We have various forms of discipline in our home because motivation and consequences are not one-size-fits-all. If you have children, chances are that you will identify with the caricatures of our children. First-born: driven, talented, organized, in-charge. With this one, it seemed like spanking as a consequence rarely achieved its intended goal. Rather than result in contrition and correction it appeared to channel some viking that formerly inhabited my precious little girl's body. It was a carefully orchestrated feat of human origami to get all of the flailing appendages pinned down long enough for me to “apply the needed correction”. But the worst part was that, correction applied, behavior was rarely modified. She would return to the same action or attitude shortly after the faint glow of discipline faded from her backside.
For her, we needed to try another approach. Mind you, this is the child who could say “constipated” (don't ask...) when she was 2 years old and from her baby pictures was referred to as an “old soul”. I'm not even totally sure what that means, but it seems accurate... maybe it was the old soul of the aforementioned Viking. At any rate, the path with this primary progeny was to “reason with her”. I know, I know... But for whatever reason, my wife's Mini-Me had the intellectual capacity early on to process the cause/effect of discipline. We also tried letting her read through some of the current parental counseling books, but frankly she found the logic a little trifling. She seems to be more affected by the idea of having done something wrong than by the effect it had on the ones who were wronged.
The OTHER two, however, were not the systematic, logical, ordered beings we had seen in their forerunner. No, these were the ones that would eat Parmesan cheese right out of the shaker and pats of butter to kill time at restaurants. The penultimate and ultimate Sampson spawn were and are laid back cuddlers. For them, the pain of discipline was less in the idea of having erred (my son has been known to apologize for things he didn't even do!) and more in the thought of having disappointed someone or having somehow broken the cuddling relationship – if only briefly. Point being, for correction to be effective, it has to be appropriate for the moment as well as for the recipient.
I remember one occasion in particular that I think highlights the effectiveness of tailoring discipline to the particular personalities of our little ones. After all, our goal is the shape their will without breaking their spirit.
As children are wont to do, our girls were having a struggle with selfishness and lack of appreciation for that with which they have been blessed. Our son was newly on the scene and yet to develop his alter ego – Fooper Jack – who would lead him into many perils. So, this particular interaction was with just the girls. I assume the impetus for the correction was some attitude of ungratefulness. The offense had not yet reached the pitch at which it had breached the barrier between “correction by instruction” and “correction by consequence”. My wife, instead, employed the elements of iron-clad logic, informing our young lasses that there are those in this world who do not enjoy the many benefits that they do. I believe something was mentioned about people who may not know where their next meal is coming from or do not have the blessing of a roof over their head. They may, indeed, have to forage for their next meal from things thrown out by others and sleep in whatever will function as shelter for the night. If I know my wife, it was a well-scripted allegory, rife with plot lines, character development, an element of suspense and a tinge of hyperbole. She really is a talented writer – one to whom I will soon turn over this space so that you, too, may enjoy her abilities. Seeming to have recognized the weight of their offense, the girls apologized for their attitudes and were off to another room – ostensibly to ruminate over their misdeeds and to assimilate their repentance into their forming character... or so we thought. After about a half an hour, I encountered them again as I was passing through the room in which they were playing. Predictably, they had been able to move on from their earlier correction and were once again engrossed in imagination. As they happily played in their amazing world of make-believe, the older of the two (who likely was the organizer of the fanciful scene in their minds), looked up at me with an excited, beaming glance and announced, “We're pretending to be poor people!!” Her diminutive side-kick then added with increasing excitement, “WE SWEEP IN TWASH CANS!!” Clearly they had been deeply affected by the lessons of the morning. We call this, “Discipline Wide Right” or “Shank”, for short. Sometimes the most skillfully crafted correction fails to hit its mark. It was obvious that thankfulness was going to take a little longer to form in my girls – and we were going to have to find a new means of correction.
This is one of the things that amazes me about God. If I have learned anything of Him of late it is that He is a fantasticly creative disciplinarian. He knows His children so well and knows what correction they need. And, in His infinite love and patience, He is able to bring needed (though not always pleasant) discipline to His children – taking into account all aspects of their personalities and desires. At times, His recipients are simply too engrossed in the fanciful worlds of their own minds to hear. May we step back today and receive wisdom and correction from our gracious Father.