I have to be honest with you here and say that training children is something that I feel passionate about and not only for the sake of well-behaved children. Speaking as a Christian, it is important that you train your children to love the Lord and want to know more of Him. Touching hearts is what we're called to do as parents and it bothers me when I see Christian parents ignoring their children in this way. We are all aware of the fact that teaching children to respect their authority figures is a fast declining concept. We see children defying their authorities in grocery stores, restaurants, at playgrounds and inside homes we visit. As a result of our (i.e., adults everywhere) failure to teach our children to love, honor and respect us, the society of children, in general, has become undesirable. Authority figures are a nuisance to the child just as the child is a nuisance to the adult. It's a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Worse, if we do not give our children reasons to love and respect us as their parents (as well as other authority figures in their lives), then why should we ever expect them to love God? We haven't taught them to.
Christians - in particular - need an attitude adjustment when it comes to having children for themselves, or having them around in general. (I'm not talking about quivers full of them. Let's say I'm talking to all parents who have between 1 and 22 children here.) We've forgotten that God said that children are a treasure from the Lord. (Ps. 127:3) Instead we think of them as pesky nuisances who demand everything from us and drain us of energy and sanity. To our disgrace, we think they don't notice our attitude but the truth of the matter is that our thoughts influence our actions and our actions to our children are very visible. Children notice everything. Our children are desperately in want and in need of our healthy time and attention.
There is always room for improvement as a parent and I know I certainly need a kick in the proverbial pants when it comes to that. I can so quickly become discouraged by the monumental task in front of me. Honestly, I'm a weird mixture of over confidence and fear. I need to find some middle ground. I need to trust Christ more and stop relying on myself and my energy (which is low most of the time) and obediently follow His design for raising children. Teaching and instructing children to be obedient and to seek Christ is no small matter but it's not impossible. It just takes a lot of work, alongside a lot of encouragement and personal instruction to make sure I can keep keeping on!
To that end, I really appreciated re-reading Don't Make Me Count to Three! I marked several passages as being particularly applicable to my family's stage in life. The first was encouraging to me to want to reach my children's hearts. (Some days I confess I care way more about their outward behavior and how convenient I find it than what is driving and motivating them to behave the way they do in any given moment.)
Drawing out matters of the heart is no easy task. It takes much practice to become a skilled heart-prober. Proverbs 20:5 says, "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. Our goal in probing the child's heart is to bring him to the sober assessment of himself as a sinner, to help him recognize his need for Christ, and to teach him how to act, think, and be motivated as a Christian. It is not that difficult to train our children to act like Christians. We have really accomplished something when we train them to think like Christians. Thinking like a Christian will help them grow in wisdom and prepare them to govern their own behavior in a way that will glorify God. (Chapter 3, Drawing Out Issues of the Heart, page 40)
Being a "heart prober" is definitely a monumental task! And without God's grace and favor, I simply could not do it. With His help, all things are possible. Even on days when I lack the necessary energy and enthusiasm to get out of my pajamas.
But how are we supposed to teach the heart once we've reached it?
"It is important to rebuke our children when they do wrong, but it is equally important, if not more important, to walk them through what is right - to put off as well as to put on. Ephesians 4:22-23 says, "you were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Chapter 4, Training Children in Righteousness, page 47)
The long and short of it is - it is incredible amounts of time to instruct our children in the whys and hows of how to go about "putting off" their sins. We need to be teaching them that they need to be responsible to "put off" the sins of talking back, lying, being unkind to their siblings, etc., and then begin teaching them how to "put on" new behaviors which are pleasing the Lord in accordance to His laws. How might this look? Plowman suggests role playing. Let's just pretend (it'll be a huge stretch for your imagination no doubt) that Child A is screaming at Child B because Child B is holding the toy that Child A feels they are entitled to in this very second. You could add your own screams of frustration to the mix, or you could take a deep breath or take this teachable moment to tell them not only that their behavior was wrong and they have a sin in need of confessing, but to instruct them how to politely ask for things that they want. Also, they need to be instructed to utilize some self-discipline when they do not receive the things in the time frame they wish. Parenting in this way takes way more time than stepping into the children's situation just to determine who had the toy first. In moments like the one I've described, it doesn't matter who had the toy first. Each child has something to learn about putting off sins (they are both being selfish) and putting on good behaviors (being kind and tenderhearted).
Another thing I really appreciated Plowman saying:
"Conditions like fatigue can play a part in behavior with small children, but sin is sin and wrong is wrong. Even if you are tired and hungry . . . There is nothing in the scriptures to validate the neglect of training because the child is tired or hungry. They sin, not because they are tired, hungry, or having a bad hair day, but because they are sinners. God has placed parents as the authority over them to teach them, not to make excuses for their sins." (Chapter 6, The Power of God's Word, page 71)
We need to do our best to make sure our children are on a schedule that helps them behave well. Are they getting enough sleep? Are they eating properly? These are all good questions to ask ourselves and if we know that changes need to be made to allow their little persons to function well in society as well as in our homes, then we need to make those changes. If we need to get them home and in bed on time to ensure a happy attitude tomorrow, then it is advisable to do so. This may mean sacrifice on the part of the adult but who said parenting comes without sacrifice? (No one? Oh ok.)
As Plowman further notes: God has given parents the responsibility to use every opportunity to point children to their need for Christ.
We instruct our children of the law of Christ, not to force a law down their throats but to teach them of their need for Christ; we teach them about God's marvelous grace in reconciling sinners to Himself. So no matter how tired or hungry our children are, they still must strive to avoid sin. For that matter, no matter how tired and cranky and stressed we are, we also need to strive to avoid sin. Our children are, after all, looking to us to set an example and we cannot teach them what we do not know and put into practice for ourselves.
And so in summary, we can read books like these and be encouraged by them. But we also must be spending time in the Word for ourselves. We need to constantly be learning and growing in our relationship with Christ, seeking His wisdom so that we might learn how to parent our children well. It is a marvelously hard journey, fraught with all sorts of difficulties and challenges. It is also a road paved with blessings and it would do us well to start looking for them.
*Oops! By the time I got to the end of this post, I forgot to add in the "p.s."! You'll have noted that I mentioned there's a 9 month old in the picture now. We are happy to say that there is a Bookworm4 . . . he's just in another country at the moment but will be joining us shortly.