Monthly Archives: October 2016

“Discipline That Connects with Your Child’s Heart” by Jim and Lynne Jackson

I’ve pretty much avoided reading parenting books up to this point (aside from a couple baby books), which was only partially intentional. Partly because nothing’s jumped out at me or been handed to me, but there is also a part of me that is wary of trying to fix something when I’m not yet sure which areas it’s broken in. Or rather (since we’re all broken) to try to press myself into a formula or “philosophy” or model of thinking without first discovering what exactly I most need help with.

But obviously (after four years) the time has come, because this book title jumped out at me — discipline methods is something I’ve been wrestling with lately. I’m sure I’m not alone in that… I don’t know many parents who actually enjoy this part! So often I find myself taking an authoritarian approach just out of instinct. I resort so quickly to threats, and “If you don’t ______, then ______” statements, because it’s what I know. So that’s where I (and many others) approached this from, and I think with a foundation like that, this can be a very helpful book.

The authors are both Christian therapists, and it sounds like they’ve had quite a lot of experience, not just with their own children and church, but working with many other families around the country. They sound like a very down-to-earth couple, the kind of people any parent would love to have coffee and chat with.

They acknowledge the inherent difficulties of discipline, but also encourage us to see it as an opportunity because, as mentioned on page 27, “Discipline puts to the test what we most deeply believe. Is Christ’s love longer, wider, higher, and deeper than our children’s (and our) misbehavior? Is God’s mercy present in our ugly conflicts, ultimately drawing our hearts back together — and to Him?”

They present four basic “Discipline That Connects” principles that are arranged like a pyramid, which represent four ideas that we should be aiming to communicate to our children when we discipline them:

First (and the foundation) is “You are safe with me.” This encourages us to face our own fears, histories, and hang-ups as parents, and make sure we are showing our children that we are for them and not against them. Sometimes our discipline is based more on how the child’s misbehavior makes us look rather than what it will do for them.

I loved one of the visuals in this chapter, of a parent approaching conflict as a quarterback taking a snap. They know they have to move the ball forward, but in order to do that they have to take a step back to survey the field and find the best way to go. This is an analogy about how charging into discipline angry doesn’t usually work, and much more forward progress is made when the parent first takes a step back.

Next is “You are loved no matter what.” Bad behavior is often so filled with shame because children know they’ve done wrong and are often waiting for the other shoe to drop. Discipline is one of the times children need love the most, but it can be one of the hardest times to show it.

Next is “You are called and capable.” This emphasizes each child’s unique status as an image-bearer of God and affirms the gifts that he has given them. It means believing in kids, that they can do the right thing, rather than just simply punishing the wrong. One of the sections I found most interesting is when they discuss “gifts gone awry.” I think it’s another way of telling us to look for the best — that even in the messiest and most aggravating situations, our children have gifts that God has given them — they are just using them for the wrong purposes and in the wrong ways. One job of a parent is to recognize this and help them to channel that gift from hurting others and themselves to serving others and honoring God — rather than just building shame over misbehavior.

Last is “You are responsible for your actions.” This encourages children to own their mistakes and, when possible, make restitution. This includes lots of parental guidance, but to the point where children are eventually able to solve their own disagreements with only minimal help from a parent. They emphasize that this takes a LOT of work, and may often seem like it’s getting nowhere, but that the effort is worth it in the long run.

I appreciated the emphasis throughout the book on the big picture. Discipline is often such a snap judgment that we’re looking only to stop a certain behavior or restore order, or something like that, and lose sight of the ultimate goal. So by developing a clearer picture of what we’re hoping to actually accomplish and communicate, beforehand, we are more likely to move in that direction when the pressure is on.

There are several chapters on each of the main points, and at the end are a few appendices that deal with specific advice on how to apply these principles to real-life situations — daily routines, whining, tantrums, lying, sass, and a host of other common behavioral problems. That was very helpful.

Theology: It’s interesting how some topics can be approached from such different ways and still use scripture to support the view. Like I said, coming at this from an emphasis on authoritarianism, parenting philosophies (whether actually articulated or simply assumed) tended to put a lot of focus on authority and power. Theologically, these views would emphasize sin, and often use God/man analogies alongside parent/child ones, in which parents are encouraged to hold constant authority, take no crap, and even break a child’s will. It is often portrayed as a battle of wills in which a parent must come out “the winner.” It makes me realize how much our view of God influences our parenting style, and perhaps vice versa as well.

This book is definitely focused on promoting a “connected” view rather than necessarily coming out against a more authoritarian approach, but does find opportunity to contrast and gently question some of these views and their possible results, which I found useful, even if I wasn’t 100% convinced (which may be just as much due to my inexperience as anything else).

Ultimately, I think this book’s specific scriptural basis makes sense for the approach it is advocating. There is a focus on grace, repentance, and reconciliation, but not an inordinate emphasis on authority and power. There are scriptural examples of God and Jesus dealing gently and compassionately with those they are teaching, and a belief that this is the aspect of Christ’s ministry that we are most called to emulate, and that this calling should absolutely extend to our treatment of our children.

Quibbles? I don’t have many, and they are not major. Like I said, I think some of the theological approaches may have other sides to them that are both valuable. I found times when some of the example conversations in the book sounded a bit too much like “therapist-speak,” but they’re just examples, not scripts. One thing I would have appreciated is a little more detail on the concept of a “do-over,” as well as a way to emphasize to children that while “do-overs” can be useful ways to practice respectful communication, we won’t always get do-overs in the real world. And even if we do, harsh words still hurt. They can’t be taken back. I feel maybe a bit more balance is needed there.

Overall I appreciated this book’s approach and copious examples very much. Even though there is a four-part “philosophy” of sorts, it is not presented like a formula, and the authors are quick to emphasize that the actual application will look different for different families, and that we should take what works best for us. I appreciate Jim & Lynne’s willingness to be upfront about their own failings and missteps, and to model redemption and grace in their determination to choose to do the right thing in spite of the cost and difficulty involved.

Because that’s one of the scary parts about choosing “connectedness” over simple behavior modification, is that you know you’re going to fail, and it all seems overwhelming at first. It’s a whole lot easier to give a child a time out or send them to their room and call it good. But if it’s true that this is a picture of how Jesus reached out to us, then it is a direction I want to go, and I appreciate the encouragement.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255….