Getting to the Heart of Discipline
You know you're a parent, but did you also realize you're a heart surgeon? Discipline can be a great way to get to the heart of your child. Brian Housman, author of the book, "How You Always Meant to Parent," explains that parents need to look past their child's behavior and into their child's heart. Housman shares what he's done at the Housman home to address such issues as lying and media usage.
About the Guest
Brian Housman explains that parents need to look past their child’s behavior and into their child’s heart. Housman shares what he’s done in their home to address such issues as lying and media usage.
Getting to the Heart of Discipline
Bob: What does grace look like in a relationship between parents and children? Well, here is how Brian Housman understands it.
Brian: I don’t want my children to see that our relationship is about—“If you do this, then, I’m happy with you; and if you don’t, then, I’m not happy with you”—because the Lord doesn’t deal with us that way either. I mean Romans 8:1—“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So, the Lord doesn’t condemn me. Then, I do not bring shame into that relationship with my child—even in their sin—because the Lord doesn’t shame us.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Like most parents, you’re probably thinking, “What does punishment look like in an environment that is supposed to be grace-based?” We’ll explore that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We have a colleague who we work with here at FamilyLife—
—her name is Tonda. Tonda has been here for more than two decades serving us by reading every marriage and parenting book that we’ve ever done an interview on.
Dennis: Tonda, do you have any idea how many books you have read over the past two decades—just an estimate?
Tonda: About 52 a year.
Bob: So, she’s reading 50-plus books a year for 20 years. That’s a thousand book right there; okay?
Dennis: Easy—easy. I think—
Bob: Easy, that it’s a thousand books.
Dennis: —she’s estimating low.
Bob: So, I said to her—“You just read this new book on parenting from Brian Housman. What did you think?” She said, “It’s good. It’s good. It’s the same stuff—‘Get to the heart. Get to the heart. Get to the heart.’” I mean after reading as much as she’s read on parenting, she’s got the big idea. That is, you don’t want to just change a child’s behavior; you want to get to the child’s heart.
Dennis: And Brian Housman knows a little bit about dealing with children and with youth. He has two teenagers. He and his wife, Mona,—
—have been married since 1993; but you have worked with youth now for 20 years—isn’t that right?—
Dennis: —speaking all over the country.
Brian: Yes, 22 years.
Dennis: You’ve been a student of what’s taking place with today’s teenagers. Give us a description of where they are today. I know that’s really a tough question, but give us an idea. What should a parent understand about a teenager today?
Brian: Wow! Actually, I just had a mother, yesterday, ask me—“So, what do you feel like kids or teenagers are—like, what are they doing now?” I said, “Well, they are partly doing the same thing we did when we were teenagers—is they are looking for hope, they are looking for purpose, they’re looking for direction. And I said, “Which is why they end up falling into all of the traps that the enemy throws out there in front of us.”
Dennis: And it’s why they need parents—
Dennis: —constantly invading their lives to help them avoid those traps.
Brian: Yes. So, we’ve already talked about the whole idea of an end game and what’s the end game for us, as a parent, in being our—having our kids transformed into Christ’s likeness.
In the same way, our spiritual enemy has an end game.
And our enemy is not culture, our enemy is not politics, but our enemy is Satan, himself, who Jesus tells us in John 10:10—“has come to steal kill and destroy.” So, his objective isn’t to get my son to look at porn or to get my daughter to do something sexually inappropriate with some boy. Those are just part of the tools that he uses to accomplish his end game which is destruction of their lives.
So, as a parent, I’ve got to always have that in mind of really what’s at stake here with my kids when—you know why is that they want to be a part of social media? Why is it that my daughter wants to date? Why is it that my son wants to hang outside of the home for hours on end with his buddies?
It’s because they are looking for purpose, they’re looking for community, they’re looking for identity; but they, many times, end up trying to accomplish those God-given values in unhealthy ways.
Dennis: And it’s ultimately a reflection of what Tonda was talking about as she read your book.
It’s an issue of the heart.
Bob: Get to the heart. Get to the heart.
Dennis: And that’s what you’re addressing in your book. You’re talking about how we, as parents, really have to be expert heart surgeons over and over and over again as we train our children to know how to grow up to become a true follower of Christ and assume adult responsibilities.
Talk to a parent about where he or she needs to start as she or he performs this heart surgery.
Brian: Well, I think some of the things that are intimidating for parents when it comes to having a teenager is they think, “Well, I don’t know anything about teenagers.” I’m sure this has happened to all of us. When our kids were little, other people—and we had a great relationship with them when they were little; and other people would say, “Well, oh, you just wait until they get to middle school.”
Well, then, our kids get to middle school, and we were like—“Oh my gosh! We love middle schoolers. This is so much fun!” They are bouncing off the walls. They’re highly emotional. They’re always changing their minds. They change their attitudes every other day. “This is so fun trying to”—
—“keep up with these people—like rabbits bouncing off the walls.”
Then, they would say, “Oh, well, you just wait until they get to high school.” We’re like—“Oh my gosh! What happens in high school? Does something bad happen?” Well, then, our kids get to high school, and we were like—“Oh my gosh! This is amazing. We love high schoolers.” We, literally, have groups of our children’s friends are at our house, at least on average, four nights a week. There is always someone eating dinner at our house or hanging out until the sun has long gone down.
We just decided, “We’re going to make our home an environment where their friends feel welcome—that they want to be a part of this.” So, all of that to say—we just decided, “We don’t have to know everything that’s happening on up ahead. We just want to be in the moment with you God. Whatever is happening with our kids—if our kids are six years old, then, we’re going to learn how to parent a six year old.”
I think, sometimes, we, as parents, think we’ve got to have the knowledge of Dennis Rainey—you know 30 years of knowledge of parenting—before I can step into the fact that God’s given me this new two year old; when, instead, I can just say, “God, thank You for this gift.”
And just like I opened that package at Christmas and got a new belt, I’m going to put it on and start wearing it. You know, I got a new pair of shoes; I’m going to start wearing them.
“Well, God, You gave me this new child, and I’m just going to learn what I need to know.” God does not expect you, as a mom, to be an expert on teenagers. He doesn’t expect you to be an expert on parenting. Just get to know that kid that God’s given to you.
Dennis: I want to make sure our listeners are hearing two key points you are making. Number one, you are receiving your child as a gift from God. Biblically, that’s what it says—“Behold, children are a reward. The fruit of the womb is a gift from God.” A lot of our listeners understand that. They’ve experienced infertility, haven’t been able to have kids, but we need to understand who gives us a life to care for like a child.
The second thing you said that I don’t want parents to miss, either, is that you’ve got to relate to your child. You have to know them. You have to develop a relationship with them. If you are going to discipline them,—
—there has to be a relationship in place so that the discipline has a context of love.
Bob: I hear a lot of parents, though, who hear you describe elementary and junior high and senior high; and they go—“Okay, I cannot relate to this guy at all. You must have these amazing kids who are just compliant, who do what you tell them to do. You’ve never had to scold them. There’s nothing”—
Dennis: They’re not selfish.
Bob: —“Their friends come over, and you’re having fun with them”—
Dennis: There’s never any sibling rivalry.
Bob: —“and all.” It’s like—“I’m not reading your parenting book because you’ve got the good kids.”
Brian: Well, I’ve told each of my children at some point in time that I think that they are spawns of Satan. So, take that for what it is. [Laughter]
Bob: In a light-hearted way?
Brian: Of course. My kids hear me say positive, God-affirming words to them all the time; but sometimes, I just look at them and go—“You’re acting like a spawn today;” you know? And I’ll say it, even, in—
—a joking way just to lighten the tension; you know?
I think, by and large, when my kids—and I believe out there, your kids—when they are being disrespectful or disobedient or they are walking outside of God’s boundaries, I think the majority of the time it’s not because they’re trying to disappoint you, they’re not trying to question your authority. Many times, they are just trying to figure their way. They’re trying to figure out how life works.
So, when your son comes home and he got fired from his after school job as a 16 year old because he showed up four days in a row ten minutes late—and you’re like—“What?! How could you do this?! You got fired from your first job?!” And as a parent, all you’re thinking is how that reflects on you; as opposed to sit down and thinking through—“Wait a minute! That was never a thought in your son’s mind—is ‘I’m trying to embarrass my mom or dad.’”
Brian: “I’m not trying to fail out of school so I’ve got to repeat summer school so my dad will be embarrassed by me.” They’re just trying to figure their way. So, for instance, the adolescent girls—we know that—
—roughly 30-40 percent of adolescent girls are going to be sexually active in high school. And when you ask the typical high school girl, “Why? Why would you do this,” the response is “Because I want to be loved.”
Brian: “I want to be nurtured. I want to be cared for. I want to be valued.” All of those are God-given value that God created us to experience all of those things, but they didn’t know a way to achieve it within God’s boundaries.
So, as a parent, when I walk into those issues of discipline, if I have it in my mind that “This is not a fight between me and my kid. This is an issue of me shaping my kid’s heart and understanding who God has made them to be”—then, it takes the pressure off of me that this is not a battle for me to win. This is another opportunity for me to share truth, walk in truth, and model truth with my kids.
Dennis: I’ve listen to you tell a number of stories, now, about how you’ve disciplined your children; and you start—it’s interesting—you start every time with trying to see what the context of their lives is—
Dennis: —and what’s going on, what other factors have influenced them—whether it’s a failure on a test that they’ve taken or run-in they’ve had with a friend on the playground. Whatever the issue is you’re trying to look past the behavior—
Dennis: —to what’s causing it in the heart.
Brian: Absolutely. If I walk into it with a knee-jerk of thinking, “This is about me, and somehow, I’ve got to break your will. I’ve got to change your behavior,” then, in the end, let’s say that your kid out there—that your child has been lying to you.
So, your objective, Mom or Dad, is “I’m going to get my kid to stop lying to me because I want them to be a truthful person.” That’s a great objective—be a truthful person—but the way of accomplishing it is “Because you keep lying to me, you don’t get to drive for the next six weeks.” Or if they are a little one, you’re going to be put in time out. Well, did that really change anything?
I mean think, guys, the times our parents grounded us. That didn’t change anything. As a matter of fact, I can—if you ground your kid—
—and say, “You’re not driving for the next six weeks,” all that means is now you’ve got to go be a chauffeur for the next six weeks. So, instead, sit down and think through and pray before walking into it. Take a step back and say, “God, what’s the endgame? How do I help address this issue of lying?”
And I say that very practically because I talk about it in the book—is my daughter—this was her big issue that she struggled with when she was young. She was a habitual liar. When I say, “lie,” I mean she would lie about dumb things. Like, I’m thinking, “If you’re going to lie, make it a good lie; you know?” Lie about something important. Like, make it a big deal. She would just lie over silly things. Where you, as a parent—you know when your kid is lying to you.
So, we would talk to her about the heart—“Hey, you could always trust us. You don’t have to be afraid of telling the truth to us. We desire for us to always walk in truth as a family. We’re all—I will always be honest with you as your dad. Your mother will always tell you the truth”—again, that whole walking with, modeling, teaching truth.
But what finally was the breakthrough for her was when she got to middle school in sixth grade and my wife sat down and talked with her and said, “I need to let you know what happened to me when I was in middle school, and why I’ve talked to you so often about lying.”
She said, “When I was in middle school”—she said—“in eighth grade, I lost a good number of my friends because they found out that I had been lying for years. I was lying about my family. I lied about my background. I lied about where we had gone and what I had done. And kind of when the curtain of Oz was pulled back, they saw that I was not who I had always proclaimed myself to be.” And they were like—“We don’t want to be friends with someone who is a liar.”
She said, “I don’t want that for you, either. And now, for you to lie to me is one thing; but now, that you are going to start establishing relationships for real friendship—friends that I didn’t choose for you—so, if you lie to them, there is going to be real world consequences.”
Immediately, it was like a switch because she could get it. This wasn’t about Mom being mad at her or controlling her.
It was about Mom shaping her and preparing her to be the person that God made her to be.
Bob: We’re talking to Brian Housman who has written a book called How You Always Meant to Parent. And I’m just curious—have there never been groundings or time-outs or spankings at your house?
Dennis: I was wondering about that. I was going—“You’re not saying there isn’t a penalty here?”
Brian: No, there are penalties—yes. If there is willful, intentional disobedience from my kids, then, yes, there is going to be discipline. And even in times where they trip up and make a mistake, then, sometimes, there is discipline. But when I walk into those situations—and you guys know me. We’ve talked enough for you to know my heart.
And I apologize if it was coming across to you out there as a parent that somehow I am like some expert at this because I am far, far from that. My children can tell you—I am deeply, deeply flawed; but when my children have done something wrong, I really do take time to pray first before engaging in the conversation.
Because, one, I want to ready my own heart for that—
—conversation with them because their tendency could be, as my kid—if they’ve been caught in sin, that they are going to want to retaliate and deflect it and make it about me and how I’m wrong as a dad—what I did wrong or that kind of thing. So, I don’t want to get caught in that trap that you described as being dragged into the mud—becoming a mud wrestler with our kids.
Bob: But I just want to clarify—there have been consequences—groundings. Your kids have been grounded at some point—ever?
Brian: No. Both of my children have never been grounded.
Bob: Have they been taken off the internet?
Brian: Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely.
Bob: So, they’ve been grounded from the internet?
Brian: No, I wouldn’t call it a grounding.
Bob: Okay, so—
Dennis: What do you call it?
Brian: I can tell you a practical story. My son—about a month ago, we’re having a conversation. One of his best friends couldn’t come over. He was having a group sleep over, about six of his buddies. And one of his guy friends couldn’t come over, and I said, “Well, how come he can’t come?” And he said, “I don’t know. His mom just has some weird rules.” And I said, “So, do we have rules at our house?” And I’m just curious what his answer is.
He paused, and he goes—“No, we don’t have many rules.”
I said, “What do we have?” He goes—“We have a lot of boundaries.” I was like—“That’s touchdown right there for me because he’s exactly right.” I don’t want my children to see that our relationship is about—“If you do this, then, I’m happy with you; and if you don’t, then, I’m not happy with you”—because the Lord doesn’t deal with us that way either. I mean Romans 8:1—“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Brian: So, since the Lord doesn’t condemn me, then, I do not bring shame into that relationship with my child—even in their sin—because the Lord doesn’t shame us. Hebrews says that He has come to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. So, my job is not to come in and shame my child into right behavior.
Brian: Bailey—one time, he was about 12 years old; and the boundary was if your screens—his cell phone, his iPod—have to be on the kitchen table at 9 o’clock at night. So, when you get up in the middle of the night—and every parent does this—you wake up in the middle of the night, you go to the bathroom, and you go check on your kids. It doesn’t matter if your kids are eight weeks old or 18, you get up and you go check on them.
So, I get up, I walk into the kitchen, and I don’t see his cell phone there. So, I starting walking down the hallway to his bedroom, and I see this glow coming from the bedroom. I know it’s the screen. So, as soon as I get to the door, I say, “Hey, Bailey,” and the light goes off.
Bob: Oh, what a surprise.
Brian: So, I walk in and I say, “Hey, Bailey, do you have your phone in here with you?”
Dennis: Now, you’ve two problems. [Laughter]
Brian: We do. But I’m not concerned about the lie because I understand where the lie is coming from; okay? So, I said, “Bailey, are you sure you don’t have your phone?”
“Yes, sir, I do.” “Okay, well, why do you have your phone in here?”
“Well, I couldn’t sleep, and I got up and I went and got some water in the kitchen, and I saw it there. So, I picked it up and I brought it back to my room. I said, “Okay.” I said, “I understand.”
I think two of the most powerful words we can ever say to our children when there is sin is I understand—not I’m letting it go, not that there are no consequences, but I understand where this coming from. So, I said, “I understand.” I said, “There are some times that I can’t sleep, too.”
And I said, “But do you understand that I’ve asked you to keep this in the kitchen table, not because I don’t trust you, not because you’re going to do something bad, but because my job is to protect your heart and I don’t want this to be in your room with you tempting you at night affecting your heart?”
And he said, “Yes, sir.” So, I put it on the counter.
Two weeks later, I get up. Same thing happens. Walk into the kitchen, no phone. I walked down the hallway. I see the light, walk in—“Bailey, do you have your phone?” “Yes, sir.” So, now, it’s escalating.
So, I said, “Bailey, we need to talk.” I said, “We’ve already talked about this one time.” I said, “Do you understand why I’ve asked you to have this on the kitchen table?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “So, if this happens again”—I said, “Why did it happen?”
He said, “Well, I couldn’t sleep. So, I got up and I went and got my phone.” I said, “I need to let you know that things—when we can’t sleep, that’s when we get in trouble as men. Because when we’re alone, that’s when we get ourselves in trouble.”
And I said, “So, I don’t want you to get your heart in trouble. I want you to trust me that, even if you don’t agree with this boundary, I’m asking you to honor it”—
—“by keeping this on the counter. Does that make sense?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “If it happens again, then, I’m going to have to remove the privilege for a season so that you can refigure out how to be honoring in the way that you use this.”
The next night—I promise, Bob—the next night, I get up and I walk into his room and he’s got it. He immediately—as soon as he sees me at the doorway, he starts crying. As soon as I walked in, he goes—“Dad, I’m not crying because I got caught.” I said, “Well, why are you crying, then, Bailey?” He said, “I’m crying because I don’t ever want you to be disappointed in me, and I know that you are now.”
I said, “Well, you’re right, Bailey. I am because I really thought you trusted me in what I asked you to do. And now, you’re showing me that you don’t trust me that I don’t have your best interest at heart.”
I said, “So, I’m going to have to take this for a season so that you can rethink through this.” He said, “Well, how long is it going to be gone?” I said, “I really don’t know.” I think so often, as parents, we dole out punishments as if it’s like—
—an A equals B—like, “Well, if you lie, then, you don’t get dessert,” or “If you speed, you don’t get to drive.” And life is never that easy.
So, he said, “When do I get it back?” I said, “I really don’t know.” I said, “I think you get it back when you don’t have to have it again. When you think you don’t need it, then, I’ll know you’re okay with it.”
So, it was about five or six weeks ago that I open up my bedside drawer, and I see a cell phone. I had completely forgotten about it because he had yet to ask me about it. And I thought, “Oh, wow! I bet it’s okay to give it back to him.” And it was such a privilege for me—almost like Christmas all over again—to go and give it back to him and see his excitement because it was like this privilege had been restored in his life.
Bob: So, I’m going to call that a grounding. You don’t have to call it grounding.
Dennis: I just want to put it in context because I think a lot of our listeners would say that Brian and Mona Housman believe in grounding. Here’s the issue—it’s the heart attitude of the parent.
It is not some kind of punitive shaming of the child—
Dennis: —hoping to get obedience because you shame them so much.
Bob: And can we agree that the children of Israel got grounded for 40 years in the wilderness—
Bob: —before they were allowed to go into the Promise Land? So, God does say, “Look, until you’re ready, we’re not going there.”
Brian: But we’ve got to understand—what was the point of the grounding for Israel? The point of the grounding for Israel was they did not have faith because they didn’t know God—
Brian: —because they didn’t know Him, they didn’t trust Him, they couldn’t have faith in Him. So, God said, “We’re going to have to let this generation die off”—I’m paraphrasing, obviously—“We’re going to have to let this generation die off so we can try this whole thing over again and so that your children can get reacquainted with Me so they can know Me and, then, they can trust Me.” It wasn’t, again, just—“You’ve been sinful so you’re going to wander for 40 years.”
Bob: Here’s your punishment. I’m shaming you.
Brian: Still, God was reinforcing that—“I’ve got a relationship with you.”
Dennis: You know as a parent, what your assignment is to take the lessons that God brings you every day and to pass them on to your kids.
Sometimes, it’s going to be found in lying. One of them that we faced was stealing. Another one was sibling rivalry. Another one was anger expressed. Another one—rebellion. I mean the human heart is in need of being addressed by an authority. And in this case, when it’s a child, it needs to be addressed by parents.
You need to be the parent. You need to be the coach, and you need to teach them how they respond to you is also how you’re going to learn to respond to God. And this is a life and death issue.
Bob: Well, and what that means for us, as parents, is we’ve got to recognize just how important our responsibility is because we are modeling God for our children. Now, we’re not going to be perfect. So, we’re going to have to show our kids what confession and repentance look like; but our kids are getting their picture of who God is by how we parent them. And that’s a sober responsibility, and it’s one we’ve got to get right.
It’s one of the reasons why this radio program exists so that we can help you with practical, biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family. And it’s one of the reasons why we recommend books like How You Always Meant to Parent by Brian Housman.
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and order a copy of Brian’s book. We’ve got it on our website. Order online. Again, it’s called How You Always Meant to Parent by Brian Housman. You can also order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Let me also mention—Brian’s written a great book on some of the tech issues parents face. It’s called Tech Savvy Parenting, and we’ve got that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well.
Now, we want to say, “Happy Anniversary,” today to—and actually, we’ve been having a debate here—it’s Rick and Linda Bushard. I’m sure it’s the Bushards, not the Bushards.
I think it’s the Bushards. I think that’s how they say it. They are celebrating their anniversary today. They live in Kalispell, Montana. They’ve been with us on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise before. So, happy anniversary to Rick and Linda.
We think anniversaries are a big deal here at FamilyLife, and we’re spending 2016 celebrating all of the anniversaries that have taken over the years because of how God has used FamilyLife over the last 40 years. We celebrate 40 years as a ministry this year, and we want to thank those of you who partner with us. You really are a vital part of this ministry.
Our desire is to provide practical, biblical help and hope for marriages and families on our radio program, through the internet, at our events, through our resources; and you help make that happen when you contribute to FamilyLife Today.
If you’d like to make a donation today, you can do that easily. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com—
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation about what parenting ought to look like. Brian Housman is going to be here. Hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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