“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
I’m not a parenting expert. For people who know my children, you’re thinking, “Duh!” My kids are precious and full of personality, and while they have their sweet moments, they’re just as likely to shout of a “Potty Word” in public as they are to say “please” or “thank you.” They’re a work in progress (just like their parents). I tell you al that as a disclaimer; this wisdom I’m going to share isn’t coming from some kind of “Jedi-Master Parental Guru.” I’m just a guy trying to figure it out and along the way, I’ve heard some great advice that I’ve found to be effective and true.
1. “Don’t use Anger to get Action. Use Action to get Action.” Dr. James Dobson taught this basic principle which has deeply resonated with me. As parents, we all fight the temptation to respond to our children’s disobedience with anger, but anger doesn’t work…action does. When we calmly respond by giving cool-headed discipline, then our kids will respond. Granted, this is easier said than done, but I really does work.
2. Be intentional about what you reward. Discipline isn’t just handing out negative consequences; it is also rewarding positive behavior. Sometimes we inadvertently “reward” negative behavior by giving into our kids demands because we’re tired of fighting about it. This is a huge mistake, because we’re actually reinforcing their negative behavior when we do that. I principle I’ve heard and found to be so true is parenting is that “Rewarded behavior is Repeated behavior.”
3. Give Clear Boundaries. In a football game, every player on the field knows what is “out of bounds.” On the highway, every driver knows not to cross the double yellow lines. Those boundaries are there for the protection of all and they actually exist to give freedom, not to restrict it. Many times, our kids don’t have any idea what behavior is “out of bounds” because we constantly change the rules based on our own emotions. We’ve got to to clearly and consistently communicate the boundaries. Doing so will give our kids confidence and the ability to succeed.
4. Give Unconditional Love AND High Expectations. Most of us are good at either giving our kids a lot of love and encouragement OR giving them a lot correction. We either come across like a Hallmark card or like a Drill Sergeant. Kids are complex and they actually need BOTH.
As our model for parenting, we should look to our Heavenly Father (God) who is the only Perfect Parent. He gives us unconditional love, but He also has very high expectations for our behavior. He gives us clear instructions and boundaries through His Word. He’s interested in our comfort, but He is much more interested in our Character. He is with us in our pain and in our celebrations. He loves us with a perfect love. When we do the same for our kids, we’re preparing them to become men and women of character, courage and faith.