Does Discipline Affect How Children Come to View God?
In 1964, Clyde Nunn stated in his thesis that some parents in an attempt to control their children come into “coalition with God,” telling their children that “God will punish them if they misbehave.” Beit-Hallahmi (1973, p.18) observed that when parents employed divine punishment threats in their discipline efforts, children internalized God as being a “portable punisher.” From his thesis, Nunn sought to discover why some parents used God as a means of controlling their children. He discovered that many parents using this method wanted to ensure consistent behavior from their children. These parents believed that they could control their children’s behavior when their children were not under their immediate supervision.
Many parents have at one time or another used this method of discipline. They however, may not have known that this method of discipline was helping to shape their children’s image of God. If a child believes that God will consistently punish them for not acquiescing to a particular behavior, the child may form a negative image of God. As Beit-Hallahmi observed in his research children who were exposed to this form of discipline came to see God as a portable punisher. Using God in such a manner incites an unhealthy fear of God. Creating such an image of God does not assist in building a healthy image of God as a child is growing spiritually. As children grow and come to understand who God is, they need to have a positive image of God. Having a positive image of God will help them during the early stages of their spiritual formation. Learning to trust and understand that God is loving is vital during the early childhood years. Whatever image is formed about God during these formative years will be the image that is carried into adulthood.
So how can parents and children’s workers ensure that their discipline methods are not creating a negative image of God to their children? They should both be very cautious with how they reverence God during times of discipline. They should never use God as a means to control their children. When disciplining children, at church or at home, be sure to reference Bible verses that show that God disciplines because He loves, not because he is mean. Also be sure to reinforce positive characteristics about God, so that the positives outweigh the perceived negative characteristics of God. Discipline is a part of life and will remain a part of life until Jesus Christ returns. Although discipline is used for correction, it should not be used as a scare tactic to get children to act a certain way. Remember that discipline is designed to steer children down the right road, not have them veer down the wrong road. So it is important for parents and children’s workers to keep in mind the manner in which they use God to discipline children. Today ask yourself, “Are my methods of discipline causing children to hold a negative image of God?” Instead, we should strive to be certain that discipline is used to show children our love and the love God has for them.