Grace and Truth

by Pastor Jack Hyles

(Chapter 23 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, Grace and Truth)


Discipline and punishment are not necessarily the same thing. Discipline is keeping from wrong; punishment is paying for wrong. Discipline is preventive; punishment is corrective. Discipline is making one's self or another develop habits and practices that will keep them from doing wrong. It is getting home on time. It is eating the right foods. It is living by schedule. It is the will conquering the appetites. It may be self-imposed or it may be imposed by a mother or father, a boss or another leader.

Punishment is the inflicting of displeasure upon someone for doing wrong. Its purpose is to be a forerunner for discipline. The punishment is to be so distasteful that it will leave an impression upon the guilty person; that is, the crime, sin or wrong was not worth the price he had to pay. Hence, punishment is good only if it builds discipline. The goal of punishment is discipline. Punishment is not vindication, vengeance or retaliation. It is a means that should be used to the end of developing discipline. Following are a few observations.

1. Discipline should always be the goal of punishment. Punishment is a failure unless it builds self-discipline. Such discipline may be arrived at by inspiration. In other words, the leader may inspire the follower to discipline himself In such a case the follower wants to please the leader, so he disciplines himself in order to receive that pleasure. Proper leadership and inspiration can arrive at this goal.

A clear presentation of the rules and punishment for their infraction will often lead to self-discipline. When a follower realizes the price on his wrong, he often disciplines himself to do right. For this reason each rule should be carefully explained and defined and the punishment for the breaking of that rule should be made just as clear.

Once a rule is broken, honest, loving and yet firm punishment should follow. When the rule and its punishment have been explained, the leader to be honest must inflict the punishment. Such statements as, "You do that one more time and I'm going to spank you!" and "I'll let you get by this time, but not again," are not only unwise but they are dishonest and fail to lead to self-discipline.

2. Punishment is often the fault of the leader. Many followers would not be guilty of infractions if the rules and penalties were carefully explained. When such is not the case, the leader has erred too and has become a party to the crime.

3. Punishment should never be vindictive. No child should be punished because he is offensive to the leader, because the leader loses his patience, because he is not liked by the leader or because the leader wants to get back at him. No punishment should ever be inflicted unless the main motive is corrective. When a child knows that he will get a spanking for getting in the cookie jar and that spanking will taste worse than the cookie tastes good, and when the spanking is inflicted in an effort to associate in the child's mind the cookie jar and pain, he will often discipline himself against repeating the crime.

4. The leader should never punish when angry. The parent or teacher could send a child to a room until the parent cools off. This cooling-off period should not be used as a means of evading or avoiding punishment. It should be used as a time when the leader can search his heart to be sure the motives for his inflicting the punishment are right and just.

5. Harsh words should be used only when the leader feels they are needed. They should not be words spoken in anger. This may appear to be the case, but such words should be used only when the leader thinks it wise. Harsh words spoken in an outburst of anger or in a temper tantrum should never be a part of discipline. They should be used only when both the words and the way they are spoken are deliberately chosen for the good of the follower.

6. If possible, punishment should take away more of the pleasure of the crime than that which was gained by the committing of the crime. For example, if a child knows that he can talk on the phone for only five minutes at a time, he should be led to realize that if he breaks this rule, his telephone privileges will be taken away from him for a day or two or more or less, as decided by the parent. Here the parent is hitting the child where it hurts the most. If a young man stays out too late in the car, car privileges could be taken away from him. In other words, he is learning that by using the car more than he is allowed, he will actually end up using the car less than he would have been allowed. The breaking of the rule becomes more painful than keeping it and more privileges are acquired by obedience rather than by disobedience.

7. One of the great secrets of discipline is closeness between the leader and follower. This does not mean excessive familiarity. It means a tie of love and a desire to please. The worst thing about punishment should be that it breaks the sweet fellowship between the punished and the punisher. It must be noted, however, that closeness often tempts us not to punish. We must constantly be aware of the fact that love chastens, love punishes, love spanks, but it does all of these with a broken heart and a desire to correct.

8. Undisciplined leaders will not build disciplined children. Usually parents and teachers who have learned to practice self-discipline need to punish less than their contemporaries who are undisciplined. Undisciplined teachers invariably give more demerits than disciplined teachers. Punitive action is more necessary to those teachers and parents who have less self-discipline. Such leaders usually keep the upper hand by saying, "I'm the teacher and you are supposed to obey me ... .. I'm your parent and you are supposed to obey me," or "If you don't obey me, I'll spank you." These statements are and should be true. How much better would it be for the follower to obey the teacher because he is a leader and because of position AND because the teacher inspires obedience and followship by his disciplined life and his obvious love for the follower.

9. Leadership should always be for authority. It may be that on certain occasions, authority will disagree with authority. In other words, the parent may disagree with the teacher. Usually it is best for nothing to be said and for there to be a mutual trust between them. If, however, it is absolutely necessary for I M authority to meet and discuss differences with authority, the follower should know nothing about these differences. The parent, the pastor, the teacher and other leaders should form a solid front in the defense of each other.

There is nothing more harmful to a child than to feel he has one parent going one way and one parent going another way. Currently I am counseling with a teenage girl. Her mother has one set of standards; her father has another set. If her mother starts to discipline her, she finds refuge in her father. If her father begins disciplinary action, she finds refuge in her mother. She always has an out and an advocate. Because of this, she has become unruly, disobedient and nearly obnoxious.

10. The problems of children and teenagers should always be considered important. Regardless of how trivial they may appear, problems of young people are real to them. Leaders should never make such statements as, "That's just a stage you are going through; you will outgrow it. I went through it one time." This won't satisfy a child and especially will it not satisfy a teenager. Their problems are real, They will not return for help if they are not treated as such by their leaders.

11. Thoughtfulness can often inspire self-discipline. Several months ago some parents brought their teenage daughter to see me. I counseled with her again and again. Nothing seemed to penetrate. One day while in a distant state I wrote a little note to the teenager. She couldn't believe it. She showed it to her family and to her friends. From then on she was open for my counsel and advice. Soon the problem was corrected. Thoughtfulness can go a long way, not only in helping the child to develop self-discipline but in preventing punishment.

12. The wise leader should not threaten; he should simply explain the rule and the punishment and then take firm action in its execution.

13. Be sure of guilt. Serious harm can be done to a young person if he is punished unjustly. Hence, punishment should not be meted out because of suspicion but because of proven guilt.

14. Never punish all for a crime of one. Sometimes the teacher will leave the class only to return and find that a rule has been broken. She will not know who broke the rule, so she will punish the entire class. Suppose that we use the same logic concerning murder. We don't know who in a town committed a murder, so we will just put the whole town in the penitentiary. This is neither wise nor fair.

15. The leader should note what type of infraction is committed. Was it a crime of character or was it accidental? A child who throws a vase and breaks it should be punished much more severely than a child who accidentally knocks over a vase and breaks it. Punishment should not be determined by the disappointment in the leader in losing the vase.

16. Consideration should be given to the improvement or lack of it shown by the child. If the follower is obviously and definitely seeking to improve, this should be taken into consideration by the wise teacher or parent.

17. Consider the child's potential. This is especially true in the case of a teenager. There are some leaders and influential teenagers who have great potential for good and for God. When punishing such young people, this should be taken into consideration by the parent or teacher. This is not to say that the punishment should be lessened or increased. It is simply to say that this should be one of the factors weighed and considered before the final decision is made concerning the degree and type of punishment.

18. Once the crime has been committed and the type and severity of punishment has been established, there should be no changing of the mind. For example, if a parent can be moved not to spank the child because of his much crying, he is being taught that much crying will always help him avoid a spanking. Without exception guilt should be punished exactly as was presented during the explanation of the crime and its subsequent punishment. Any deviation from this because of crying, seeking of sympathy, etc. is unhealthy for the child.

(Further information on punishment may be found in the author's book, HOW TO REAR CHILDREN.)


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