When you have small children, and you want to train them up in a way that pleases God, you’re going to need to remind yourself of some basic principles pretty often. I still remember going over these and going over them again to keep my bearings.
1. Pick your battles carefully and always win. I can remember talking with Doug about some little habit or behavior in the children that I was concerned about, and we would decide together whether it was really worth making an issue over it. Let’s say nail biting. If I say, “You may not do that,” I have to be willing to enforce it now. What happens if the nail gets bitten after I have issued a command? If nothing happens, then I have just undermined my own authority. We decided to let that kind of thing go, and teach on it without laying down any law. But if it was an issue of more importance, like hitting your sister, that was a battle I had to win.
2. Obedience must be in the little things and the big things. This goes back to being very careful about issuing commands. If I say, “Pick up your toys,” but the child wanders off and I forget about it, I have just taught the child that obedience doesn’t really matter. It is so easy for parents to fire off commands one after another and then ignore whether the children are obeying or not. Better to not issue any commands! If you don’t establish your authority clearly, you won’t have any.
3. Mothers can be tempted to go soft. You issued a command, the child disobeyed, and then you start making excuses for the child. When you told the child to do the thing, you did not take into account what you would do if he didn’t obey. And now you’re sorry you said it! Either quit issuing the commands or follow through. Better to give the child one command and see that he does it, than give three commands that he ignores.
4. Don’t get into an adversarial relationship with your children. You are in authority over them. Don’t argue with them! “Yes, you did!” “No I didn’t!” Certainly you can answer questions and discuss things. But arguing undermines your authority. Listen. Think it over. Make a decision. But don’t argue.
5. Don’t take disobedience personally. If your child disobeys, don’t get your feelings hurt. You are the adult! Don’t attribute motives to the child.
6. Decide which things are most important and work on those. Don’t try to do everything at once! Think of how overwhelming that would be to your child. If he is getting in trouble with you all day long, it’s time to reduce the commands and restrictions. Simplify!
7. Assign a name for the particular disobedience and call it that consistently. If you are always calling it by various names, they won’t get what it is you are trying to correct. Example: fussing, grumpiness, complaining, arguing, disrespect. Which is it? Call it that each time so they get the picture.
8. Keep a minimum of rules. My husband’s house had three rules: no disobeying, no lying, no disrespecting Mom. Disobedience goes back to my earlier points. Keep the rules simple so they know when they are disobeying.
9. Try reproof before you resort to the rod. Be wise and firm, but never angry. If you are angry, you are in no condition to administer discipline to a child. Get your own heart disciplined first. Remember that discipline is not for your benefit because you are annoyed and have had enough. Discipline is for the child because you love him!
10. All discipline should be judicial, calm, and righteous. I remember giving my son some well-deserved swats once and thinking, “I’m pleasing God!” You can’t say that if you are fuming mad.
Charles Bridges says, “Awe of parental authority is the foundation of the utmost freedom of childlike confidence. It is a valuable safeguard against a thousand follies of uncontrolled waywardness.”