Disciplining a child is important, but disciplining in anger is the opposite of love, and the biblical principles behind this statement are quite simple.
Discipline, regardless of what form it takes, is for the betterment of the child. To teach a young boy or girl right from wrong and danger from safe, discipline must be used because reason and experience are lacking at such a young age. So, we discipline to teach, for example, that fire and running into the street are bad. In other words, discipline is to be completely selfless on the part of the parent as the goal is to help someone other than ourselves, namely the child.
Anger, on the other hand, is all about us. It is, in a word, selfish. I get angry when I am hurt, I am offended, I don’t get what I want, I am embarrassed…I, I, I, me, me me. Selfish.
To summarize: discipline is (ideally) selfless while anger is selfish.
So, when you discipline out of anger, it is not because you want to help someone else but because you yourself believe you have been wronged in some way.
Allow me to wax eloquent.
The point of Christian discipline is ultimately holiness – holiness modeled by the parents and holiness taught to the kids. When we discipline our children, we are modeling the discipline we receive from God which is explained well in Hebrews 12:5-11 which reminds us that “whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (v.6). The writer goes on to say that those who do not receive the discipline of the Lord are not the children of God. That is to say, all God’s children are disciplined by Him. Then, in verse 10, we are given the purpose of discipline: “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” So, again, the purpose of discipline is the holiness of those receiving the discipline. This is our goal as parents as well. To put it another way, we discipline our children for their sake not ours.
On the other hand, when we get angry, it’s all about us. We are hurt, we are offended, we don’t like the situation, etc., so we get angry. It’s the belief that we are entitled to get what we want, the way we want, when we want; a lie that comes from the pit of hell. (Ironically, it is when kids believe these very same things that parents blow up at them.) Anger stems from not getting what we want and is, thus, a result of the sin of self-centered pride. It is no wonder the Lord equates anger with murder in the Sermon on the Mount which is followed by a multitude of New Testament passages stating that anger is sin (not to mention the multitude of proverbs connected anger with the fool – Prov. 12:16; 14:29; 19:11; 27:3; 29:8,11; Eccl. 7:9).
Anger is anger and cannot be justified or moralized simply because it is directed against your children. In fact, a strong case can be made for the opposite. There are many reasons anger can be said to be unholy outside of the simple truth that the Bible says so, and one of the main explanations is that anger is selfish. This is where we get to the main proposition of this article: anger is all about self whereas love is all about others. Thus, discipline is to focus on “them” whereas anger focuses on “us”. When I discipline my children, the goal is to make them, ultimately, more like Christ. How can I do that when I am not exemplifying Christ, the ultimate example of humility and selflessness? If I am disciplining in anger, I am definitely not exemplifying Christ.
It helps to understand the difference between discipline and punishment. When a med student works himself to the point of weariness, this is not punishment but discipline with the goal of becoming a good doctor. Similarly, the athlete’s agonizing training is not punishment, it is discipline for an ultimate prize. In the same way, discipline is a form of training that has a goal which is to teach the child to turn to and obey the Lord. In other words, discipline is not an end in and of itself. Punishment, however, is the end goal: inflicting pain or loss due to a fault committed. Biblical discipline’s goal is to inflict punishment so that the fault committed will not be committed again with the understanding of why (namely, God demands it and not merely because Dad is scary).
I think this point can be further explained by a list of dangers of disciplining in anger.
Disciplining in anger…
- Appeases your wrath rather than teaching them to avoid God’s.
- Stems from a sinful heart rather than a love for God or your children.
- Makes children fear you not God.
- Teaches them when to avoid Mom and Dad at certain times rather than obeying God all the time.
- Is inconsistent (discipline is based on a parent’s subjective ever-changing mood rather than God’s objective unchanging character).
- Involves the very real danger of physically hurting your child as anger can make you apply uncontrolled force (physically and verbally).
- Stems from unholy motivations (not only when an objective fault has transpired but also when Mom or Dad are embarrassed, had a bad day at work, etc.).
If you struggle with disciplining in anger, the remedy should be clear by now: love your kids. It’s not that those who get angry at their children do not love them, but if you apply the biblical definitions of love and anger, then the more you love your kids with a selfless, biblical love then the less you will want to punish them to appease yourself.
When my children need to be disciplined, my wife and I make sure that we let them know what they did wrong in a way that they understand. We tell them they need to be disciplined, and, afterwards, tell them again why this occurred and what they did wrong. All of this is done calmly and without yelling. The end result is that even after the discipline occurs, our kids are appreciative and loving and have even thanked us for doing what we did (we have never instructed them to do this or implied that they should). They are not scared of us or crying afterwards because we have not given them any reason to fear us through inconsistent or unpredictable yelling or undue punishment. They know the process is to teach them in a way that points to someone bigger than us. We are trying to help them and protect them from the wrath of the Creator whereas anger would make them think they need protection from us (and they would be right!)
Though we are imperfect beings, we are striving to do things God’s way for God’s glory, and I hope this helps you to do the same.