A Classic Writer on Disciplining Children

Jacobus Koelman (Source: Wikipedia)

In The Duties of Parents by Jacobus Koelman, we’re given some advice about how to discipline our children. Overall, Koelman argues that we should “Neither punish your children too little, too much, or too late.” (85)

He then gives the following specific suggestions for how to think about and properly administer discipline:

  • “Do not punish them excessively, too severely, so that you do not embitter them or torment them or arouse anger in them or discourage them…”
  • “Do not punish your children in great anger, but wait until you regain your calm, or else they will think that it is not your thinking but your anger that is the reason for their punishment… Your rational mind must punish them, not your anger.”
  • “Add to your punishment admonition in which you show how hateful the sin is in the sight of God. Thus you can give the child a stronger impression of the fact that he is making God angry, even more than that he is doing that to you.”
  • “Punish your child in moderation… Keep in mind three things: their age and capacity, the state of their mind, and the seriousness of their transgression.” (85)
  • “When your children deserve punishment, punish them without letting yourself be affected by the cries and begging of the children for a lighter treatment… otherwise it would be better not even to begin the punishment.”
  • “Let your punishment take place in a pious manner, one in which you administer it as an institution of God and you ask for a blessing on its use…”
  • “Frequently forgive your children, especially the misdeeds they have committed against you yourself, and especially also with regard to the things that are not so much sinful as accidents that mean a loss, such as breaking a glass or a piece of china. It is very wrong for you to become furious and to administer a harsh punishment when children do something that hurts your position and possessions, while being much less concerned when they offend God.” (86)
  • “In punishing them, be sure to show the tenderness of your love as well as your aversion to punishing them when they could be corrected in a more pleasant way. You must convince them of the fact that you do it for their own good and not to discharge your emotions or because you simply feel like it.” (86-87)
  • “When you punish or administer a chastisement, do not use abusive language, cuss words, nicknames, or other expressions. And do not throw anything at them that could bring injury to their life or harm their body and health.”
  • “After you have rebuked and punished them, do not only demand that they plan and promise to refrain from doing the evil thing again but also teach them how they can best carry out their promises and intentions, that is, not in their own strength, because in that case they cannot improve anything, but in the power of Christ, which they have to obtain by faith and by prayer. You must promise that you too will pray for this…”
  • “Speak repeatedly with your children in a confidential and tender way about he corruption of their hearts, and accustom them to speak with you about the secrets of their hearts so that they have the courage to entrust you with their natural and sinful secrets. Counsel them in a tender, loving way, and beware of reporting their mistakes to others and making them public, unless their obstinacy cries out for it. Be especially careful not to tell others what they have told you in confidence about the secrets of their hearts.” (87)

At no point in his discussion of discipline does Koelman describe what kind of discipline to use. I suspect, given the general tenor of the book, that he realized that the use of discipline must be tailored to the child. I suppose he was assuming that spankings or some other form of corporal punishment was the default option of parents of his time, but again he leaves that open.

All of these points are worth consideration, particularly in the context of God’s discipline for his children. It is never enjoyable while it’s happening to us; and God always disciplines us without flying off the handle and in a way that ultimately benefits us. (Hebrews 12:11) All of us who are parents should of course have the same goal, and Koelman’s points seem to be a good articulation of that goal in practice.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO, where he regularly threatens to lock his students in the basement if they misbehave in class (he doesn’t have a basement–but don’t tell them that!).  

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