Thursday, January 31, 2013


We want to introduce you to our good friend, Tana Carder. Tana is happily married to Bryan Carder, and is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom to Sean, age seven. The sixth of sixteen children, ages fifteen to forty, thirteen of whom are adopted, Tana is very familiar with adoption, needless to say! We so appreciate her gift of wisdom as a mother. She hopes that her parenting and insights convey the love and grace of Jesus with which she has been blessed.

Punishment and Discipline

Is it really just a matter of semantics, or does the difference between these two words go to the very heart of family dynamics and the relationship between parent and child? I love this post from Beth Templeton that uses the word 'training' instead of discipline as an alternative to punishment, because it sweeps any possible argument about semantics away. However, I know that 'discipline' is a popular term in Christian parenting, so today that's the word I'll discuss.

What Do Punishment and Discipline Mean?

Punishment is "suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution" or "a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure" or even "severe, rough, or disastrous treatment." 
Discipline is, "punishment" or "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character" or "control gained by enforcing obedience or order" (Merriam-Webster). 
It's easy to see why the lines between the two are blurry. From a parenting point of view, though, I think we can have more clarity. To put it simply, discipline guides and teaches, while punishment exacts retribution for the purpose of behavior modification. Discipline is a parent's effort to discover the why's of a child's poor choices and help them to make positive heart changes (that tend to lead to behavior changes) while protecting the parent-child relationship and encouraging the child in his identity in Christ. Let me  give you a recent example before we continue.

What does Punishment look like?

Recently on the internet an image went around of a child holding a sign explaining that due to his ingratitude for an action figure that he received at church, he was forced to sell the Playstation 3 his parents had planned to give him and use the money to buy toys for less fortunate children. 

I'm sure his punishment taught him that in the future he should pretend to be grateful even when he isn't to avoid future suffering, loss, and public humiliation. What punishment did not teach the boy was that even if he doesn't like a gift, he can be truthfully grateful that someone cared enough about him to give him something and react graciously to protect the giver from hurt feelings without pretending. 
He also most likely learned that his parents are bullies who care more about being seen as 'effective' parents than they do about his heart. They probably are not, but that's the message that punishment sends. It says, "I am more powerful than you are, and if you do not please me, I will hurt you, and shame you, and make you pay." 
Discipline, on the other hand, would possibly have had the parents taking the child aside privately, (because love does not shame the beloved), guiding him to think about how he would feel if the roles were reversed, and getting him involved in willingly doing something positive to make things right with the giver (restitution, not retribution). I'm not sure what, because I think it would be important to find out what the child felt was the path to restitution. It's possible that since this was a gift from church, no one else was personally involved until his parents posted it for internet scrutiny. It still would have been a great opportunity to teach the boy to say, "Thank you so much for thinking of me," or, "That's so generous of you, thank you!" when presented with an unwanted gift. This would have taught the boy that others' feelings are as important as his own without causing needless suffering and damage to his relationship with his parents.

What Does the Bible Say About Punishment? 

Let's take a look at Proverbs 13:24, 
"He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." (NIV) 
It's fair to say that many parents choose to define 'discipline' as 'punishment' when they read this verse. However, I believe the use of the word 'rod' is a reference to guiding sheep with a shepherd's rod. No where are we led to understand that the shepherd uses the rod to hit or cause pain to the sheep. He uses it to nudge and to guide them in the right direction, or possibly holds it out beside them like a safety rail so they don't walk off a cliff (sheep aren't very clever). He also uses it to ward off predators, to defend his sheep from harm. A shepherd who didn't use his staff to guide and protect his sheep wouldn't have many sheep for very long. Verses 1-4 of Psalm 23 describe what the Shepherd does, and I think we can use that as our example of how to use the proverbial rod.

"The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
 He lets me rest in green meadows;
 he leads me beside peaceful streams.
 He renews my strength.
 He guides me along right paths,
 bringing honor to his name.
 Even when I walk
 through the darkest valley,
 I will not be afraid,
 for you are close beside me.
 Your rod and your staff
 protect and comfort me." (NLT)

He leads his sheep, he guides them on right paths, he protects and comforts. He does not use his rod and staff to exact retribution on his sheep for acting like sheep. 

We are Free From the Fear of Punishment (so our kids should be, too). 

 1 John 4:16-18 says, 
"We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love." (NLT)

If we are free from fear, how can we want anything less for our children? I don't want to send my child the message that he is free from fear of punishment from God, but he had better be watching out for punishment from me! I know I don't love perfectly, but my love is growing more perfect as I live in God, so there is no place for fear in my relationship with my child. That means that there is also no place for punishment, only the training and instruction that comes from the Lord.

And in Romans 8:1-4 we see that, 

"So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death." (NLT)

Punishment is "a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure." If there's no condemnation because the just requirement of the law is fully satisfied by Christ's sacrifice, then there can be no punishment. If God isn't condemning and punishing me, then when I condemn and punish my child, I am not reflecting God's grace. I am setting a poor example for my child to follow.   

Reflecting God's Grace

As a mother, I'm not trying to fit my child into a “good Christian” mold, I'm striving at every turn to show him Jesus (to guide him along right paths), to put my son's hands into Jesus' (so that even when he walks through the darkest valley, my boy will never be afraid), to let Christ's grace pour through me to anoint every aspect of Sean's life at every opportunity. I prefer the word discipline over punishment, because it implies teaching and instruction. It prizes restitution over retribution. It means that I will be giving my child the tools to be free to do the right thing because that's what is in his heart due to his identity in Christ, instead of behaving properly because he is bound by fear. 'Training' is even better, because it erases any possible ambiguity between words and definitions. Coaches train athletes, preparing them to play well and be victorious. I want to be the kind of parent who trains my child, preparing him to live abundantly and be victorious in Jesus. I pray the same abundance and victory for you and your children, and I hope that my thoughts have been useful to you in your parenting journey.

Want more helpful insights and encouragement in your parenting journey? Come on over to our FACEBOOK PAGE!  We are there daily to partner with you as you love your children. 
We are on Twitter too: @hope_at_home_


  1. This is soooo good!!! And I love her explanation of what she thinks the rod is intended for. So often I think we jump to conclusions what that means. But His rod and staff...THEY COMFORT me!!! They lead and guide...tenderly. What a wonderful encouragement on guidance!!! Thank you Tana for sharing your heart for your loves and seeing them walk with the Shepherd!

    1. Andrea, I also noted your facebook comment that people are skeptical when you describe parenting this way. I don't remember the first time I came across not sparing the rod as anything other than punishment, but I do know I was profoundly relieved. I'd long found the verse somewhat off-putting (to put it mildly) because I had only heard it used to justify punishment. People may look at you like you're crazy, but stand your ground. Maybe one of those people will be grateful to hear another perspective.

  2. This is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing. I want to gently and tenderly guide my children.

    1. Because of Love, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. As parents, we already have the best example of gentle, tender guidance in our Father, bless you for wanting to imitate him.

  3. This is amazing!!!! Thank you so much for sharing this! This is so encouraging for me as a young mother with two little ones who need lots of guidance and "nudges" from me. :)

    1. Lauren, thank you! It really brightens my day to know that something I've said or done has encouraged another mom.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to share this wisdom and truth. We must take time and steps to end the culture of adult bullying and focus on changing behavior. It is the change of heart that is most important and it is "the goodness of God that leads us to repentance". Love establishes our authority and overcomes evil. Control is evil and is death.

    1. TRC, I think that some of the best steps we take to bring about cultural change start in our own homes, with our own children. Just like there are cycles of abuse in families that go on for generations until someone is changed by grace, we can start now, with Jesus shepherding us, to initiate generational cycles of honor and blessing. One of the most awesome things (in my opinion) about adoption is that we have the opportunity to replace generations of abuse or abandonment with Jesus' grace, abundance, and belonging. God is so generous to share that with us!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Tana, what a fount of wisdom has been hidden inside you! It is my great joy to read this wonderfully truth filled encouragement!

  7. Tana, what a fount of wisdom has been hidden inside you! It is my great joy to read this wonderfully truth filled encouragement!

  8. I am so happy to read this. I have been deeply saddened and a bit puzzled by the way Christian parents often show the most law and very little grace in their parenting style. I hope and pray that this will change. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Rachel, I think we (Christian parents) have been afraid for too long that if we don't have every possible infraction covered with a rule and a consequence, if we don't watch every move, our children will not grow up to be 'good Christians'. I also believe that we (and our children) are in the middle of a growing grace revolution that will change our priorities and our ways. I share your prayer for change, and for more and more grace in our families.

  9. This is one of THE best discussions I have ever read on a Christian parent's role in training and guiding his or her child. Thank you for thoroughly laying out the Scripture and how our hearts can be guided in parenting and raising the ones whom God has entrusted to us. Blessings!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, rallisonlee.