Recently, I was maneuvering my children through the halls of our church. I am not sure what the trigger was (did they send each a signal to assume Lord of the Flies mode?), but in this moment, every one of my kids decided to pretend they were raised by wolves.
One of my children began chasing their sibling (who did not want to be chased), another went into an off-limits room, and yet another jumped up and down, asking to be picked up. It is at moments like this that I forget everything I learned in graduate school, and my emotions take over. This usually comes out in a brief lecture or ugly look. I am weighed down, almost immediately, by the gaze of every eye around me and feel incompetent and judged.
How do we parent children in a way that
is loving but still leads to obedience?
Now, I realize that most of you probably don’t have 6 kids like I do, but I have sat with enough parents to know that I am not alone in feeling that it is easy to feel lost with how to parent children in a way that is loving and still leads to obedience.
Are My Kids Doomed?
In these moments it is easy to feel that your kids are hopeless — either because they have you as a parent, or their behavior is so bad that there is nothing to do but pray (always a great first and last resort).
Before you give up on yourself or your kids, understand that most kids just need two things: Love and Consistency.
Kids crave attention and will go to great lengths to get it. I have seen kids and adults participate in sports or seek advanced degrees to get the attention and approval of a parent. On the other hand, I have seen kids hit siblings, cuss, or dress in a way that is not approved to get a parent involved, often without realizing their motives.
Part of parenting is taking interest in and valuing your children. By showing your child that they matter by giving your attention and interest, unwanted behaviors will often decrease. Josh McDowell put it quite well, saying, “rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” A parent who is solely rule-focused can maintain a nice looking family for a while, but they will break under the pressure.
Most researchers have identified that, as long as it is not abusive, no particular discipline or approach is any better than another. The real key to effective discipline lies in the consistent implementation of consequences. If you only punish your child sometimes for staying out late or talking back while other times letting it slide, you tap into the part of the brain that keeps your Aunt Gertrude on the penny slot machine for hours at the casino, occasionally winning just enough to keep her there until most of her money is gone. If your Aunt lost every time she played, then she would stop, but she is rewarded just enough to stay, so she does. Much like the frog in water that is heating up, we don’t notice the danger until it is too late.
With kids, I don’t believe that it is ever too late to teach good behavior and discipline. But as children get older, it becomes more difficult for everyone involved. A parent who seeks to love their child often falls into the trap of avoiding their child’s discomfort. This frequently leads to permissiveness and a child’s difficulty in finding their own moral compass.
If you are concerned that you are struggling with showing your kids that you love them or being consistent in discipline, consider taking some time to share your struggle. Watershed Counseling can help you and your children find a path forward. Call us to schedule an appointment to begin creating rewarding relationships that last long into their adult years.