Today, we continue on the principle of accepting your mission from God to be the authority in your home.
Does self-control come naturally or is it a learned skill? What is the relationship between a child’s ability to control himself, and his ability to acquire moral training from his parents? If a child is raised without being taught self-control, how will that affect his or her ability to follow God later on?
We had a foster child, who we will call Molly, a first grader, that was not doing well in school when she first came to live at our house. Her teacher reported to me (almost daily!) that Molly was disruptive, rude, would cut her clothes with scissors during class, would get up and help herself to a drink of water at inappropriate times (like during the flag salute), would talk back and even yell at her teacher. When I asked what consequences where applied when she misbehaved, the teacher said she was trying to ignore the behaviors because Molly was going through a tough time. I suggested that we come up with a consequence. The next Morning, when Molly disobeyed her teacher, she sent Molly to a fourth grade class room where she had to have her head down on her desk for 20 minutes. When Molly came back she asked the teacher, “Why did I have to go to that classroom?” The teacher answered, “From now on, whenever you disobey in class, that is where you will go.” And Molly replied “Teacher, from now on I am going to obey you.” And she did. In fact, her behavior changed so completely, that it resulted in a dramatic improvement in her academic performance. She went from almost all “Needs Improvement” to “Satisfactory” in behavior, and from almost all 1’s to 3’s in her academic grades. That is a huge improvement, all as a result of having consistent expectations and consequences. Of course, not every child is going to turn around as quickly as Molly, but this story illustrates a principle very well.
The child who has been restrained from always getting his own way by arguing, throwing temper tantrums, or disobeying, is also set free. He is free to do what is right rather than being a slave to his sin nature, and as a result he is free to enjoy peaceful relationships with his friends and family. Every child desperately needs boundaries. They are insecure and unhappy without firm guidelines and direction that provide order to their lives and protection from danger. Like an adult who wants to know exactly what is expected of him on a new job, a child faces new situations daily and needs his parents’ help in setting the boundaries for his appropriate behavior. God’s Word declares parental controls to be essential (Prov. 29:15; 1 Samuel 3:13). It is not love to raise a child who lacks self-discipline and is therefore guided by his or her self–centered feelings and desires. Many of us have struggled with some of these desires in our own lives. Do you wish you would have been better trained in self discipline?
Controlling a child’s behavior is an expression of parental love and shows true concern for the best interest of the child. True love will require a personal sacrifice on the part of the parents. They must be willing to take the time to monitor closely the child’s behavior. They also must be willing to face the inevitable conflict that occurs when the child must be confronted with his disobedience. The sacrifice involved in controlling a child also includes the immediate correction of each new misbehavior, even when it is an inconvenience to the parent. Loving parents must be more concerned with doing what will best benefit the child rather than what is most convenient for themselves.
Parents have to overcome some natural hindrances to asserting their authority and requiring obedience from their children. Some of the things that keep parents from controlling their children's behavior are: feelings of inadequacy, not wanting to be a hypocrite, or fear of losing the child's love. Parents can overcome these hindrances by realizing that even though imperfect, they have been delegated the responsibility of training their children by God, and by accepting God and His way as the authority in their own lives.
A few years ago I asked one of our daughters to read a book about the teenage years and she said: “But I don’t want to.” And I said “Well, I want you to.” And she asked: “Do I have to?” And I said “Yes.” And she asked “Are you going to make me?” And I said: “Yes.” And she asked “But how will you make me?” And I said “I will keep you accountable, I will ask you on a regular basis if you have read it, until you have finished it.” I think this is the question being asked in the mind of all children young and old, “How will you make me, and if no one is going to make me, why would I do it even if it is good for me?”
Children are not born with self control. They need to have external controls put in place by their parents until their internal self control can be developed. Parents need to control what and when they eat, when to sleep, what clothing to wear, how to act, and what is allowed to influence them. Therefore, the job of every parent is to function as the child’s self control, until the child is able to govern himself based on his own personal set of biblical principles of right behavior. Parents train children in biblical morality even before salvation, because in doing so, children gain an awareness of God’s standard of right and wrong. They are not born with this awareness. First we teach God’s moral standards, just like God gave us the law before he gave us Jesus. God gave us the Law so that we would see our sin and therefore our need for a Savior.
In early parenting, external pressure is necessary to bring about moral behavior even though a young child has no cognitive understanding of the reason for the behavior. With adults, beliefs precede actions; with children the opposite is true: actions precede beliefs. Parents should insist on correct behavior long before the child is capable of understanding the moral reasons for the behavior. Children first learn to act morally and then they learn how to think morally. So first we need to train children to behave morally then we move on to teaching the moral principles behind the behavior. Actions come first, understanding comes second.
Early moral training is also essential because, as you train a child to adhere to moral behavior, you are simultaneously training him in self control. Self control is the most basic virtue. It is necessary for the application of kindness, gentleness, proper speech, controlling negative emotions, concentration, focusing, sitting skills, and many other behaviors. Don’t wait until your child is older to start training in these skills. These are moral developmental skills, not stage–acquired abilities. They are also skills that depend on structure from the earliest days of life. Structure, training and discipline are essential in the early years to maximize a child’s moral and intellectual development.
A child who has been trained in moral behavior when he is young will begin to operate with self control as he internalizes the biblical principles for himself when he grows older. But a child who was not brought under the control of his parents, will lack self control, will lack a conviction of right and wrong, and will rebel more and more violently at any attempt by parents, school, or any other force that threatens to restrict his complete freedom. Without self control as a base for moral behavior, there will be nothing to curb his insatiable desire to serve his selfish appetites. The child who has established his own control over his parents, will continue to exercise his authority over them to satisfy each new, self centered feeling or desire that drives him.