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Children and Discipline (Judy Pappoff)

As Orthodox parents, we want to teach our children the “right” way to be.  We want them to behave themselves in public, treat others with respect, use their talents, and live fulfilling lives.  More importantly, we want them to orient their entire lives toward salvation. We want them to be disciplined Orthodox Christians, Disciples of Christ.  This is no easy task, especially since we need to be disciplined ourselves.  Our journey and struggle though Lent is a perfect opportunity to discuss this with our children.

Discipline is best understood in terms of achieving a goal.  Our goal, or target, is salvation.  Just as an archer must adjust his aim to hit the middle circle of his target, we must constantly adjust our behavior toward salvation.  We parents cannot do all that is necessary to assure our children attain salvation.  We can, however, make them conscious of the goal, and we can set the stage.  How do we do this?

1.  We aim our own lives toward God.  It is through example that our children learn.  We need to be constantly aware that our children are watching and emulating us and discipline ourselves accordingly.

2.  We need to help our children learn to set goals for themselves.  This will involve more listening and less praising or criticizing on our part.  For example, when the report card comes from the school, rather than comment one way or the other immediately, first say something like, “Wow! Look at that!” (whether it is “good” or “bad”) What do YOU think of that?” At this point, listen.  This gives the child a chance to reflect on what he or she expects from him/herself, and helps the child set new goals.  When they set the goal, children are much more likely to discipline themselves to achieve it.

3.  We need to modify our home.  Decrease the distractions.  Turn off the television for periods of time, and let the answering machine work for you.  Set the example by involving yourself in a project which requires your own discipline to complete the task, e.g., reading a whole book, or regular prayer time.

4.  Discuss options with your child.  Present your child with some “what if” scenarios.  Listen to their responses. “What if you studied two hours, watched television one hour, and had an hour left to work on a hobby or read or play?”  “What kind of person do you think God wants you to be?”  The child should conclude that be disciplined, having and following a plan, is preferable to passing time aimlessly.

We can help our children discipline themselves to fast and to pray.  Speak with them about fasting and prayer and spiritual struggle, and ask them what they would like to give up (or take on) during our fasting periods.  The child will accept this better if he/she has experienced setting and disciplining him/herself toward his/her goals.

Practicing self-control is necessary for our children to make the most of their God-given talents.  We have a great opportunity as parents to influence the direction of our children’s lives.  Let us make the most of this opportunity by helping our children aim and follow through by learning and using self-discipline.


by Judy Pappoff, Faith and Family (April 2002)