I had an interesting conversation with a coworker the other day about how to discipline children. It's funny how many parenting conversations I've had this past year. I mean, I'm only twenty, not married, and definitely don't have kids of my own! Yet, God seems to think I need to plan ahead for the future. Anyway, disciplining children is a whole new kind of challenge here. But it is so important, it's not like we can overlook it. The Bible definitely emphasizes its importance. My recent study of Proverbs has revealed a thing or two...
"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid." ~Proverbs 12:1
"Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right." ~Proverbs 20:11
"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." ~Proverbs 22:6
And there are tons of other passages that talk about respecting authority, the proper structure of a family, etc. But this isn't meant to be a Bible lesson, but rather how I've seen good parenting and not so good parenting play out here.
We have some fantastic mothers here. Moms that are quick to praise their children when they do right, love them, and discipline them when necessary. But we also have some mothers that lack the "art of discipline." Why "art"? Well, because I have come to understand the discipline is tricky. It can't be done in anger and it can't be done harshly. But it must be done. It must be done firmly and as often as necessary, but in love. If there is no love than it is as ineffective as if it was not done at all.
Working with heart patients can make discipline tricky. We have had kids here that it is literally life threatening for them to cry. It takes away their oxygen supply and they could die. Therefore, their parents have given them anything and everything they have ever wanted. Imagine that kind of monster. We have another little girl here right now that is eleven. Her father told her mother that she is not allowed to discipline her daughter. Not allowed! I was shocked. As a result, this girl frequently hits her mother on the face, rebels, bites, pinches, throws things on the floor, demands gifts, etc. Why? Because there are no boundaries!
As odd as it seems, I think kids secretly like discipline. I think they like it because it shows that someone cares. Someone is paying attention to what they do. And someone loves them enough to say no, there are boundaries. Because if someone is paying enough attention to say no, then they are probably also saying yes when it is appropriate and I love you frequently.
Well now that our little eleven year old has had her surgery and is stronger, her devious ways are only getting worse. As such, we have had to take on some of the discipline that her mother is not allowed to do. For example, the other day, this little girl slapped my face. Not hard, but in a very disrespectful way. My response? I slapped her back. I know this sounds bad, but I'll explain. I used my hand to gently swat her cheek. It did not come close to hurting her. But it was just enough to let her know I, unlike her mother, would not take it with a smile. She didn't even flinch, but the shocked look on her face let me know I had gotten the message across even though I didn't have the words to express what I needed to say.
My most recent disciplining happened at the hospital this week. This same little girl is desperate for attention. If we praise her, pet her, encourage her when she is doing right, then she will do it. But if we ignore that she resorts to bad behavior so that someone will pay attention to her. It's really sad so I try so hard to encourage the good so she will learn the right way to gain attention. Unfortunately, her mother hasn't figured this out yet. So this week when we were at the hospital we had to wait for a long time. Boring for an adult, let alone a rambunctious kid. So in our time of waiting this little girl started bullying one of our little two year old boys. Why? I guess because we weren't entertaining her. She pretended to kiss him but was actually biting him! The mother ignored this action, but after ten times I had enough. I sat her down and said (translated for your benefit), "Not good." Her response, (in a very sing-songy mocking voice), "Very, Very, Very, Very good!" So we repeated this a few times. Finally, I just went off in English and told her everything I wanted to. She couldn't understand the words so I said exactly what I felt like, but I made sure to keep my tone very serious, but not threatening. Then I switched back to Kurdish and explained she was not allowed to touch the little boy, to kiss him, to bite him. I enforced this rule a couple more times and then she got the message.
When I told my coworker this story, he seemed upset. He challenged me if I was really loving this girl in disciplining her or if I had another heart issue to work through. I'm glad he did. I'm learning it is so important to make sure we discipline with the right motives otherwise it is not Biblical and not pleasing to God. I think the verse in Ephesians 6:4 about Father's not exasperating their children can apply to American college students working with little Iraqi kids too. But I was able to explain to him, as I did to her mother after the whole biting incident, and as I explain to you now. I disciplined her because I love her. It goes back to Proverbs 22:6. I want her to be a good person in the future, but she won't magically become that if she is allowed to be a devil child. I pray that when she and her mother return home, her father will see what a lack of loving discipline has done and change his methods. If not, I fear for her future.