Discipline is Designed to Disciple

When my firstborn was toddling around—less than a year old—she once stuck her finger in an unguarded electrical outlet. (At someone else’s house. Of course, we had covers on our own outlets!) I grabbed her hand immediately. I got down where she could see my face. I looked her in the eye, and while squeezing her little hand just until I could see that it was hurting her, I said “no” in my most serious voice. If I remember correctly, I only had to do this twice before she learned not to put her fingers in electrical outlets. Yes, I hurt her just a little bit, but way less than if she’d been electrocuted. I thought of it like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. I squeezed so tightly for her own good.

Parental discipline is like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. (click to tweet)

I disciplined her in the only way her young mind could understand. It was an action/reaction concept: if I put my fingers here, then I hurt. The discipline was immediate and tangible because her brain wouldn’t have processed anything else. Why did I hurt her when she was so young?

  • I knew she was capable of understanding it. (The form of discipline matched her maturity level.)
  • I wanted to protect her in the future. I might not be watching so closely next time.
  • I loved her (still do) and didn’t want her to be seriously injured.
  • I wanted her to begin practicing self-control.

I did not squeeze her hand…

  • Because I was angry,
  • Because I wanted her to hurt,
  • Because she irritated, interrupted, or embarrassed me.

This is the difference between punishment and discipline.

Parental punishment is about me: my anger, my needs, my embarrassment, my convenience, my sense of entitlement or frustration with the situation.

Parental discipline is about my child’s physical well-being and spiritual growth. That’s all.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. -Proverbs 13:24

In Intentional Parenting, we teach our children in advance, but we also watch for opportunities to correct through discipline. There’s no love in pampering them, in hiding their sins and failures from them, in allowing them reckless “freedom” that ultimately enslaves them to their own desires. Discipline is something we do carefully and purposefully because we love our children.

My children have grown since the electrical outlet incident. They’re both in double-digits now, and squeezing hands isn’t the best option anymore. (Sometimes I wish it was. It was so much easier!) This week, however, I had a chance to practice some fairly serious discipline with one of my children.

At first, I was so angry that I had to just send him to his room. I felt like there was steam coming out of my ears, and I’m sure my face was red! I wanted to punish him. I wanted him to hurt. (Don’t judge. You know you’ve felt the same.) Because I was angry, I was in no state-of-mind to discipline properly. Once I calmed myself down, I went to him and told him I needed to talk with his dad about the discipline. I still didn’t trust myself, honestly. As we talked a little, I made sure he knew I loved him. The next morning, having talked with his dad, we sat down and discussed the situation calmly and arrived at some discipline that fit the situation and aligned with his maturity level. I’m praying it helps him grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Some observations about discipline:

Good discipline comes out of love. We already talked about this one.

Good discipline comes out of humility. I do not present myself as better than my child but as another sinner learning how to please God throughout my life.

Good discipline comes out of obligation. As another Christ-follower, as one called to be his parent, it is my duty to correct my child when he fails. I’m helping him understand how to follow Christ more completely.

Good discipline is a product of peace. I’m talking about Biblical shalom, that confidence in God’s sovereignty over His creation and the security of knowing He loves me. Anger dismisses His sovereignty. It says I deserve something or I have been wronged. With peace, I approach my child in the confidence of God’s economy.

Good discipline aligns with the child’s maturity level and spiritual state. The wise parent desires her child to learn from the error/sin through the discipline. Just like you don’t teach first graders calculus, it takes thoughtfulness (and sometimes wracking your brain) to provide discipline at each age. If the child has accepted Christ as Lord of his life, that significantly influences the way discipline is given.

Good discipline ends. What could be more miserable than to be repeatedly reminded of a failure from your past? Trust the Holy Spirit to work in your child’s heart and lay aside the situation once the discipline is complete.

Good discipline is reserved for disobedience or danger and other clear acts of sin. Children will be foolish and forgetful. They’re ignorant of many things we take for granted as adults. Before enacting discipline, be sure the situation warrants it. Perhaps a good “talking to” (a Southern term) is all they need.

With older children…

There’s a reason discipline and disciple look so much like. Add these to the description of good discipline when your children are past the stage where physical things work best.

Good discipline is mutually-agreed-upon. We discuss ways for him to learn what is necessary. It’s important for him to understand why he must forfeit a privilege or spend time alone or do something extra. He doesn’t like it, but he understands the purpose. If he doesn’t understand why it’s happening, then he will not learn. That’s punishment, not discipline.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. -Hebrews 12:11

Good discipline involves follow-up. After the discipline phase is completed, we come back to the subject at least once more to test what he’s learned. If it arises around the same time in a sermon, book, or other medium, we’ll mention it again. (See “Good Discipline Ends” above for the balance on this.)

Good discipline incorporates forgiveness. If I’ve personally been wronged, I must intentionally and specifically forgive my child. If my child has wronged someone else, he must clearly request forgiveness—including an explanation of how he now understands his behavior. He must also ask for God’s forgiveness. Never leave your child wondering if everything is “right” between the two of you afterward.

Good discipline renews trust. A follow-up time gives the parent an opportunity to talk about trust. Can you trust your child again? Do you need to see evidence of a changed heart first? Does there need to be a trial period? Make all this clear rather than leaving your child guessing.

The child who is disciplined in a Godly way will see the wisdom of Proverbs 12:1…and probably enjoy that the Bible calls someone “stupid.”

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. -Proverbs 12:1

11 characteristics of good discipline for #IntentionalParenting. (click to tweet)

prov-12-1-meme

For further reading:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp (more for younger kids)

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (for teenagers)

Yes, they are brothers. Both of these books offer excellent sections on Biblical discipline. If you’re struggling with this issue, I urge you to take a look at the appropriate one.

Respect is a Two-Way Street

We all want—no, expect—our children to respect us. It’s Biblical, right? Both the Old and New Testaments say, “Honor your father and mother” (e.g. Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2). We are right to expect respect, but no matter how much we quote these verses, no matter how much we stomp our feet and vociferously demand respect, we don’t always get it.

Why not? Well, part of the reason is the sin nature with which both we and our children were born. Part of the reason is our culture and the influences of media, peers, etc. But may I submit something to you? Perhaps another part of the reason our children don’t respect us is because we don’t respect them. Respect is a two-way street.

In Intentional Parenting, we model respect for our own elders and superiors (at work, church, etc.). We also talk about respect, about how honoring others honors God and other associated Biblical concepts, such as “The Golden Rule.” Sometimes, however, we forget to apply those same Biblical concepts within our families as well.

Need some solutions? Here are a few age-appropriate ways to demonstrate respect toward your children. You can expect that respect to be reciprocated.

At Any Age

Follow through on your promises and commitments. If you said you’ll read a book before bed, then read a book. No excuses. If you said, “One more time and you lose [a certain privilege],” then after one more time, they lose that privilege.

This kind of integrity demonstrates that your words to the child actually mean something. When you begin to do what you say you will do, they will start listening.

Young Children

From the first visit to a playground or first playdate, institute a two-minute warning. Two minutes before you need to leave, tell the child he/she has two minutes remaining to play. (We usually tried to give a five-minute warning as well.) This simple warning has helped us avoid so many tantrums! I know because the times we didn’t give a warning were so much more difficult.

When you, as an adult, are busy on a project or in a conversation, you don’t like to be interrupted. Even worse, you don’t want to be forced to stop without warning. I don’t either. Why do we think it’s any easier for our children?

Early Elementary

Allow your children to make as many decisions as possible. Before you correct (or laugh—even worse!), ask yourself if it really matters. Toy storage locations, everyday clothes worn, books to read, interests to pursue…all these are decisions a six-year-old can make. Maybe you prefer the Legos in the bin on the left and the doll clothes in the bin on the right; maybe there are even good reasons for your preference, but as long as there’s no danger, allow your child the choice. That “ownership” in the location of the toys may even help at clean-up time.

Children at this age long for independence, but they have so little. By allowing their decisions to stand, we demonstrate the validity of their choices and affirm the children as independent thinkers. Besides functioning as a confidence builder and sign of respect, this approach will help your children know that when you do object, there’s an important reason.

Middle-Grade Children

Elementary and middle-grade children have so many stories to tell. Let’s be honest, though. Some of them are boring. Long and boring. As parents, we may be tempted to interrupt with something unrelated or jump in and quickly finish the story ourselves. Don’t interrupt. Allow them to finish the stories. (At our house, we have a sign for “make this shorter” when the story gets too long. It helps.) If it’s necessary to interrupt, say “Excuse me,” just like you would if interrupting an adult.

From the time they could speak, we’ve taught our children not to interrupt us. Allowing them the same honor says their experiences are valuable and their family participation is important.

Tweens and Teens

If your child asks you not to show affection in a certain way or say a certain thing in front of his/her friends, don’t do it. Respect their public image. Public displays of affection, pet names, even cheering too loudly may infantilize our teenagers (at least in their own eyes), and it may be fodder for teasing or bullying among their peers. Our teenagers don’t deserve that. Don’t worry, they’ll still enjoy the hugs, pats, and verbal affection in private. Also, refrain from telling embarrassing stories or showing naked baby pictures no matter how cute they are.

Let’s face it; we will embarrass our teenagers. It’s inevitable. But our efforts to minimize the embarrassment demonstrate our respect for their increased maturity. That respect will surely be reciprocated.

Reciprocate Respect

The world says respect is earned, not given. Contrary to the world, however, the Bible says every person—regardless of position or power—is a unique creation of God Most High (Psalm 139, for example). We begin there: every person deserves respect. This is not a burden to lay on our children (that they should respect us) but a principle to lay under our interactions with our children (that they are worthy of respect). At the same time, however, we parents should live lives worthy of our children’s respect. That’s just a given. We clear the way for respectful responses when we demonstrate respect in our interactions with them. Respect is a two-way street.

Respect your children at every age and you can expect respect from them-5 ideas. (click to tweet)

I thought about sharing stories of parents carrying their children from the playground in the middle of a temper tantrum, but let’s not do that. Instead, use the comments below to share some positive stories of reciprocated respect. Let us hear from you!

respect-2-way-street
Rainy road (c) Carole Sparks

3 Approaches to Allowance

I have some really practical Intentional Parenting thoughts for you today about our children’s allowances. There are a few different approaches we’ll look at, and I’ll let you know why we chose the one we did.

There are three broad approaches to allowances. (I’m making up these categories.)

  1. The Beneficent Ruler approach
  2. The Employer/Employee approach
  3. The Citizenship approach

The Beneficent Ruler Approach

In this approach, there are no allowances. The parent buys the child what he wants. While it feels generous, this approach is subject to the mood of the parent, who might choose not to buy a new toy because she is angry with the child or in a hurry. The parent may also be tempted to bribe the child in order to influence the child’s behavior in the store. Furthermore, as the child grows, his expectations will become more and more expensive, creating problems for the parent who will inevitably have to start saying “no.”

I don’t recommend this approach after the child learns to count money. In addition to the issues above, the child will not learn the value of money or how to save it. He also won’t understand why some shopping trips result in toys and others don’t.

No matter which of the next two approaches you take, an allowance is a good idea. It helps your children learn how to manage money and how to save for things they really want. I am so thankful my mother taught me how to spend and save money. I’m fairly sure it’s that experience which has helped my own family stay out of credit card debt!

The Employer/Employee Approach

In this method, parents pay children for the completion of chores. Although we don’t use this approach, I have friends who do, and there are some benefits to it. Children learn the value of their work—that effort has rewards. Parents sometimes quantify purchases, saying things like, “That book costs five dishwashings.” This can be helpful for children who don’t grasp the concept of paper money and coins yet. Children will also have incentive to do their chores because of the reward, and the punishment for incomplete chores is built into the system.

The Biblical basis for this approach comes from verses like 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

The Citizenship Approach

In this method, all members of the family possess certain rights and responsibilities inherent to their positions as family members. Members have the right to an allowance, that is, to a small amount of money that can be used at one’s discretion. They also have a right to be heard and to provide input into big decisions (financial and otherwise). At the same time, family members have certain responsibilities simply because they are part of the family. Parents go to work or work from home, children go to school, parents drive places, parents buy groceries, children obey parents as governing authorities, etc. Everyone does household and yard chores appropriate for their ages and strengths.

Even if you don’t do your chores all week, even if you get disciplined every day, you still get your allowance (unless part of your discipline is the loss of that allowance, which we’ve never done).

I prefer this approach because it’s not really about the money. It’s about the family and each person’s permanent place in it. Through it, we teach our children about our (and therefore God’s) everlasting love and generosity but also our response of obedience. We fulfill our duties because we’re part of the family, not because we get something for it. We receive an allowance because we’re part of the same family and not because we did something to deserve it. Sure, it makes chore completion more of a hassle, but I think it’s worth it.

The Citizenship approach refers to our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. The Biblical foundation for this approach comes from verses such as this:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. -Romans 8:17

Details

Just a couple of details, if you’re interested.

  • Each person’s allowance (including parents) is half their age. So the 10-year-old gets $5/week. (We might have to change this in the later teenage years, but it’s working for now.) This helps us modify amounts as the kids get older. Because we parents get an allowance, too, the children watch us go through the same waiting times and decisions as they experience. They don’t think we can just buy anything we want because we have the ATM cards.
  • We give occasional advances if there’s a good purchase that probably won’t be available later. We are faithful, however, to ensure that it’s repaid. Learning about debt is part of the experience.
  • The children tithe on their allowance, as practice and as an act of worship.

3 Approaches to Allowance for Intentional Parenting. (click to tweet)

What about your experience as a child or as a parent? Please share some good allowance strategies or ideas in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

New School Year, New Parenting Practices

4 Habits to Draw Your Family Closer to Christ

It’s that time of year! No, not Christmas (although we’ll see it in the stores any time now). In the USA, it’s the beginning of a new school year. Many of the school systems around us begin classes this week or next, and every homeschooling mom I meet has an imminent date in her mind as well.

As a parent, mid-August feels more like a new beginning to me than early January. With the establishment of new school schedules, after-school activities, etc., this is a fantastic time to implement or refresh some Christ-centered practices in your family life as well. Consider any or all of these four ways to ‘up’ your Intentional Parenting game.

  1. Establish Family Devotions

I will just confess right here that we don’t do this. In fact, my impetus for writing this post is my desire to finally start a weekly study time with my family!

Rather than depending on a pre-written devotional (sorry, writer friends!), try reading through a gospel such as Mark. Do one chapter or one story  each week. Be creative; act it out if your children like that kind of thing or play charades or draw pictures or just take turns reading aloud. Leave time to talk and to pray for God to help you respond to what you’ve received. For older children, you might study a paragraph per week from an epistle such as Philippians.

If the thought of discipling your children like this leaves you weak in the knees, come back next week. I’ll post How to Study the Bible with Your Grade School Children in 500 words or less.

Intentional Parenting perk: When we prioritize Bible study…when we model digging into the Word, obeying what we find, and living according to God’s guidance, our children naturally learn to do the same.

If you just don’t know how to fit this intentional time into your family calendar, look at #4. We’re making it a priority this fall—finally—and I’m praying you see the value in it, too!

  1. Implement Drive-to-School prayer time

We started this last year, and it was such a blessing. If you deliver your child(ren) to school, turn off the radio on the way. Ask what he/she anticipates in the day to come:

  • Academically: tests, homework, projects, presentations, PE expectations
  • Socially: friends, lunch conversation, locker break
  • Emotionally: disappointing grades, difficult teacher

Repeat the names of classmates and friends to help you remember. Ask for clarification if necessary. Show that you are really listening.

After listening, pray aloud as you drive. (Don’t close your eyes, obviously.) If you feel led, offer a very little bit of counsel…maybe a Bible verses that applies. This isn’t the time to advise; it’s the time to support. Let him/her know you’ll be praying through the day.

Intentional Parenting perk: This habit says, “I love you and I care about you, my child.” It also demonstrates that God is interested and active in our day-to-day lives. Just watch after God works in something about which you’ve prayed!

Give God a chance to prove Himself faithful in your child’s life through voiced prayer. (click to tweet)

  1. Create After-School Conversation Time

My introvert just isn’t up to processing her day the moment she gets in the car after school. She needs some quiet. My extrovert wants to talk right away, and he always has multiple stories (some of which don’t make any sense to me, but that’s okay). The when isn’t important. It might be immediately after school, over dinner, or just before lights-out. The point is to spend some time processing with your child, holding him accountable, and helping her see how God did answer those morning prayers.

Avoid yes/no questions, and make sure you ask about whatever they mentioned in the morning. Beyond that, we’ve used these two questions since our first one started Kindergarten. They know to expect the questions, so they look for answers as they go through the day.

  • What was your best thing from today?
  • What was your worst thing from today?

You may have different questions or more questions. Don’t get too complicated or long, though, especially for younger kids.

Intentional Parenting perk: The purpose of this habit is to communicate your enduring investment in your child’s life and to coach them through their days away from you.

  1. Set a Family Schedule

It’s super-easy to over-commit at the beginning of the school year. Everything seems like a good idea: PTA council, STEM scouts, sports teams, after-school clubs, service clubs, tutoring sessions, music lessons, Bible studies. Before you know it, you’re wearing out your mini-van tires on the road to school, church, the field/court and back!

With planning, you can create blocks of open space for family, so don’t say ‘yes’ yet! (click to tweet)

Before school starts, sit down together and, keeping your family mission statement in mind, decide how many activities each child will participate in or how many evenings/week you are willing to be out of the house. Decide this before the offers and ideas start rolling in.

After school starts, wait until everything is ‘on the table,’ include AWANA or whatever evening programs your church offers. (I realize some parents may be shocked by this, but sometimes the best choice for your family will be to skip Wednesday night church programs for this year.) Talk through which parent will drive where, how long the commute takes, what it means for family dinners, finances, homework plans for those days, longevity (such as continuing piano lessons), etc. Some options will automatically be disregarded. For the rest, make decisions as a family. Even the youngest ones can participate. This is hard. Believe me, I know. We have said “no” to so many good-but-not-best things, but our family is stronger and closer to Jesus because of those tough decisions.

Intentional Parenting perk: As your children watch you model responsible, Christ-centered time management, they see what’s important to you and to your family and they learn to make intentional decisions for themselves.

Small changes in your family routine will go a long way toward peace and understanding in your home. Or, to make a bread-baking analogy…

Knead some small changes into your new school routine and watch your family rise into richer Christ-centeredness. (click to tweet)

What about you? What small changes do you hope to implement at the turn of the school year?

Want more? Check out any of these posts:

How to Make Room for the Important by Kelly Smith at The Glorious Table. Kelly has guest posted on Intentional Parenting before, so you know I like her. This post is for the moms and dads who fell led to adjust their own schedules—especially applicable at this corner-turning time of year.

4 Tips to Start Off the School Year by Sarah Anderson at Parent Cue. Sarah has very young kids, so her tips are different from mine, but I found the post insightful.

Also, my Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me* post may be helpful if your children are in middle or high school.

Scary Social Situation? Be BRAVE.

It’s one thing to say, “Be brave,” but quite another to equip our children for social situations that require courage. Here’s a great acrostic (using the letters in brave) to help you coach your children through those scary social situations that come up during summer camps and events. But first, some background…

Music camp: My so-tall-for-her-age, introverted daughter squared her shoulders, threw her very-unique violin case over her shoulder and said, “Bye, Mom” as she turned toward the auditorium doors. She knew not even one of the over two hundred students inside. I had to hold my other child’s hand just to stop myself from walking in with her.

Sports camp: My long-haired, tall and skinny son who has never played basketball before in his life finished his registration and marched right into the university arena with other boys his age who’ve played for years. I knew I would want to pull aside one of those massive college players and explain his situation or tell him to watch out for my son. This one was so hard that I couldn’t even do it. My husband signed him in.

This is what summer is for! New experiences, stretching existing skills, growing in ways the school year doesn’t often permit. Oh, I’m not talking about the kids; I’m talking about me!

We must give our children opportunities to be brave. As they age, they need to start practicing their reactions to socially scary situations. They need to learn to interact with new people without a parent’s intervention. They can be successful…and we can help!

Take these five prompts and adjust them for the age and personality of your child, then square your own shoulders and smile as he or she walks into that room full of strangers! Not that he’ll look back. The smile is so the other parents don’t know how apprehensive you are.

Brainstorm a few conversation starters.

This one’s mostly for introverts. At school, it’s easy to strike up a conversation because the environment is familiar. You talk about the teacher or the classroom or the other students. But in a brand new place, she may “draw a blank” when she sits down beside someone. The day before, brainstorm with her and let her practice a couple of not-over-the-top ways to say hi. Encourage her to find someone else who looks like she’s alone and try out one of her lines there.

Remind him to be kind or generous.

In an uncertain situation, it’s natural to start reacting defensively. But selfish people don’t make friends. Present a couple of relevant case studies (you don’t have to call them that) in which he can make a decision beforehand about how he will act. For basketball camp, we could have asked, “What will you do if you and another boy arrive at the back of the line at the same time?” The best answer would have been to let the other boy go in front of him.

Ask her about the experience afterward.

Be ready with questions when she’s ready to talk. For some, that’s as soon as they walk out, for others, there’s a need to process first. Ask about who she met, what was hardest about the day, what she enjoyed the most. Also give her some extra time to rest. Even if she’s an extrovert, she’s probably exhausted after so much newness.

Verify God’s constant presence.

Not only will you be thinking of him and praying for him the whole time he’s gone, but God Himself goes before him and beside him. His confidence comes from who he is in Christ, not from how many people laugh at his joke. I like to write Bible verses on my kids’ mirror with a dry erase marker. I would choose something like Isaiah 41:13 or Joshua 1:9. Sure, it’s not “the valley of the shadow of death,” but Psalm 23:4 would work, too.

Encourage her every day.

Remind her of a previous situation in which she showed courage, even if it seems unrelated. After the first day, tell her how brave she was for walking in alone. Tell her you’re proud of her for trying something without any of her friends around. Point out something she did well or something she learned from the experience—not just the training (i.e. violin or basketball) but socially as well. Tell her about a time when you had to “go it alone.”

With these BRAVE prompts, your children can navigate scary social situations this summer! (click to tweet) And you can relax with your favorite coping mechanism while they’re gone. Mine is coffee.

scary social situation

How do you help your children navigate new social situations? Do you use a particular verse to encourage them? Please share in the comments below!

 

Find a Parenting Role Model

As a first-time expectant mother, my biggest concerns weren’t with sleeping or diapers or language development…although all those things intimidated me. For some reason (read: the Holy Spirit), I started thinking about that fateful future time when this as-yet-unborn baby would be a teenager. Yes, I worry in advance, obviously—way in advance. My big question was this: How can I raise a child that doesn’t turn into the typical teenager? At the time, I didn’t know of any books to address this topic. (Here’s a list of really great parenting books I’ve discovered since then, by the way.)

My husband and I decided the best thing we could do is ask someone. We didn’t want opinions or observations. We wanted proven results. So we began to look around our community and church family for some atypical (in a good way) teenagers. There was a set in our church: a respectful, friendly, thoughtful, Jesus-loving brother and sister who seemed very genuine and even liked each other. We watched them for a while as we very intentionally got to know their parents. Finally, we felt comfortable enough with them to “pop the question” although, by that time, the answer was fairly obvious.

Okay, that was fourteen years ago, so I don’t remember their exact answer. We asked how they came to have such amazing teenagers (which any parent would love to hear—flattery gets you everywhere!). Their answer boiled down to this: They always talked, and always had. They said they talked to their children about everything, from the time they were very little. It was clear, also, that they showed love easily and they respected their children as real people, uniquely created by God. Because they were authentic Christ-followers themselves, I’m sure their talks included issues of faith and God’s will in their lives.

The world has changed in the last fourteen years—more than I thought possible in such a short amount of time. But their advice continues to prove true in our family. By consistently investing in our children’s lives through conversation, we seem to be raising thoughtful, Jesus-loving teenagers who are becoming agents of the Kingdom even before they reach adulthood.

I honestly don’t believe we could have received any better advice, but that’s not really the point of my post today. If you are a new(ish) parent, or if you think you’re missing something in parenting, find some kids or teenagers that act like you want your kids to act. Then track down the parents of those children and sit at their feet for a while. Prayerfully model your parenting on theirs and see what happens.

I’ll be praying for you. So will they.

 

To find a parenting role model, first look for children who act like you want yours to act. (click to tweet)

What’s the best teen parenting advice you ever received? How has it affected your parenting? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments!

For more on talking with your children—including some actionable guidelines—check out my previous post, Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me. And if you would like to read further on my overall approach to parenting, especially continuing the conversations through the middle grades, click over to Where My Kids At? You might also appreciate this recent guest post, Parenting Advice from the Other Side by Kim Wilbanks and/or Wisdom for Parenting Teenagers, my review of Paul Tripp’s book, Age of Opportunity.

 

 

3 More Everyday Images for the Christ-Life

God placed us in a world that, because He created it, bears constant evidence of Him.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that people are without excuse. –Romans 1:20

IMG_7479
(c) Carole Sparks

We toured a big cave system recently: beautiful rock formations, spectacular vaults, a random red salamander. God placed all this beauty underground, where it remained in the dark, slowly changing, for centuries. Civil War soldiers hid in the caves, but their wooden torches wouldn’t have illuminated even a tenth of the beauty there. All that spooky beauty, all that magnificence…just sitting there in the dark! God creates for His own pleasure…even if we never see it.

Because creation bears the stamp of the Creator, we can make innumerable analogies for our relationship with Jesus. Here are three more everyday images for aspects of the Christ Life. (See the first four *here*.)I pray that you can use them with your children to help them understand what it means to follow Jesus.

Splinter/Sin

This is a good one, and you’re sure to have opportunity to use it at some point!

A splinter is like sin in your life. It hurts and irritates the surrounding skin, yet children never want to pull it. They fear the pain of removal more than the pain of remaining. If you don’t remove it, however, it becomes infected as your body tries to reject it. An infected splinter in your toe makes it hard to walk. Pulling it out yields a small pain, but then the wound heals.

With sin, it may feel easier just to leave it in your life. It doesn’t actually hurt, and you may be afraid of the pain that might come with removal. But if you don’t remove sin, it will grow, taking over that area of your life and eventually impairing your spiritual walk. Usually, it’s difficult—even painful—to remove, but afterward, God heals you quickly.

Surgery/Sanctification

I was thinking about the lengths to which God will go (and to which we must submit) in order to remove habitual sin from our lives. It was part of my post, “Addiction to Conviction,” from a couple of weeks ago. You might need to change some of the terminology, if you’re sharing with your children, but here’s the whole picture:

Let’s say you need to have your appendix removed. The surgeon takes scalpel in hand and scores your skin, cutting through two or three layers of your epidermis. Then he moves over a bit and cuts through the same two or three layers in a different spot. You might bleed just a little, but he will never reach the appendix buried deep in your abdomen. In fact, you wouldn’t even need anesthesia for this procedure. In order to remove your appendix, he has to cut all the way through all your skin and even the muscle tissue beneath. It hurts so badly that they put you to sleep. Without that pain…without the surgeon’s focus on that one cut until he penetrates your abdominal wall…you will die.

Regardless of how holy we are today, we all need a sin-ectomy. Instead of doing the hard, painful work of excising that specific sin, we satisfy ourselves with shallow cuts that look serious but never penetrate to the spiritual cavity in which the problem lies. Yes, I know there’s no spiritual anesthesia and that we have to assist in this surgery on ourselves. Nobody said sanctification was easy.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. –Mark 9:43

Hiking/Making Choices

On the same day we explored the caves I mentioned earlier, we also went to an overlook high on a mountain, where you can see multiple states. We drove, but there’s also a walking trail. We chose the wide, smooth, quick, well-travelled path, and it was easy. But I wonder what we missed.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. –Matthew 7:13-14

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Sometimes the narrow path skirts a deep crevice.  (c) Carole Sparks

The narrow path is typically more dangerous, requires far more effort, and takes more time (like, hours instead of minutes). When you’re hiking, however, that narrow path rewards you with solitude, beautiful views, a strengthened body, and that wonderful sense of accomplishment. It’s worth the effort.

In our spiritual lives, obedience often leads us along narrow, difficult paths, but those very paths reward us with personal strength, intimacy with God, and extraordinary views of His glory.

Creation is full of analogies for our spiritual lives! Share 1 with your children today. (click to tweet)

more everyday images

Parenting Advice from the Other Side (guest post)

I relish the chance to get good parenting advice from someone a little ahead of
me on the parenting road, and these thoughts from my writer-friend, Kim, are 
right-on. If you're entering the teen years, write them down somewhere prominent
so you can benefit from Kim's wisdom! (More about her at the end.)

“You better enjoy them while you can. They grow up too fast.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought to myself as I balanced my baby girl on my hip while I tried to wrangle my 2-year-old son. I knew the older women at my church meant well, but my sleep-deprived, potty-training, diaper-changing, laundry folding self didn’t get it. But, they were right. Boy, were they right.

Fast forward about 14 years. That is when the mourning began. Not true mourning but the mourning of the swift passing of time, the end of childhood. My son, my firstborn was in his sophomore year of high school. Conversations turned to graduation and colleges and what he really wanted to be when he grew up. I remember walking down the street one evening weeping. “God, where did the time go? How in the world did it go by so fast?” I knew how quickly the previous years had flown and that made me keenly aware that these last three years in high school, at home, would be no different.

So yes, time does fly and those sweet babies do grow up and leave the nest – sometimes before you’re ready.

I am like most of you reading this blog. We do the best we can in raising our kids. I am by no means an expert in parenting. My only credentials are that I, along with my husband, raised two independent, responsible, well-adjusted young adults. They aren’t perfect but then, who is?

I’ll share with you two things that worked for us and two things I wish I could go back and do over.

Things that worked

Be Authentic

This is true for any age child but it becomes crucial for teenagers. What they see is stronger than what you say. If you want your teens to be in church, you go to church. If you don’t want them to drink alcohol, you don’t drink it. If you want them to have integrity, you live with integrity. There is no guarantee that your teen will turn out the way you intended but when you combine a good example with a lot of prayer, it is more likely than not.

Be That House

Welcome your teen’s friends into your home. Be the hangout. It will be messy and loud and your grocery bill may be a little higher, especially if you have boys, but it will be worth it. We opened our home for everything from church youth group events to impromptu sleepovers. My daughter and her friends got ready for homecomings and proms at our house. When you welcome their friends into your home, you learn a lot about your kids. I still look forward to visits from their high school friends when my son and daughter come back home for the holidays.

Parenting advice from the other side: “Be that house, the one where all the kids hang out.”  (click to tweet)

Things I would change

Establish Good Communication

This became more of an issue when my son went away to college. We would talk every week or so but I soon discovered he would have more to say if he initiated the conversation than if we called him. Now that he is out of college and working full time, I find that we don’t talk as much as I would like. I realize it is partially because he is busy with his job but I miss hearing about his day to day life. In retrospect, I would have asked him to call home once a week in the hope that it would help establish the habit of regular communication. I will say, with boys there comes a time when they will have more to talk about with their dads than their moms.

Give Them Some Space

You have to find the right balance of involvement with your teens. My husband and I both volunteered in youth ministry in our church when our kids were in middle school and high school. We enjoyed working with youth and for the most part our kids did not mind us being involved. However, I made the mistake of being my daughter’s Sunday school teacher for too many years. At the time, the youth minister had the leaders move up with their groups from year to year. It was not so bad when she was in middle school but I probably should have stepped down after that. I was sad to learn, years later, that my daughter resented my over involvement. I wish I had had the insight to give her the space she needed.

Parenting advice from the other side: “Give your kids space to be themselves.” (click to tweet)

I hope this encourages you. Enjoy your teen – they really do grow up fast! Many thanks to Carole for inviting me to write this guest blog. If you are getting close to the empty nest, check out my blog: Feathering My Empty Nest.

Kim Wilbanks-headshotKim is a wife and a mother of two adult children who have flown the coop and left her with an almost empty nest. Her “baby” is a comical Welsh Corgi named Sir Higgins. A native Floridian, she enjoys frequent trips to the beach. Kim stays busy as a MOPS mentor mom, in Women’s Bible studies and writing a blog called Feathering My Empty Nest! Reading, traveling and crafting are favorite pastimes. Most importantly, Kim is a follower of Christ and a passionate student of God’s word. Follow Kim on twitter.

 

4 Surprising Things That Do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children (part 2)

When I was in middle school, we went to a lot of the school basketball games. Sometimes we won; sometimes we lost. Invariably, on those sad drives home after a loss, my mother would say, “Losing builds character.” Honestly, it didn’t feel like it in the moment. How, exactly, does losing build character? I never thought to ask Mom, but now I think I know…at least a little. Losing and other failures give us fantastic chances to gently help our children grow in faith and humility.

Pointing our children toward humility begins with an acknowledgement of God and who He is, then of who we are in relation to Him. There are times for that exact conversation, but there are also times to bring our children along the humility path in everyday situations. Last week, we considered two ways NOT to praise our children. This week, let’s look at:

2 Ways NOT to Talk About Failure with Our Children

You might think these attitudes will help balance their self-esteem, but you’ll actually find them detrimental. (I know from experience!) So DON’T…

  1. Remind them of their failures.

This is just belittling. It doesn’t foster humility; it fosters inadequacy and uncertainty. Plus, they most certainly remember that failure even more clearly than you! Just as we’ve been forgiven, just as God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), our children need us to put away last year’s failures…and last week’s.

There may be times when we’re working on consistency in a particular area that we must review previous failures, but these should be done gently and specifically, without adding unrelated issues to it. Look for patterns. One lie last year doesn’t mean your child is a chronic liar. One “epic fail” at a spelling bee doesn’t mean your child should never enter another spelling contest. Even if you feel you must stir up old wounds, focus on growth and improvement, not on chronic faults.

  1. Make excuses for their failures or blame others.

“Owning” one’s mistakes and deficiencies is a difficult lesson—one that many adults struggle to learn. We can’t model shifting blame or making excuses for our children if we want them to have a healthy view of themselves.

Before you speak, consider what is true. Is someone else responsible for this failure such that the child had no opportunity to succeed? Is it appropriate to point that out to the child? Most of the time, the child (and probably the parent—that’s you and me) bears some portion of the responsibility.

Instead of “Well, your teacher didn’t explain it properly,” try “What could you have done on your own when you realized you didn’t understand?”

Instead of “Your sitter shouldn’t have let you watch six hours of TV,” try “How much TV do you typically watch? Did you have the power to turn off the TV?”

Instead of “That referee was biased,” try “Well, the referee is human, too. He sometimes makes mistakes. Can you forgive him and move on?” or “Now that you know how he calls fouls, what will you do next time?”

We can turn failures into learning experiences with a little forward thinking on our parts.

As you talk with your children about success and failure, try sprinkling a couple of these Bible verses into the conversation:

He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed. –Proverbs 3:34 (quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5.)

God is the only one who never fails.

Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. –Joshua 23:14

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. –Lamentations 3:22

For no word from God will ever fail. –Luke 1:36-37

Our earthly failures are not as important as our faith in God.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. –Psalm 73:26

Sometimes what looks like a failure to us is a success in God’s eyes.

Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. –2 Corinthians 13:7

 

To review, we have 4 Surprising Things That Do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children:

  1. Praise them only when they win.
  2. Praise them for doing what they are supposed to do anyway.
  3. Remind them of their failures.
  4. Make excuses for their failures or blame others.

Each child’s path to humility passes through praise and failure. Tread lightly! (click to tweet)

What about you? When have you talked about success or failure effectively with your children? I’d love to hear some others’ thoughts on this! And for more on helping your kids learn through failure, check out this education blog post.

4 Surprising Things That do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children (part 1)

As parents, we walk this fine line between guarding our child’s self-esteem and his/her humility. In a recent post, I described some tactics for fostering healthy self-esteem. Both self-esteem and humility are skills—perspectives, really—that must be taught. They are two sides of a Christ-centered identity cube. (Is it a cube? Hmm…We’ll have to dig into that later.)

Just to get us started on healthy humility, here are two ways NOT to praise our children. Next week, I’ll add two ways NOT to address failure. (Because this started getting long, I’ve divided it into two parts.) How we talk about success and failure go a long way toward that healthy self-esteem we seek for our children…and ourselves.

2 Ways NOT to Praise Our Children

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to praise, when to praise, and how to praise our children productively. There’s no exhaustive list of the right and wrong times. The most important thing about praising your children (or anyone) is that it must be authentic. We all know those fake one-liners that fall flat before they even reach our ears. I call that “plastic praise.”

  1. Praise them only when they win.

Of course we want to praise our children when they succeed. We should praise them at those times. But we also need to praise them when they fail well. There’s much to be learned in failure, if we handle it properly. Praise their effort, their graciousness toward their opponent, their self-control. Even in success, focus on these things and on God’s blessings (health, strength, intelligence) that brought about their success.

In success: “Wow, Hope, you did well in karate today! I saw how you remembered so much of what you’ve been taught and put it into practice. You fought hard, and you deserved to win! I also saw how you helped your opponent get up at the end. You showed real sportsmanship there. I thank God for giving you a strong body and a kind spirit.”

In failure: “Hey, Hope. I know you’re disappointed that you didn’t win. You fought hard, though. I could tell that you’ve been paying attention in karate class; you used some pretty advanced moves out there. That was some good sportsmanship at the end, too, when you shook hands with your opponent. I’m thankful for your attitude and that you tried so hard.”

  1. Praise them for doing what they are supposed to do anyway.

This involves keeping the rules, doing chores, and other expectations. Save the big praise for improvements or changes that required effort.

There’s no harm in the occasional comment about their ability to follow rules, but a focus on rule-keeping leads to little Pharisees. It bases their value in behavior rather than character. Focus instead on the choices they make to follow the rules even when it’s difficult. Look for demonstrations of strong character and for times when it was difficult to obey but they chose that more difficult route.

There’s also nothing wrong with mentioning their completed chores or other tasks, but emphasize consistency or exceptional attention to the work. Use comments like, “I’ve noticed that you made up your bed every day this week without being reminded.” or “Your bed-making skills have really improved over the last few months.” This type of praise emphasizes improvement and character rather than reducing the praise to a checklist.

In our home, I have to remind the kids to practice their instruments every day, so I don’t praise them for doing it. I will praise one when I tell him to go practice and he does it immediately. I will praise another for improvements in skill level. I’m looking forward to the day when they practice without prompting!

Obedience must be the expectation not the exception.

Let me repeat the exception to this praise policy: When the child has struggled to keep a certain rule or meet a certain expectation or when he/she is learning a new task. In those cases, be quick to praise and recognize even the smallest success!

A person is praised according to their prudence… -Proverbs 12:8a

2 Ways to use praise for maximum impact in #IntentionalParenting. (click to share on twitter)

Come back next week for some thoughts on talking with our kids about their failures. In the mean time, how have you used praise effectively in parenting?

Update 5.11.16: I just read this great, science-backed article on how we phrase praise! Perfect timing.

Update 7.20.16: This discussion/excerpt of The Examined Life by  Stephen Grosz contributes a wealth of observation to our discussion. Think I’m going to read the whole book…