Eleven-month-old Suzie was hurrying across the store toward the big, swinging, automatic doors. Her Daddy saw the danger and called, “Suzie, come back here.” But the sound of his command lacked finality and expectancy which was confirmed by his immediate jumping up and racing to intercept the child before the doors should swing open again. When Suzie heard his voice, she looked over her shoulder and picked up speed, running away in an almost stumbling, controlled fall, as if there were a wonderful prize at some finish line. I could see that she was thrilled with the chase. Daddy, too, was running, and he caught her just before a customer on the outside stepped past the infra-red beam that would cause the 150-pound door to swing open like a giant “child-swatter.” Suzie just laughed and squirmed to get free. Mother looked a little distressed, and Daddy looked as if he were wishing he was back at work, bossing his employees who not only paid attention to his commands, but even to his suggestions—at least the ones he keeps on the payroll.
I have observed and engaged a sufficient number of parents, both in action and in conversation, to have made a very good guess about what this frustrated father was thinking. I’m certain he was proud of his patience and tenderness, knowing that he was not being overbearing or insensitive toward this child. His philosophy clearly is, “She’s a handful, but kids will be kids! Just love them, and in time they will turn out all right.” No doubt, he was solaced by the fact that in the best of times, she responds to his commands. He has “faith” that such a sweet child will survive and eventually “grow into” obedience.
I cautiously mentioned to him that he could actually train her to stop upon command, pointing out how much safer it would be if she obeyed instantly. He brushed it off with, “Oh, she is not being disobedient; we play games like that.” And then he made some comment about how he didn’t like to spank his children except in extreme situations. He didn’t really consider it to be disobedience in a child so young. He was a foolish young father, not yet having seen the final end of the seeds of self-will and rebellion he was sowing.
I chose this example because there is nothing extreme about it; it is the kind of thing that happens often, and no one considers it much of a problem. I could speak of children constantly whining, occasionally screaming, kicking, demanding, and eventually striking their parents. Just go to Wal-Mart and you will see plenty of examples of untrained children and countless frustrated parents.
There is no doubting that this young father was limited in his thinking. He saw only two options: either let her run and act at her discretion (up to the point of hurting herself or someone else), or do the unpleasant thing and spank her for disobeying. He didn’t understand the need for, or even the concept of and the simplicity of training. He reasoned that if he spanked her for every act of disobedience, he would be spanking her excessively. He enjoyed fellowship with his little girl, and felt that even if he rebuked her for not responding to voice commands, he would be losing the congenial, fun spirit they shared. Like many parents, he has the best of motives, but experience has repeatedly demonstrated that good motives are no more productive in child training than in operating a computer. Many things can go wrong. Trusting that a child will somehow find the right way and do it without being constrained to do so must have been the source of this biblical passage “…a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15). Many parents bathe their children in a pool of indulgence and permissiveness, thinking it to be an expression of their deep love, and assuming that children should be allowed a time of irresponsibility and unimpeded pleasure.
The Word of God COMMANDS parents, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). It doesn’t say “love up a child,” as important as that is. And, it certainly doesn’t say, “threaten up, nag up, intimidate up, ridicule up, or spank up a child.” God said, “train up.” Training is what you do before the need to discipline arises. It is what you do in the best of times, in the midst of pure, sweet fellowship. This parental behavior must be fully in place in anticipation of the kind of childish behavior you will expect in the future, daily conditioning your children to accept it as their joyful duty. Preemptive training will prevent your children from ever becoming unruly. “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17).
A four-year-old child who is presently untrained is not hopeless by any means; I could substantially retrain him in three days. But the problem is that while the child is learning bad habits, his parents are developing equally bad training habits. While they create a bad rut for the child, they are also creating one for themselves. Retraining the kid would be easy, but the biggest hurdle is the retraining of the parents to consistently maintain that training.
Organize and Manage
So, if you also are an untrained parent like the one discussed above, as evidenced by your untrained kids, where do you start? Remember these two words: Organization and Management. Everyone in the family is moving in the wrong direction—multiple directions. You are going to have to move together in order to institute a new era of law and order. Consider your family to be a mini kingdom, so start with organizing your kingdom. After humbly confessing your mistakes, go into detail with some examples, explaining how you intend to proceed from this day forward. This is not to be aruthless inquisition. Be positive and excited to be venturing into this new era together. Try to create an attitude of partnership with your children. “We are going to do this together, and we will all be happier for it.”
Define your goals and rules. It will work best to arrive at these rules through a process of discussion and mutual consent. Guide the children toward thinking of these things, and then adopt them, as it were, as their own constitution. They could include some of the following:
· Respect the property, person, and rights of others. One’s room or portion of the room, is his/hers to command. The same goes for personal property. No forced equality or sharing.
· Clean up after one’s self and keep one’s room clean.
· Chores must be done neatly and on time. Keep charts of chores, with schedules of who does what.
· Obey authority cheerfully, and consider the suggestions of peers with regards to one’s duty. None of this, “You’re not my mama; you can’t tell me what to do!”
· No whining or begging. No is NO. There may a method of appeal established.
· No physical violence. (Roughhousing is not physical violence, although the outcome can turn out to be the same.)
· No lying or stealing.
· Everybody goes completely silent and still upon command. This prepares them to receive new orders (and it really impresses the grandparents).
· You may think of others that are consistent with the spirit and intent of the above, and your children may think of something very creative and good. If they do, send it to me, and I will update my list.
Now, it would be marvelous indeed to have a houseful of unruly kids who lacked nothing more than organization. We could simply organize and manage the home, and everyone would be tickled with their responsibilities, but there is the “little” problem of self-will. Let’s face it. There will be times when a child will be senselessly obstinate, or just incurably lazy and indifferent. Rules and reason will mean nothing at that time. Laws are not laws unless there is a lawgiver who is prepared to enforce them. That is where you, the chief magistrate, come in. You must be prepared to dispense consequences for noncompliance. The children will draw the line where you draw it, not at your words or your rebuke, but at the point where you demand and constrain them to obedience. You are the lawgiver and the enforcer. You are the top cop, the judge and the jury, and, if necessary, the jailer. Rules are meaningless unless there is a supreme potentate who will constrain the careless and self-willed citizens to obedience.
So, in the process of managing, you must see yourself as representing the authority of God for the good of your children. Your children need for you to be firm and unwavering. There will be times when you will have to spank the younger children, and for the older children, you will occasionally have to just dig in and stand your ground with patience and dignity, just like the rock of God, giving no ground until they have fully complied.
Back to fleeing Suzie
We trained our children to instantly stop upon command. The first time one of them defied an order, we gave him/her a swat on the leg with a switch. It was no big deal, not great pain for the kid, no marks, no “Bend over and I am going to give you ten licks,” no pleading or further warning. Just, SWAT! “Stop when I tell you to stop. Now, come over here to Daddy. That’s a good girl.”
“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). That was our goal, to have a home full of the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Our children are all grown, married, and have children of their own. Yes, we, indeed, had a home full of peace, though I must admit, it is at times too peaceful with all of them gone now. But, the very richest blessing is that they all took that identical peace with them into their marriages and are now in the process of imparting it to their children. God makes that rich blessing even sweeter when they come a visiting, for each time we rejoice to see the peaceable fruit of righteousness so clearly evident in “our” very well-trained grandchildren. There is enough peace to go around. I trust that all of you will enter into God’s peace for your home. It is so good!