cliff, a song writer in the ’70s, called “Suffering in the land”.

      Except the leadership would have a rethink on its self-centered approach to governance, nothing much can be done presently, to change our situation with regards to the proper upbringing of our children. The Nigerian parent and the Nigerian child is quick and good at catching up with acceptable behaviours, provided the environment is conducive for such characters to be exhibited.


      • Thanks for your comments Mr Obakoma. My opinion is that both the poor and the rich need to adopt the non violent parenting skill we teach. Children who are nurtured in healthy parenting relationships will grow into disciplined adults no matter the economic status of their parents.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s