“A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it.” Proverbs 15:23
When a child misbehaves, the knee-jerk reaction is to tell them what they shouldn’t be doing, what they shouldn’t be saying, or how they shouldn’t be acting. We’re a bunch of Negative Nancy’s, but claim to not understand why our children don’t respond positively, or even respond at all. So we naturally escalate matters to the next level by either introducing some form of punishment or worse, tolerating the behavior. How often do we put ourselves down on their level and encourage them to do what is right? How often do we slow down long enough to consider the trigger behind the action, the root behind the behavior? I submit it is rare, because we just want the misbehavior to stop, and we don’t desire to take the time to understand it.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” God has given us the responsibility of actively training our children. Children need to develop respect for authority and a sense of responsibility. Without these they do not stand a chance at having the successful life every parent dreams their child will have.
Every parent has his or her own parenting style. The most common are strictness, permissiveness, and that of positive discipline. When parents are too strict and controlling, or permissive; children do not learn responsibility or proper respect for authority. Children learn responsibility and respect for authority when they have opportunities to learn valuable social and life skills for good character in an atmosphere of kindness, firmness, dignity, and respect. When opportunities are provided for children to experience responsibility in direct relationship to the privileges they enjoy, they learn to enjoy responsibility instead of dreading it.
Positive discipline as a parenting style allows children to have exposure to the value of mistakes, and helps them learn from them in a safe environment. Taking time to understand the difference between when a child has made a mistake which can be used as a training opportunity and when a child is blatantly being rebellious and needs to be disciplined is vital to teaching them responsibility and respect for authority. William Barclay once said, “One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement.” While at first it sounds like an oxymoronic principle, it is truly necessary to pull away from the commonplace reaction to misbehaving as a Negative Nancy.
Encouragement is not rewarding misbehavior; it instead removes the need to misbehave. When a child is misbehaving there are alternatives to negative reactions. Show empathy and understanding for what the child is experiencing, use logical consequences in place of nagging, redirect the child to useful, contributing behavior, and help the child explore the consequences of their actions. When I was a youngster, I remember at a chapel service a preacher instructing us that if we were to decide to remove something from our lives that we thought would not be pleasing to God, that we couldn’t just leave a gapping hole, we needed to replace that thing with something else that would be helpful. If we desire a different behavior from our children, then we cannot simply say “no” we must give an alternative behavior that is acceptable.
We need to take time for training while children are maturing. Decide how you will respond ahead of time and then stick to your guns. Don’t rescue the child from the consequence of their behavior or play on their emotions. Instead, ask them questions that will teach them to problem solve and make better decisions instead of misbehaving. Talking through a problem with them, letting them think through their answers and tell you what they wanted, why they didn’t get what they wanted, what they think will be the result of their behavior, how they could attain what they wanted next time, etc. will help them learn to problem solve and take responsibility for their own actions.
Paul instructed the Hebrews to “consider one another to provoke unto love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Treating children with respect instead of talking down to them, being interested in their point of view, showing you care about what they are truly trying to communicate through the misbehavior, and letting the weight of their own decision rest on them will teach them respect for authority. Children learn what to do instead of what not to do. Using encouragement will take misbehavior and use it as an opportunity to help develop life skills. Unlike negative reactions, encouragement motivates children to do better and impacts them in a positive way.
-Amanda B. McKelroy