Who likes that word?
Nobody, that’s who. Not even me, and I’m writing this post about it.
Nobody likes punishment because we’ve all been there, and we don’t like it. There’s a mixture of anger, indignance, and probably a little bit of guilt.
Nobody likes punishment. Consequently, we’ve decided that it’s something children should not have to experience.
We’ve devised terms like “discipline” and “consequences” to take the place of punishment. And we treat them differently, don’t we? I see posts and infographics every time I get on Pinterest talking about how important it is to differentiate between discipline and punishment.
Punishment is bad. We shouldn’t punish children because it’s cruel and unfair and unhelpful.
Discipline is …sometimes… better. It’s more meaningful and less harsh.
[related reading Who’s in Charge? Putting Authority Back into the Hands of Parents]
I’m a Christian. Not just an occasional one. I take my faith seriously, and I take the Bible seriously.
As such, I am obligated to look to God as the ultimate example in parenting. He is our Father in heaven, right?
And here is my issue:
What current trends say about punishment and what the Bible says about punishment don’t match up.
See, we like to focus on God’s love, mercy, and kindness. We sing Jesus Loves You and Jesus Loves the Little Children. We read feel-good Bible stories to our little ones before they go to bed.
And those are all great things to do! I am all for letting kids know from an early age that God loves them and wants what is best for them. That’s absolutely true.
But should we stop there? Do we only show them only one side of the coin?
We like to hide God’s “bad” side, right? We don’t want to tell children that sometimes, God gets angry. That sometimes God gets violent. That sometimes God has to punish those precious and beloved children of his because they are being naughty.
But the truth is, good and bad aren’t determined by our perceptions. Good is what God is. Bad is what God is not. He determines right and wrong. Not us.
He set the world up on a reward (heaven) and punishment (hell) system.
Humans have adapted that system as well. Think about it.
If you steal something, you go to jail. Is that natural consequences? No. It’s human-made consequences. But it still helps keep law and order in the community.
If you speed, you pay a fine. Is there a correlation? No. But it’s a deterrent to help keep our roads safe.
We set up our society in a smaller, less perfect imitation of the way God set up the world. Because he knows human nature. He created us, after all.
Deciding that punishment is bad goes against the most perfect example we have of parenting.
You can argue and say that natural consequences are better. I’m not going to fight you on that. Natural consequences are certainly a necessary part of learning and maturing.
But not every negative action has a perceivable consequence. At least not immediately.
Your child might get away with having bad manners for years before he realizes that his friends don’t want to be around him because he’s rude.
Your child might get away with the first few lies he tells, but eventually that habit is going to get him caught.
Your child might get away with letting mom do all the work for him, but one day he’ll realize he’s an adult who doesn’t know how to wash his own laundry or cook his own meals.
Refusing to punish is not kind. It’s selfish. It removes the obligation of negative duty from you while depriving your child of necessary correction that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Good parents don’t enjoy punishing their children any more than our good God enjoys punishing us.
But refusing to punish children goes directly against the best parenting advice manual we have ever been given.