Over at Challies, Tim put up an excerpt from a the writings of George Whitefield, one of the great evangelists from the second Great Awakening.  In the passage, Whitefield disciplined a boy who refused to pray, and his method began a very nice discussion of discipline, forced religion, and how to raise children.  I responded with the comment below.  Here’s the passage from Whitefield’s journal:

Had a good instance of the benefit of breaking children’s wills
betimes. Last night, going between decks (as I do every night) to visit
the sick and to examine my people, I asked one of the women to bid her
little boy say his prayers. She answered his elder sister would, but
she could not make him. Upon this I bid the child kneel down before me,
but he would not till I took hold of his two feet and forced him down.
I then bid him say the Lord’s prayer (being informed by his mother he
could say it if he would), but he obstinately refused, till at last,
after I had given him several blows, he said his prayer as well as
could be expected and I gave him some figs for a reward.

Without having to discuss the relevant scriptures, the general
principle of breaking a child’s will is scriptural and a
well-established doctrine in xian child raising.  Here’s how it is
described.

It is similar to breaking a horse.  You don’t want to crush it’s
spirit, but you want to break it’s own willfulness so that it can work
safely with you (safety for both of you) and not freak out when
accomplishing challenging tasks, like pulling a cart in a crowded
street.

Children come into the world at the mercy of their own unbroken wills.
If you don’t control them, they will not learn self-control.  When you
break their will through consistent, loving discipline and training
(the latter of which occurs BEFORE they make a mistake),  you give them
back a broken will, which is a gift, because you give them self control.

If you fail to control them, and break their will with meaningful
limits, training, and discipline, they end up insecure, feeling unsafe,
and like they and their surroundings are out of control.  Hence a
majority of ADD kids, who never got the right kind of discipline.

And not only are they often driven by insecurity and feelings of unsafe
surroundings, without discipline, their consciences are not cleansed
after doing things they know are wrong (but were unable to resist due
to their self-will).  With this guilt, they are often driven by
self-loathing.  This is why such kids end up adoring tough mentors (or
teachers in juvie facilities) because someone if finally caring enough
to make them safe, to help them feel in control, and to help cleanse
their consciences from the things they do. 

Once the discipline is over, they start with a clean conscience, a fresh slate.  Care is needed to not be abusive or overly permissive.  That’s the challenge of good parenting.  And in all things, we should be guided by love.  But I’m sure some of the things presented here will offend the more humanist among us.

In the Whitefield case, forcing a child to pray is probably not a good idea at all.  But willful disobedience is to be dealt with firmly, lovingly, and consistently.