Discipline Shouldn’t Be Angry

by Chris Pennington

Man standing and yelling in anger

Dads often struggle with anger when disciplining children. Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a disturbing uptick in my quickness to anger with my children.

And so for the last two months with the encouragement of a good friend, I’ve been on a deliberate path to cut sinful anger out of my discipline. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Don’t meditate on your “authority”

My anger often grows when I rehearse facts like “I’m in charge and they should obey me” over and over again. While true, repetition of a single truth usually distorts the other ones. Soon, the only reason I’m disciplining is because “I’m in charge!”

Pay attention to what you tell yourself when you hear your children disobey, talk back, or sin in some way. If you are prone to anger, I can nearly guarantee you that you are rehearsing the importance of your role over and against every other reality.

Don’t meditate on public shame

Shame can twist our reactions as parents. How many times have you seen parents respond with anger in a grocery store out of embarrassment (“Everyone is looking at us! Stop it!”).

Of course, you want to have a good testimony in public, but if that desire encourages your anger, it’s out of proportion.

Give Cool Down Time

When things go wrong, everyone typically needs time and space to calm down. The same is true for dads!

Through these last few months, I’ve started immediately encouraging space before I discipline. Instead of running in like Rambo, I’ll send my child to the stairs, the couch, their room, etc. for five minutes before talking with them about whatever happened.

When I approach them, I’ll start by asking for a basic account of what happened. If they respond emotionally, I tell them we’ll take five more minutes first before talking. I’ll repeat that pattern until we can talk about whatever happened calmly.

Speak softly

Speaking softly has been my greatest challenge and biggest reward. The volume of my voice rises with my anger. And it’s a race you can’t win. You raise your voice, your child starts to scream or protest louder. You raise again, and they follow.

Conflict resolution starts with the mature party (hopefully you!) being willing to calmly and lovingly engage.

Be Patient and Expect Obedience

I know what you’re thinking: “What if my child refuses to listen? Eventually, I’ll have to raise my voice!” In this situation, I’ve learned to begin by immediately adding consequences very calmly. Here’s an example interchange between me and my six year-old:

Me: Please go to the couch and sit for a few minutes. Then we’ll talk about what happened.

Child: I didn’t even do anything! (raising their voice)

Me: Please go to the couch and sit and we’ll talk in a moment. (calmly and under control)

Child: But dad! I didn’t do anything! (again, raising their voice and not moving)

Me: If you don’t move to the couch right away, you won’t get dessert after dinner tonight. Please go to the couch. (calmly and under control)

Child: Dad! Why?! What did I do!? I didn’t do anything! (screaming and not moving)

Me: You will now miss dessert after dinner tonight. Please obey and sit on the couch.

Once my child sits for a few minutes, I’ll go sit quietly and calmly ask them what happened.

At first, my kids struggled to respond to this approach. But this pattern has produced fruit. I will often quietly tell them to go to their rooms and they’ll immediately go, sit, and be ready to talk in 5 minutes. We’ll quickly get to the bottom of things and consequences will often be very small.

Closing Thoughts

God has begun to retrain my heart in discipline. By God’s grace, for the last two months, I cannot remember a single time where I have so much as raised my voice at my children.

By patiently demanding obedience and being consistent in my follow-up, not only have I reduced my anger, but I’ve also taught my children how to deal with conflict.

I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m grateful for these little wins and God’s grace visibly at work.

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