Based on my personal observations, the most common mistake in child rearing is talking too much. Closely related is forgetting. Please let me explain.
We have all seen parents cajoling, threatening, yelling, etc. in an attempt to get a child to behave. Typically the child will pause briefly, but shortly be right back at it. Parents caught in this trap are to be pitied, for surely the satisfaction they should enjoy from their children is greatly diminished.
Once I met a very fortunate, fine young man who said his mother was perfect, in particular that he had never known her to speak rudely to anyone, not even her own family1. Yet, he related how she as a school principal was a highly effective disciplinarian. Once she politely confronted a misbehaving student with: “Young man, you have a choice to make. Either immediately go back to class, or be dismissed from this school.” He complied and warned other students “not to mess with the principal.” Such gentle words were so dramatically effective because the student knew they were no idle threat.
If she had gotten angry and spoken loudly and harshly, it still would have depended on if she would back her words with action? However in this case the student would have been angered according to Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” In anger he would naturally have felt like being uncooperative in other ways. So, if you speak harshly to your child, expect him to be angry and uncooperative.
The point then is to consistently back up your words with proper action, and to not speak harshly, rudely or insultingly to your children. It is better to keep your mouth shut if you can’t, won’t or don’t intend to take action. This is what I mean by “talking too much.” If a child is told that he is doing wrong but continues in it, his2 conscience will become hardened and it will be more difficult for him to obey God and live at peace with his fellow man as he grows older. In cases where you can’t deal with misbehavior then and there, you may let it be known that you will deal with it later. But if you habitually forget, he learns that he can ignore you. This is what I mean by “forgetting.”
You may say, “I just get so exasperated that I cannot help but get angry and speak harshly”. But you wouldn’t if your child would consistently obey your gentle words. And, you can expect he will once you have established a pattern of reasonableness and backing up your words with appropriate action.
Popular modern methods tend to be things like “talk to your child”, “reason” with him, a bag of tricks to manipulate or trick him into doing what you want, or barriers to physically restrain him. Parental authority tends to be minimized or denigrated. Typically also, much emphasis is given to building the child’s self esteem. But he can’t have true self esteem because he knows in his God-given conscience that he has no self-restraint and is not acting in a good manner, and tends to be governed by what he can get away with. Modern ideas seem based on the idea that man is essentially good, which will naturally come out in the right environment. Though the Bible says man is created in the image of God3, it also says that man is sinful and rebellious4.
Proverbs 22:15 says “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Foolishness by definition means not susceptible to reason, so how can talking or reasoning be effective? Spanking has a bad name these days, so don’t dare do it in public, else you risk Child Protective Services taking your child away. But there surely is more here than mere physical spanking, meaning that some kind of physical discipline is necessary, possibly as simple as no dessert if that is sufficient. Discipline should be no harsher than necessary, and done in love a gentle discipline will often suffice. But as we said earlier harsh words will stir up anger making for a more resistant child, so gentler disciplines in this case may not suffice.
The great confusion is that a parent can either be nice to his child or he can discipline him, but not both, because they seem contradictory. But if your discipline is concrete action, not scolding, then you can have a kind, gentle and loving attitude towards your child while you are disciplining him, and you can fulfill the Biblical ideal of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4.15). None of us are perfect, and if we speak harshly we need to confess it to God5 and to our child. If we realize we were not reasonable in our request, we can say we have decided not punish, but the parent needs to be in control, not the child.
A few other points. Pride is a very strong human emotion, and if you injure a child’s pride, you will have a resistant child, and so you must avoid confrontation, ridicule, sarcasm, insult, etc. Deserved compliments are not spoiling a child, but showing him the love he needs. It is hardly obedience if you must get angry before the child obeys. All commands should be fair and reasonable. Best are few rules with all obeyed rather than lots of rules with few obeyed. Accidents like spilled milk are not disobedience, but the child should clean it up if he is able. Military style obedience where a child does not know why he is asked to do something does not seem appropriate in a loving environment, because God has explained to us, His children, in great detail in the Bible why he requires things of us. A good test of whether a child is properly behaved is that he will come when told. There should be openness between child and parent so that the child can respectfully question the parent. If a child doesn’t learn self-restraint when young, he will have to learn it by the hard knocks of life when older. Setting a good example is very important so that the parent has the moral standing to give out discipline, but without proper discipline a good example is not sufficient. God’s kind of discipline does not suppress initiative, creativity and intelligence, but rather frees from the slavery of sin6 making the child free to be all that he can be. A well behaved child naturally has self esteem because he knows in his God-given conscience that he is acting right and responsibly, and so will be naturally happy also.
Some bad punishments. Scolding is not proper discipline because harsh and unloving words are the punishment. Isolation and separation, such as sending a child to his room for a long time could breed alienation from the family. Ignoring wrongdoing is certainly not how God treats us His children. Quoting the Bible but permitting a child to continue to act wrongfully will harden his conscience.
Some harassments are shouting in anger, undertone of disapproval, expecting too much, saying he is stupid, ridicule, humiliation, sarcasm, unfairness, threatening, frightening, deception, lies, etc., none of which have any place in a loving home.
Never lie7 to your child because if later you tell him that drugs or immoral practices are dangerous, you want him to believe you. I personally never would even let my children believe that there was a Santa Claus or Easter bunny. I did not want them later to think God might also be a fairy tale.
Have the goal of treating your children with respect, the same that you would give an honored acquaintance. That does not mean that you don’t discipline when needed, or that you are not in control.
Nowadays there are many more temptations and pitfalls in raising children than years ago. Society used to hold Christian values and was supportive of the authority of parents. If your child harbors resentment against you, he will be easy prey for society’s anti-Christian values. As in all of life, there are no guarantees, particularly if your child is brain damaged by vaccines or other cause, or there are factors beyond your control. But doing it God’s way, disciplining in love and kindness and being a genuine friend to your child, holds out the best promise of success. I have observed many successful Christian families who have adhered to God’s principles.
- James 3:2 “… If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man …” [↩]
- In this and many other instances “he”, “his”, etc. are used in the generic sense to refer to either male or female. [↩]
- Gen 1:27 “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him” [↩]
- Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” [↩]
- 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [↩]
- Romans 6:18 “and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.” [↩]
- Proverbs 30:8a “Remove far from me falsehood and lies …” [↩]