Adornment and Toddlers

When a king’s face brightens, it means life;
his favor is like a rain cloud in spring. Proverbs 16:15

Thanks to Omar for sending in the following question:

What advice do you have in helping a two year old to view discipline as “an adornment” and not merely as correcting bad behavior?

This refers to a post from last January. One purpose of the blog is to provide an archive of topics and issues that will be a practical resource for families. Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Omar, this is a good question. First, your own countenance matters. You must believe that your child is being adorned by your words and discipline. Proverbs 16:15 teaches that the countenance of the one in authority has an impact on those under authority. This is especially true for children. When you discipline your children you are giving them the most precious of gifts. You are pointing them to Christ! Numerous passages teach the truths found in Ephesians 2:1-4. Children are born enemies of God and do things according to their flesh rather than according to the Spirit. Confrontation, then, is a normal, inevitable part of raising children. If you approach this confrontation with a resigned, discouraged or sad spirit, your children will notice, even your toddlers. If, however, you approach discipline with a joyful spirit, confident that confronting their sin can be used by God to bring them to faith in Christ, you have taken the first step towards adornment. I am not saying that you approach discipline with glee–but there should be a spirit of joy and gratitude to God that you can bring his truth and reconciliation to your children.

Second, your words must be words of hope and encouragement. Think of Proverbs 16 as the leadership chapter. Verses 20-24 of this chapter teach that “pleasant words promote instruction.” (For more on the power of pleasant words see the appropriate chapters in Instructing a Child’s Heart and in Everyday Talk.) It is easy to think that pleasant words and the rod are antithetical. However, just the opposite is true. Raised voices, angry words and scowling faces are poor substitutes for the combination of pleasant words and the rod. This is what Proverbs 13:24 teaches:
He who spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

Notice in this passage that the rod is administered with care and love. If you find yourself being angry, speaking harshly to your children, or even snapping at them, you prove the point of this passage. Love is not conveyed by this kind of language and attitude. Discipline should always be administered with great care and forethought. You know your children’s tendencies and patterns. You know the areas where they need discipline and loving correction. Knee-jerk responses and exasperated tones are not the discipline envisioned by this verse or the ones in Proverbs 16:20-24. Discipline must follow God’s example and attitude. Proverbs 3:11&12 teaches that “the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” This same truth is taught in Hebrews 12:5-11 and in Revelation 3:19. Godly discipline comes from a spirit of delight and love. Bruce Waltke’s translation of Proverbs 13:24 brings this to light:
The one who holds back his rod is one who hates his son,
But the one who loves him seeks him diligently with discipline.

Seeking a child diligently with discipline is a breathtaking concept. So often discipline is seen as a tool of last resort, to be used only after cajoling, pleading, bartering, coaxing, and other such attempts have failed. Finally, in exasperation , some form of discipline is used. This will not lead to the adornment of children. This point is especially important for two year olds and toddlers. These young children may not understand all the fine points that lead to their discipline, but they for sure will understand that an exasperated, frustrated, scowling parent is not good.  For all children, but especially with young ones, it is important that discipline be undertaken with forethought and care. Thus, pleasant words spoken in an even, loving tone, accompanying the rod when it is necessary, is also essential for discipline that adorns.

Third, praying with your child when you are in the discipline process marks the time as special. Praying for God’s mercy to fall upon your child through your discipline provides a significant attitude check for you as a parent. Discipline is not about making your life easier as a parent–it is presenting the gospel grace of Christ to your children.

A young child can be driven away from God’s discipline by a scowling countenance, harsh, angry words, and discipline that is delivered as retribution for bad behavior. Or, conversely, a young child can be adorned by a concerned, loving countenance, pleasant, even words, and targeted discipline that is framed with prayer and love. For young children, this means your discipline must not be reactive but well thought out. One way to be prepared is to be talking with your children about why you apply discipline and when you will discipline. You must let them know in advance that this discipline is an indication of your love for them and is based upon God’s direction to them. Another part of this preparation is having passages ready to give to your children that specifically illustrate God’s direction. For example, Philippians 2:14-16 is a passage that you can begin using with toddlers and continue to build upon through out the teenage years. Initially, you would teach just verse 14, do everything without complaining or arguing. Then, as your children grow older, you can add the powerful motivation of shining like stars in this dark world so that God is honored.

Omar, let me know if this is helpful. This is a point of vital concern for all who desire to shepherd the hearts of their children towards Christ.

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