Do you find yourself threatening, repeating your instructions, or raising your voice in an attempt to get your children to obey? Are you frustrated because nothing seems to work? It could be that faulty child-training methods have snared your line of thinking. A quick bribe or mild threat looks appealing to a parent’s appetite for gaining control of a child, especially in a hurried situation. So, we take the bait – hook, line, and sinker. It’s not until later we realize we’re caught in a tangled net of ineffective parenting.
We must remember our goal is not merely for our children to outwardly obey, but to reach their hearts with the gospel of Christ. When we adopt faulty child-training methods that aim for behavior modification only, we miss the issues of the heart and the point of biblical discipline. Here are a few pitfalls we must guard against:
To bribe a child into obeying is to motivate him wrongly. Bribing encourages children in selfishness, as their motive for obeying is personal gain. Bribing sounds like, “If you clean your room you can watch a movie tonight” or “If you don’t misbehave in the grocery store, you can pick out candy at the check out counter.” Children should be taught to obey because it is right and because it pleases God, not to get a reward. The Bible says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). We should simply state the standard and follow through with consequences when that standard is violated.
Counting to Three
As we train our children to obey us we are ultimately training them to obey Jesus. Do we want our children to obey God the first time, the second time, or the third time? When we count to three, we cause our children to get into the habit of delayed obedience. Delayed obedience is disobedience. Counting to three encourages them to put off obeying until absolutely necessary. We want our children to view obedience as their best option, not a choice that is put off until the last minute.
This was one of my biggest struggles in parenting. I was always tempted to say, “If you don’t do this, then this will be the consequences.” Moms, this is how we get ourselves in a pickle. If we tell them there will be a consequence then by golly there better be one. Otherwise, we might cause them to question our word. A woman of integrity says what she means and means what she says. If we cry wolf too many times, we will eventually lose our effectiveness as well as the respect of our children. Our children need to have confidence that our word is our word.
Appealing to their emotions
Parents often try to appeal to the emotions of the child by making them feel guilty. “After all I do for you, this is how you repay me,” moans the parent with a sad face. It’s easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves and think that our children “owe us” obedience. However, we want their motives for obeying to come from a heart to please God not from a parent-inflicted guilt trip.
Reasoning with small children
Parents should avoid trying to talk their children into obedience. Reasoning with small children erases the line of authority between the parent and the child, and places the parent in a position of being out smarted. We should avoid statements like, “Are you ready to go to bed?” and “Don’t you think you should brush your teeth?” and “Why don’t we pick up the toys before lunch?” Asking the child if he would like to do something places him on a peer level with the parent, which can cause confusion and insecurity as to who is the parent and who is the child. We must clearly instruct our children and expect obedience.
Repeating or going back on instructions
In studying some the most of admirable and successful generals of our country, I have found they all had one thing in common: they were certain of their commands before they issued them. Soldiers do not respect or respond well to an uncertain and inconsistent leader. Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 14:8, “For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” (NKJ) Likewise, when Mom issues half-hearted commands to her children and doesn’t require her children to follow through immediately, she sends mixed signals. Not only will this sort of leadership earn Mom the “most wishy-washy in command” medal, but it will also cause her children to question their own positions in the family. They will become uncertain of when and how to respond to Mom’s instructions. This can lead to insecure children who are unsure of their own actions. However, when we lead our “troops” with confidence, they find security and stability in their call to obedience.
We should never issue a warning or command without following it through. This rule of thumb requires we think before we speak. In Matthew we are told, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). We should try not to say “yes” or “no” to something until we are sure that it is our definite answer. According to Proverbs 15:28 it is biblical that we think before speaking: “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers.” Let us weigh our answers, give confident commands, and raise up a mighty army for the Lord!
The first step toward effective parenting is to realize that biblical obedience is complete, immediate, and evinced with joy. You might teach this concept to younger children by explaining obedience as an act that is to be done all the way, right away, and with a joyful heart.
The second step toward effective parenting is to expect nothing less than biblical obedience. Don’t be wishy-washy or you’ll raise wishy-washy children who have a hard time determining when to and when not to submit to authority. Determine the “family rules” and establish a strong family identity in Christ by expecting your children to obey authority.
The third step toward effective parenting is to faithfully administer consequences when children disobey. When disobedience is met with consequences children learn the law of the harvest. They learn God has built the principle of sowing and reaping into their worlds. While administering consequences is not pleasant, it’s a prerequisite for peace: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
By avoiding the snares of ineffective parenting and adhering to God’s design for discipline, we move past the frustrations of not knowing how to handle issues of disobedience and into a confident, well-balanced approach to raising our children.
This article was adapted from Ginger’s book, Don’t Make Me Count to Three!