Saturday, 11 August 2012

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home!

Source for this image here.

"Wait till your father gets home"!  It's been the classic response to disobedient behaviour for generations of mothers - and I still hear it being said sometimes today.  A child misbehaves, a mother intervenes, and warns the child of further admonishment from their father when he returns home that evening from work. 

In our home, this was not something that was ever said, although Papa Bear and I knew well the passage in Scripture that directs fathers to be primarily responsible for their children's discipline -

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6: 4).

Rather, we preferred a shared role in disciplining our children, whereby I took responsibity for this during the day while he was at work, and then when we were both at home together, whomever witnessed the bad behaviour was the one who intervened.  Of course, at times when we were both present - for example, at Church - naturally Papa Bear would admonish the miscreant, but there were others, perhaps when I was putting the cubs to bed whilse he was downstairs, when we found it more appropriate for me to intervene because I was the one who had witnessed the behaviour even though he was at home.   Although we didn't consciously come to any decision about this, looking back, I believe it was because we both felt that for discipline to be effective, it needed to be instant.  With young children especially, delaying the consequences of bad behaviour means that whatever interventions you use, will have less effect.  They need to be able to see and experience a link between the wrongdoing and the result that this has for them, and this is lost, or at the least, diluted, if there is a delay between the action and the result.   Also, we both felt that it was important to demonstrate that as head of the house, what Papa Bear judged to be poor behaviour went for me, too - and if I recognised it in one of our children, I must respond to it just as he would.  Very often I would say, "now what would your dad think of this?" when one of the cubs was misbehaving.  That way they were reminded that the standards for behaviour that were set in our home, were set by him - and enforced by me.

Oftentimes I hear parents in the nearby area where we live, loudly admonishing their children with harsh voices.  It's a natural response to our bad feelings, to lash out.  Go anywhere these days and you will overhear parents telling their children not to misbehave in a variety of ways - and not all of them very nice to hear!  In the heat of the moment, especially if you are tired, or burdened with concerns, or feeling unwell, it is so easy to react without thinking, and to respond to your child's behaviour in a way that later you regret.  Having the self-control to be able to contain our feelings of anger, frustration and impatience is a skill that we need to have learned as adults, ideally before we have children.  It takes a lot of maturity to respond calmly in a situation when your instinct is to lash out, and we can see from Scripture that this is the standard that God has set for us - in Ecclesiastes 7: 9, Psalm 37: 8 and Proverbs 14, we are told that having a hot temper - and giving in to it - is foolish, and the consequences of so doing will not please God -

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1: 19 - 20).

Having a "meek and quiet spirit" (1 Peter: 3 - 4) is a virtue that can be difficult to cultivate in the early years of parenthood!  There are certainly times when our patience is challenged and our frustrations mount, and these occasions seem to be when we are at our lowest ebb - physically run down, perhaps, or with many concerns on our minds.  But it is at these times more than any that we must learn to cast our burdens upon God (Psalm 55: 22) and trust in Him to fortify us and provide us with guidance in these challenging situations.  If we don't, then we cannot do our job as a parent properly.

The Book of Proverbs is full of guidance for parents!  When our cubs were wee, our family devotional each day use to consist of a reading of the Chapter from Proverbs that corresponded to the date that day.  It was a great way to share in study of the Scriptures and for us to share our learning as a family.  We really enjoyed those devotionals, which taught us all so much.  It also meant that when one of the Cubs did misbehave we could remind them of the teaching that they had heard earlier, and reference them back to the word of God, right from a very early age.

I've written before about the specific techniques that we've used to discipline our children - using removal of priveliges as a consequence for bad behaviour.  Depending on the age of the child this can be something as simple as instantly taking away a toy that they are playing with or ending an activity they were engaged in.  It might mean also "time out" - time during which the child recieves no attention from anyone else.  This we found to work very well - you only have to watch how a young child reacts when a parent stops giving him or her eye contact (that's all it takes) to see that the child quickly becomes anxious and agitated, as the baby's only way of communication - through noise and expression - stops being effective.  If this is done consistently and only when appropriate (in other words, only when the child is misbehaving) then it can work very well indeed.  It was certainly that way for us.  The key of course is the consistency.  Whatever the age of the child, and whatever form of admonishment you feel convicted to use as your way of disciplining and training your children, it won't be effective if you don't use it consistently.  That's another reason why, certainly for young children, instant admonishment is far more meaningful than one that comes much later.  If on some occasions you respond to some bad behaviour instantly and delay your response on other occasions, a child will become confused - and more likely to misbehave, just to test your reaction. 

Whenever our children misbehaved - and regardless of age - we were always mindful to ensure that our admonishments were conducted in a calm and measured way.  No raised voices, no ugly comments.  Of course, we pointed out the bad behaviour, and explained why it was wrong and why it had to be punished.  That way we were not only setting an example, but instructing our children in the right way to behave.  And these valuable lessons are far more meaningful if they are delivered in such a way that the child can be receptive to them.  Shouting, threatening, throwing insults or giving criticism are just counterproductive.  A child learns by example - and if you behave this way when someone does something you don't want them to do - so will they.  By watching you control your responses, they will learn to do so as well.  And keeping the tone of your voice low (in fact, I always lowered my voice more than usual which became the warning sign for the cubs - when mama whispers, she's really not pleased!) means that the child has to listen - and the message has even more impact. 

Your demeanour and countenance during times of misbehaviour is so important.  Your child will grow to imitate your behaviour, and you are giving them a wonderful gift, if you can teach them to not only behave appropriately and respond to your admonishments, but also demonstrate the same self-control and calm that you do, when they experience negative emotions of their own.  All of this is part of the experience of parenting our children, and while the disciplining may not always be fun, it can still be rewarding - for both child, and the parents too - father and mother!

"Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul" (Proverbs 29: 17).