I have had cause to think about the issue of ‘punishment’ in parenting recently.
My beliefs and behaviours have changed a lot since Bright Eyes was diagnosed with autism. The traditional time outs and naughty chairs just didn’t ‘work’ with him. Since then, I've been exposed to other ways of helping and guiding children as they grow to adulthood.
I now don't believe 'punishment' achieves what we think it achieves. It might bring about apparent 'better behaviour' on the outside in the short term, but in the long term I am doubtful if it changes the heart. In fact, I think it is counterproductive in many cases because it generally causes fear and hiding type behaviours. Grace, guidance and a great example do much more for me than punishment.
But what about sin in our children’s lives? Aren’t we instructed to bring them up in godliness? We can’t just ignore bad behaviour. That would be irresponsible.
Of course, but I think a lot of the time, the things we parents get cross about is not ‘sin’. So that's one thing we need to be aware of. A lot of what I formerly considered to be 'naughty' is often just when their behaviour doesn't suit me. It might be that they are careless, slow, impulsive, forgetful, neglectful or just immature, but often it is not 'naughty'.
I'm far more interested in locating the source of the behaviour, listening or discerning, and seeing if we can solve the problem that's at the root. In a lot of cases, I have found myself having to make changes rather than trying to change the children – for example, in giving everyone more time and slowing down rather than making them race to my schedule.
Of course, children do sin, because we are all broken people. Where there is sin, calling attention to it, and identifying it is probably the best thing I would think to do. From there, my approach changes though. Whereas before I would have thought of an ‘effective’ punishment, now I'm more interested in asking, 'Why this, why now? and finding a solution through talking and listening.
I can’t deny that sin requires punishment. But God’s approach to us, his children is to show us grace. If you think about it, he doesn’t identify our sin and then punish us for it, because Jesus already took our punishment for us on the cross. God actually helps us to work through the sinful behaviour and stop doing it. Grace is Jesus taking the punishment, but also the Spirit's work in our lives in giving us strength to put the behaviours to death.
I am always amazed by the gentleness with which God deals with me. I find the way the spirit calls me to account is loving, gentle and then practical. If I sin, I usually look into my life and find the reason for my behaviour, and then God helps me deal with that.
For an example, I have been snippy with AP a LOT recently. He finally had enough and said, "Why are you doing this? Please stop". I straight away knew the answer - I was having a really tough time with Bright Eyes and I felt that I was failing him and working super hard for almost no result. By picking on AP, I could make myself feel better, and not have to address the fact that I am not completely wise, capable or together.
After a bit of sulking around, I finally admitted this to my husband, and was blown away by the lack of judgment, anger and effectively 'punishment' in his demeanour and actions. It made me feel much more able to be honest and open with him in the future. After this, we talked about things we could do that would help me not feel so at a loss with Campbell, and I went and talked to God about the fact that I am not 'together' but that I am complete in Christ.
So to me, that's grace and that's what I want to be showing my children.
Where it's needed, I will identify their behaviour as sinful. And then I will talk with them about why they are doing it, listen to them, help them understand the truth, and then help them find some strategies to avoid doing the same thing in the future.