When a 1 year old reaches for an electrical outlet, a slap on the hand and a stern “no” is how we teach her that this outlet is off limits. With consistency she develops an association between what is off limits and the pain of discipline. This is fine for very young ages, but as the child gets older, we hope for something better.
Aim at the heart. The goal of parenting is to instill a desire and ability to love God and obey him. Our primary job is to motivate our children to obey God out of a love for Him and a love for what is right. Our secondary job is to equip them with the tools to be able to accomplish this with success (like helping them build a strong “self control” muscle, see this post). We must be careful not to train children only in the avoidance of punishment, that’s not reaching the heart; we want them to be motivated by convictions that are based on biblical principles. Note the connection between parental teaching, the heart, and the rest of life as described in Proverbs 4:20-23 …
My son, pay attention to what I say;
listen closely to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to a man's whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.
(NIV, emphasis added)
There are several things we do as parents that sabotage our training of the heart. For example, when we tell our children to do something, “because I said so” or “because I’m the dad.” Or when we threaten punishment if they do the wrong thing instead of giving them the moral principle behind the rule or command. Throwing garbage out the window of a car is against the law and can result in a fine … if you get caught. But if I teach my kids that littering is disrespectful to the environment that God has given us, it is disrespectful to the people who have to look at it, it is not honoring the people who will have to clean up after me, and it says, “I am more important than them, they can pick it up,” they will begin to see the moral principle behind the rule. There really are moral implications to littering and they tie back to those foundational rules of life: love God and love others. Now that I understand this, it’s no longer a matter of getting caught, respecting others and God’s creation is part of my inventory of values.
Next week: More tips on Aiming for the Heart