We parents don’t enjoy being called into school for a meeting about our child’s behavior. Our first reaction may be “Why? —Why my child?” We may fret over what to
say to the child. The impending ordeal can seem frustrating and exasperating, and it may be. It is also an opportunity—an opportunity to “disciple.”
The apostle Peter once asked Jesus if forgiving a person’s sins seven times was enough. Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus is not condoning our continuous sinning, but rather he is fostering our ability to forgive. Jesus’ love covers our sins—every time. As we “disciple” (instruct, correct, discipline)
our children, we hold out that same supreme love—we forgive. Whether or not this is the first
time your child’s behavior has been an issue, we do well to
begin with forgiveness. Here the double-edged efficacy of God’s
Word shows our sins and then
offers the gospel’s sweet balm of forgiveness. Your child has felt
the first edge—he is aware he has sinned. The second edge,
that of Jesus’ forgiveness, is
yours to hold out to your child.
God’s Word never returns
empty, so even angry and seemingly unreceptive children benefit from hearing of their Savior’s boundless love.
Next begins a parent’s opportunity to listen. Some children are naturally more communicative, while others need more coaxing. It may be helpful to ask, “What were you trying to accomplish (or change or fix)?” This question leads a child to explain what seemed wrong that he or she may have been trying to right or change.
If a child can verbalize, “Well, Owen wasn’t supposed to be in the art center because it wasn’t his turn,” then you can give options for solving this issue differently. A child’s action of lashing out verbally or physically can then be exchanged for a better option of talking to a teacher or a friend, or changing location, as determined by the issue. A child will often know the situation needs to be fixed, and possibly even that the initial response wasn’t appropriate, but may not be able to see other ways to fix the situation or to express the strong feelings that are churning within. If parents can offer different options and actually talk a child through scenarios, the same conflict might be avoided next time. What we are really teaching our children is problem solving skills.
Another popular tag word for dealing with such reactions to life is coping, which could refer to helping our children not act out when they don’t get their way. Helping them identify what situations trigger anger and supplying options for avoiding, diffusing, or releasing anger in positive ways teaches them how to cope. For Christians, the coping strategy starts at the cross. It acknowledges that our sinful reactions are not just mistakes in judgment, but they are violations of God’s holy will. We need the forgiveness Christ paid for on the cross. Armed with that forgiveness, we are strengthened so that we can react differently the next time. And we want to. As parents, we are charged with helping our children apply this to their lives. We are honing skills that will be the groundwork for how a child will cope with similar issues, albeit on different levels, all through life.
Some children will willingly acknowledge their wrongdoing. The one instance of trying to be the class clown, following peer pressure, or attempting to act out will be thwarted simply because the offender was caught and/or called out for the misbehavior. Here again, forgiveness will soothe this child. For children who seem lured into behavior issues like a bee to honey, we also hold out forgiveness and the assurance that they aren’t “bad” children without hope. We all struggle against our sinful natures—we all sin. God didn’t make any “throwaway” people. His perfect life and death on the cross cover us all. But some children seem to need more “discipling” than others. These children may require more endurance and also the responsibility of enforcing consequences. Past transgressions are always forgiven, but the child is still accountable for his or her actions. These actions may show a pattern for needing a firmer hand of love applied. A child often won’t see being grounded or having electronics impounded as signs of love. Explaining calmly to a child that “I love you enough to enforce consequences” may be necessary. The Bible shows many examples of discipline as love. Hebrews 12:11 explains, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” King David is considered a man after God’s heart. That may seem incredulous as one reads of David’s many sins. However, when God, his heavenly Father, chastened him, he repented. The consequences for David’s sins, including the death of his child, were very real. Yet we see how they brought a forgiven David closer to his Lord.
Consequences may come from the school, the parents, or both. Some parents deliver a stream of consequences in the heat of the moment, which will never be carried out. Consequences should be a result of the child’s actions, not the parent’s anger. Any consequence that is not carried out may portray a parent as being inconsistent. For a child, there
is security in knowing that Mom and Dad keep their word (as much as humanly possible) in all situations.
A child may feel that if parents are inconsistent in this, they may be unreliable or inconsistent in other areas as well. A child may grow to question a parent’s love and conviction. Children often push limits just to make sure their parents still love them enough to set boundaries. Children feel safe when there are boundaries. Children, even the most mature, cannot sufficiently see and enforce their own boundaries. Enforcing boundaries is a parent’s job. Even in rebellion against a boundary, it is still comforting for children to have the parent be the parent.
Consequences that a child can manipulate are also threatening to a child’s wellbeing. Many children can convince a parent to change a consequence. A parent may then unwittingly foster a manipulator. This may immediately seem convenient for a child, but eventually he or she may cease to respect this parent. Parents set the standards and need to stand firmly and lovingly for what they believe.
While there are no absolute, “magic” words for these situations, there are steps to guide parents and children through these issues. Restore your child with God’s full forgiveness and love (and yours!). Listen calmly. Guide him or her with tools to problem solve different situations, to cope with feelings, and to reach out for help when needed. Teach accountability for actions by holding fast with safe boundaries, and eventually your child will be able to self-check these issues. And, when necessary, lovingly apply appropriate consequences. This process reminds us of the proverbial parent saying, “This hurts me more than it’s going to hurt you.” Thankfully, it also fulfills the biblical “harvest of righteousness and peace” of a lovingly discipled child.
By Amy Vannieuwenhoven, from Parents Crosslink © 2013 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Amy works part-time at Northdale Lutheran School in Tampa, Florida, and full-time with her husband, Pastor Charlie Vannieuwenhoven, raising their four children.
Image by Rachel Kramer is licensed under CC BY 2.0.