Do you have a bunch of rules for your kids? No hitting. No whining. No screens before homework is done. No messes in the living room. Having rules provides structure, and some basic ones are essential.
When your kids struggle with obeying the rules, do you ever try to regain control by making more rules or harsher penalties for breaking them? And even though your intentions may be good, do your kids get more resentful and rebellious? We’ve often heard parents say, “It doesn’t matter what I take away; this kid is just defiant!”
Increasing defiance in response to firmer rules
You’re not alone if you are tired of your child’s increasing defiance in response to firmer rules with harsher punishments. When God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, Moses seemed confident they would follow these rules that were created for both their benefit and protection. (Exodus 20:20) But, instead, the Israelites were rebellious, despite strong confrontation by prophets and “punishment” from their enemies.
Eventually, more and more rules were created by the Pharisees to close all “loopholes.” The rules mostly showed the people that they were incapable of keeping them. The hearts of God’s people were tired and discouraged, and many were ready to realize, “We need a different way!”
Enter John the Baptist, commissioned to prepare the way for Jesus, the Different Way!
“And he [John] will… turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to…
WAIT! Do you think this verse is about to say “to obedience”?
Nope. John’s job was to turn the disobedient to…
…the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:17
The goal was a heartfelt connection supporting wisdom based in God’s purposes. Just as the fear of punishment wasn’t enough to keep the Israelites from sinning, behavior management based on fear won’t help your kids in the long run, either.
If your family is tired and discouraged, maybe you’re ready for a different way.
Families flourish when parents develop household rules that inspire kids with God’s love and purposes.
As you focus on guiding kids toward God’s love and purposes, many of the “Don’ts” can be much more effective (and may even become unnecessary) when supported by a passionate, proactive focus on “Dos.”
Romans 7:6b puts this well: “Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.”
Here are some practical examples of how to replace “Don’ts” with “Dos”:
- Instead of: “Don’t leave your junk around the living room. I mean it. I’m going to throw it away this time.”
- You can try: “Let’s work together to get this place clean and comfortable – then we’re ready for anyone to feel welcome. Our hospitality really blesses others.” (Then make more of a habit of hospitality and talk about the joy of it.)
- Instead of: “Don’t you lie to me!” OR “You may not talk to me that way!”
- You can try: “I want to have a great relationship with you! When would you be ready to communicate honestly and respectfully about this?” (Then celebrate when you connect or communicate well with your child.)
- Instead of: “Stop whining and complaining about dinner every night! You can just skip dinner if you keep it up.”
- You can try: “Let’s work together to figure out how you can care well for that good body God gave you.” (Then bring your child grocery shopping so they can pick out a few healthy foods they want to try.)
- Instead of: “Stop hitting your sister! That is NOT OK!! No screen time for you this week!”
- You can try: “Jesus made a way for us to have close, connected relationships when He offered us true forgiveness and reconciliation. We want that for you too! Before you get distracted by your video games or head off to play with others, whenever you’re ready, you can reconcile well with each other.” (Make it a point to occasionally set your kids up for some connective fun together, for example, build a fort for either a “sleepover” or an indoor picnic.)
Is there an area where you have gotten stuck in a “Don’t pattern”? How might you inspire and encourage your kids with a “Do” that helps them value God’s purposes?
A wise parent encourages, comforts, and urges His children to live lives worthy of God, who calls them into God’s kingdom and glory.
Adapted from 1 Thessalonians 2:11,12
As you learn to receive God’s grace for yourself, remember that He didn’t come to add to our list of rules. He came instead to offer abundant life and the transforming power of grace, forgiveness, and God’s wonderful purposes.
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