When my baby girl was born and I finally met her live and in person, I sang the words of King David: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. . ." (Psalm 8:1-2).
Everytime we behold the miracle of new life coming into the world we are witnessing a reminder of Christ, who through the miracle of childbirth entered our world and chose to establish His strength in shuting the mouth of every foe (Hebrews 2:14-15). We witnessed a beautiful reminder of His strength at 10:44 p.m., August 28, as my wife, April, gave birth to a beautiful 7 lb. 6 oz. baby named Kiersten Eliana Blythe.
I have prayed long and hard recently about the challenges of raising a child to glorify God in this godless age. Ironically, as a pastor, I find myself offering counsel to parents, who like myself, are faced with the same challenge, but who are much further along in the experience of raising a child. What you are about to read are some points I think are crucial for any Christian parent to be convinced of.
Remember, while I have been a student of the Bible for some time and hope these points carry helpful insight, I have only been a club member (parent club) for a month. That being said, if you have a word of constructive criticism concerning the following eleven points, it will be welcomed with listening ears.
1. Sit down as parents as soon as possible and decide what type of discipline will be properly tailored for your child: We know from Scripture that failing to discipline your child is not an option if you care anything about his soul. Solomon clearly links one’s eternal destiny to a matter as simple as whether or not he was disciplined as a child. “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod you will save his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 24:13-14). It is vitally important that as parents, you intentionally sit down and discuss how this important practice should be implemented.
2. Make sure discipline is both positive & negative. Effective discipline cannot consist only of punishment. This will only discourage your child. Make sure it consists of both punishment and reward; punishment to deter wrong behavior and reward to promote proper behavior.
Positive: Make a chart with all seven days of the week on it. Place it on the refrigerator. List underneath it some of the good things your child can do. Whenever they do something good; place a star on that particular day. When they earn ten stars, reward them by taking them out and buying them a gift. This will promote good behavior in addition to offering your child due attention for doing what is right.
It is important, however, to teach your child that they should obey God’s law regardless of whether they get a reward. The Bible commends the idea of giving rewards (Proverbs 3:27), but also teaches us that we should do good, not to be praised by men, but to honor God. Teach your children that God sees what is done in secret, not what is done openly for the applause of men (Matthew 6:1-13).
Negative: Children usually misbehave in order to get your attention. Whenever they act up, remember that the most effective punishment consists of taking attention away from them, not giving more. Putting children in time out is surprisingly effective when followed-through by the parent.
3. Never discipline a child out of anger! Always affirm your love for your child even when they are being punished. If you are angry, remove yourself from the situation until you have prayed and have a clear head. If you find yourself guilty of punishing your child out of anger, or of yelling at your child, go to them and ask for forgiveness.
(If you struggle with anger issues, read Proverbs 16:32, 25:28, Ephesians 4:26, and James 1:19-20).
4. Be honest about your sin nature: If you show your child a parent who is a sinner seeking to bear the fruits of repentance, they will grow up to humbly admit that they too are sinners who need repentance. When you are willing to humble yourself and go to your child for forgiveness, this helps them see a parent that is real and human just as they are.
Admitting that you are not perfect is important in getting your children to relate to you. They will never relate to a parent that seems perfect and will only reject the Christian faith, deeming it a religion beyond their ability to live up to. Letting them know we are real people; and have all fallen short of God’s glory is key. This will point them to Christ, who alone lives up to perfection (II Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15). On the other hand, if you lead your child to think you are perfect, the day will come when they will inevitably see your imperfections exposed and be shattered. Having placed you on a pedestal as the model Christian, they will reject Christ because they were wrongly led to believe that a follower of Christ is to be perfect.
5. Never give punishment without first giving understanding! Sit down with your child before you discipline them to explain why what they did was wrong and why it deserves punishment. When possible, show them from the Bible why their actions deserve punishment. Let them know for example that stealing is wrong because the 8th Of the Ten Commandments is: “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15).
6. Be consistent! First, never say you are going to punish your child and not follow through with it. Be a person of your word. Second, if you punish them for a particular offense once, do not let them get away with it the second, third, or fourth time. If this occurs, when you finally to get around to punishing them again they will only be confused, not knowing if their actions are wrong or right. If you let your child get away with something just because you are too tired to deal with it and then punish them randomly, this will only provoke your children to anger (Ephesians 6:4). Most visibly, however, they will become beyond your ability to control because you have taught them by your inconsistency that you cannot be taken seriously.
7. Make sure both of you are on the same team! Don’t play good cop bad cop! You should never allow yourself to be the stiff disciplinarian to make up for a spouse who is too laid back. Nor should you let your children get away with everything to make up for a spouse who only lays down the law. This will confuse your child because they will see two conflicting standards for right and wrong. Mom says one thing and Dad says another. In the end, the child who is confused about what is right and wrong will become lawless, not knowing the difference between the two. Kids often play one parent’s word against another. They will ask one parent’s permission to do something and if they do not get the answer they want, they go to the other parent hoping to get it. This type of manipulation is dangerous for two reasons. First, it will destroy your child’s conscience. You will allow them to grow up believing that there really isn’t a universal standard of right and wrong; only one person’s opinion against another’s. Second, it will foster the notion that they can always manipulate to get whatever they want. If this becomes a pattern they may never learn to develop lasting relationships because they will be too selfish to put the other person’s desires above their own.
To guard your child against this destructive tendency you must be quick on your feet. If your child asks permission to do something, ask them if they have talked to the other parent. If they reluctantly admit they have, ask them what the other parent said. In this scenario the answer will obviously be the one your child did not want to hear. What do you do? Simple! Always back up your spouse.
But wait a minute! What if you ask your child what the other parent said and find that their answer is one you cannot accept? This scenario should be extremely rare. But if it happens, do not say anything that conflicts with what your spouse has already said. Whatever you do, do not talk negatively of your spouse in front of your child. Instead, tell your child that you and the other parent will have to discuss your decision privately.
If you are the one with the stronger will you must go out of your way not to strong arm your spouse into agreeing with you. In these matters, some parents completely relinquish their responsibility as parents by letting their spouse make all the decisions (more often than not it is the father). Do not let the lazy parent off the hook. Take time to affirm them and let them know that it is important for them to care about this decision making process. Be sure to discuss both angles and reach a consensus based on what you are both convinced is most biblical. Then, when you have come to a consensus answer your child as one voice.
8. Never put your child above your spouse: (Usually it is the mother, through her God-given, nurturing instinct that has this propensity). This is really one and the same with the idea of being a team. Always back up your teammate and never let your child hear you denigrate them! Having two parents that are in love with one another is essential for a child’s proper development. It gives them the security of knowing there will never be fear of a split, leaving them with the broken pieces of a shattered family. Remember, the way you as parents treat one another may be the only model for marriage your child will ever learn. Not surprisingly then, the way you treat your husband or wife is likely the way your child will treat their own future spouse. Therefore, to fail as husband and wife is to fail your child (Read Ephesians 5:22-30 concerning God’s design for marriage. What does it mean to cherish one another as one cherishes his own flesh in verses 28-30?)
If you put your child above your spouse and everything else, you are giving them a distorted view of reality. You are teaching them that the whole world revolves around them. This will set them up for failure because when they get out into the real world, they’ll find out too late that such is not the case. They’ll be aghast that everyone else is not clamoring to give them the attention they thought they were entitled to and will act out in unhealthy ways, often manipulating people to get it.
In the end your neglected spouse is not the loser. Your child is! Whoever enters a relationship with your child in the future will likely give up on them for two reasons. First, your child will remain egocentric, demanding that everything in the relationship be done with only their welfare in mind. The other person will constantly have to fill the role of parent, or even entertainer rather than companion. Second, they will never develop the ability to truly love someone, not for what they can give, but for who they are. Selfless love is not something your child is born with. It must be learned as your child matures to understand that there is more to the universe than them only. They must come to the realization that they and all creation were formed for the purpose of bringing God glory, not the other way around (Read Isaiah 43:6-7 and Revelation 4:11).
9. Model for your children what it means to love God by loving His Word: For your child to grow up with a good understanding of right and wrong, give them one standard; God’s Word. Also, make sure that both of you as parents are of one heart and one mind, united in upholding the standard of God’s Word. In the end, your child will believe the Bible because it was the standard they always knew growing up.
Parents are commanded to have three priorities in Deuteronomy 6:5-9. First, love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. If we love God this intensely the second and third priorities will naturally follow. Second, hide God’s Word in your heart by meditating on it day and night. Third, don’t keep it hidden. Teach God’s Word diligently to your children. Moses understood that children pay little attention to beliefs we rarely, if ever talk about.
History proves that if our beliefs are treated with such unimportant status they will only be mocked. However, if we love something with all our heart, soul and might, it will be obvious! Our children will know it when they see us light up with joy whenever that thing is discussed. They will know it when they see us push everything else aside to spend time, money & resources on that thing. After telling us to teach God’s Words to our children, Moses tells us, “Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7). He is telling us that God’s Word should be the thing we push everything else aside for.
Children know that no matter how busy we are, we’ll make time for what we love (a relationship, our favorite team, musical artist, etc). It is no wonder that when people have told us they just don’t have time for us we knew they were really saying: “get lost.” Hence, Moses is telling us that the only way our children will know we love God, especially when we are busier than ever is when they see us go to the extreme, keeping God in the rank of Number One.
In an age of shameless hypocrisy the greatest legacy you can leave your children is to love God . . . and really mean it.
10. Deter wrong behavior by modeling the right behavior: The word “discipline” comes from the same root as the word “disciple.” It means to teach them how to be a disciple of Christ as one who submits to Christ’s Lordship. Learn to teach your children the way Jesus taught his disciples: through example. When Jesus’ first disciples came to learn from him, they asked, “Master, where dwellest thou.” Jesus replied, “come and see” (John 1:38-39). They went on to dwell with Jesus for the rest of the day and watched the way He lived. The way He lived served to back up His every word.
Most children learn to act out in negative ways because it is learned behavior. They may throw temper tantrums because of a father or mother who loses their temper and does the same. They may want to argue and yell because they learned it from a parent who argues and yells, etc. Model for them the right behavior and they will naturally learn the right behavior. Remember, your children are still very impressionable; they will learn more from your actions than they ever will from your words (II Timothy 2:1-2 on the meaning of discipleship).
11. Don’t throw in the towel: Never give up on proper discipline. Following all of these steps will not turn your child into an angel over night. Discipline will take love, energy and consistency. To give up on proper discipline is to give up on your child because we are told clearly in God’s Word: “Discipline your son while there is hope; don’t be intent on killing him” (Proverbs 19:18). There are two truths in this verse that cannot be ignored. First, if you are asleep on the job when it comes to discipline, there will come a time when there is no longer hope and his ways will be incorrigibly set. Second, for you not to lovingly discipline your child would have much the same affect as killing him; the only difference is: killing your child is quick, but neglecting the task of discipline is slow and painful.