Reformed Quarterly Volume 8, Issue 1
Raising children is a challenge. By the time you learn what to do, you have finished. Bill Cosby ventured, “Now that I have had five children, my only hope is that they are all out of the house before I die.”
Shaping the lives of children, not surviving them, is the parent’s task. How should it be done? By instruction and example, in a context of love, reinforced by consistent discipline.
Too often parents are busy giving “things” to their children when they should be giving “themselves”. Children must experience love –be sure of it. Then they will respond positively to the instruction and example of their parents. Parental commitments and expectations must be clearly and consistently communicated orally and behaviorally. Children quickly detect major discrepancies between what is said and done.
Once a positive pattern has been established, correction and punishment serve to reinforce parental expectations and to eliminate undesirable behavior. Children test parents to be sure they mean it; so, consistent, deliberate disciplinary response to unacceptable behavior will bring conformity to parental wishes.
The path of wisdom lies between permissiveness and severity. Harshness or abusiveness may secure outward conformity to parental desires, but frequently sow a crop of resentment and rebellion. The child abuse so prevalent in our country now is repugnant to ordinary Christians and decent citizens. Even the oft-misrepresented Puritans realized the problems caused by severe treatment of children and urged kindness instead. Cotton Mather criticized raving, kicking, and scourging. The Puritan consensus favored persuasion over punishment.
Since every child is different, parents must be sensitive to that when instructing and correcting them. What is right for one child may be wrong for another, and the parent must be able to make an accurate assessment of what is needed. Simplistic, superficial, or formula approaches, although they may be easily grasped and readily applied, are likely to be unsatisfactory.
In biblical times, the training of children began while they were in swaddling clothes. It is important to begin as soon as possible. One of the tragic, naive mistakes made by many parents is the deferral of instruction and discipline until the child is older. After all, children are so cute when they are so very young, even when they misbehave; therefore, parents tend to be indulgent and permissive. When they become older, they are no longer cute, but it is too late to tighten up without serious consequences. Be firm and consistent while children are young; then as they grow older and seek adult identities, loosen up, gradually allowing them to make their own decisions and mistakes, developing self-discipline as they move toward mature adulthood.
At RTS we are committed to helping parents cope with the many problems they encounter in rearing children. Through our Marriage and Family Therapy program, men and women are receiving excellent training to guide questioning parents in the Christian nurture of their families, as well as resolving current difficulties.
Parents do well to praise the accomplishments and virtues of their children. Stand by them when they fail or hurt. Above all, pray for them. And, eventually, God will accomplish His way in their lives.