Discipline: 4 Skills to Help You Run the Parenting Race

By Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller

I’m a runner. I jog two to three times a week.  Running and parenting have a number of similarities. One day I received an advertisement in the mail that read, “For most people, the hardest thing about exercising is…sticking with it.” The same thing could be said about parenting. Persevering and being consistent are hard work.

I’ve learned four success principles for running which also apply to parenting.

As you think about parenting, imagine yourself as a runner. These principles keep me running—and keep me disciplining—when I feel like quitting. They keep me going when I’m running and they motivated me to take action when I feel too tired or preoccupied to discipline my children. These principles make up what I call my philosophy. Your principles may be the same as mine, or they may be different. Either way, you’ll want to personalize them for yourself.

Running the Race: Focus on the Goal

When I go out running, I focus on a goal. My goal is to run around the lake two times, that’s about two and a quarter miles. I know that’s what I want to accomplish. It’s not a time for me to chat with people or fish in the lake. I’m a runner. I’m running and my goal is clear.

You may develop a number of goals for your children over the years, but a child’s primary job is to learn to obey. It’s helpful for you as a parent to focus on the goal—realize that your children’s primary job is to learn obedience. There are a whole lot of other things that can get parents sidetracked, but teaching obedience is the goal. Parents are the teachers. Each small act of defiance or disobedience is an opportunity to teach this important character quality.

What does it mean to obey? Obedience has a number of components. First, to obey means to submit. Children need to obey even when they think they have a better way or they don’t like what their parents are telling them. It’s not their responsibility to critique the parenting they receive, but to respond humbly.

Obeying also involves maintaining a good attitude while submitting. Parents must teach their children that if the attitude isn’t right, then obedience isn’t complete.

Obeying is a child’s God-given responsibility. It is a way of showing honor. The fifth commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother.” The job of parents is to help children learn to show honor, which includes deferring to the parent’s authority and obeying instructions. Honoring and obeying don’t come naturally; they need to be taught.

I was praising my son, Joshua (age 12 at the time), to a friend for his obedience and responsiveness. My friend said to Josh, “It sounds like you’re going to grow up to be an old man.”

Laughing, I turned to Josh and said, “Do you know why he said that?”

“Yes,” Josh replied. “It comes from that Bible verse that says if you honor your father and mother you will live long on the earth.”

Children are blessed when they learn obedience. Parents need to view each act of disobedience as an important teaching opportunity. When you understand this truth you will be more motivated to discipline consistently, even when you don’t feel you have the energy.

Running the Race: Endure the Pain

When I run, my calf muscles ache! Sometimes my chest or my ankles hurt too. There is pain involved in running. I need to persevere even though there’s resistance.

Parents shouldn’t be surprised by resistance. Yet, haven’t you ever disciplined your child, and then wondered if you did the right thing because of a poor response? Do you second-guess yourself when your children respond negatively?

It’s as if parents expect their child to say, “Thanks, Dad, for sending me to my room. I really appreciate the limits you set for me,” or “I appreciate it, Mom, when you make me clean up my toys and make my bed.” Children are not going to naturally respond that way. Those who expect their children to appreciate their discipline are frustrated parents.

When you send your son to his room and he stomps all the way there and then slams the door, you now have two problems, the original offense and the bad attitude.

Children need to learn to accept and respond graciously to correction, but this doesn’t come naturally. It develops over time as your children mature and as you work with them on their attitude and the condition of their heart. The time spent talking to your children about their attitudes has lasting implications. They need to learn how to respond humbly and graciously to correction.

When children respond negatively, it is important to look beyond the immediate struggle and focus on the future good. Remember that a child’s immediate response is not an indicator of the effectiveness of the discipline. Parents must see they are disciplining for the long-term benefits. Remembering this can help you to persevere.

Resistance should not keep us from our goal. Just because my calves hurt when I run, that’s no reason to give up. And when children respond negatively to discipline, that’s no reason to quit.

When your children resist discipline, you’ll be motivated to persevere if you remember that you are working for a greater good: building character in your children. Don’t be surprised or discouraged by a negative response. Work to teach them to appreciate correction but don’t let their lack of responsiveness deter you from your job. Teaching a humble response to correction takes time.

Running the Race: Look for Ways to Make It Positive

When I run, I always take music with me. I look for ways to make the experience more enjoyable. Make the experience positive helps me to persevere.

You’re probably saying, “Yes, I know discipline is supposed to be positive, but how can I be positive when my kids are doing the wrong thing?”

First, state rules and requests in positive terms whenever possible. Instead of saying “Don’t shout,” you might say, “We talk quietly in the store.” Clearly stating or restating the rule in positive terms gives the child a clear picture of what is expected and keeps your interaction on a positive note. This simple adjustment can help you as a parent focus on what you want instead of what you don’t want.

Instead of complaining about the clothes all over your daughter’s room, you might say, “Remember, we put our clothes in the hamper when we take them off.” You want to give gentle, positive reminders to point children in the right direction. Instead of saying, “Stop banging that drum,” you might say, “You may play that drum outside or in your room.” In this way, you are giving a choice of two positive options and focusing on a solution instead of complaining about a problem.

Another way is to keep a positive atmosphere while disciplining is to look for approximately right behavior and affirm it. Don’t wait until things are absolutely right. If you ask your child to clean up the toys but find that only two things are put away and six are left out, you might say, “Oh, I see you put the blocks away, that’s great! And I like the way you lined up your trucks. Now let me see you put the balls in the box where they belong.” In this way you encourage steps in the right direction.

When my son, Timothy, was learning to dress himself, we had a rule that he needed to be dressed before coming to the breakfast table. When he came downstairs with his shirt on backwards and his shoes missing, we still praised him. He was trying. Pointing out his shortcomings would have been discouraging. He had tried and was feeling good. We wanted to encourage his efforts. Look for ways to affirm approximately right behavior whenever possible.

Positive reinforcement is much more powerful than negative reinforcement. Dish out praise in large portions, especially when you see a positive action that is a result of previous discipline.

One mother wore a golf clicker on her arm for a day. Every time she made a negative comment she clicked one side. Positive comments were tracked on the other. She was astonished to find that her negative comments outnumbered her positive ones eight to one.

Sometimes parents become tired and discouraged in their parenting because they feel they’re being negative all the time. Make an effort to break that negative cycle and focus on the positive. Take time to interact with your children about the things they are doing right. In this way, you will make discipline a positive experience.

Running the Race: Think Long-Term

I don’t run just to feel good every day. I run because I want to feel healthy. I’m thinking about the long-term effects of regular exercise. Parents can persevere and be consistent when they think long-term. Discipline could be spelled T-I-M-E.

Proverbs says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” You are training your children for the future. You are not simply changing your child’s behavior to make your present circumstances easier. Think long-term.

When your daughter’s ball rolls into the street and she starts to run after it, you yell, “Stop!” You don’t want her to evaluate your instruction. You want her to instinctively stop at the sound of your voice. This is the kind of obedience children need to develop in their lives so they will respond to God in the same way.

There are many reasons why parents discipline their children. Developing your own personal philosophy of discipline will motivate you to be more consistent and to persevere in your parenting. When you’re tired or you’ve solved too many problems already and you’re faced with another challenge, your ability to persevere will depend on your philosophy of discipline. The strength of your understanding of your calling as a parent and your reasons for disciplining will give you the ability to press on when you feel you are too physically or emotionally tired. Having a clear philosophy of discipline will give you the motivation to persevere and be consistent.

Used with permission from the book Eight Secrets to Highly Effective Parenting by Scott Turansky, D.Min. and Joanne Miller, R.N., B.S.N.

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  • KrisFromMI

    Well…..I hate to be a negative nelly for the first comment….LOL…But here is my story and I don’t know where else to put it. I have been searching the internet SO much the last few days. I just need some advice. Me and my husband have been together for going on 18 years. We have been married for almost 8 of them years. I was 27 he was 33 when we very first got together. I had 4 children. When we met he was not in a very good place. he was HEAVILY addicted to drugs and pretty much homeless. We seen each other a few times just “around” not dating or anything. He came to my house one night, and straight up told me, he had a SERIOUS problem and wanted to stop. That was the begining for us.Well life went along….we have been together ever since. we have had VERY bad downs and VERY good up’s! I will spare you all all of the details. Well, this is where I feel the demise of our relationship took the turn it is to at this point in time. Last year one of my husbands friends ( a much older friend at 74) got sick and eventually passed away. Him and his wife and me and my husband were very close ( she was much younger than her husband at 48 maybe). She was who I considered one of my best friends. We talked about EVERYTHING. Well I found out that a month after HER husband passed away that her and MY husband spent endless hours on the phone to eachother everyday. They would talk from the time my husband left the house in the morning (he is a truck driver) until the time he got home at night. Monday through Friday they talked for a minimum of 6 hours a day. I talked to “her” probably 5 to six times a week M-F and much more often on the weekends. I figured out one weekend that something wasn’t adding up. My husband told me a couple things that I KNEW didn’t tell him. After thinking about it over night, I figured out that he had been talking to “her” because she was the ONLY one I had said any of these things to. I asked my husband if he had been talking to “her”. He said yea, once in a while. I was like OK. ( “thought” it’s ok THEY were friends too) Well my mind would not let it rest. I looked on his phone and there were no calls from her or to her. That kind of boggled me. So I looked on out phone account.I ALMOST passed out!!! There were 6555 minutes of them talking to eachother in approx 20 days of the month that we were into. I didn’t know WHAT to do. He was sleeping in his chair. I walked outside, I went to my other girlfriend’s house and poured my heart out to her. She cried with me. I thought Hmmmmm….I am gonna call “her” off on my hubbys phone and see what her reaction would be to it being ME. :) She said Hiiiii……I said Hey…..she asked what I was up to…I said oh not much. I just got a question for ya…she said yea? I asked her if she had talked to my husband lately…..she says yea once in a while….I was like WHAT?! once in a while?!?! she hung up on me and has NEVER answered me again. I MARCHED to OUR house and gave my husband ONE last chance to tell me the truth. I asked him HOW much do you talk to “her” and he was adiment that it was ONCE IN A WHILE. I busted out my computer with the phone records on it and asked him AGAIN……NOW tell me……HOW often do you talk to her? well needless to say it has been ROUGH…..VERY rough. We have been working on our marriage, we do really good for a while and then something happens and I find myself dwelling on WHY did he so this to me…….Well THIS weekend he threw me ANOTHER blow that I am TRYING to deal with. He told me that he doesn’t find my breast attractive, AT ALL, actually he said that they just TOTALLY turn him off….he said he didn’t want to hurt my feelings but they just DON’T. He continued on to ask me if I breast fed my kids when they were born….I was TOTALLY dumbfounded and didn’t even know what to do. All I could do was cry! I feel SO horrible. There is NOTHING I can do about the way my breast are. I am getting older and YES I have had FOUR children! I am by NO means a beauty queen (far from it) but MAN…..for being 44 and having FOUR kids I THOUGHT I looked pretty darn good. But he busted that balloon too. I feel SO insignifigant and I don’t know WHAT to do anymore. I feel like NOTHING I do….or don’t do is right. I feel like I will NEVER make him happy so when do I QUIT trying to make HIM happy and start on making ME happy? I don’t know….I guess I just want some advice. I am 44 years old I am 5’7″ tall, I weigh 148 lbs. Part of me says IF he doesn’t “want” me, I am SURE I can find someone that DOES. But THAT is NOT me…….I LOVE my husband. I WANT to make HIM happy…..BUT I NEED to feel happy too :(

    • Karen

      Oh Kris, my heart goes out to you! What a heartbreaking situation you are in! In addition to the grief of losing a good friend you’re grieving the loss of trust in, and betrayal by, 2 of those who mean the most to you! Tragically, it sounds like grief has “thrown” them together, inappropriately. I hope someone has given you the name of a good Christian counselor in your area who can help you through this. And marriage counselor. This is too much to bear and sort out on your own…I’m so glad you have another friend you’ve been able to process this with, and cry with. Lean on that/those friend(s). I don’t know if this will help, but I heard it once……Set aside time(s), and amount of time, each day to give yourself permission to grieve. Then move through your day telling yourself at such-and-such a time you can grieve with abandon but right now you need to function. Maybe ___ minutes every 1/2 hour or hour, to begin with? I’m praying that you will have God’s wisdom and God’s strength for this moment. This hour. Today. Every day.

      • KrisFromMI

        Thank You Karen! :) I was begining to wonder if anyone read these things LOL Yes it does stink. I have always thought of myself as a very strong person, but THIS particular thing has thrown me for a loop. He still to this day “says” that nothing “physical” happened. My feelings are that all of it….physical and/or emotional is wrong. If they were doing nothing wrong than WHY were all of the calls and text deleted and also “pictures”, of WHAT I have no idea. I have had several people that know us say that they had seen things earlier. It all plays with my heart. I WANT to believe my husband. But in my heart of hearts I fear that he is lying to me. Then I have other people that have told me the stuff they have seen, and it tears me apart to think about it. My problem is that I am the type of person to just put on a happy face and keep all my feelings tucked inside. Sometimes though I BLOW my cork. It takes an awful lot…..but when it goes….it goes :)
        Some days I think Oh I will be fine! I can sort this all out. I was doing really good….then the this past weekend happened and I though WHAT have I been doing all of this time?!?!? I feel like a fool. Since the “friend” episode happened I have been trying really hard to be more flirtatious, dressing to seduce him or what not. Then I get the revalation from him that WOW I really don’t even turn him on :( He tells me I LOVE YOU! I told him I think that HIS definition of love and MY definition of love must be 2 COMPLETELY different things. I would NEVER do the things and say the things to him (the man I LOVE) that he does to me and he has no response to that.I think that he has some VERY deep issues that he needs to deal with and I am not capable of helping him with that. We can help each other with a lot of things and we have but I don’t know if his upbringing or WHAT his issues really are. I know that HE is not a very happy person, he is very negative about almost everything and he always thinks he has it the worst of ANYONE. I have tried for going on 18 years to help him through all of the troubles that he has had. BUT these issues I can’t fix……at least on my own. I WISH I didn’t love this man with EVERYTHING that I am. I wish I hated his guts and could care less….but I don’t. To answer your question about counciling…I have been in contact with one place, but they said that I would need to contact a different place because they deal more with people that are mentally “unstabe” I understand what they mean but somedays I feel UNSTABLE. I need to contact some other places. Like I say….I am having the days now where I “think” I can deal with this my self. :)

  • JBA

    I was truly blown away after reading this article. I was expecting to read about how to shop ’til you drop or have a girls’ night out with your closest friends in order to feel like a princess. But the author emphasizes that a woman should focus on her inner beauty instead of what the world considers beautiful is only external and very superficial. BRAVO, Nancy Jenkins! After reading just a few lines of your article, immediately, I realized I am a princess. I am a Cinderella. Better yet, I am a child of the King who possesses so much more than I ever realized. I do possess those internal qualities that God truly admires-being kind, bold, hopeful, resourceful, and honorable. I thank God for using you to help me understand that I am truly beautiful!

  • SaraLynn

    Thank you for this article. I loved it except one of the primary things that hit me in this new Cinderella movie was to Be Forgiving. It was a powerful scene at the end of the movie when Cinderella turns and tells her stepmother that she forgives her. Unforgiveness can destroy a person from the inside out! Cinderella could never have a happily ever after if she was not forgiving.