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, on Palm Sunday, 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:
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.
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.
We often get asked, “What about spanking?” One parent we talked with explained a conversation she had with her pastor about some behavior from her daughter that was really frustrating and difficult. She told us that the pastor’s advice was brief and to the point. He said, “When she gets that way you need to be consistent and firm in asking her to stop, and spank her immediately and without question whenever she is defiant.”
She wanted to know what we thought of his answer, and this scenario brought several thoughts to mind with regard to corporal punishment as the standard “biblical” answer.
I saw her coming, eyes flashing and surveying the crowded checkout lines. Her cart was full. Mine was too. I shifted my gaze to the lines as well. It was time to go and there was no way I was going to let her find the shortest line first. I was going to win!
The desire to be victorious, to be superior, resides in all of us. This desire takes many forms. At shopping centers we rush to snatch up parking spots, limited-supply free samples (I really love the prime beef at Costco!), and the shortest checkout lines. When in conflict we do what we need to do to win. Some of us get loud. Some of us get quiet. Some of us get mean. We all want to win.
We do it with our kids, too. We put our hands on our hips and raise our voices. We do what’s needed to command respect, but it often creates fear in our children. We “win” when they comply. In subtle but powerful ways they learn that winning is what matters. This is how our children get drawn into the world of winners and losers – the world of bullying. A world where no one really wins.
What if just today we engaged our kids, our colleagues, our spouses and our fellow humans with no need to win? What if we treated them like teammates, not opponents? What if today we decided to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” but “rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”? (Phil 2:3-4)
Check out part one and part two in our series on bullying if you missed them!
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How Fights are Reinforced…or Resolved
If kids get a stern scolding, angry tones, harsh consequences, and nothing else from parents when they physically fight, then fighting is reinforced. This is because the combative mood is continued and modeled by the parents. In the kids’ minds, scolding is nothing more than a grown up form of intimidation and power. Children learn by the adult’s example that to win at fights is to win at life.
However, if fighting children are constructively managed, they will learn to work through conflict better. They’ll learn that resolving conflict well is a win for both parties. So here are some quick ideas for constructive conflict intervention when kids fight.