Brian and Jana were very concerned about how much work it was to get their 8-year-old son, Brady, to do much of anything – look up from his book when they talked, get ready for school in the morning, get dressed for baseball, take a shower… Just to get the kid to tie his shoes was an aggravating power struggle.
Brian observed, “I need to out-think him to get him to do something. And it has to be creative, or it doesn’t work.”
To help Brian understand and feel the impact of the “outfoxing game” on his son, I asked Brian how it would feel if his boss needed to outmaneuver him or threaten to dock his pay to “get him to perform” at work. Brian answered, “Pretty unmotivating.”
At parenting workshops we often ask the question, “What is the goal of your discipline?” The basic answer we most commonly hear is best summarized like this: “To make bad behavior stop and to teach immediate obedience.”
In Hebrews 12:10-11 the Bible gives us a different vision for discipline. We’re told “God disciplines us…in order that we may share in his holiness” and so that “later on (there will be) a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Do you catch this? God’s discipline is not intended to have immediate results, and those results are not about right behavior but about God’s righteousness and peace. Imagine how things might be different with your children if every time you disciplined them, your goal was for them to experience God’s holiness, with an eye for God’s righteousness and peace.
Recently I attended a family reunion. We did lots of catching up, including reminiscing over family memories. A conversation that continued to pop up over the weekend was prompted by the question, “What is the maddest you ever saw your mom/dad?” Some people shared memorable stories of pure rage, like one relative who, after saying “Shut up!” to his mom as a teenager, had his father’s hands gripped around his neck with the understanding that he had a choice to pack his bags or show his mom the respect she deserved.
Some people shared touching, heart-felt stories of undeserved grace, like another relative who hid in the closet for what seemed like hours after she broke a lamp while building a fort in her living room. She was terrified of what her parents’ reaction would be — but felt so relieved when her parents responded to her clear remorse with gracious kindness.
Every parent wants obedient children. But the parent who wants an obedient child without putting in the hard work to earn that child’s trust is on shaky ground. You see, true obedience grows out of the soil of trust. Compliance, though it looks like obedience, grows out of the soil of fear.
Sadly, most parenting literature emphasizes the importance of gaining obedience without imploring parents to do the hard work of earning their children’s trust. This sets parents up to work far harder on fear-based compliance than on true obedience. Kids who are punished for misbehavior tend to either comply out of fear, rebel out of resentment, or some combination of both responses.
There is a better way. We call it “Discipline that Connects.”
When our kids hurt their siblings, our sense of justice compels us to punish them. But sometimes punishment is not the best way to teach responsibility and wisdom. Check out this story from Jess:
Most parents make it their goal to get kids to stop lying. It’s a good goal. But often the way parents approach it tends to pit parents and children against each other from the start because children are bound to lie as they grow up and parents are bound to catch them.
Over time, the struggle over lying can become a contentious hide-and-seek match. Kids get better and better at hiding their lies, while suspecting parents grow less trusting and work harder to catch them and punish them for their lies. Resentment on both sides grows and sometimes snowballs until kids and parents utterly despise each other.
So if your child lies to you, it may be that a different approach could help re-orient you both. This isn’t necessarily the only change needed, but we’ve seen this sort of approach be really helpful:
Sometimes, in spite of parents’ most graceful efforts to stay calm, connect well, and parent with grace, their kids still misbehave. They are “beloved sinners” (just like us) and need corrective guidance (just like we do), with the goal of helping them learn the powerful message, “You are responsible for your life, your relationships, and your decisions.”
Two Biblical principles can help parents communicate this message to their children: natural impacts and imposed consequences.
Every parent wants their child to choose good, right behavior. Every family consists of real, mistake-prone people. No one is perfect. How do we teach our children to learn from their mistakes and help them grow up well? Discipline often consists of merely correcting wrong behavior when it should also enable inward, heart transformation. In order to discipline wisely, we must make grace our central principle. The Connected Families framework arises out of the need for effective correction and centers around grace. Read on to learn the four powerful messages that parents have the opportunity to communicate to their children when disciplining them in order to guide them effectively.
We begin by asking the question: How do we help our kids grow into the adults God is calling them to be?
Here are four powerful messages that parents can focus on as Biblical goals when discipline challenges hit the fan. When kids grow to believe these messages are true, their hearts are much more open to their parents’ teaching and discipline.
When dealing with a misbehaving child, many parents follow this pattern: instruction, warning, warning, last warning, really strong last warning, angry explosion!!
When we stretch out our instructions into multiple warnings and don’t follow through, it teaches our children to feel insecure under our guidance. If a child gets lots of warnings because a parent wants to avoid the hard work of following through, that selfishness can even decrease a child’s trust in their parent as safe and predictable.
Clear instructions, with clear consequences and predictable, stable follow-through, can be one of your most powerful tools for teaching your children to honor your requests. When you are predictable in what you say and do, it teaches your children to understand the cause and effect of consequences and helps them to grow more responsible for their actions.
Instead of warnings, try this approach:
- Connect first – Slow down and look your child pleasantly in the eye. A touch on the shoulder, some affection or encouragement can help prepare your child to really listen.
- Give the instruction – simply and clearly.
- Invite your child to repeat the instruction so you know they’ve heard it.
- Explain the consequences if they do follow or don’t follow the instruction. E.g. “If you finish your homework you can have some computer time, but if not there will be no computer.”
- Let the child decide their response – with NO warnings!
- Follow through calmly with the results of whatever the child chose. Do not allow yourself to get caught up in negative emotions or outbursts even if the child works hard to pull you in. Keep it clear and calm. Earn trust by following through.
If you’ve been in the multiple warning pattern, this new approach may not go so well at first. But as kids get accustomed to your predictability and begin to feel more secure, they are far more likely to begin honoring your requests. By making a clear instruction part of your discipline strategy, you will teach children important lessons about taking responsibility for their decisions and the consequences that come with them.
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The story of Moses at the burning bush is (thanks to Cecil DeMille and Charlton Heston) one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament (see Exodus 3 & 4). But have you ever read it as an example of parenting? Did you know that God is invested in using disobedient children (like us) to accomplish His purposes? What can we learn about the way that God disciplined Moses as a way to understand principles of parenting our own children?
God Asked Moses To Do Something he did not Want to do.
In the story, God (the father) makes a request. Not a suggestion, but a firm request of Moses (the child). God instructs Moses to leave his mundane shepherding job and all that has been familiar for 40 years, and go to lead the people (who hardly remember him) out of the clutches of the all-powerful Pharaoh. Now that’s a tall order!! Who wouldn’t be a bit fearful and resistant?
What’s remarkable to us about this story is the Father’s patience and encouraging tone – even in his anger. Instead of arguing or getting into a power struggle, instead of a “delayed obedience is disobedience and must be immediately disciplined” approach, God keeps encouraging Moses.