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.
No matter how hard we try to keep calm, sometimes we blow it. When that happens, we can be open to ideas from the Holy Spirit, as was Brenda, a mom who receives our email tips. When we heard her story we invited her to write it to share. We hope you find her story as inspiring as we do!
It was another busy evening – kids home from school, parents home from work, dinner to make, homework to do – and tension was running high. Our three lively children aged 5, 9, and 12 were talking over each other and interrupting my husband and me. I strive to model the peace, patience, respect, and love that I want my children to experience and learn, but needless to say, this is easier at some times than others. Trying to keep our cool, we gently reminded them to speak one at a time and listen when someone else was speaking. This worked…for a bit.
Jesus was a “different kind of king”* This was evident in many ways, and highlighted by the unexpected way he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Custom was that a king entered a town with a full show of prestige, power, and authority as a conquering hero on a prancing stallion. Instead Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey — a lowly beast of burden. (This is like the difference between leading a modern day parade by driving a big black Hummer versus riding a bicycle with chubby tires and fenders!)
“No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot control another person’s behavior. You can only influence it.” ~Dr. Scott Larson from “When Teens Stray”
Parents often ask us, “How do I get my kid to do what I want them to do?”
This question indicates that parents may be a bit more controlling than is helpful. Think about it. How would it feel if your spouse or boss said about you, “How can I get you do what I want you to do?” Probably pretty controlled.
It’s no different with kids.
One way we help parents understand this is by replacing the word “get” with the word “manipulate.” The question then becomes, “What’s the best way to manipulate my kid to do what I want them to do?” When put this way, it helps emphasize the controlling feel of the question. Let’s face it: none of us likes to be forced to do things, and hopefully that’s not our goal for our children, either.
We’ve found that using different language can help parents have a different attitude, and therefore be more respectful in their efforts with their children. So next time you hear yourself saying, “How do I get my kid to do what I want,” try replacing the word “get” with “help,” or “influence,” or “guide.” And exchange the “do what I want” to “do what’s best.”
You might just find yourself acting far more respectfully, and more effectively influencing your child’s behavior in the process.
If you feel stuck in power struggles with one or more of your kids, and making this shift is difficult for you, you might want to consider contacting us about some parent coaching.
Every parent fails to deal perfectly with every parenting situation.
In other words, we all screw up sometimes!
Along the way we’ve discovered that what’s far more important than handling every parenting situation perfectly is to regroup, and resolve well. For it’s in resolving well that parents and children best learn and grow from their mistakes. Here’s a true story of resolving:
We had it all figured out. With strong desire to be more intentional about teaching faith at home, we’d put together a little lesson plan for a family Bible study. Complete with some fun object lessons and activities, it was sure to be a hit!
We gathered the kids, ages 6-10, and played the planned games and did the object lesson. It was fun. Even though we’d done a lot of this and were pretty good at it, getting the kids to sit still for the five minutes required for the planned teaching segment was like pulling teeth. We finally demanded the kids remain quiet so we could make our point and be done.
The kids sat restless and distracted on the couch while we read some verses and did our best to apply the teaching to the earlier activities. Daniel, our eldest, was highly agitated, and more interested in virtually everything else in the room than in the lesson. His feet kicked and his eyes wandered. We prayed and finished, frustrated and uncertain about the outcome of our planned teaching. What did the kids learn from our lesson? Did anything actually “stick”?
Parents love to connect with their children. But it’s not always so easy.
Some children (whether tots or teens) respond to their parents’ affection in a way that says “‘Private property, No trespassing’ in this heart of mine.” The child may withdraw into a private world of books, iPods, friends, or media. This may seem like angry, even defiant behavior.
When this happens, it’s common to become disheartened and assume that our children really don’t want a relationship with us. However, we’ve found that more often than not, children desperately want a relationship with their parents. Behind the stiff arm that says “Stay out of my life,” the other hand beckons us tentatively, “I need your love!”
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.
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Have you ever noticed that some kids argue more persuasively than others? Or that some kids’ schemes are actually quite creative? Or that some kids’ resistance to our requests is so persistent that we actually give in to them sometimes? This persuasiveness, creativity, and persistence is evidence that something else is at work. Their misbehavior is not just about their sin. It is also about the unique ways God built them.
This understanding is critical, because in our haste to punish our children’s misbehavior, we may miss an opportunity to affirm and encourage God’s gifts in them.
We have raised our own three kids (now in their twenties) and through personal experience as well as working with countless families; we have learned that not every child responds well to spanking. When we spanked our intense son Daniel he would glare daggers at us defiantly as if to say, “What good does hitting me do?” His spirit wasn’t “breaking” the way the books we were reading said it should. We began to question the effectiveness of harsh discipline and decided to look more deeply at what the Bible says about spanking. (Read L.R. Knost’s commentary here.)
So we put away the books, and with the scriptures as our guide we wondered, “How would Jesus discipline?” Obviously he never spanked anyone, but a thorough look reveals that Jesus responded in a variety of ways to “misbehaviors” he encountered.