As Christians we are called to “…provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4. We are commanded to raise our child with love, understanding, and discipline. It can be a real balancing act. We should not “provoke them to wrath” with unrealistic or harsh expectations and punishments, yet we need to instill discipline, respect and obedience.
How do we find that balance?
The word nurture in the verse from Ephesians means caring for the whole child; mind, body and soul. Addressing all three parts of the child is how we find the balance to raising a well behaved child.
Our quest to care for our children’s mind is going to entail 3 parts: discipline, changing behaviors and building healthy self-esteem.
Discipline is developed through discipleship. To discipline someone is to make them a disciple, or a student of Christ. Disciplining children is more than correcting or punishing sinful behavior (which does have to happen) it is also bringing them to the knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord. A child who knows God, know His word, His mercy and His judgments will be strengthened in self-control, the ability to master his emotions and self will, in favor of godly behavior.
To actively discipline a child requires training up godly character within them and correcting behavior.
Changing behavior – We need to both encourage good behaviors and discourage unwanted behaviors. Behaviorists call this “operant conditioning”, which is simply a fancy way of saying we reward or acknowledge the behaviors we want to see and institute negative consequences for behaviors we don’t want.
To encourage and reward good behaviors we might say: “if everyone gets their chores done, we can all go for a bike ride after lunch”. Consequences for bad behavior are obvious: “children who fight with their siblings are not allowed to watch tv or play video games for the rest of the day”.
Positive reinforcement for good behaviors and attitudes should happen ten times more often than negative consequences. In other words go out of your way to notice when you child is doing something good and then applaud, recognize or in some way show your appreciation for that behavior or attitude. If you are finding it necessary to correct wrong behaviors 10 times a day, you need to go all out and find one hundred things to appreciate about your child.
This could be things like recognizing and commenting on their good drawing ability, or noticing when they take the time to put away their pencil after doing school work, or thanking them for not leaving their shoes in the middle of the floor. It may seem a bit ridiculous, but when you go all out to reinforce, recognize and appreciate good behaviors, good attitudes, positive character traits and their natural abilities and interests, you are setting a positive tone in the house. This kind of positive atmosphere, coupled with respect for the child will result in an increase in good behavior and respect back to you.
However, it has become popular today to take this approach too far to the extreme. I’ve seen too many parents acting as if their child can do no wrong and being adamantly opposed to correcting sinful behaviors because they don’t want to “stifle the child’s right to express them self.” Those children are selfish, insufferable, rude brats. I am NOT advocating that we never discipline children. Proverbs 29:15 very clearly says “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left undisciplined brings his mother to shame.”
Building Healthy self esteem
Giving children responsibility for the consequences of their behavior is an incredibly powerful way to train their mind. You are showing respect for their maturity and ability to be dependable by holding them responsible for how they act. This will empower them to take responsibility for their actions and the results of their actions. While they may not like be held accountable, it will bolster their self-esteem in a healthy way. When children are not taught that positive and negative consequences are a direct result of their behavior choices, they begin to see punishments as just the capricious whim of whoever is in authority over them instead of a direct result of their own behavior.
For example, when a child wants to go out and play, we can give them a choice:
“Your chores need to be done before you can go outside. If you choose to do them, then you are choosing to earn the right to go play. By choosing to not do your chores than you are choosing to spend the rest of the day in your room. “ This approach gives the child the responsibility for earning the reward or suffering the consequences. It takes the pressure off of mom or dad to be the bad guy. You are simply stating the rules. The child is making the choice of which result he wants.
What do you do to balance respectful discipline with building self esteem in your kids? Share in the comments below.