Anytime I feel that my husband is “bugging” my children with I teasingly say, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children!” Even though this verse is addressed to fathers, the underlying principle can easily be applied to mothers, teachers, and anyone else in charge of disciplining children. Since children are required to "obey" in the previous verses it is only fair that the commands of the parent should be doable and not exasperating.
There are innumerable websites and books about how to best to instruct children, but here are a few principles that work in our family (or that we are working on… ahem).
- Don’t be angry when you discipline. This one is hardest for me. When I discipline in anger I fly off the handle, am more likely to be physical instead of thinking through the most logical consequence, and usually end up apologizing later for something I have said or done. It is better to take time for everyone to cool down if necessary before deciding on consequences.
- Try to make the punishment fit the crime. We do often use standard techniques such as my 5yo daughter losing pennies or my 2yo going to time out, but we try to make consequences logical. If my 2yo throws things, he has to pick them up (unless there is shattered glass everywhere… sigh). My 5yo may lose out on going somewhere fun or doing a fun activity if she misbehaves.
- Bring them up in nurture and admonition (discipline and instruction). As often as possible we praise our children highly for doing things the right way. This morning as I was making my children’s breakfast, my daughter instructed her brother, “Let’s unload the dishwasher while Mommy makes our pancakes!” Believe me, that one received some exuberant praise from my lips! I also try to explain the reasoning when I say “no” to their requests.
- Bring them up in instruction of the Lord. I need to do a better job at this, but using Scripture to back up why you expect certain behaviors helps enforce that they are both honoring you and God when they obey. A favorite for us is “Do everything for the glory of God” (my Col. 3:27 paraphrase). Sometimes I substitute the task and ask a question such as, “How can we play this board game for the glory of God?” My heart’s desire is that we begin to see how every action, thought, and word in our day can contribute to the building of God’s kingdom. I hope the faith of our family saturates every aspect of our life rather than lingering on the periphery.
One of the most important factors in how our children view God is in how the Christian adults in their life behave and whether our actions match our professed beliefs. We must walk with integrity in even the smallest aspects of our lives, especially when little eyes are watching. Christian adults have a responsibility to teach today’s children and youth how to live out faith in a way that is relevant and real. We must take more seriously how we are training our children instead of assuming that they will turn out okay since we bring them to church, do a devotion here and there, or even have them in a Christian school. It is a serious matter, and if we don’t put the time in then they will be sucked into the winds of the prevailing worldview and blown far off the straight and narrow path of redemption.
An old Chinese proverb says, "One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade." We in this generation are still living in a little bit of shade. Our grandparents and perhaps even our parents, if we're old enough, planted some trees in the past and we are still enjoying some of the shade. But this generation is not planting any trees for the next. And they're going to find themselves in a blistering world with nowhere to hide.
- John MacArthur