Why Isn't It Working?

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). That the rod of correction is capable of driving foolishness from children has been a common theme in two recent articles entitled Gladness or Grief? and “I Don’t Believe in Spanking,” but what are we to think when it doesn’t seem to be working? From time to time I talk with parents who honestly believe they are trying to practice biblical discipline, but find that the foolishness is not being driven out. If the Bible does in fact contain the inspired word of God as is claimed in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, we have to believe that when parental discipline is ineffectual something has been done wrong, and in this article we will consider a few reasons the discipline we have outlined in the previous articles may at times not be working. (Two notes: First, if you haven’t already done so, please read the previously mentioned articles before reading this one. Second, some of the following suggestions are taken from Dare to Discipline by Dr. James Dobson.)




For spanking and our discipline as a whole to be effective, parents must establish in the minds of their children that they will “reap what they sow” (cf. Galatians 6:7). If the same behavior is punished one day and ignored the next, it may leave a child confused or possibly calculating. As children get older they are able to weigh the pleasure of disobedience against the possibility of punishment and will often take the chance that this will be the time their foolishness is ignored. For punishment to be an effective deterrent, the certainty of swift justice must be established. Though Solomon was not addressing the discipline of children in Ecclesiastes 8:11, the principle would certainly apply: “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”


Weakness of the Will


Has a child ever learned to walk without receiving a lot of bumps and bruises during the learning process? While learning to walk can be painful, the normal child will persevere, get past the pain, and achieve the freedom of movement he desires. In a similar fashion, some strong-willed children can endure some pain, i.e. a few spankings, if they believe that they will eventually win. As parents we must not forget that we are bigger and stronger than our children (at least that is the case when the discipline should begin), and we absolutely must win the battle of wills. Do not ever become so frustrated that you become abusive, but if winning the battle requires a second (or third) spanking, so be it.


The three-step plan Gary Ogden offered for handling misbehavior in worship can prove helpful in other situations also. He was often heard to say, “Take them out; wear them out; bring them back.” When asked what should be done if that didn’t work, his answer was, “Take them out; wear them out; bring them back.” He went on to add that if the second trip didn’t work you should try “taking them out; wearing them out; and then bringing them back.” Whether misbehavior at home, at worship, in a store, restaurant, or anywhere else, it is imperative that parents prove to have the stronger of the wills.


Lack of Time


Sometimes parents, perhaps influenced by the permissive attitudes of our time and the articles they read in the pediatrician’s office, allow their children to run wild until one day when they have been thoroughly whipped and humiliated by a toddler, and suddenly realize they need to do something. But parents must understand that when a child has first been allowed to learn disobedience, it is to be expected that learning obedience will take more time than it would have if it had been taught from the beginning. We have previously seen the Scriptural assurances that firm, painful discipline will work, and this is true even when we fail to begin as early as we should. However, understand that it will take longer than it otherwise would have. What should you do if you have allowed your sweet baby to develop into a problem child? As you begin to practice the necessary discipline you will need to be firm, consistent, and maintain your faith in God’s promises as you allow time for the process to work.


No Pain, No Gain


As we sought to make clear in the article “I Don’t Believe in Spanking,” child abuse is an inexcusable crime, but a spanking that does not hurt will rarely help. An effective spanking should not injure a child, but children who play right through skinned knees and bruised noggins are not going to be deterred by a gentle swat to a diapered bottom. Be careful not to injure, but be firm enough to communicate effectively the desired lesson.


Failure to Communicate


Though most children are capable of more than their parents realize, there are occasions when children do not understand what is expected of them. When you set rules for your children, make certain they understand them. Then if the rules are broken and discipline must be administered, be sure they understand why they are being punished and what they need to do in the future to prevent more of the same.


Inconsistencies in Our Lives


“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). As our children grow older we must make certain we are not asking things of them that we are unwilling to do ourselves. When our children are quite small we may get away with it, but as they get older they will see through it and our attempts to discipline them will provoke, discourage, and be completely ineffective.


The training and discipline of children is not an easy task, nor always a pleasant one, but if we love them as we should, we will take the Bible as our guide and “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).


John R. Gibson

All quotations from the New King James Version, copyright 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers