When I am out speaking, the Q and A time can help bring up issues that I did not cover. And they’re great questions. The following is one from a recent conference. You will notice that much of the material comes from Parenting with Confidence.
“I’ve got two young children. One is strong-willed, and the other is very sweet. I feel like I am correcting and disciplining the first one all the time. It feels out of proportion. Do you have any suggestions?”
That’s a great question! Here are some things to keep in mind that apply to parents of younger children. I’m sure there are others. I would give different answers for older children.
1. Be encouraged by the strong-willed one! Although you may be feeling discouraged right now, the strong-willed child usually grows up to be the strong-willed adult. We want to capture that strong will and shape it to be submissive to us.
2. Don’t give freedom they can’t handle. For the younger child, don’t give them too much freedom so that you always have battles. Try and keep the funnel narrow and the choices limited. Sometimes we have battles because we are giving too much freedom.
3. For the older child, encourage him or her! “You have a really strong will. That’s great. God is going to use it someday for his glory. But in the meantime, you need to learn to submit it to me. A godly person knows how to submit. That’s why I am training your heart. And that’s why you need to confess it to the Lord when you push against Mom or Dad’s authority.”
4. Have clear rules and clear consequences. Even if one is always pushing the boundaries, you want to make sure you are not coming up with arbitrary consequences. The house rules are the house rules, even if one child is the only one consistently getting punished.
5. Be consistent. Kids are gamblers. Be…consistent. Just keep being consistent in your giving out consequences.
6. Don’t compare. Don’t say, “Why can’t you be like your brother? I just tell him something once, and he obeys.”
7. As you correct, do so both as an authority and as a fellow sinner. Put your arm literally or figuratively around them as you identify with them in this sin struggle. Encourage them to cry out to the Lord for a heart that is submissive.
8. Have a consequence for “testing the limits.” In our house, we had an offense of “testing the limits.” It came about not so much from direct disobedience, but rather for a slightly defiant attitude that was looking to see how much he or she could get away with.
9. Think more deeply about the other child. Be sure and think deeply about your compliant child. Make sure he or she realizes his own need for the Savior. Look for evidence of fear of man that drive the good behavior. Or look for self-righteousness that comes from being a “rule-follower.
10. Don’t forget the story of the prodigal sons. A lot of people miss that there are two prodigal sons. One prodigal is off ruining the family fortune and his father’s honor through sin. We focus on this son and his story of redemption. But the other son is just as self-righteous and disconnected from his father. Both of our children need the Savior equally.