Avoiding Extremes in Child Discipline

How do I know when my disciplinary methods have crossed an inappropriate line? I was disciplining my five-year-old last night and feel that I got out of control in the way I handled the situation. I'm terrified this morning that I may have gone too far. How can I know for sure? What should I do to prevent this from happening?

The good news is that you’re almost painfully aware of your own moods and behavior. This implies that you’re sensitive to the dangers of going overboard. Sadly, many parents aren’t. Those who become truly abusive fall into that trap because they don’t realize what they’re doing until it’s too late. The fact that you’re raising the question leads us to suppose that you’re pretty safe in that regard.

We’d be in a better position to help if we had access to some more detailed information. Precisely why do you believe that you may have crossed a line? What exactly happened to inspire you with this fear? How far over the line did you go? Did you sense that anger was beginning to dictate your actions? Did you raise your voice? Did you actually strike your child? Did you strike him more than once?

How you feel about this incident may actually be the most important clue. If you honestly sense that you were out of control or on the verge of losing control, then another set of questions comes to mind. Has this kind of thing happened before? Have you had problems with controlling your emotions in the past? Is there anything in your family background that might account for your struggles in this area? What kind of strains and stresses are you facing at home? Are you a single parent? Is your spouse serving in the military? Are you desperately in need of rest or some time away? Would it ease your burden if you could get some help from family, friends, or neighbors? Overwork, fatigue, and anxiety can contribute significantly to difficulties like those you’ve described.

If you believe you may have a problem with anger management, we’d urge you to seek out the assistance of a professional therapist. Our Counseling department can provide you with referrals to licensed Christian counselors practicing in your area. Staff counselors would also be happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.

In the meantime, it might be a good idea to pin down a working definition of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” discipline. Here are a few principles to bear in mind as you attempt to organize your thoughts in this area:

  • First, the key to effective child discipline is learning to balance love and limits. Allowing a child to have his way without any restraint is not an expression of love. At the other extreme, harsh, rigid or authoritarian treatment of children isn’t an appropriate exercise of limit-setting.
  • Many problems can be avoided if parents make an intentional effort to assume leadership in the home. Children want to know and will ask in a variety of ways, “Who’s in charge here?” If the answer is, “I guess I am,” the result will be uncontrollable, disruptive and generally unhappy children.
  • Generally speaking, corporal punishment should be applied only in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority – never for mere childish irresponsibility. In no instance should it be administered harshly or capriciously, or to any child younger than 18 months of age.
  • With kids from three to five years of age, parents can use spanking and time out as part of a comprehensive discipline plan, but they should also begin to work with other types of consequences, such as taking away privileges. If mom and dad rely solely on one method, it will become less and less effective as a child grows and matures. For many school-aged children, the removal of pleasures or privileges is actually more “painful” than a spanking.
  • Instead of waiting for problems to arise, try to “catch your child being good.” A good way to do this is to place a glass jar in a prominent place and allow your child to put a marble in the jar every time he does something you want him to do. Then, when the jar is full, you can celebrate by planning a family outing or devising a creative way to get involved in serving friends and neighbors as a parent-child team.
  • Stay on your knees. You’ll never be able to figure it all out, and that’s precisely why you need the Lord’s supernatural help so desperately. There is only one Parent who completely understands all sons and daughters on the face of the earth, and seeking His wisdom on a daily basis should be a priority for all who train and nurture children.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids By Keeping Your Cool

The New Dare to Discipline

Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

Put the Disciple into Discipline

Grace-Based Discipline

The Well-Behaved Child


You May Also Like