When Time Out Doesn’t Work

Same rules as before. Please comment. Ask questions. Disagree. But be kind. Always be kind.

Last week when we were chatting about discipline, I was emailed a question. “Since you took spanking off the table in your home, did you replace it with Time Out?”

Well, Yes and No. When we keep in mind that discipline is the opportunity to learn how to govern, placing children in arbitrary Time Out just to punish them, does little long term good. We must (as discipline providers–go ahead, put that on your resume) keep in mind our motive. Why are we dispensing discipline?

Here are just a few responses I’ve heard and some I’ve thought… because the world is hard and they need to be tough… because everyone has to pay for their mistakes…. because I must even the score…. because If I spare the rod, my child will be spoiled….because it’s expected of me…. because I love my child…because they must learn justice.**

Take a bit of time today and ask yourself why you discipline your children. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your thinking and show you the truth of your heart. There are lots of reasons why parents choose to discipline, and thinking about why we do this will help us use it with wisdom and compassion. In addition we can take our motives (we usually have more than one) and check them with the motives of Jesus. Luke is 24 chapters, read one a day with the questions in mind, “Why is Jesus doing this?” “What is his motive?” Luke. specifically, gives us the most stories with children.

When I used Time Out in the same manner I was using spanking, by harnessing fear to manipulate, I got the same crappy results. I may have compliance when I’m present, but all out Lord of the Flies in my absence. Fear works best if the “enforcer” is present.  I want my children to be able to govern themselves whether I’m present or not.

However, Time Out can be used as a wonderful space for solitude and silence.  When I turned the Time Out space into a Sacred Space everything changed. In our Sacred Space we placed a battery powered lantern, a few reflective children’s books*, paper and crayons. We housed these things in a Sponge Bob, Square Pants tent we found at a yard sale.  The “rule” went something like this. When a child was fighting with a sibling I said, “I think you might need some Tent time?” Or When a child was having a melt down, or when I was having one, “Tent time?”

We weren’t kicking them out of the family for their behavior instead we were inviting them into a space with God, where the Spirit could do what the Spirit does best, comfort and convict. I will say I think it helped that I modeled what this could look like. If I needed a break I went to the Tent. When I came out and joined the family, sometimes I offered apologies other times I returned with a better disposition. The kids followed suit.

After only a few weeks the children were initiating their Tent time. They began to go on their own when they knew they were struggling, it continues to this day. We have switched things out over the years, as the kids have matured. Finally, the SBSP Tent died (Thank God!) and was replaced with a special chair. Prayer beads and a Jesus Journal (a notebook where we write things we need to say to Jesus) have replaced the books and crayons. We especially love to pray with labyrinths.***

A Sacred Time Out Space will not meet all your discipline needs. This is not a one size fits all children, parents, or situations. We remember that these are just tools. Tools to help our children learn to govern themselves and tools to help them lean into their God who loves them very much.


*We really loved these books in our Tent.




**As an aside teaching justice is important. It is very important if we want our children to go out into the world and be advocates of justice, by supporting and loving and speaking for the least of these. Justice, though, can be taught without fear. (That’s for another blog post.)

***We like this one. As we move to the center of the circle we talk to God. As we move outward, we listen.


Some Thoughts on Discipline: Part 3

*Welcome to our respectful discussion. No poo throwing! If you insist on poo throwing I will honor those around you by deleting your post.

*This discussion has three parts. Part 1: Honor This Child was posted on Tuesday. Part 2: Train Them to Govern Themselves was posted on Wednesday. Part 3: My Spanking Story is posted today. I’m glad you’re here.

Part 3: My Spanking Story

Due to a player in the NFL using a switch on his child, spanking is in the headlines once again. The web is full of experiences and opinions. I am also going to share my experience and opinion. But before I do, I want to encourage you as you struggle and question. Perfect parenting has always been a myth. Having all the answers has always been a myth. No one is a perfect parent and no one has all the answers. Every loving parent struggles, questions, and makes mistakes. I think God intends it this way. Parenting exposes our inadequacies like nothing else. Parenting teaches us that we need help. Take your struggles to God, wrestle with them, and sometimes even wrestle with God. You may walk away with a limp, but you will also leave with humility and guidance. (Not a bad trade for my money.)

I am not going to tell you what to do about spanking, but I encourage you to move away from popular opinion, even move away from how you were parented, and seek God in this decision. Bring your concerns to God, pray, struggle, study and struggle some more. Here are a few resources that have helped me along the way. It is my prayer they help you too.

• The Child in Christian Thought, edited by Marcia J. Bunge. This book has a wealth of information and critical thought. It is not based on pop culture; it is based on history. It will be worth your while to work though.

• The Busy Family’s Guide to Spirituality by David Robinson This book looks at the family as a community of people walk together with God. I like that.

Also if you would like to check out other views on the “spare the rod, spoil the child” Proverb, these are helpful.




A Confession (as I take a deep breath…)

I had been thinking about it for some time. Even while I spanked my children I was thinking about it. To be clear: the spanking I visited upon my children consisted of an open-handed swat to the rear end. Spanking meant something more severe in my family of origin, so this was seen as doing “not much.” But even the little I was doing was weighing on my mind and heart. One Lenten season the weight was too much. As had been my custom during Lent I was meditating on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. My mind was going through all that he accomplished that day, the truths found in every theory of atonement. There is so much! But there was one new connection that took me by surprise to such an extent, I changed my parenting completely.

It was like a flash of revelation where one minute I was thinking about the cross and the next minute the cross was connected to Exodus 21:24, “an eye for an eye.” The next minute my mind jumped to Matthew 5:38, “turn the other cheek. “ I understood in a split second Jesus’ act on the cross put an end to violence as an acceptable response.

I wondered if this wasn’t a progressive plan the Trinity hatched up in the beginning. Knowing that human kind had devolved to such a state, it would take baby steps to move us to stop hurting each other. The first baby step for our learning to love was to limit revenge killing. The “eye for an eye” rule meant that families couldn’t wipe out a whole clan out of revenge for a smaller infraction. “An eye for an eye” was an act of limiting a violent response. Jesus then took it another baby step further by telling us, “Don’t return the violent act at all, instead turn the other cheek.” Finally, in an act to end all violence, he gave his life. One last violent act to end them all.

I wrestled with this revelation. First I wrestled with how this would impact my children. Then I wrestled with what my extended family would think. In the end I decided that I had to follow the Good Shepherd. I had to follow the guidance I’d been given. So one day I gathered my daughters, and with tears streaming down my face and my head in my hands, I confessed. “Girls, I’m sorry I spanked you. I mean I’m sorry I’ve been spanking you all along. God has helped me to see that I was wrong and I’m sorry.”

My eldest daughter ran to my side and gathered me into her arms and said, “I forgive you mom.” My other daughter came by my side as well. She said, “Well this is certainly something you don’t hear every day.” (That kid’s comedic timing is fantastic.)

Not everyone is going to agree with my decision or my theology. I’m okay with that. I’m only asking that we all think about this. I’m asking that we consider other options, that we study, and that we wrestle. I believe our children are worth that.

So how to discipline when spanking is off the table? Each child is different and each home is different and that is right and good.

Perhaps a few guidelines might help.

• Remember to honor your children. Even in disciplining, honor them.

• Remember you are training your children to govern themselves. You are aiming for increased independence, Most important, you are training them to have their very own relationship with God. Consider this fact with each discipline decision you make.

• Fear has never been a lasting motivator. It may work momentarily, but it fades pretty quickly. Love though? Love is a great motivator and it does actually move mountains.

• Take a bit of time to reflect before doling out discipline. Don’t be in a hurry. Think it through. The kids can wait. It will drive them nuts, but they’ll learn.

• Be consistent. Whatever you do decide, follow through. This is part of honoring them, being a person of your word.

• Let grace and mercy flow. Read and reread the Gospels. Let the mind and heart of Jesus work its way into yours. This will help shape your responses to be like his would be if he were you and parenting your kids.

Although this post has gone on for days, it is woefully inadequate. I wish we could sit together at my kitchen table and discuss our struggle and our hope. In the absence of that, I pray that these words have given guidance and a place to start.

May I offer you and your children a blessing?

May the Lord bless you and keep you;

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Some Thoughts on Discipline: Part 2

*Please be aware: This is day two of a respectful discussion here. No poo throwing! If you insist on poo throwing I will honor those around you by deleting your post.

*You have joined  a discussion on discipline Part 1: Honor This Child was yesterday. Part 2: Train Them to Govern Themselves is today. Part 3: My Spanking Story will be posted on Thursday.

Part 2: Train Them to Govern Themselves

Effective discipline has a purpose and it’s not to control children. It is to teach them to govern themselves. This image of God that children bear is not static. Being made in the image of God means that human beings have a drive to choose for themselves. We come with a drive—a compelling desire— to govern. During a conversation with a friend about his nine-month-old daughter he said, “Her will is already coming out!” He was right. His daughter was born with a will, and God gave it to her. God, who created her will, has no desire to break it (Matthew 12:20). He does desire that she learn to link up her will with his and become a force for good. A while back it was a favorite saying that parents must break the spirit or the will of the child. We have no right to break something that isn’t ours and that we didn’t create. This is the epitomé of “trespassing” (Matthew 6:12). The famous Scripture verse Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (KJV). As parents our job (bad pay, no insurance or retirement— I know!) is to train our children. We are training them to not be obedient automatons, but to be a force for goodness in the world.

My question from yesterday, “How do I honor my children?” today becomes, “How do I train my children to govern themselves?” Training, like honoring, is hard work.

I know one thing: The key to training is consistency.

If I want my kids to brush their teeth every day I have to train them. Every day. I have to show them that I indeed brush my teeth. I have to expect that they will brush theirs. I have to make sure they have the tools: brushes, paste, and water. I need to check and make sure that they are doing it. When they are young I will have to do it with them, and even sometimes when they are older and have started slacking off.

Now think of it in terms of training kids to getting along with a sibling. I have to show them that I indeed get along with others too. (Here’s another thing I know: More is caught than taught. If we want to know what our “big sin issues” are, we just have to watch our kids, who often pick up some of the worst of our behaviors.) I have to expect that they will get along with others. I have to make sure that they have the tools to get along with others. I need to check in and see how their relationships are going. When they are young I will have to intervene in a lot of sibling squabbles, not to hand out punishment, but to show them what getting along looks like. As they grow older and their abilities to govern themselves increase, I’m backing off.

All kids are different so each child is going to need to be trained in ways that fit their particular needs. We have a saying in our house that goes something like “Fairness isn’t everybody getting the same. Fairness is everybody getting what they need.” This is a more mature view of fairness than most kids have, and my children (okay: me too) are growing into it. As we train our children for growing independence, as we train them to govern themselves, we have to keep in mind that they are each “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and oh-so–different from one another. The techniques that work for one really well may not help another as much.

As my friend, Kevin, recently pointed out parents are different too. We also have our own personalities and temperaments. We need to be self-aware enough to know what discipline techniques we can actually administer. For example chore charts and stickers and elaborate reward systems are not for me. I can’t keep up with my keys, this would burden me to death. But it does work for some, and I’m cheering for them.

What happens when children question and attempt to subvert our training? (Well, first, I have a glass of port. Ha!) One of our kids is a questioner. It seems since birth she has been questioning our decisions. Mostly she is respectful. Mostly she does what we ask. But constantly she questions. At first I thought I was going to go crazy. Then I had a short phase (thank God for its being short) when I thought it was disrespectful for her to question me. Finally it occurred to me that I want her to learn to question, as well as to do as she is asked.

Teaching children to submit to authority without question leaves our children open to danger. The people who take authority in her life won’t always have her very best good in mind, and in those cases she needs to know how to question. She needs to know how to rebel. Constant submitting without question also does not teach her to govern her own life. If our decisions don’t make sense to her, she should question. God has given her a mind and heart and he fully expects her to use it. Teaching her wisdom is also part of training her to govern herself.

Here are some of the ways we try to teach her wisdom in her questioning. (Our daughter is 13, so we’ve been working up to this for 13 years. Don’t expect your 7 year-old to pull this off. But this is what we are working toward. Heck some days I’m still working on this!)

• Her argument must be clear and honest.

• She must honor the image of God in the person she’s speaking to.

• In the end she must seek the guidance of God and do what he says.

Questions and actions for consideration

Pause for just a second. Take a deep breath. Reflect on your recent interactions with your children. Pick one that stands out. Ask yourself: was my goal to train my children to govern themselves?

You may find yourself chest deep in a sea of guilt. Will you let me offer you a life line? God is not for guilt. God is for learning to walk with him. Please take a minute and read Psalm 23, aloud. Yes, aloud. You need to hear that the Good Shepherd travels this road with you and your children. You are learning together, and the Good Shepherd is with you.

Parenting is a hard job. Ask God to give you a little grace, a little break, a little mercy. He longs to lavish these, I think, especially on parents. He knows it’s a hard job. He’s a parent too.

Some Thoughts on Discipline: Part 1

*Please be aware: I am opening up a respectful discussion here. No poo throwing! If you insist on poo throwing I will honor those around you by deleting your post.

*This turned into a topic I couldn’t blog about in just one day. So this will have three parts. Part 1: Honor This Child is posted on Tuesday. Part 2: Train Them to Govern Themselves will be posted on Wednesday. Part 3: My Spanking Story will be posted on Thursday.

Some Thoughts on Discipline

I’m approaching this topic with an enormous amount of fear and trepidation. I’m not so great with conflict and there has been a boat load of conflict over this issue. I also do not want to be seen as presenting myself as an authority on child raising. Like you, I do the best I can. Like you, I pray and pore over these topics. Like you, I make my fair share of mistakes and ask forgiveness both from God and from my family. I don’t have a 1, 2, 3 plan for easy discipline. I also don’t have all the answers. Mostly I have questions and I have a sense of the image of God that has been placed in each child. Each of the following sections is more like something for you to pray about and bring before God. If God had made automatons instead of human beings, there could be a one-size-fits-all approach to raising children. But if you are a parent you have already learned this gig isn’t going to be quick or easy. This is going to take some wrestling, some soul searching and as much of the Holy Spirit as you can stand.

Part 1: Honor this Child

How should we treat a person who bears the image of God? Each human being bears the image of God, every single one (Gen. 1:26, 27). That doesn’t mean that they won’t fight against this fact, or covered it up as fast as possible, but it does mean that each person deserves the highest honor. Yes, honor. The child who keeps wiping their boogers on your shirt deserves honor. If we believe that adults are always better or higher up in the hierarchy, honoring children just might sound wrong.  Jesus, though, turned that system on its head (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus intentionally brings a child into the midst of adults and honors her (Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:16, Matthew 19:14). Please hear me that it does no good to romanticize children or childhood. They aren’t perfect little angels or miniature gods. Instead let’s look honestly at how we honor (not worship, or falsely inflate)our children.

The question I ask myself is “How do I honor my children? How do I ascribe them the dignity they are due?” Here are a few practical ways I strive to do this:

• When they are present do not speak about them as if they are not there.

• Do not call them derogatory names.

• Do not speak about them to someone else unless they have given permission.

• Make every effort to keep my word to them.

• Ask their opinion on things that include them and some that don’t. (It doesn’t mean I have to follow their suggestions. It means I ask and then listen.)

• If they are reaping a consequence, let them reap it. I honor the choice they made and the consequence involved. Giving them grace may not be protecting them from consequences of their choices but instead walking the consequence out with them. Walking the consequence out with them teaches kindness and compassion.

• Tell them the truth, refusing to bend it in order to manipulate them to my will.

In essence I endeavor to treat them as I would any other person I respect.

And let me make the obvious point: they are much more likely to honor you if you have set the standard of honor in the home. Let me also say that my oldest daughter is only 13, so I have yet to really put some miles on this approach. But how many times have I heard my children say, “You say I shouldn’t do it, but you do it!” How I behave is observed and mimicked by them. If I set the standard at dishonor, I can for certain expect to receive it. God honored children when he made them in his image. He could have waited until they became adults. (The ancient Romans had a few beliefs along these lines.) But he didn’t. At their very beginning, at our very beginning, we are given honor. By God, no less.

Lastly, what do we do if we realize we haven’t been honoring our children? We ask forgiveness. There are few things more powerful in the world than a parent asking forgiveness from her/his children. I will never forget hearing my mother ask my forgiveness.

You might say something like, “(Child’s name), I haven’t been very honoring of you lately. When I did (confess the incident in detail) I didn’t honor you. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” This is the gate to the road of honor.

Further, I have invited my children to tell me when they don’t feel I’m honoring them. (Seriously. Ouch.) Mostly they have been right on, though sometimes the problem is miscommunication rather than dishonor. But boy, has this brought me to the throne of God as I ask him to change me into someone who honors others!

Questions and actions for consideration

So how about it? What are your thoughts? Does this sound right to you?

Think about your actions over the course of this day. Where and when did you choose to honor your children?