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Just a Touch

Whenever I punish my kids, I feel so distant from them. I hate this! Is there any way I can discipline them while still feeling close?

I recently talked to a woman with a similar problem: Jennifer adores her three children. Unfortunately, they love aggravating each other just as much as their mom loves them. By the time she's gotten Tommy to stop chewing on Maggie's doll for the 20th time and fights another daily homework battle with Justin, that "touchy-feely" part of her inner mom wants to take two Advil and go to bed.

Maintaining a close relationship with your children is an integral part of effective biblical discipline. Remember, discipline is about teaching, and the best teaching flows naturally through relationship. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses tells the Israelite parents to teach God's commandments to their children. He tells them, "Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deut. 6:7). Moses paints a picture of a parent who spends time with the children, time that builds family relationships to create an environment where important lessons can be taught.

One effective way to build a close relationship with your kids, despite their occasional lapses in behavior, is through regular physical touch. A squeeze of the hand, a hug, or a pat on the shoulder takes only a couple of seconds, yet creates emotions that resonate deep into your child's heart. Touch is powerful because it's purposeful. You're intentionally reaching out to connect with your child. Your kids recognize this and feel noticed and valued when you go out of your way to connect with them through moments of warm, loving touch.

While regular instances of affirming physical touch build closeness into any relationship, they are especially important if you regularly feel frustrated with your kids' behavior. It's easy to become so focused on their negative behavior that you stop making touch connections. While you need to allow yourself the freedom to feel frustrated now and then, don't forget it's your children's privileges that should be in jeopardy, not their relationship with you. Your relationship is never on the bargaining table; it's always to be cherished and protected. A regular dose of physical touch reminds your children that while television privileges may come and go, their relationship with you is never at stake.

Set a goal of connecting with each of your children through small doses of affirming physical touch three to five times a day. As you continue this practice, you will slowly begin to feel your family relationships become warmer and closer. My heart turns to butter and tears well up in my eyes every time my 10- and 13-year-old sons give me a kiss on the cheek at bedtime or grab my hand out of the blue and say, "I love you, Dad." Our relationship has had a regular dose of affectionate physical touch and affirming words for many years. Especially on days that have been difficult or when privileges have been lost, I'm reminded of its powerful impact on our relationship.

Todd Cartmell is a child psychologist and popular workshop speaker. He is the author of Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry and The Parent Survival Guide (both from Zondervan). Visit his website at www.drtodd.net.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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