Children need—and appreciate—a clearly defined standard of behavior. Often misbehavior is just a child crying out, “Show me the way!” Here are some tried and proven parenting basics:
Set clear boundaries.
Set clear boundaries as to what your children are allowed to do at home, and set reasonable punishments for crossing them.
You may not have much control over what goes on outside your home, but you can set the standard for acceptable behavior and attitudes inside your own house.
Create a link of honest, open communication with your children.
If your children are honest with you, you have a much better chance of knowing what goes on when they are away from home. They should feel that they can tell you anything. You may not always agree or allow them to do everything they want to, but they shouldn’t be afraid to confide in you.
The secret of establishing such communication is to learn to listen. As a parent, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is your sincere interest in them and their problems, as evidenced by your undivided attention whenever it’s needed. By simply listening—really listening—you are telling your child: “I want to understand and help you. I think you are worth listening to, and I want you to know that I have faith in you. You can always talk to me because I love you.”
Ask questions. When communicating with children—or with anyone, for that matter—asking questions helps to draw them out and shows your concern and interest in them. Get them to talk. And when they are asking you questions, be careful not to overly philosophize, pontificate, or pretend to be something you’re not. Just stay simple! Show love and understanding. And avoid offering any advice that you wouldn’t want to apply to yourself. Learn to present your advice or answers in ways that are as easy as possible for them to accept.
Of course, before you encourage your children to “tell all,” you’d better be prepared to hear them out without jumping to conclusions or flying into a frenzy, otherwise they’ll probably be sorry they even tried to be honest and open with you. An admonishment or punishment may be in order, but try not to give it on the spot. Take time to think it through. (After all, if they hadn’t confided in you, they wouldn’t be getting a lecture or correction right then.) You can tell them that you’re taking a little time to think and pray about it, but be sure to also commend them for being upfront with you. It is good to approach the situation in question as a problem you need to fix together, or learn from together. Whatever the problem, it will be easier to overcome—and easier on both of you—if you can preserve the bond of trust between you and your child.
If you expect your children to be honest with you, you must also be honest with them. It greatly encourages children to know that their parents aren’t perfect. (Besides, you can be sure they’ve noticed!) By your own honest admission of your mistakes and weaknesses, you are setting a good example for them of what honesty and humility are all about, and your children will love you the more for it.
Find a balance in what to allow and disallow.
Pray for God’s guidance as to what activities are harmless, which ones you need to monitor and limit, and which ones you need to forbid.
You will need to find a good balance in the things you allow your children to do, especially when they are away from home. Completely forbidding your older children and teenagers to do certain things might not work and could cause them to rebel and do it anyway behind your back. It may be better to agree on reasonable limits together, and then hold your children to them.
Don’t be overly alarmed by outward appearances.
Don’t be overly alarmed by behavior that’s different but not bad or harmful. If you show yourself tolerant of things that are perhaps not to your own liking but are basically harmless, then your children will be more apt to comply when you put your foot down about other things that are definitely wrong.
You might not like the way your preteen daughter dresses, for example, but that’s not the issue in her eyes. Fitting in with her peers is. Ask God to help you see beyond surface appearances and to give you patience and self-restraint to let relatively trivial matters pass.
Expect and allow a certain amount of experimentation.
Not all experimentation is bad; it plays a big part in the growing-up process. Try not to overreact when your older children say or do what to you is the unthinkable. Quite often children like to be shocking just for the sake of it, hoping to get a rise out of you. If you show yourself able to take things in stride, many issues will resolve themselves on their own.
Let your children know you love them unconditionally.
Children who get their needs for love and attention filled at home have far fewer problems. Assure your children that you will continue to love them no matter what they do, and that you will be there for them. Part of that love is not allowing them to do things that you know to be harmful, but at the same time reassuring them that you will never stop loving them. When your children put you to the test and find that your love holds even when they displease you, this helps them feel secure. They will then be more likely to stand up against negative peer pressure and make the right decision next time.
Get to know and accept your children’s friends.
Win the respect and friendship of your children’s friends, and they may find your home a welcome retreat. The noise level and food bill may go up, but at least you’ll have peace of mind in knowing where your children are and what they’re up to. If you are generally accepting of your children’s friends, then if on occasion you have to limit their association with a particular boy or girl who is affecting them negatively, they’ll be more likely to comply with your wishes.
Minimize ungodly influences.
Select worthwhile movies, TV shows, music, and computer games for your children when they are young and you still hold the remote control. They may rebel or be drawn to less godly amusements later, but you will have given them a good foundation.
Discuss such recreational activities with your older children and make choices together, as much as possible. If your children understand and respect your reasons for not allowing a certain thing, they will be much more apt to comply when you’re not watching. Of course, it is also important to help provide alternative activities that are both fun and worthwhile.
Teach your children to have conviction.
In order to stand up against negative influences and peer pressure, your children need to know how to explain and defend what they believe—what they consider right or acceptable, and why. They may not always see eye to eye with you, but if they understand your position on the issues and see you have conviction, they will be more likely to buck negative peer pressure. It will also help them know how to explain you to their friends.
You can’t expect your children to always do the right thing in difficult situations, but praise them when they do have the conviction to do so. Let them know you understand how difficult that is, and that you’re proud of them.
Teach your children consideration.
Everyone likes polite, courteous, and considerate children, but people often do not realize the amount of personal time parents must give their children to get those results. Your own sample of being kind and considerate is very important. How you treat others, and especially your children, greatly influences how they will treat others. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are talking to your children: “How would I feel if someone were treating me or talking to me the way I am to my child now? Am I thoughtful about how I talk about other people in front of, or within earshot of my children? Do I tease my children or make fun of them or make jokes about them that could make them feel bad?”
Children often argue among themselves—contradicting, belittling, or criticizing what the other has said. Sometimes they are just arguing to be arguing or trying to show their superiority by putting the other one down. Children need to learn that it is not good to put themselves up as being better than someone else.
Older children often put down their younger brothers and sisters. Sometimes children need help in realizing how their words make others feel. They have to be taught what sort of things hurt or embarrass people. Point out to them how they would feel if the tables were turned and they were being treated that way; or try to give them a little example to get the point across so they understand what you mean. Explain the problem to them: “Your little brother already thinks he is not as good as you and that you know more. Of course you know more and are able to do things better, so your job is to encourage him to do better, to teach him and help him improve.” Older children should not mimic the mistakes of their younger siblings, as it may embarrass them or reinforce the problem rather than correct it.
Unless instructed and corrected, children can be especially unkind toward people who have handicaps or obvious physical differences, particularly other children. Learning what not to say and when to ignore something is a very important lesson that children need to learn early in life.
Teach your children to treat others as they would like others to treat them should they have that same problem or be in that same embarrassing situation. Often when children realize in some personal way how their actions hurt others, they are more careful about what they say and do, and are generally more thoughtful of others.
When You Don’t Know What to Do…
When children seriously misbehave there is usually an underlying cause. Maybe they’re feeling insecure, so they act up to get more of your time and attention, reassurance, and love. Maybe they’re upset about something that happened at school. Maybe they’re testing the boundaries you’ve set, to see if you mean what you said. Maybe it is time to change some rules in order to give them more room to grow. Whatever the case, it’s important to find out why they’re misbehaving, and how you can help them get back on track. Most problems don’t just go away by themselves, nor are children usually equipped to handle them on their own. Many times the children themselves don’t even know what’s wrong. They need a parent’s love and guidance.
It’s part of your responsibility as a parent to give your children the training they need. Parenting is more than comforting your children when they fall down, or making sure they get the proper nutrition and brush their teeth. You are responsible for their spiritual training as well, and the foundation stone of that is loving and consistent discipline—by which they learn a fear of the Lord, respect for His Word and His instructions, and how to live lovingly.
The best way to know what your children need and how to help them—the only way, really—is to ask the Lord about it. Next to having the Lord’s love, the most important key to successful parenting is learning to ask the Lord for the answers. Jesus always has just the answer you need. Having Jesus as a parenting partner lifts a great deal of the load off of you. You know you can always go to Him in prayer, and He will speak to your heart and mind with the guidance you need.
If your child is in a difficult phase that’s been going on for weeks or months or even years, and you’re losing patience—or even if you’re losing patience after two minutes!—ask Jesus for help. Share your burden with Him; He has lots of patience. He has great patience with your faults and failings, so He will help you be patient with your children’s. When you feel at the end of your rope, ask Him for His patience, and His love. Hold on to Him, and His Spirit will calm your own, bring solutions to your mind and help you to ride out the storm of difficulties that may arise. He can fill your heart and mind with His love, which enables you to have patience beyond your own abilities.
The Steps of a Child
If a child lives with criticism
He learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility
He learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule
He learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame
He learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance
He learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement
He learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise
He learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness
He learns justice.
If a child lives with approval
He learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship
He learns to find love in the world.
—Dorothy Law Nolte