I’ve heard it said, “Parenting is like folding a fitted sheet. No one knows how.” It can certainly seem that way these days while we’re trying to raise well-behaved, respectful, obedient and godly children.
We know where we want to end up, but we don’t exactly know how to get there. Parenting experts swear by all kinds of tips that actually seem to be making our kids worse.
As parents we mean well, but sometimes we’re just stuck in a pattern that we can’t easily recognize. I’ve messed up on my own parenting adventure and made mistakes I wasn’t even aware of for a long time.
I still continue to miss the mark (that’s where God’s grace comes in), but I’ve realized over the last decade there were several things I did that were contributing to my children’s negative behavior. My desire is to help you avoid making the same mistakes.
Your family life doesn’t have to continue in strife, arguments and strained relationships!
Protecting from consequences
The majority of verses about parenting in the Book of Proverbs have to do with correction. These say that correction provides security, wisdom and a joyful, harmonious relationship between parents and children. When we shield our kids from the consequences of their actions or failures, we’re not doing them (or us) any favors.
Sparing them the pain of discipline teaches them not to obey. Our kids learn that we’re not in authority and neither is God. They end up calling the shots in our homes, which leads to them feeling insecure and being resented by us. Many of us don’t enjoy our kids simply because we haven’t taken the time to properly train and correct them.
The Bible warns against the ruin of an undisciplined life. We end up causing our children more pain in the long run and missing out on the opportunity to teach them valuable lessons when we “protect them” from hurt at any cost.
For the sake of convenience, we tend to overlook what we consider small things and don’t deal with them right away. Eventually however, those “minor offenses” escalate until we have a much bigger problem. Then we’re more likely to discipline out of frustration and anger, because we feel the issue has grown beyond our control.
Teaching children to become well-behaved is much like any other healthy habit in life — it has to be consistent! We can exercise faithfully for one week, but if we only exercise every other ten days after that first dedicated week, we won’t see lasting results.
The same principle applies to parenting.
If you want to see your child’s behavior go from bad, negative and aggressive to loving, kind and affectionate you absolutely have to be ready to parent at any given moment. It’s rarely convenient to address negative behavior, but here’s a parenting secret: the more you’re consistent, the less tantrums, meltdowns, and disobedience you’ll see.
If you only address your child’s negative behavior 60% of the time then you will have a child who acts out, disobeys and causes havoc more than 60% of the time! Why? Because your child is counting on you to be lazy this one time. Your child is hoping she will get away with her bad behavior — one more time. And so the tantrum, disobedient saga will continue, unless you firmly decide to go against this parenting trend.
Focusing too much on outward behavior
Because their negative behavior is what’s seen on the surface, we often resort to correcting it with rewards or punishments. This may modify their behavior, but ultimately their hearts aren’t changed on the inside. When we don’t address their heart, we never get to the underlying issues of their behavior.
When our kids misbehave, it’s tempting to try to distract them with a series of ineffective options, send them to timeout, or swat them on the behind, but the real issue isn’t their whining or defiance- it’s their sinful heart. We need to disciple their hearts and point them to Jesus. Their behavior is the result of some unresolved sin- selfishness, anger, pride, laziness, etc.
Our goal should be to help them apply relevant verses to their actions and lead them to pray that God would help them be patient or content. We should also be teaching them to ask for His forgiveness when they’ve disobeyed, or wronged a sibling. We can’t leave God out of the moments that reveal our children’s need for Him!
Making everything equal
This can be tricky, because we want to teach our kids to share and be generous with what they have. We breed a sense of entitlement though, when we try to make sure siblings get exactly the same amount of everything so no one feels left out or gets their feelings hurt.
If we insist that one child split a prize they earned with their brother or sister, for the sake of “fairness”, we’re teaching all of them that hard work isn’t necessary. They will keep expecting they’ll receive something even if they didn’t put in the effort.
We’re also missing an opportunity to teach the disappointed child how to be content and glad for their sibling. In real life, things aren’t always fair and you don’t get a trophy just for showing up.
Talking negatively about or to them
It’s innocent enough. A friend meets our daughter for the first time and when she doesn’t say anything back, we tell the adult “Oh, she’s just shy”. Or a relative comes for a visit and tries to hug your son but he doesn’t reciprocate, so you tell Aunt Margaret, “He’s just not a hugger.” Without meaning to, by explaining our children’s behavior to outsiders, we’ve labeled them. If your kids hear these labels often enough, they become self-fulfilling.
Sometimes in moments of sheer frustration, we end up venting about them to friends or our husband within their earshot. Or we don’t speak to them with the same respect we command, because we perceive them as just youth after all. Your voice, positive or negative, will be internalized by your children for the rest of their lives. We need to speak life over our children and say affirming things about them to others and to them directly.
In our American Christian culture, we usually treat our faith as a single slice of our life pie, instead of the whole thing. What ends up happening is that we have secular education, work and entertainment/media pieces, with only a spiritual church piece left over, and we’re not able to give our kids a true biblical worldview. If the majority of the pie is secular, that’s the lens your children will end up seeing the world through.
When we’re investing so much of our kids’ time in secular education and media consumption, and only an hour or two per week in church plus maybe 20 minutes a day on family devotionals, it’s difficult to help them gain a real understanding of Scripture that informs the way they see all of life.
Time plus affirmation equals influence. In order to give your kids a deep lasting faith, you need to make sure you spend more time with them and encourage and affirm them more than anybody else in their lives! If you don’t do this, then somebody or something else will occupy that space- and own their time and affection.