October 5, 2018

Discipline: A Positive Approach

When we want to bring out the best in our kids.

Ruth A. Edwards

To whom do the children belong? Most Americans would respond, “To their parents,” and insist that parents are responsible for educating and providing for their children. In Seventh-day Adventist circles most parents dedicate their children to God at an early age. This suggests that our children belong to the Lord, and that we can look to Him through His Word and the writings of Ellen White for guidance and instruction in raising them. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Matt. 19:14)?

When it comes to raising children, a word that can evoke both emotion and controversy is “discipline.” Whether we are parents or teachers, we appreciate those who possess the ability to administer discipline wisely and effectively. Most of the strong personal opinions that many of us hold on the subject of discipline are based on our own experiences in the home, at school, with neighbors, and with others. Some of these experiences were likely commendable; others may have been abhorrent. From those experiences often come strong, admirable convictions that are extremely valuable in interacting with children. Yet we often don’t find them totally adequate in directing a child effectively. We need more help.

The object of discipline is to train children for self-government, that they may develop self-reliance and self-control.

ln the chapter titled “Discipline” in the book
Education Ellen White discusses the atmosphere in which discipline is to be administered, and effective methods of administering it. “The object of discipline is the training of the child for self-government. He should be taught self-reliance and self-control. Therefore as soon as he is capable of understanding, his reason should be enlisted on the side of obedience. Let all dealing with him be such as to show obedience to be just and reasonable.”1

The object of discipline is to train children for self-government, that they may develop self-reliance and self-control. We want our children to do what they know is right and wise when we are not there to guide them. For that to happen, we parents and teachers must follow certain guidelines. Ellen White spells out 10 principles we would do well to buy into as we attempt to develop self-control in our children.

1Encourage confidence and strengthen the child’s sense of honor. “Children and youth are benefited by being trusted. . . . Suspicion demoralizes, producing the very evils it seeks to prevent. . . . Lead the youth to feel that they are trusted, and there are few who will not seek to prove themselves worthy of the trust.”2

2Request rather than command. “The one thus addressed has opportunity to prove himself loyal to right principles. His obedience is the result of choice rather than compulsion.”3

3Rules should be few, well thought out, and enforced. “Whatever it is found impossible to change, the mind learns to recognize and adapt itself to; but the possibility of indulgence induces desire, hope, and uncertainty, and the results are restlessness, irritabílity, and insubordination.”4

4Do not compromise with evil. “Neither in the home nor in the school should disobedience be tolerated. . . . lt is not love but sentimentalism that palters with wrongdoing, seeks by coaxing or bribes to secure  compliance, and finally accepts some substitute in place of the thing required.”5

5Do not treat sin lightly. “Terrible is [sin’s] power over the wrongdoer. . . . The greatest wrong done to a child or youth is to allow him to become fastened in the bondage of evil habit.”6

6Guard against faultfinding and censure. “Continual censure bewilders, but does not reform. With many minds, and often those of the finest susceptibility, an atmosphere of unsympathetic criticism is fatal to effort.”7

7Frequent censure results in discouragement. “A child frequently censured for some special fault comes to regard that fault as his peculiarity, something against which it is vain to strive. Thus are created discouragement and hopelessness, often concealed under an appearance of indifference or bravado.”8

8Remember the Savior’s rule: Do to others as you would want them to do to you (see Luke 6:31). This “should be the rule of all who undertake the training of children and youth. They are the younger members of the Lord’s family, heirs with us of the grace of life. Christ’s rule should be sacredly observed toward the dullest, the youngest, the most blundering, and even toward the erring and rebellious.”9

9Do not make public the child’s faults and mistakes. The teacher or parent should “seek to avoid giving reproof or punishment in the presence of others.”10

10Learn self-control before attempting to teach it to others. “To deal passionately with a child or youth will only arouse his resentment. When a parent or teacher becomes impatient and is in danger of speaking unwisely, let him remain silent. There is wonderful power in silence.”11

Developing the Framework

In the preceding principles we find the framework for developing self-control and character building in children and youth. But what about the times—and they surely will come—that children step over the line and disobey?

Too many methods of discipline, such as threatening and bribing, do not result in the development of self-control. So what approach should we take? Another paragraph from
Education helps to guide us.12 Its principles are as follows:

The true object of reproof is gained when: (1) wrongdoers are led to see their faults; (2) the will is enlisted for correction of the fault; and this being accomplished, (3) the children are pointed to Jesus, the source of pardon and power; (4) the children’s self-respect is preserved; and (5) children are inspired with courage and hope.

Effective but Appropriate Methods of Discipline

As a teacher I often struggled to find effective, appropriate ways of dealing with children who needed to be corrected. I tried many of the methods that were currently popular. I was not happy with any of them. Then in a teacher’s magazine I found an approach that matched what was written in the book
Education. It was proposed by American psychiatrist William Glasser,13 and I found that it worked in my classroom. Here is a synopsis of what Glasser suggested:

Isolate children until your own feelings are under control. Then sit down beside them, and in a friendly voice, ask three questions:

1What did you do? Do not ask what someone else did or what the extenuating circumstances were. Stay with the question “What did you do?” until the children take responsibility for their actions.

2Did it help you? Children are amazingly willing to admit that misbehavior doesn’t help them.

3What do you plan to do next time? Accept the children’s plan without trying to modify it, and encourage the children that their plan will work.

I always added prayer to Glasser’s method. Pray with children, both for forgiveness and for power to work out their proposed plan for dealing with similar situations in the future. Prayer is appropriate, but never force prayer from a child.

When this method is used the recognition of wrongdoing is the child’s. The recognition that it didn’t work is the child’s. And the plan to improve is also the child’s. This combination usually results in success.

Hope and courage come from us: adults. Forgiveness and strength come from Jesus.


  1. Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903, 1952), p. 287.
  2. Ibid., pp. 289, 290.
  3. Ibid., p. 290.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., p. 291.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., pp. 292, 293.
  10. Ibid., p. 293.
  11. Ibid., p. 292.
  12. Ibid., pp. 291, 292.
  13. www.psychologistanywhereanytime.com/famous_psychologist_and_psychologists/psychologist_famous_william_glasser.htm.

Ruth A. Edwards, a retired schoolteacher, writes from Washington State.

Ruth A. Edwards
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