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The Christian Parenting Handbook50 Heart-Based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child's Life
By SCOTT TURANSKY JOANNE MILLER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 National Center for Biblical Parenting, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneParents often feel discouraged because they can't be consistent. They feel like failures. It's time to rethink some of the underlying assumptions proposed in many parenting approaches. In fact, the reality is that ...
Consistency Is Overrated
"My biggest problem is that I feel guilty when I can't be consistent. Every parenting book I've read talks about the importance of consistency, but I'm running from here to there, getting things done, and my husband parents differently than I do. I feel like I'm failing because I can't be as consistent as I would like to be." Charlotte has three children, ages eleven, seven, and four. For the most part, she's doing quite well, but she's plagued with an overarching sense of guilt when things go wrong. The voice inside tells her the problems in her kids would go away if she were more consistent, but is that really the answer?
We've all heard that consistency is the key to good parenting. But many parents believe it's more important than it really is. If you're doing simple behavior modification, then consistency is essential. Giving the reward or punishment every time you see the behavior will reinforce change.
Behavior modification as a science began in the early 1900s. Ivan Pavlov made some exciting discoveries as he worked with dogs. If he consistently rang a bell just before he fed the dogs, he could eventually get the dogs to salivate by simply ringing the bell. This discovery of how to motivate a dog was picked up by John B. Watson in the 1920s, and he began to apply behavior modification to people. In fact, it wasn't long before behavior modification became a primary way to help people stop smoking, lose weight, and deal with a host of other behavioral issues.
In time, behavior modification influenced the classroom as well, and teachers used it to help children learn. By the 1950s behavior modification had also become the primary tool for parenting. Giving rewards and punishment to children worked quite well to modify their behavior. And one of the things parents and teachers all learned was that the key to behavior modification is consistency. The more consistent you are, the faster you'll see change. The problem is that behavior modification embraces humanistic thinking, the belief that people are just a higher form of animal. The Bible teaches something very different.
God created people different from animals. He gave each person a spiritual "heart," and that heart affects the learning process. The heart contains things such as emotions, desires, convictions, and passions. In short, the heart is a wrestling place where decisions are made. A child's tendencies come from the heart. When a child lies to get out of trouble, that's a heart issue. If a brother reacts with anger each time his sister is annoying, that's a heart issue too. Simply focusing on behavior may provide some quick change, but lasting change takes place in the heart. We're not saying behavior modification is wrong. We're just suggesting that it's incomplete and, in the end, lacks the depth for long-term and lasting change.
Parents who simply use behavior modification often end up with kids who look good on the outside while having significant problems on the inside. Consistency can teach kids to appear good, clean, and nice, but to help them change their hearts, other parenting skills must be added to the picture. Because you believe that God has created your child with a heart, you have access to an additional barrel of parenting strategies.
Rhonda, like Charlotte, found this principle particularly helpful. "I used to feel guilty all the time because I can't be consistent. I have four kids and a house to run. Invariably I'd have to sacrifice consistency in an area with one or more of my kids to accomplish my other tasks. When I realized that there's more to parenting than just being consistent, it freed me up to work on bigger goals with my kids. The consistency trap produced a lot of guilt in me. Now I realize that there's much more to parenting, and I feel freed up to use other tools as well. I'm continually asking questions about my children's hearts, and I'm learning a lot about how to mold and influence them to go in the right direction. I'm seeing more change in my kids with this new approach."
If you're training dogs to salivate, then consistency is essential. But you're trying to raise children. You don't want children to do the right thing just so they can get a reward. If you do, then kids learn to ask, "What's in it for me? What am I going to get if I do what you say?" Instead, you want children to change their hearts. You want them to ask, "What's the right thing to do here?" That shift in thinking is "heart work."
Developing a strong, biblical parenting philosophy requires you to embrace a more comprehensive approach that focuses on the heart. Looking beyond behavior modification calls for different parenting tools. When you focus on the heart, another quality becomes even more important than consistency: creativity.
The heart is where children hold their beliefs. It's where they develop operating principles about life. Kids learn through experience, stories, activity, and modeling. Sometimes children develop resistance in their hearts to a consistent approach. The same lecture from Mom or Dad over and over again builds up immunity through patterns of arguing, bad attitudes, and manipulation. Furthermore, when parents simply use behavior modification, kids tend to want bigger and bigger rewards for compliance.
Creativity has the ability to move around children's resistance and allows a truth to explode with meaning inside the heart. The best teachers are those who use creative teaching methods to communicate their point. Ed is mean to his sister. His father, Dave, is trying to help his son develop kindness. Sometimes he uses a consequence to correct Ed. Other times he requires an apology or has his son practice doing the right thing, requiring three acts of kindness before Ed can go. Dave is also having his son memorize scripture, and they've had several conversations about cruelty in the adult world. Dave is helping his son develop compassion for people, and they recently attended a Special Olympics event to gain a greater sense of empathy for others who are different. Dave will be successful with his son. It'll take time, but his commitment to creativity will help Ed develop a better response toward his sister and eventually to others in life.
Please don't misunderstand us. Consistency is important, especially when kids are young. But if you think more broadly about parenting and embrace creativity and strategy in your training, you'll be more effective at molding the hearts of your kids at any age. Your primary task as parent is to teach your kids, and a little work in the creativity department can make all the difference.
Deuteronomy 11:18–20 not only tells parents to train their kids but it tells them how to do it. Notice the creativity designed by God. "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." If you take that verse apart, you'll start thinking about your own home and your own kids and creative ways to teach them.
Even in Old Testament times, God knew that kids learn best through life experiences. Add creativity to your parenting goals, and you'll enhance your training tenfold. When consistency is unreasonable, don't let a lack of it produce guilt. There are other principles that are more important. Embrace a heart-based approach to parenting and you'll see lasting change in your children.
Chapter TwoWhen you feel as though you're working on the same things over and over again and your kids aren't changing, it's important to remember the need to ...
Build Internal Motivation
"I wish my kids would do things without me having to prod them along every step of the way. I feel like I'm a cross between a drill sergeant and an inspector. We do the same things every day. Why can't my kids do it on their own?" That's a great question and a common feeling among parents. The goal is to help children manage themselves, but will that happen before they're adults? One mom said, "I'm afraid my kids will grow up and have to move straight into assisted living. They can't seem to do anything on their own."
Developing internal motivation in children is one of the fast tracks to help them toward maturity and being responsible. Unfortunately, too many parents use external motivators to get their kids to move forward. "If you get your homework done, you can go out and play." "If you clean your room, you can watch a video." This approach basically says, "If you do what I say, I'll give you what you want." Unfortunately, children trained this way often develop a mentality that focuses on external motivation instead of developing the internal motivations they'll need to be responsible and mature.
A continual reliance on external motivators takes advantage of a child's selfishness and exchanges a little gratification for a desired behavior. Children raised on heavy doses of external motivation develop attitudes of entitlement, asking, "What's in it for me?"
God is concerned with more than externals. He's interested in the heart. The heart contains motivations, emotions, convictions, and values. A heart-based approach to parenting looks deeper. When parents focus on the heart, kids learn to ask, "What's the right thing to do?"
External motivation isn't wrong; it's just incomplete. When parents use a heart-based approach to parenting, longer-lasting change takes place. Parents still require children to finish their homework and clean up their rooms, but the way they approach the task of parenting is different.
Instead of just getting things done, parents have their eyes on other, heart-related issues. They're looking long term and often focusing on character. It's interesting to see that many of the misbehaviors that a child presents can be boiled down to a few character weaknesses. The job of parenting becomes more focused as parents are able to target specific heart qualities and require changes that adjust the patterns their children have developed.
Many children aren't quite ready to change on a heart level, so parents must be strategic. Sometimes that means more relationship to soften the heart, and other times it requires creating a "mini crisis" to show kids that the way they're living just isn't going to work.
A heart-based approach to parenting often shares values and reasons behind rules. It requires more discussions with kids, helping them understand that their hearts are resistant and that they need to develop cooperation. A heart-based approach is firm but also relational. It's a different mind-set for some parents and looks at the interaction of family life differently. Instead of simply getting the room cleaned and the dishes put away, parents are more interested in developing character, values, and convictions.
As you consider your kids, remember the words God said to Samuel when Samuel thought Eliab should be the next king: "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). That was a paradigm shift for Samuel and one that many parents need as well.
Unfortunately, you can't force children to change their hearts. But you can do a lot to motivate them in the right direction. We've identified several tools that, when used properly, address the heart. Many of these are shared in the chapters of this book. Here are a few suggestions to get you started in reaching your child's heart.
Use sorrow instead of anger in the discipline process. Ann illustrated this well. She went out her front door to find that her eleven-year-old son had dropped his bike too close to the flowerbed, damaging some of her flowers. Her first reaction was anger, and she started imagining what consequence she'd give him. After taking a few deep breaths, Ann decided on a different approach. She calmed herself, went into the house, found her son, and with a flower in her hand, she said, "I'm so sad. I really liked this flower, but your bike landed on it, and now it's broken." She then turned and left the room.
A few moments later, her son came to her and said, "Mom, I'm sorry about the flowers. I know they're important to you. I'll be more careful with my bike next time." Mom was surprised. Usually her son would brace for her anger and immediately start defending himself. Ann was pleased that this time he was more responsive.
Parents who misuse this technique often lay a guilt trip on their children. The key is to be genuine. If you, as a parent, look past your anger for a moment, you'll see that you truly are sad about what your child has done because you know the long-term consequences of such behavior. Reflect it in a gentle way. Sorrow opens doors of relationship, whereas anger builds walls.
The Scriptures are also very powerful in the heart-change process because the Bible has an amazing quality: the ability to pierce through to the deepest areas of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Don't use the Bible in a harsh way. Instead, reveal what the Bible has to say about being kind, respectful, or obedient. There's a lot of wisdom and conviction that come through the Scriptures.
Another way to help children change is to emphasize the heart during times of correction. "I can see you're angry because I said no. I'd like you to take a break for a bit and settle your heart down and when you're ready, come back and we'll talk about it." A heart approach takes work, and a child may need a long time to settle down at first, but a change of heart is worth it in the end. Resolve the tension by having a positive conclusion or debriefing together. Address heart issues, not just behavior, and help children see things from a deeper perspective.
"What, then, is the place of rewards in child training?" you may ask. Should you reward your child for good behavior, or just expect it to be done? Rewards shouldn't be abandoned, but should instead be used to encourage the heart. Use them sparingly, because rewards often lose their effectiveness over time, requiring that you increase the reward to get the same result. A reward is best used as a motivation to jump-start a new plan, to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
The real issue, however, has to do with the difference between internal and external motivation. Internal motivation comes from the heart, the desire to do what's right. You want your son to be clean or neat as a result of an inner obligation of neatness. When children experience positive internal motivation for accomplishing something, it often makes them want to try even harder.
External motivation comes from the outside and includes things like praise, getting paid, having a treat, paying for a broken window, missing a privilege, or seeing disappointment in a parent's eyes. As you develop your own biblical parenting philosophy, look for ways to build internal motivation, not just rely on externals to get things done.
Here's the principle to keep in mind: external motivations are helpful if they build internal motivation. So even though you may give a star or check mark to a child, talk about character and heart change. "I'm giving you a star for cleaning your room, but the most important reward is in your heart. It feels good to have your room neat, doesn't it?" Or, for an older child, "I can tell you've been working on being responsible with your homework this month. I can see that you are even feeling better about getting assignments turned in on time. Here's the reward, but I'm sure the real reward is the satisfaction you feel inside that you're demonstrating responsibility."
After all, God uses rewards and punishment with us, but he's most interested in the inner motivations of doing the right thing and showing love to others for the right reasons. The Scriptures promise rewards for God's children, but the greatest reward we could ever receive from God is the internal satisfaction of pleasing him.
Chapter ThreeParents sometimes move to consequences too quickly. Children need to change their hearts. Other tools are often more effective, so it's important to remember that ...
Consequences Aren't the Only Answer
"If you don't cut it out, I'm going to ..."
"Do this or you'll lose the privilege of ..."
"Get it done now, or I'm going to take away ..."
If you find yourself typically going to consequences with these kinds of statements, then you may be relying on behavior modification more than is helpful.
Some problems that parents face with their kids are more difficult than others. Children who have annoying habits, who tease relentlessly, or who explode in anger have ingrained problems that can drive parents crazy. Out of frustration, some parents think these children need bigger and bigger consequences. They believe that the bigger the consequence, the faster the change. Then those same parents are disappointed because their kids don't seem to be any different after the correction.
Parenting is the toughest job in the world. It's important that you don't get discouraged. Perseverance pays off, and your determination to hang in there with firmness and love is often what's needed. As you consider consequences for changing behavior, however, there are a few things that will help you get further in your parenting strategies, and you'll want to embrace them in your biblical parenting philosophy.
Excerpted from The Christian Parenting Handbook by SCOTT TURANSKY JOANNE MILLER Copyright © 2013 by National Center for Biblical Parenting, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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