I’ve been really enjoying Connected Families, a Christian organization that puts out blog posts and Facebook statuses teaching parents how to discipline their children biblically. When I say biblically, I don’t mean corporal punishment. I mean heart training. I mean grace. I mean looking at yourself as a sinner first instead of trying to control your kids and make them into robots that behave well and have to earn your love. The framework for Connected Families really makes a lot of sense to me. Here is a graphic, or read more on their site:
I signed up for their newsletter and got a free e-book that I’ve been reading over the past few days. The basic idea are simple messages we want our kids to hear when we discipline. They are simple to remember and they produce real results. In fact, I’ve been implementing it at home and I’ve seen my kids open up to me instead of shut down and they are now willing to listen to me because they trust me. Here are the 4 Messages kids should hear:
- You are safe with me
- You are loved no matter what
- You are God’s Workmanship
- You are responsible for your actions
I was at the store yesterday and I witnessed a mom and her son, about age 9, arguing with each other. The boy wanted something and the mom didn’t want to give it to him and so they started this back and forth argument in the middle of Target. The first thought I had was that neither of them cared about the other–they just were reacting and being selfish. I have seen a lot of parents do this though. The child doesn’t act the way Mom or Dad wants, so the parent is harsh and acts insulted by their actions then doles out a punishment and says something like, “I’m the mom. I get to make the rules“. Most of the time, this just makes the child resentful. It also sends the message that they are accepted and loved when they act like good kids. Shouldn’t we instead want our kids to know they are always loved and that even if we don’t agree with what they are doing, we will forever be for them?
I feel like most parenting books I’ve read have always been about control. If you want well-behaved kids, control them with spankings, power words, and consequences. It’s never about holding them responsible for their actions, letting them make choices, or empathizing with their problems. It’s always about enforcement and “You are the parental figure. They must respect you.” Over the years, I’ve found parenting to be a struggle as I listen in the church and in “biblical” books about how to parent. Some of them stress dealing with the heart, but most deal with punishment in the form of physical force. Some of them use addressing the sins of the heart and discipline with the rod. The point is, everyone has their own idea of what discipline should look like either in the form of an actual stick or rod, or in the form of questioning, or in the form of consequences with no real heart change. I feel like Connected Families addresses real heart change and grace, just as God himself wants heart change and loves to show us grace.
Yesterday my son was running in Karate class and his dad pulled him aside and reprimanded him. He said that if he ever did that again, he’d not go to his next karate class. The karate teacher was upset about the running because another kid had joined in and it was distracting. This was during a break. So the solution that my husband decided was best was to be harsh with him. When they came home, my son was downcast. Dad was upset and irritated. My son had discouragement written all over his face. So when I called him in my room to speak to him, he said “I know. I always mess things up.” I knew this was not the message I wanted him to go to bed with, so instead I asked him what happened and he told me. I said “I bet it was fun running around that room, wasn’t it?” He shook his head. “I bet it wasn’t so much fun being told to stop. I wouldn’t like my fun ruined either. That would make me kind of sad.” This was me empathizing with my son, trying to see things from his point of view. His demeanor changed when I started empathizing with him. Suddenly, he was more talkative and less downcast. His mom understood him. Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be understood?
I told him I loved him, even if he made a mistake and through our conversation, I realized that he had never been told not to run in class. No one bothered to tell him the rule at all. So I told him that now he knows, I’m going to expect him not to run in class next week and if he does, then he should expect not to attend the next lesson because we had this conversation. He was responsible because he knew the rules. I also didn’t want to usurp my husband, so I kept the consequence that he had given to him even though I didn’t particularly agree with it. Sometimes you have to work around the hard stuff.
I also said, “You know what? I think you are really good at running. I think you have lots of energy and you make people laugh and you know how to have fun. Is there a way that we can use that to do good?” We discussed him using his energy to do well with his Karate moves and to work hard in class the whole time, but not to run around and be a distraction. Instead, he could encourage the other students by having fun with karate and doing a good job. He seemed really excited about this option. So he told me next week, that was his plan. I think it’s easy to point out negatives in your kids, but when you point out the good–even in a bad situation (there is always something good if you look hard enough), the child is given the grace to use that energy towards being a blessing to others instead of being rude, unkind, or disobedient.
I’m still working through all the steps, but I wanted to say one more thing: Yes, the message I want my child to hear is grace, but I still want them to understand their need to be forgiven. Of course that means that we have to see our sin as sin. I’m not at all suggesting we sugar coat our sins and not face the issues of lying, disrespect, and on and on. We do need to call sin what it is. I think the child already knows they are sinful otherwise they wouldn’t feel so terrible. I tell my kids when they feel like that it is because of conviction, brought about by the Holy Spirit. If we feel bad, we need to ask for God’s forgiveness. With that said, I know there are better ways to parent than acting like an authoritarian and bossing our kids around. That is why I am so glad I found Connected Families and will continue to address these issues with much grace, prayer, and discernment. At the end of the day, God is patient towards us, slow to anger, abounding in love, empathetic to our needs, and correcting us with grace and mercy. If our children never experience grace from their own parents, then how will they understand God’s grace? How will they give grace to others?