Raising Christian Children God’s Way Part 3
Stages of Growth –
Now that we’ve talked about general issues- the Biblical reasoning for why and how to discipline, I want to give you some specific ideas on ways to teach children at various stages of life. The challenges of parenting never end. We never know all we need to learn and we are never too old to learn new tricks! Some of the ideas I will share now I learned and implemented only recently for my last two children. Some of the ideas I’ve practiced since my first was born. Even if your children are older than some of the stages, it’s helpful to know the information so that you can teach others with whom you may have discipling relationships or maybe you will even be able to help your children when they are training your grandchildren.
The Bible teaches that we are all sinners from birth. Ps 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
1 Co 15:21-22 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. Yes, sin entered the world through Adam and every child born into every generation in every nation is a carrier of that sin nature. Those sweet, seemingly innocent little darlings are born with selfish little hearts that need training for God’s glory. Helping them subdue that nature while training them to love and fear a holy God is a great privilege. It is also hard work, impossible to accomplish apart from the wisdom of God.
When a baby comes into the world, it is such a sweet time learning to know that little one, to love her, and to begin nurturing her. For the first few months, all a mother needs to do is cherish that little one and see to her needs. If your house isn’t perfectly clean and ordered during these days, it’s not a problem!
- Voice Training- During the early days, I begin using a technique that I call voice training with my child. It’s at this early age that they begin to learn to listen to the sound of mama’s voice. I use a firm cheerful voice and say things such as, “Listen to the sound of Mama’s voice. Mama wants you to stop crying and be a happy girl. You can be patient. Stop crying. God wants you to listen to Mama. Be content. I’ll be there in just a few minutes, but you can stop crying and wait.”
It is really surprising that those little ones can begin to listen and to understand. And gradually they learn to listen carefully and to respond only to the sound of your voice.
- Blanket Training – This is a concept that I learned soon before my 7th was born and it was a lifesaver for our family. During this period of time, we traveled often and had many adjustments. When a child is blanket trained, it’s like having a small very portable means of confining and entertaining baby. This is a simple method of teaching the baby obedience through the use of boundaries beyond which they are not allowed to go.
This is how I do it! …
- Young Child – As a child becomes more mobile, it’s time to teach them that Mama and Daddy are the leaders. They begin hearing about a faithful holy God who created the world and is worthy of our trust and obedience. They also begin learning how to control their little sin natures. This is really a wonderful thing. How many of us have areas of our natures which are hard to control to submit to the will of Almighty God? Helping a child learn from the earliest days begins a pattern which will, hopefully, translate to later obeying to the commands of God Himself. If your child is already older, you can still go back and teach these basic ideas, but you have to remember to show your child the Scriptures so that they will see that this is not just an arbitrary thing, but that you’ve learned a better way based on the Word of God.
- Simple Obedience- The first thing we teach is obedience to simple commands. Come here. Look at Daddy. Don’t hit- be gentle. Don’t pull hair. For the first years, a child cannot remember long complicated commands such as “Pick up your toys, put them in the box, then come to Daddy.” Use one step instructions. Remember to teach them to look at you so that you know that they hear you.
- Attitudes – Yes sir, I’ll be glad to!” As they grow in understanding, then we begin teaching them to obey cheerfully. I actually teach my kids this from an early age- if I ask them to do something I expect them to do it cheerfully and quickly. I teach them to say, “Yes sir, I’ll be GLAD to!” in a very happy voice. It’s a small thing but they truly do learn to serve with a cheerful heart rather than to grumble and complain about the tasks they are given to do. As they grow, any time I see a less than enthusiastic obedience when I ask a little one to do a chore, I might remind them, “Can you say, ‘Yes sir! I’ll be GLAD to?” They will recognize by themselves the lack of cheerfulness and usually will gladly say this with a happy heart. (If they don’t, I discipline for disobedience.)
Php 2:14-15 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,
This may sound corny, but if you remember, in Colossians 3 we are taught three times to “put on” right behavior- “put on love”, “put on a heart of compassion”, “put on the new self”. We are merely training our children to begin practicing this- learn to put on a happy spirit rather than a complaining spirit. Yes, the heart still needs salvation through Christ and it’s the heart that counts, but we all know how hard it is to change long standing patterns of sin and wrong behaviors. The sooner we teach our children good habits, the happier people they will be.
We also don’t allow angry responses such as door slamming, foot stomping, eye rolling, or yelling at us. If, when we spank them they cry in a loud angry way, we remind them, “Cry quietly. Control yourself.” If they cry loudly and angrily, we spank them again so that they learn to have compliant attitudes even while being disciplined.
At what age do we teach attitude? It depends on the child. All children are different. As soon as they can talk well enough, we teach them to say, “Yes sir , I’ll be glad to!” We never allow back talk or sassiness at any age but deal with those issues early. But as soon as they understand and demonstrate simple obedience, we begin training the attitude. Attitudes come from the heart and needs that early continuous training. And training right attitudes continues all the way through the teen years. It really makes a home more pleasant when a child responds to parents in a respectful way with a good attitude. But it’s not natural! Jas. 3:15-16 tells what is natural!
Jas 3:15-16 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural , demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. No, doing what comes naturally brings disorder into a home. We want to train our children to be “unnatural”! That is, to be godly.
- Church Training – Learning to sit still is not easy for children and as a result, even in church you might see wild out of control children who disrupt those who are trying to listen and learn. We might say, “But they’re only children, they can’t help it.” It’s true that children of 2 don’t have long attention spans, but we can teach them to sit still for increasing periods of time. One family we know has what they call church training at home. This means that they practice at home sitting for increasing periods of time so that they will be able to sit still when they get to church. Our children learn this through sitting through meetings and lessons that we have in our house.
Basically we teach a child to control their wiggling and talking by expecting them to sit still for increasingly long periods of time. They sit with us or next to us. Before the event, we remind them, “Daddy is going to give a message after dinner. Remember that we want you to sit still and be quiet while he is speaking. Let’s pray about this now and ask God to help you to do this.” At first when they are really young, we provide papers and pens or books for them to help them entertain themselves. But by the time they are four, they should be able to sit quietly for at least half an hour. It’s really a matter of us as parents taking the time to train and discipline. We need to know that kids CAN sit still. And then we need to be willing to teach, train, and discipline them until they do! You might need to take a child outside of church to the bathroom to spank his little bottom a few times, but once he learns to sit quietly when you need him to, life becomes much simpler and more pleasant.
And remember not just to discipline for bad behavior but reward good behavior. If they sit still for five minutes one week but the next week sit still for ten minutes, tell them, “That was so good! Last week you could only sit still for five minutes but do you know how long you sat still this week? TEN MINUTES! I am so proud of you. Thank you for obeying Daddy and obeying God by sitting still.” And then the next week before you go into the meeting you can make a game of it, “Last week you sat still for ten minutes. Do you think you can sit still even longer this week? Let’s pray about it and ask God to help you learn to sit still.” You can even keep a chart at home showing the progress and give rewards when certain goals are met. It doesn’t have to be all discipline and discouragement. God is our example. He disciplines His children for their good but He also gives rewards for righteous living. Many people, including myself, are highly motivated by words of affirmation, and as parents we should strive to affirm our children when we possibly can. But remember, we affirm character rather than things that are out of their control such as good looks or intelligence. They have no control over how they look or what level of intelligence they have- those are gifts from God and we don’t want to raise vain children but rather to raise godly children! So we affirm character qualities that are pleasing in the eyes of God.
- Interrupting- Another small tip I can give you in the area of children learning to consider others more important than themselves is in the area of interrupting. A much younger friend has a method of teaching her children to be considerate when they wish to speak while others are speaking. I have begun to use with our kids. If the child enters a room or needs his parent’s attention, but the parent is in conversation with someone else, he quietly puts his hand on his parent’s forearm and waits. When the parent is at a good stopping point, as soon as he reasonably can, he will say to the person with whom he is conversing, “Excuse me for a minute.” And then he says to the child, “Yes, did you need something?” This is one small way that a child can consider others as more important than himself.
- Servanthood- Toddlerhood is also the time we begin teaching our kids’ to serve. As soon as they can walk, they can learn to serve in small ways. There is a little acronym JOY- you are happiest when you put Jesus first, others second, and yourself last.
We teach this from their very earliest years. “Daddy will be home soon. Can you run to Daddy and give him a big kiss when he comes home?” “Can you show our friends where the house shoes are?” It’s true that little ones can’t do much to serve at first, but they can learn and they can begin to cultivate an others-centered perspective.
With so many guests coming to our house, the little girls (who were 1 ½ and 2 ½) came to expect each one who came to our house to entertain them. It didn’t take them long to become very demanding on our guests.
We approached the problem like this: When we knew guests were coming we would talk to our girls and say something like, “Jeff is coming over soon. Rather than asking him to play with you, I want you to think of something you can do to serve Jeff. What can you do?” We would discuss it until they would think of things such as, “Give him a drink of water.” “Give him some house shoes.” “Give him a hug.” “Ask him how his day is going.” Or we’d say, “Let’s color a picture so that you can give it to Ervin when she comes over. You know Ervin always does nice things for you; maybe you could share your candy with her when she comes over and give her a blessing.”
Starting in small ways, kids can learn to serve from the time they are very young. We even talked to Abby about this. She is the little girl with Cerebral Palsy who lived with us. She’s six but can’t walk, talk, or feed herself, but we still try to teach her to serve. We tell her that many people do nice things for her and that she can serve by saying “Thank you” in sign language, by giving hugs, by being cheerful rather than by whining. She understands this and we see her trying sometimes to think of others. Learning to serve others can bring great joy to the lives of our children. Remember that God made us in His image, and because of that we are happiest when we follow His example. We learn of Jesus in Mark 10:45 that “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”
As kids learn, they can move from smaller to larger acts of service. They can go from bringing slippers to offering water to preparing a snack for a guest to taking people’s dirty cups or dishes to offering around trays of food to doing dishes to emptying trash…. Soon they’ll be doing all the housework while you sit and eat chocolates all day;-D But I do want to remind you that we are the example for our children. If we want them to serve, we should love to serve others ourselves and we should do it happily rather than grudgingly. And it becomes great joy to serve others together as a family! When you invite a guest for dinner, teach the children that rather than going to their rooms and doing their own things, they should stick around and learn to relate to the guests and look after their needs. It’s all about being Christ-centered and others- centered. Selfish people are unhappy people!
- Putting Kind Words into their Mouths – Another thing I like to teach my children, I call “Putting kind words in their mouths.” Around my sixth child, I discovered that if I helped my child say kind words to her siblings, she would begin to develop good habits in that area.
Col 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Eph 4:29-30 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
This is a simple idea and easy to institute. With young children I just start with showing them how to have thankful hearts about the people around them. “Didn’t God give you a kind brother? He shared his ball with you! Thank you, God, for my kind brother!” “Wow! Daddy thought of you today and brought you home a pretty leaf. God gave you a sweet daddy, didn’t he?” Throughout each day at any opportunity I remind the child of God’s faithfulness to them as shown through the people around them. I help them see the good in their family members and to learn early to thank and praise others.
As they grow, you teach them to say the kind words themselves. “Oh, your sister fell and got hurt. Can you tell her you’re sorry and that you love her?” “Why don’t you tell Daddy that you are glad he is home from work? Thank him for providing for our family.” After they have learned to parrot the kind words I’m suggesting, then I teach them to begin thinking for themselves WHAT they can say to bless someone. “Oh, your sister’s doll got all covered with mud. What can you say to her to help her feel better about her doll?” “Your brother is sick today, what can you say to bless and encourage him?”
So first you teach them how to think lovingly, then you tell them how to speak edifyingly, and then you encourage them to use their own minds to come up with kind speech toward others. It becomes a habit to be cheerful and to appreciate people and gifts with thanksgiving rather than to become grumblers and complainers early. Again, I know this sounds corny, but Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.” When children are loving each other and working together with pleasant words, life is so much more enjoyable in the home! It’s easy to tell kids “Don’t talk like that!” But it is much more productive to teach them sweet God honoring speech habits.
- Trouble Spots – In each of our children’s lives there will be areas they struggle with more than others. We need to be sensitive to those areas and be careful to give them the time and attention needed. This involves retraining our own eyes and ears so that we recognize a problem before it breaks out. It’s wise to think about trouble areas before an event so that you could train ahead.
As example, let’s say that you’re going into a store to shop. You know that your child is a “wanter”- that whenever you go into a store he wants you to buy him something, which is selfish behavior. When you get into the store, he will beg and cry and whine until you buy him whatever it is he wants. Because you know your child, you can have a little training session before you go into the store. By the way, this is really a common problem. Parents almost ALWAYS get embarrassed at their kids’ behavior and end up buying the kid what they want. This ends up rewarding bad behavior, which you never want to do. Instead, you train ahead of time and let the child know that manipulative behavior won’t work. We would say something like this:
“Johnny, we are going into the grocery store in a few minutes. In the past, you have sometimes begged for candy or a toy when we’ve gone to the store. God says you should “Be content with such things as you have because He Himself has said that He will never leave you or forsake you.” What does God want you to do? Yes, God wants you to be content with what you have. I want you to remember this in the store so that you don’t beg and cry for things. If you do beg and cry, I promise I will NEVER buy you what you are asking for. (And that really is our practice. We never, ever, ever buy a child something he is crying and whining for. This really discourages the crying and whining!) It’s more important to obey God than to get a new toy, don’t you think? When we go inside this store, if you ask me for something, I am not going to buy it for you every time. And if you keep begging and crying, you need to know that it won’t make a difference. I won’t buy you the toy just because you cry for it. Do you understand?”
Then show the child some encouragement and grace. If he obeys, surprise him with a small gift of candy or a little toy once in a while. Don’t do it every time or he may be tempted to manipulate you through good behavior, but encourage him and praise him. “I noticed that you didn’t cry and beg at the store today. Thank you! That makes me happy and it makes God happy because when you obey Daddy, you obey God. I am so proud of you….”
By recognizing these trouble spots ahead of time and training in advance of the event, you can save both you and your child a lot of frustration and trouble. It’s a good tool to keep in mind every day!