Help in raising children
A variety of situations can arise in the upbringing of children. This article highlights the wrong and correct ways to act
Raising children is a task for which there is often no decent training available, so many people are not prepared. People may study all kinds of other, less important, subjects for many years, but for childrearing – as for marriage – they can be quite unprepared and not understand how they should behave.
Next we will consider the different aspects of raising children and explore ways in which everyone might become a better parent. We will examine especially the conduct and actions that are wrong. Many of these harmful actions have become so deeply rooted in us that we do not even realize what we are doing. We do not recognize our own actions, so we repeat them because we do not know what else to do.
In the next chapters we try to find a way to free ourselves from these wrong behaviors and to find practical ways in which a parent can show his/her approval of his children and to direct them toward the right kind of behavior. To some people, these issues might already be familiar; some people may be excellent educators, but most parents probably need to know better ways to raise their children. We try to examine some of these methods below.
CHANGE YOURSELF! When the children of a family have behavior problems and disorders, it is very normal for us to look for reasons merely in the children. The bad behavior may make us think that the child is "naughty", "a problem child", "disturbed", or "unadaptable", but we do not search at all for what has caused this kind of behavior. In other words, we concentrate only on the consequences, on the unsuitable behavior we’re seeing at that moment, but we do not understand the causes of the behavior.
We should note, however, that children’s bad behavior is often only a symptom of something else. It can be a symptom of parental neglect. Perhaps the cause is parents’ distraction and indifference, the fact that they have not spent enough time with their children or shown interest in their children, or may be that the parents have been quarrelling with each other (a very common reason for behavior problems), which has caused their children to rebel and be difficult. Or perhaps they have done their best, but the child feels that his emotional needs are not being met. Perhaps his "battery of emotional life" – the next quote talks about this – has not been recharged and this has caused the different kinds of symptoms:
Another important issue the parents should understand is that children have a certain kind of battery of emotional life. This battery is naturally imagined, but still very real. Every child has emotional needs, and a lot depends on these emotional needs being satisfied (by loving, understanding, directing and so on). Firstly, meeting of these needs affects how the child feels: is he content, angry, depressed, happy. Secondly, it affects his behavior: is he obedient, disobedient, whimpering, alert, does he play or step aside. The fuller the battery is, the more favorable feelings and better behavior.
Now comes one of the most important sentences of this book. We can expect that it is easiest to get along with a child and he will develop in the best way possible when his emotional battery is full. Who is responsible for this battery being full? The parents. The behavior of a child shows how empty or full his battery is... (1)
How can we address this problem – bad behavior that arises because a child does not feel he has his parents’ approval? We should note that this should not be started the wrong way, with discipline. These kinds of problems will not go away by increasing discipline (except in small children: it can be effective for a period of time), or by shouting and threatening the child. We must address the primary cause first. Punishment in this situation can actually worsen the situation, because the parents are punishing children for expressing anger about injuries that are most frequently caused by the parents!
Therefore, we should understand that addressing the situation always starts with taking care of the relationship not through discipline – which only addresses the consequences – but by uncovering the basic problem itself. The parents must start by showing their interest, attention and sympathy towards their children. If the reason for the bad behavior is a lack of a loving bond, this must first be redressed in order to progress. Many behavior problems disappear when parents start to pay positive attention to the children.
The next quote refers to a similar situation. It describes a very typical case: the relationship between siblings in a family. Often just the child who gets the least favorable attention from his parents behaves like a “naughty" child:
When I think about the significance of those three words, I remember a certain home. In the family, there were three boys. The oldest one studied in an esteemed college, and he dropped fancy words the whole supper. The youngest one was a funny guy who reminded me of Huckleberry Finn. And then there was the middle son.
The middle one was 12 years old and very difficult. He moped in the morning and moped in the evening and didn’t get along with anybody. I was visiting the family on a sermon journey, and this boy embarrassed his parents time after time. The parents tried to silence him, but did not succeed.
When the boys rose from the table after the dinner, the father said to me, "Do you see our problem?”
"I don't," I answered stupidly.
"The middle one.”
"So," I answered, ”He is in a difficult situation. He has to live between two extremities. The big brother is clever in speech and the little brother charms all. But when compared with his brothers he is as interesting as unsalted mashed potatoes. He is at such an age. That is why he tries to get attention by his tricks.”
I gave the parents a little time to consider this, and then continued, "Do you ever say to this boy that you love him?”
"Well... We haven't gotten used to such," they answered.
"I don't mean that you should start being soft in front of his pals. But it is important to learn to say it to a child. You should both every day tell him in understandable words that you love him. It can be done in many ways. You can, for example, at bedtime sit on the edge of his bed and say, ‘I have considered that if all 12-year-old boys of the town were to line up, I would take you from that line. I want to tell you something: I love you.' He will have nothing against that, I can assure you. Make up every day some way to tell it to him.”
After two or three months, I got a letter from these parents, "Jay, thank you, thank you. Your words were of much help. The boy has changed.” (2)
MEETING NEEDS OF EMOTIONAL LIFE. When we know that children need approval and that often their bad behaviour comes from the lack of it, the next question is how these needs can be met. Is there any special means, which parents can use and by which they can try to pay attention and interest towards their children? We will try to answer this below.
You need love!
- (1 Cor 13:2,4) ... and have not charity, I am nothing.
4 Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity braggs not itself, is not puffed up,
- (Tit 2:4) That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
- (1 Thess 2:7,11) But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children:
11 As you know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father does his children
The first issue to which attention should be paid is whether we have love towards children. Certainly, the most important thing when living with children is that the parents have a friendly and fond basic attitude towards their children – an attitude with which they try to show their children that they are accepted as they are; the same attitude God has towards us, in other words a sympathetic and loving attitude. Only in this kind of atmosphere is it nice and good for children to live:
- (Luke 6:36) Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
- (Col 3:12) Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering;
If the attitude is cold and loveless, however – which can also mean cold looks, tone of voice, constant irritability and impatience towards the children (children often very easily perceive our innermost attitudes and irritability even though we try to cover them) – we can get help as well. The Bible indicates clearly that, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27). This means that if you yourself do not have love and other good qualities, God can bring about the thing of which you are incapable. This all is possible through the Holy Spirit, who lives in us when we have received Christ into our lives. If you, therefore, turn to God and Christ, this can come true also in your life:
- (Rom 5:5) And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.
- (Phil 2:13) For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Giving of time and showing undivided attention to children is one of the most important ways to show approval. Whenever parents reserve time for their children, play, do many sorts of things, and have fun with them or, for example, read to small children, it is a clear indication of them being interested in their children. It indicates to every child that he has an important position in the parents’ order of importance. This spending time with and showing attention to children cannot be replaced by all kinds of things and gifts, with which parents often try in vain to compensate the fact that they spend so little time with their children. Those things cannot replace one’s undivided attention:
One of the most affective letters I have ever received came from a seven-year-old girl whose father had died when she was five years old:
Mother has gotten over it surprising well, and I am enormously proud of her. However, sometimes I am sad when I think what I was not able to experience, especially when I hear other fathers speaking about important moments with their family. But God is my Father and if my own father lived, he would be a great father. Most of all I’m angry with those fathers who have made a choice of not spending time with their children. (3)
However, it is good to note that giving time to children does not always need to mean playing games with them. It can also mean that the parents are only there when the children themselves play or do something – the parent can, for example, read a book close to the child. It can also mean that the parent simply takes children along when he or she is doing his or her chores, hobbies, anything that would need to be done anyway (cleaning, shopping, driving the car, cooking, fishing, going on a trip, hobbies, housework, etc). In this way, togetherness often takes place in a more natural way.
Holding and touching. If we are seeking simple ways in which parents can pay attention to their children, there are physical signs of affection, such as holding, safe touching, hugging, tousling of the child’s hair and kissing. These are all quite simple actions, but often the parents do not understand their value. They do not understand that by these means they can promote their children’s emotional life and mental health. They can confirm the child’s feeling of security, create a close feeling between the child and adult, and especially be a strong basis for future relations – they can be a good preparation for it.
These small expressions of attention and attachment should not be limited only to the necessary, such as dressing and undressing or moving the child from one place to another: we should use them at other times as well. These are especially important with children under the age of ten, but can also be used later. Excessive hugging and grabbing can, of course, be embarrassing to an adolescent, but in some situations – for example, departure to or return from a journey, or when the young person has experienced some joyful or sad event and shares the experience – a hug, kiss, touching in passing or rubbing his or her shoulder can be quite useful. A good example of this was shown by Jesus, who blessed children and put his hands on them:
- (Mark ) And he took them up in his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them.
- (Pro ) He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
- (Jam ) Why, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
Parents should reserve time for their children, and they should also answer their questions patiently and listen. Time must be reserved for children if they are to properly succeed in life. Therefore, if the parent always says, "I have something more important, I have no time to listen, go away!”, or is completely absent mentally when the child is speaking, the adult only communicates indifference through this behavior.
What is important is a parent’s having the right basic attitude, maintaining an attentive and interested attitude when the child is speaking. If the parent concentrates on listening, turns to the child, looks the child in the eyes, uses a gentle voice and shares words of encouragement, and if necessary, encourages the child to speak more, the child will know that the parent is listening. It indicates to the child that his thoughts and opinions are important, and that he is also important to his parents. This is also good preparation for the future, because it increases a healthy self-esteem of the child and helps him to bond with others.
One good point about listening is that it can reduce negative behavior of a child and even eliminate it completely. The next quote shows very well how this can take place:
I am as a father thankful that I have learnt the significance of eye contact. It has had an enormous effect on my own children. I never forget, for example, how we moved to our current home. My sons were then six and two: happy, vigorous, normal and spontaneous children.
When about a week had passed, we noticed a change in both of our sons. They whined, always pressed us, grumbled, fought with each other, were always in the way and in a bad mood. My wife and I tried frantically to put the house in order, before I was to start in my new job. We started both to become annoyed and angry with their behavior, but we imagined that it was all because of our moving.
One evening, I thought again about my sons and imagined myself in their place. The reason behind their behavior problems became apparent to me as quickly as in the flash of a lightning. Pat and I were with the boys night and day, and we spoke much with them. But we were so busy in arranging the house that we didn't pay enough attention to them: they did not get any eye contact and caresses. Their emotional batteries had been emptied and they asked by their behavior, "Do you love us?”(..)
Immediately when I understood what the problem was, I told Pat. At first, she seemed not to believe, but she was ready to try anything.
The following day, we looked at our boys directly in the eye whenever we were able to do it when they were speaking to us (active listening) and when we were speaking to them. Whenever there was a chance, we took them into our arms and fully concentrated in them. The change was surprising. When their emotional batteries were full, they both changed again into happy, radiant, boisterous, and were soon less in the way, played by themselves and neither demanded that we have to arrange some program for them. Pat and I were both of the opinion that the time used with them was time well spent. It was soon compensated when the boys were not in the way, but what is even more important: they were happy again. (4)
Try to understand your children! Listening may also be very unskilled as comes to children. This inexperience can often lead to at least two issues:
Denying feelings. It is possible that parents deny, suppress or belittle a child’s expression of powerful feelings – weeping and tears, anger, powerful fear or feelings arising from physical pain. Parents may try to shut their children up as soon as possible so that they are not forced to listen to this outpouring. Most commonly, it can be seen in the expressions of the parents:
- Be quiet now, stop that whimpering!
- You do not talk that way in this house! Go to your room now!
- Stop grumbling and complaining!
- Of course you like our baby. You must not hate anyone!
- You have no reason to feel like that!
- You shouldn’t worry about such a trivial thing.
- There is no reason to be afraid.
- Oh dear, it will pass.
We should note that when children have these bad feelings, they yearn for someone to understand how they feel. They do not need as much calming and advice as they need for the parent to understand what they are going through. If a child is never allowed to have a bad day or his negative feelings are always suppressed, it is like the parents do not accept him at all. It shows that the parents do not actually deem the feelings of the child important, but underrate them. In addition, this can lead to just what the parents do not want: difficult behavior that perhaps would not have occurred if the parents had tried to understand their children.
A benefit of parents trying to understand the feelings of their children is that often the worst sting of the feelings will go away immediately after the child sees that someone understands. The sharpest pain in these negative feelings will go away at that moment.
The next example refers to this. It describes a very common occurrence: jealously in a family. Jealousy arises when a child fears that she will lose the attention of her parents because of a new child in the family. In the following example, when the mother understood that her child was jealous and talked about it, the worst sting lifted immediately:
I was seven months pregnant. When I told five-year-old Tarja that I will have a baby, she didn’t say anything. But last week she touched my stomach and said, “I hate that baby.” I was shocked, but also delighted, when she talked about it: I had already guessed her negative feelings, and the revelation of them indicated that she trusted me. Even though I had prepared for – almost waited for – that moment, it was like a small bomb.
I said, - It’s good that you told me. Do you fear that I will no longer have time for you when the new baby is born? Tarja nodded. I said, - Always tell me when you feel like that, so I’ll make time for you.
The bomb was robbed of its detonator, and Tarja has not spoken about it ever since. (5)
Also, the next quote indicates how the understanding of feelings can also quickly eliminate the negative feelings of a child. The key is that the parent first tries to understand how the child feels:
"Angela, our 3.5-year-old daughter, whimpered and yelled when her mother left her with me in the car when going to the supermarket. 'I want to go to mom,’ she said at least ten times, although I tried to explain that her mother will be back soon. Then she started to cry aloud. 'I want my doll. I want the doll.' When all my comforting attempts had failed, I remembered the active listening. In my despair I said, 'You miss mom, when she goes away?' Angela nodded. 'You don’t want that mom goes without you.' She nodded again and hugged 'her consolation blanket’ firmly. She looked like a small frightened kitten when she curled up in the corner of the back seat. I continued, 'When you miss mom, you want your doll.' She nodded eagerly. 'But now the doll is not here either, and you miss it as well.' She stopped crying as if by magic, came away from her corner, climbed onto the front seat beside me and started to discuss actively and cheerfully the people she saw on the parking lot.” (6)
Advising and solving problems. Another possible wrong mode of behavior is that we immediately start questioning and grilling children, to offer and force advice on them and to give solutions instead of just understanding their feelings and allowing them to solve their problems themselves. It is really possible that when a child tells parents about problems with friends in school or other problems or something that is not pleasing to him, the parents immediately start to speak instead of listening and offering sympathy. They start to give advice and solve problems that in fact are the child’s problems.
A better alternative in this situation is to listen to the child’s problems and allow him time to find a solution for himself because it is indeed his problem. When a child speaks about his problems, the parents must refrain from starting to immediately solve the problems and to seem all-knowing. They must be like onlookers and not hurry into conflicts that they cannot solve, such as problems with friends and school, or if the child does not like a food or a person.
As we noted above, the child does not yearn for advice but for someone to understand how he feels. When he feels that he has been understood – when someone understands his powerful feelings – this alone will already take away the worst sting of these negative feelings.
Try to understand your children! We noted earlier that parents should not try to suppress the feelings of their children, and should refrain from directly solving problems belonging to the children. There is also a better alternative: maintaining a positive attitude towards these two actions. This means that when the child tells the parent about his powerful feelings or his problems, the parent must try to step into his shoes and feel what he feels. Then, the parent must take on a positive attitude towards the child’s feelings and problems. Below is a good illustration of this positive attitude:
American psychotherapeutic Richard Belson, who has examined the possibilities to use humor in therapy, described in a seminar the next method. The whole family comes to the bed of a child with a bellyache and the parents ask him to describe precisely how bad the stomach feels. They ask the child to grimace, to groan and to curl up, depending on how strong the pain is. If the child acts his pain tamely, the parents must encourage him to a more powerful performance. They can say, for example, that this kind of pain is not so bad, it must be worse. Show really how it hurts. After the performance, the whole family can hug the child and stroke his head. Finally, the parents will say that they believe that the stomach will be much better tomorrow. Generally, the pain disappears in two or three days. If it is a question of a boy and he has sisters, who hug and comfort him, the pain goes away even faster. Boys of a certain age do anything in their power to avoid their sister from hugging them. They, for example, recover rather than be hugged. (7)
The next practical examples also refer to this subject. In the examples, the parent tries to interpret how the child feels – do you feel like this, did I understand you correctly – and how the child sees issues. In this way, the parent tries to tall whether he has understood the feelings and experiences of the child:
If the child cries because of a hurt knee:
- Oh dear, your knee must really hurt badly.
If the child cries because mother has gone shopping:
- You must miss your mother a lot when she goes to do the shopping.
If the child or young person talks about how he has been criticized:
- It must be depressing when somebody blames you.
If the child fears the dark:
- You must really hope for it to be lighter, because you are afraid.
If a young person talks about his relationships:
- So you want to be beautiful and want people to like you.
If the child says he has nothing to do:
- It must be awful when you don't have anything to do.
If a child tells the parent that he hates his little brother:
- You are angry with your brother.
If a child complains to his mother, who refuses to give him chocolate:
- You seem to be very angry with me.
A baby has been born in the family and a two-year-old is angry with the baby for getting all the attention:
- It must be hard for you when the baby is here and mom spends so much time with him.
A young person fears that he will fail in school:
- So you are worried that you will embarrass yourself.
A child doesn’t like a food:
- I suppose that this isn’t your favorite food. It takes courage to eat it anyway.
A child says that he hates school and teachers:
- You must feel bad, when you don’t like school at all.
A child is acting up and doesn’t want go to bed:
- You are not interested in going to bed.
GIVING UP WRONG ACTIONS. One way to meet the emotional needs of a child is to give up wrong attitudes and actions. Very often, we may act in a wrong way without even noticing and this may greatly damage a child. Next, we will consider some of the most commonly found incorrect actions.
So-called constructive criticism or remarks about the deficiencies of a child and always pointing out his faults is certainly one of the most harmful actions the adults can do, because it can easily destroy the child’s healthy self-esteem. This action often comes from the parents’ ambitions (for instance, living through the child: parents carrying out their own dreams and ambitions through the child) or worry about the child’s development and how he will get along with others, thus improving their performance with constant criticism. The parents can express this attitude in the following ways, for example:
- Look what you will do to us if you fail!
- That is wrong, and that is wrong as well... Why can’t you learn this?
- Alright, John, but...
- Is that the best you can do?
- That looks good, but...
If we are guilty of providing the above-described so-called constructive criticism, we should give it up, because it can easily tear apart a child’s self-esteem, and because as a consequence the child will usually become an insecure adult who will have difficulties accepting himself. Also, such a person usually has more difficulties in finding God’s approval, because years may pass before he learns to understand the mercy of God.
A better action is simply to help children and the young to understand that they do not need to be perfect, that they can be accepted as they are, even if they don’t always succeed. They have to see that acceptance does not depend on their accomplishments and behavior, but just on the fact that they are our children:
"I am proud of you. You have worked a lot – you have earned your grades. But I want to remind you of something I think you already know. I wouldn’t love you any more because you did well. I will love you in any case. If you had come home after having failed all of your exams, I would have been disappointed, but I would not have loved you any less. You must never forget this. It is the principle of our life – yours and mine.” (8)
Unhealthy intimacy is also a way by which parents may damage children, and which appears most often in one-parent families, or in families in which the relationship between the parents is not good.
This distorted intimacy most commonly appears when a parent turns to the children instead of the spouse, and makes the children his or her trusted friends – when the parent considers the children equal to the spouse and shares with them matters that usually belong only to adults. The parent may also get support and safety from the children and cry on their shoulder. This is often true in families with alcoholics. Thus, the children become either a substitute for the spouse or almost like a parent.
The next example shows just how harmful this kind of unhealthy intimacy and turning of the roles upside-down can be. It shows that unhealthy intimacy may have an impact on a child far into the adulthood. In this case, it caused sexual unwillingness, for example:
I have many adult customers who have either in case of a divorce or a fatality become the missing spouse for their mother or father. They have borne the responsibility, comforted their parents and accepted feelings and issues that belong to adults. Not even physical absence of a parent is always needed: mental absence has also been enough for a child to become the substitute of a spouse.
A man told how he had moved to sleep beside his mother after his father died. Every Sunday morning, they had considered together with the mother how they would get over the next week. They had shared the responsibility for the care of their home and his younger sisters. This man came to me, worried about not feeling any sexual desire towards his wife. (9)
Labeling, assigning roles, making as comparisons. One can also make a negative impact on the self-esteem of a child, or reinforce their negative behavior by labeling children or assigning them to roles by comparing children with each other. These actions are reflected in the following expressions of parents:
You’re (naughty, silly, a trollop, an idler, difficult, a pest, too shy, clumsy).
You are stupid. Don't you ever learn anything?
You are always so decent / good-natured / diligent. You never behave like your brother.
Take heed of your sister! Why can’t you behave like her?
Your brother always gets his homework right. You must learn from him.
Your sister is more beautiful than you.
If the parents say this, they may injure the child. Negative, or positive labeling and comparisons are all harmful. Their negative effects can appear in the following ways, among others:
Negative labeling. Negative labels and roles often discourage the child and even increase their bad behavior. If the parents blame some of their children for bad and disobedient behavior – so as to improve the behavior – it generally merely increases the difficulties. A child may think, “I must be like this then” when this is said, or he may think that it is better to get negative attention than no attention at all. When the parents try to correct the behavior of children by blaming them, it may lead to just the opposite. The negative labels attached by the parents affect them like a curse.
This can be avoided by never concentrating on the personality of the child but mainly on the behavior and what you, the parent see. We should say, "That was wrong", instead of "You are always so naughty". In the same way, we should say, "Oh, now the milk fell, could you go and fetch a cloth?" rather than "You are always so clumsy!". In other words, we must make a difference between the behavior and the child himself – whom we love all the time.
We should also note that if a child has already been given a negative role, he may also be encouraged to act to the contrary, in other words in a positive way. (The second possible way is for the child to be given a task in just the area where he has been marked. For example, “the pest” of the family can be named the judge who supervises law and justice between children. “The piggy” of the family who doesn't take care about his toys can be made the police officer of the family, who supervises cleanliness among children.) Here is a good example:
- After a week Taavi tried my nerves again. He followed Antti around the living room and teased him to tears. But this time, I didn’t despair. Instead, I took Taavi by the shoulder, swung him around and nailed my eyes on him. I said angrily, 'Taavi, you can also be very kind. Use that skill!'
He smiled timidly. And the teasing was over. (10)
Positive labeling. Negative criticism usually reinforces bad behavior. Equally harmful are words that are overly positive. If a person is told “You are …(… always so solicitous! …miraculous! …a great poet! …more trustworthy and wiser than your sister.)”, such words may only apply pressure. The child feels he cannot be himself; he may try to settle into a role that he does not necessarily want. To avoid problems that come from being overly positive, we should only concentrate on their actual behavior. We might say, for example, “You did nicely when …”, rather than “You are always so wonderful!.”
Comparison. The third item on the list was the use of comparisons, which can be equally harmful. If a child is praised and held up as a model for siblings to copy -- "Your brother always does his homework right. Why can’t you be more like him?” – this kind of praise generally leads to the same kind of behavior as negative labels. It can lead the child to take on the opposite role than the parent expects, and also negative behavior towards the sibling who seems to always get the approval and appreciation of the parents. This kind of competition can cause several conflicts between siblings. This comparison made by the parents may only add to and continue the children’s bad behavior and cause unnecessary friction between siblings. That's why it can be so harmful.
A better approach is for the parents to avoid comparing siblings in any way, because the behavior of a child has nothing to do with the activities of his or her siblings. Instead, parents should treat their children as individuals and allow them all to feel that they are accepted as they are, as unique individuals.
As we start to think how to intervene in the bad behavior of children, we should note that the cause of these behavioral problems is often the parents: they have not met the daily needs of their children, or have perhaps reinforced their negative role in the family.
We should understand that if behavioral disorders of children are caused by unfulfilled emotional needs, we can best address this problem by changing ourselves and by starting to express more positive feelings towards our children – more often than before. This alone may eliminate many difficult behavior problems.
What about those situations where a child feels that he or she is loved, accepted, and his or her emotional needs are met, but the child still acts out? What should we do then? Below, we are going to try to find answers to this question.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CONVERSATION. One way that we can take care of behavioral problems is simply to talk with children. The correct kind of conversation, where the children are valued, is one of the best ways to prevent bad behavior. Conversation is also useful when behavioral problems have already occurred. Below, we are going to study what should be taken into account when we wish to conduct a right kind of a constructive conversation with children.
Respect the views of children! The first important thing is to respect the views and opinions of children, even if they are not the same as our own or do not please us. The more we are able to accept different viewpoints of children and young people, and the more we do not over-react to them, the more they will value our own viewpoints. They will not so easily reject our opinions if they feel that we respect their opinions.
On the other hand, if we are too strict, condemning, and blame children or criticize their friends, this will have just the opposite effect. Children may turn their backs on us and end up doing things we do not want them to do. This happens almost without exception if parents are too strict.
The most important objective in conversation is for the parents to leave behind criticism and judgment of their children, and to start appreciating them. They do not have to agree to everything the children want, but they should try to appreciate them. If they use this approach during conversations, and try to learn their needs, it is likely that parents will not experience so many problems.
Allow children to offer solutions! Parents should respect the views of their children. They should also allow the children to offer their own alternatives to different kinds of tasks and activities at home (housework, meals, using the computer, caring for pets, sharing rooms, and all the other points of dispute that can arise at home). We can consider possible solutions to all kinds of conflicts and problems together with the children. In that way neither the children nor the parents will be disappointed. We should try to reach these kinds of solutions and conduct these conversations in case of problems, because this can radically reduce conflicts at home. We might, for example, write down various alternatives and together choose a solution satisfactory for all.
The situation is very often that parents do not enter into a full dialog with their children; they do not listen to their children’s views. Instead they just issue orders, which may over time make it more difficult for children to obey their parents. If the relationship between parents and children is not warm, and parents do not regularly listen to their children, then children will have almost no motivation. Their willingness to cooperate can hardly be increased by an environment in which decisions are dictated to them.
However, this situation can be reversed immediately if the children get to offer solutions for difficult situations. Often, if children get the opportunity to participate in planning and the solution process, they will be much more motivated to put the decisions into effect. They like to be trusted, they like that we give them responsibilities, and often they will also start to pay attention to others in a whole new way. Solutions made like this are usually longer-lasting because the children have been involved in the decision-making process.
What does all this mean in the life of a parent, then? We should start to have full discussions with children, pay more attention to their opinions, and allow them to help us find solutions. They are often very willing to change if parents only appreciate their points of view.
REACT PROPERLY TO THE BEHAVIOR OF CHILDREN! When the behavior of a child disturbs us or we are not pleased with their behavior, we may react to this in a harmful way. We may become angry, snap at the child, label the child, accuse the child, or act in some other harmful manner. At that time, we usually do not come to think that this is against the will of God, but the next verses indicate that it is:
- (Eph 4:31) Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
- (Jam 1:20) For the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.
What can we do if we want our children to change their behavior? What should we avoid and how should we act when faced with a child’s problematic behavior? We will try to answer these questions below.
Avoid sentences with “you”! When we are correcting the behavior of a child, the first thing we should do is avoid sentences containing the word “you”. When we are angry and use “you …” sentences, we often attack the persona of the child. The impact is negative, because we are accusing the child of something. Often, these sentences include words or phrases that label the child, or cast the child in some negative role. For example:
- How can you be so nasty? Go straight to your room!
- Why are you always so naughty, don't you ever...
- You are just impossible!
- Stop that right now, you are disturbing me!
- You are late again, why didn’t you come home in time?
- You are like a little child when...
- You should be ashamed...
- Don't you ever learn to clean after you!
- Never disturb me when I’m sewing!
- Be quiet, or else...
As we can see, relying upon “you…” sentences will not lead to anything useful. If you have used especially negative labels, attached hurtful characteristics, or made negative remarks about the child, those remarks will quickly dishearten the child, and he or she will feel unappreciated. This can also lead to the child’s acceptance of the role given by the parent, as already noted.
“You” sentences may also lead to another consequence, almost as bad. They drive the child to rebel against our authority. If we give our children these messages, or make accusations, or issue commands, then the child’s motivation will certainly be lower than it would be if we were to constructively interact with them. When we accuse a child, he or she may fire back at us with their own accusations (Why don't you... - Well, why won’t YOU...). Ultimately, the child will no longer want to listen to us or will choose to act in a different way. The child will probably have very little motivation to behave differently, especially if the parent has not cared enough to listen to the child, or give him positive attention.
Ask for help! Messages including the word “you” can be harmful. There is a better way to communicate with children and intercede in their behavior. Instead of personally attacking the child, we can share our concerns and explain our point of view. We can simply tell them how we feel as a result of their disturbing behavior and explain why we feel what we feel. (Of course, we must have a good reason for our concerns – the child will want to know why the behavior troubles us.) We are, in a way, asking the child to help, telling the child how we feel (tired, busy, afraid, worried, disturbed, irritated, etc.) about their behavior. These messages should include the words “I” and “me”. Thus, they are different from the “you” messages:
- I’m scared that you will knock over the pot when you run so near it.
- I’m scared that you will muck up the carpet when you use those watercolors.
- I was awfully frightened and worried when you came home so late.
- I'm afraid of driving the car when I can’t concentrate because of the noise.
- I’m just so irritated when you always bring sand in your shoes and I have to clean it up.
- I’m scared that the baby will be hurt when you carry him on your back.
- I can't kick the ball now, because I’m tired.
- I can’t play with you right now because I must make dinner.
- I can’t sew if someone interrupts me all the time.
- I can’t sleep if I hear loud noises.
- It’s really irritating for me to always have to pick up your toys from the kitchen floor, but I have to pick them up because otherwise I can’t get any work done.
- I’m always nervous in the market when you don't keep still. I can’t do my shopping.
- It absolutely bugs me when nobody comes to eat dinner on time, when the food is still warm.
The benefits from using these “me” messages are many: they do not draw as much opposition as the “you” messages and accusations, because when we only speak about how we feel and present it to the child as a request for help, the child will not consider the message to be threatening. Often – not necessarily always – the child will even be willing to change his or her behavior, especially if they see that their behavior harms others and they see how others feel because of it:
One evening I was very tired and Kaija was acting up. She didn’t want to go to sleep, only cried and didn’t even lie down. Finally, she was almost hysterical. I went through my entire repertoire of persuading-asking-commanding. I started by saying, “Kaija darling, it’s bedtime, so go to sleep. Lie down and close your eyes and you will fall to sleep.” She only cried and I started to become really angry. “Okay, you’ll go to bed now, no more fooling around!” I raised my voice and at last slapped her on the buttocks and said, “You go to bed now – I’ve had enough!” It didn’t help. She was still crying, I was in despair, and wondered what to do next. Then a thought came to me: Let’s try the “me” messages. I went back to the nursery, hugged Kaija but didn’t take her from the bed. I said, “Daddy and I don’t have much time alone. I’m with you all day long. I’d like to spend some time with daddy alone. In the evenings, we’d like to rest and talk. Sometimes, we like to go to bed early. But we can’t sleep if you cry.” Kaija said, “Mommy, I won’t cry anymore.” This felt unbelievable. Ever since that evening, she has never cried or raged even if she could not go to sleep immediately after having gone to bed. (11)
One evening you said that dinner is ready, but nobody came. You offered an excellent “me” message: “Now I’m really frustrated. I have cooked us a very tasty dinner, and it took me more than an hour, and now I’m scared that it will get cold and be spoiled.” That message was understood. I think it sounded somehow so sincere that the kids were immediately coming at a run – to me, it was interesting to see how it affected the children. They noticed that your anxiety really made sense, and they came. I remember hoping that I was capable of similar “me” messages. You use them more often than you notice yourself. (12)
DO NOT REINFORCE BAD BEHAVIOR BY CHILDREN! Parents can communicate with their children in harmful ways, but they can also reinforce bad behavior by the children. This most often happens without the parent even realizing it. Most often, it occurs in situations where a child pesters the parent for something and the parent does not keep to his or her original decision and gives in to the child. It can also happen when the parent only notices the child when he or she is acting up -- talking too loudly or having a tantrum, for example – and this behavior is then reinforced.
Let’s study this subject in the light of some examples, and try to find a way out of these harmful modes of action:
A child begs for something. One occasion during which a parent can easily reinforce the bad behavior of a child is when the child begs for something. Typically it runs like this: a child asks for something, the parent refuses, the child resorts to crying and continues to beg, the parent caves in. This may occur simply because the parent can’t stand hearing the child crying, or can’t suffer the begging. For whatever reason, the parents give in to the child’s emotional demands.
Such parental inconsistency only promotes bad behavior in a child. If a child gets his or her way by continuously begging or crying, it is likely that he or she will repeat the action in the future. The child sees that “no” from the parent actually means “maybe,” and that is why he or she will continue to beg unless we change our behavior.
There is one simple way to deal with this: keep our initial resolve. “Yes” means yes, and “No” means no. Sometimes young people ask for something quite realistic. Whether you say “yes” or “no”, hold firm. If we stick to our original decision, the child’s begging and crying may at first increase (and it will quite probably increase), but at some point we will see an improvement. The child will no longer beg and plead because he or she sees that it is no use to try to change our decision.
This is not always so easy to do in practice, so we should consider some additional tips. The following practical tips may help when a young person demands something:
Ask for extra time to consider the question! First of all, a little more time is never a bad thing. If the child asks for permission to go somewhere or get something new, we do not always need to answer “yes” or “no” immediately. Instead, tell the child we need some extra time (a minute, an hour, a day, a week) to think about their request. We can also discuss it with another adult such as our spouse.
Among other benefits, this keeps us from making hasty decisions, and when we make up our mind it will be much easier to stick with our decision. It also gives the young person time to think the request through again and maybe reach a reasonable conclusion on their own.
Do not be drawn into an argument! The second point to take into account when a child pesters us for something is that we should not start arguing. Very often when a child accuses a parent or throws a tantrum, the parent becomes irritated and starts making excuses (“No, I wasn’t”) or accusing the child ("You ungrateful rascal"). The parent may also raise his or her voice in anger.
A better alternative is speaking to the child like we would speak to our best friend: not with harsh tones or shouting, but calmly. We might, if necessary, lower our voice to a whisper if the child begins yelling. If we speak calmly at first and then lower our voice further and further, we can have a dramatic impact on the child:
- (Pro 16:24) Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.
- (Col 4:6) Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man.
Try to understand the child! We should keep in mind that if a child is not granted a request, the child’s tantrums may only worsen. They will always increase until the child sees that he or she will not get anywhere by acting up.
As for these outbursts of feeling, we should keep in mind that they are a normal part of the process and will continue for a while. There is no point in trying to suppress or stop them. These bad moods will not go away so easily from the mind of a child. There is no need to respond to a child’s anger with anger of our own because this will do no good.
Instead, we should try to understand how bad the child feels when he or she does not get what she wants. We should try to step into the shoes of the child in order to better understand their negative feelings and anger. Often when a child feels they are being understood, the largest portion of his or her negative feelings disappears:
- It must be hard to have strict parents who do not allow you to go to the concert.
- It must surely be awful for you that your parents are so poor they cannot afford to buy you that new dress.
Begging by using an abnormal voice. Continuing with how one can reinforce the bad behavior of a child, we should also consider behavior such as whining, squealing, shouting or using other extreme vocalizations. These negative behaviors were probably taught to the child by the parents: parents do not answer requests given in a normal tone of voice but do respond to requests given in vocal extremes.
There is a simple way to correct this: the parent should only “hear” requests that are made in normal tones of voice. This usually requires the cooperation of parents and others, because if someone continues to react to the negative way of speaking, the bad behavior will probably continue. We might say, for example, “It’s difficult for me to hear requests given with that tone of voice, you must speak normally and then not react further until the child speaks in an acceptable manner. Then we should immediately show that we have heard the requests and reply.
The quote below describes how these bad behaviors can disappear if no attention is given to them. The example refers to unclear speech -- not a physical defect but a self-learned habit:
Many years ago, we took into our home a ten-year-old girl who had been placed in an institution for the mentally deficient. Her behavior included some typical features of the mentally handicapped (trotting, pushing the chin close to the neck, somewhat unclear speech). We worked with her speech for two months by using the “extinguishing method”. We said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear what you are saying, Maria.” and then paid no attention to her whatsoever. When we stopped craning over to hear what she was saying – as others had done – she started to speak in a normal and clear voice. My wife had to have gallbladder surgery, and my mother came to the house when she was in the hospital. I was away from home a lot because of my work and visiting the hospital, and therefore, I failed to notice what Maria did to my well-meaning mother. One evening I saw how my mother leaned over to Maria to hear her. I explained the situation to her after Maria had left the room. After that, my mother stopped reacting to Maria’s whispering, and Maria started to speak in a normal voice again. (13)
A tantrum of a small child is a little like talking in a raised voice: it can be a reaction to parents who do not pay enough attention to good behavior and only notice bad behavior. A child may pitch a fit and throw himself or herself flat on the floor just to draw a reaction. If the child is alone in a place where nobody can see the tantrum, it is likely that nothing will happen.
This behavior can be changed. The most common way of doing it is overlooking the child’s tantrums and leaving the child alone. (An alternative might be the parents throwing themselves on the floor, too. Or the parents might ask the child to repeat what he or she said, or to act even more outrageously. These actions usually provide the child with a new perspective and remove the reward from the tantrum. The child may lose his or her interest when seeing that his tantrums no longer get the attention he seeks.) If the parents and everyone else are completely indifferent to the child’s tantrums, the child will quickly lose his or her interest in acting up. At first, the child may shout even louder and have more tantrums than before, but if everyone ignores the child this kind of behavior will generally end after having run its course. This may also be encouraged by rewarding the child when he or she is behaving well. This can motivate the child to behaving better and better:
Sometimes extinguishing takes place by accident, such as in the case of a four-year-old, Markus. His parents were worried about his irritating outbursts of anger. He had a habit of acting up at the times the parents most feared, such as when they had guests at home. The explosion was apt to occur at bedtime if not earlier. (...)
Finally, the parents were desperate. They had no more tricks up their sleeve. At that point, the parents were one evening reading the newspaper in the living room. They said something that made the boy angry, and as usual, Markus threw himself on the floor in rage. He screamed and smacked his head on the carpet, kicking and waving his little hands. The parents were at their wit’s end, and thus they did nothing. They only continued to read the newspaper.
This was a reaction sulky Markus was not expecting. He got up, looked at his father and threw himself on the floor for the next show. The parents continued to ignore him. Suddenly, the boy stopped screaming. He went to his mother, shook her hand and started the third show. The parents did not flinch, did not blink an eye. It seems that the boy felt so foolish lying on the floor that he never had a tantrum after that. (14)
Child does not allow parents to leave. One problem that fits in the same category as those discussed earlier is seen when a small child demands that the parents stay right beside him or her all the time, not leaving for even a second. This might be accompanied by excessive crying and the child showing fear the instant the parents attempt to leave the room. It is often seen when the child should be left in the daycare, for example.
This kind of behavior is also learned. It is usually the result of parents having given in to the child. Frequently the child is not as deeply afraid as he or she seems. Weeping and fearful expressions are only ways the child can affect the parents and get them to stay nearby at all times.
The best way to end this problem is to resist the child’s complaints. Don’t let them make such a huge impact on us. If the child starts crying and yelling when we leave the room or do not go to the child immediately, we can simply confirm our love by saying, “I’m busy right now and if you scream, I won’t answer.” This might at first lead only to more yelling and weeping, but when we are expecting this we will not be confused by it. Usually, the child will at some stage find out that weeping and crying are of no use and the tantrums may stop there.
IS IT WISE TO INTERVENE? When we want to change the behavior of a child into a more positive direction, we can use various approaches. Several of these techniques start with the parents. We can change or improve our way of communicating, and that may change the child’s behavior.
On the other hand, there may be occasions when we are better off not intervening at all. Sometimes too much strictness, too much attention, too much interference from parents only makes matters worse, or at least fails to improve them. These may include the following:
Less important matters. We should firstly keep from making a mountain out of a molehill. If we are too strict about the clothes a youth wears, his or her hairstyle, their preference in music, the friends they keep, or the state of their room – matters that do not directly impact us or others – we are not being sensible. It is not worthwhile to make a great fuss about these kinds of choices, especially since many parents are motivated by an underlying fear of what will others think, which is quite a bad motive. Many of these are temporary – they change as the child grows.
If we do react strongly to these sorts of choices, strongly disapprove of them or are too strict or bossy, we create exactly the response we do not want: the child turns his or her back on us and gets involved in something worse. This almost always happens when a parent is too strict and fallible. If parents could instead just stay calm, the relationship will likely be much better, and many problems that arise during puberty will more easily pass.
Bad habits. As for many bad habits – children sucking their thumb, biting their nails, wetting the bed and their pants, exaggerating, or other troublesome habits – where parents demand the child to change, many of these habits can be eliminated simply by not paying any attention to them. Several of these behaviors are reinforced by the attention given by the parents. When parents pay attention to these activities and are worried about them, the child enjoys this attention and continues to act as before.
Therefore, when we start to break these habits, often the best approach is to do nothing. We must give the child an opportunity to take care of his or her problems, and not intervene. Many problems may just go away by themselves without any action needed:
I cannot help but be amazed time and time again how many problems of children can be eliminated merely by not paying attention to them. Common issues practiced by children that can be efficiently solved by using the extinguishing method include, for example, tantrums, begging for new things at the store, exaggerating, continuous pestering after the mother or father has already said no, not letting go of the parents for a second, whining, shrieking “I will never do that”, and interrupting other people’s discussions. These are all habits that are maintained by the attention the child gets from the parents. (15)
School attendance. One matter parents should consider before intervening is the education of their children. Very often, parents may take on unnecessary pressures with their school chores and feel that it is their responsibility to take care that the children succeed and do their homework diligently. They may strongly wish that their children succeed and feel like they have failed if the children do not do well. The parents may try to improve the performance of their children in school by nagging and pressuring them. Sometimes, when children have not done their homework on time, the parents are tempted to intervene and do the homework for the children: they try to rescue the children from the trouble in which they have gotten themselves.
If you are acting like this, you should understand that you are not being reasonable. As to the child’s response to school and homework assignments, that’s the child’s responsibility, not yours, because you cannot go to school for your child. You must only take care that the child has the proper support for doing his or her homework at home; that is where your responsibility ends. The child must take care that he or she gets to school on time and does all the homework assigned. If the child fails, that’s something to be resolved between the child and the teacher. If this is not done, confusion will be inevitable.
Furthermore, if we pay too much attention to the schooling of our child, we may only make things worse. Often, a child who does not get enough positive attention at home or who has been compared to “more clever” children and found “less able” can try to pay for this neglect by not succeeding in school. The child may think that it is better to get attention even this way than to get no attention at all. The child may continue to neglect his schoolwork, unless the parents change their attitude.
This problem can be solved simply by the parents not interfering with the schoolwork of their children. They must understand the limits of their responsibility and stop interfering in something that is not their responsibility; they must relax. The parents should also try to pay more positive attention to a child having problems with school; give the child time, attention, a listening ear. This is important because often the lack of positive attention is causing these problems.
Harri was fourteen, and for years his grades had been adequate only. His parents nagged and warned him that he would not get to any college and succeed in his life. They tried to scare him into performing better and to bribe him for better grades – all in vain. When they realized that their responsibility only goes so far and that it’s best to let the natural consequences run their course, they decided to leave Harri in peace. They said to the boy, "Sorry that we nagged so much about your bad grades. School is your responsibility. If you want to do better, fine, but if you’d rather continue like this, it’s your choice.” In the next report card, all of Harri’s grades were “satisfactory”! What had happened? Harri had unknowingly punished his parents by getting bad grades. When the parents got rid of their feelings of guilt and refused to be hurt because of their son’s bad grades, Harri had no reason to do badly. As a matter of fact, he felt bad because of his failure, since he actually needed the acceptance of his buddies and the teacher. Until the change of mind of his parents, Harri had been, however, ready to bear the consequences of bad grades because he knew that they hurt his parents!
Parents carry the responsibility of a child because of feelings of guilt. This way, the parents prevent the child from growing up. The consequences can be destructive for mental health of the parents and undermine their entire work in raising the child. (16)
When a small child refuses to eat. One activity that often worries parents is their small child’s refusal to eat (this does not refer to eating disorders of the young, such as anorexia, that are often caused by something totally different). They may be worried when the child does not eat enough and may try to solve this problem by nagging and demanding. They may think that it is their duty to get the child to eat properly, and if they do not succeed, they may feel guilty. They may also think that if the child does not eat properly, he or she may fall ill.
A child’s refusal to eat is, however, similar to a child’s neglect of their own education: it is made worse by the attention gained from anxious parents. A child’s refusal to eat is the responsibility of the child, not the parent. Therefore, when we try to get rid of this problem, we should first stop interfering: just let the child be. It is our responsibility as parents to provide food for the children to eat at each mealtime, but the children are responsible for eating. If the child does not always eat his or her meal (you should keep in mind that a healthy person can go up to dozens of days without eating), we should not make a great fuss: just clear the table and do not give any food until the next meal. If we give extra food to the child between meals because the child refused to eat his or her last meal “out of pity,” the child may not learn anything from the experience. Usually, at some point, when the child is hungry enough, he or she will eat. After all, we all have a built-in reminder -- hunger -- that will make us eat sooner or later.
The quarrelling of siblings. Another activity in which the intervention of parents is not especially productive is the quarrelling and bickering of siblings. If the relationship between children is healthy – if their relationship has not been destroyed by constant parental comparisons that favor one child over another – then the quarrels are usually occurring because they are not getting enough attention. If their relationship is not healthy because their parents have shown one sibling more affection than the others then the parents must stop such behavior.
The fact is that the quarrelling of children is usually reinforced by attention from the parents. These disputes mostly occur because of the attention they gain, and that is why one of the children – usually the apparently weaker one – might tease the others so that he or she gets the parents to intervene. However, if the parents are not there when the children are spending time together, they may play quite peacefully and in harmony without any disputes; this shows that the quarrels arise only from pursuing of attention when the parents are there.
The best way to settle disputes is to stay out of them. Do not intervene. If the children come to the parents complaining about each other, the parents must, naturally, listen to their viewpoints, but they should advise their children to take care of their disputes between themselves. It is their problem. Often, even very small children can settle their own disputes.
On the other hand, if the situation is becoming violent, the parents can command their children to go to their rooms or punish them both. The parents still should not act as judge and ask who started the quarrel and who was guilty because this leads nowhere. The only way to solve this matter is for the parents to keep completely out of disputes and, when children come to complain about each other, advise them to resolve quarrels by themselves:
When you intervene, you are relying on two false assumptions. Firstly, you think that one of the children is innocent. The child that seems quiet, weak and innocent has usually cunningly irritated the other. In a seminar for parents, the mother of a 13-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl asked whether I supposed that her son tried to attract attention by always teasing his sister. ”Of course,” I said. ”I wonder what your daughter does, then, to make your son so angry?” "Nothing," the mother answered. ”Kati is like an angel.” It is difficult for me to believe that a 10-year-old is an angel, and this is why I replied, “Now please, I’m sure she’s not that perfect!” “Yes, she is,” said the mother, “she sits with me on the sofa and Vesa comes and hits her for no reason whatsoever.” Because I had already noticed that ‘innocent’ Kati was trying to get attention, I replied, “Why is your daughter sitting there with you?” The mother answered, “Because our relationship is just so good.” Suddenly, the mother understood. Dead silence fell in the room. Finally, she said, “Now I see. Vesa feels left out and yearns for attention. Kati gets the attention by being nice, and that is why Vesa tries to get his share by being naughty.”
The mother started to see through her daughter’s "innocent" behavior. When Vesa made his mother angry, Kati said, “Leave mom alone, don’t disturb her. You are stupid! You always bug mom!” Later on, the mother told me, "The girl bluffed, because in every situation she was on my side. I always thought that she is a very kind child, and such a pity that Vesa doesn’t have the same good manners. Now I see that she did just the thing that infuriates a 13-year-old. Who would like to hear from his 10-year-old sister what is appropriate and what is not?”
This family quarrel indicates how difficult it is to find the guilty: pot calling the kettle black. If one of the children really were innocent, there would very seldom be any quarrels. (17)
ALSO REACT TO POSITIVE BEHAVIOR AND PROGRESS! When we want a child to start acting in a different way, we normally interfere with bad behavior and give negative feedback for it. In other words, we only react when something negative has happened, when the child has been difficult and behaved badly. When this happens, we immediately notice the child, pay attention to him or her and perhaps say that he or she is being difficult and disobedient.
There is, however, a better way to try to have an impact on a child: reduce the amount of unnecessary criticism. React instead to their good behavior and progress by offering positive feedback. There are many situations in which parents can react and give thanks to their child. We should pay positive attention to the child anytime he or she has done something good and shows some progress: “I’m so glad that you…!” At the same time we should reduce the amount of negative feedback that we give.
The activities described below serve as examples of those to which we should react. It is good if the child gets positive feedback for them. (Feedback must not necessarily be verbal. It can be delivered to the child in the form of a surprise gift, permission to stay up one hour longer, a nice dessert or some other pleasant thing. These can also represent positive feedback.) This also helps us reduce the amount of negative criticism we give.
- If we see progress or even small changes in behavior;
- If the child has behaved fairly towards another or has acted as he or she should;
- If the child has come home on time, for example to dinner;
- If we see that the child has cleaned his or her room;
- When the child learns a new task or we see progress, such as dressing oneself or eating without help.
- Valuing the efforts of the child, his participation in an activity, or is trying.
- Activities or abilities that we, the parents, value: “I like it when you are able to play by yourself."
When parents increase the amount of positive feedback and reduce negative feedback, it usually improves the self-esteem of the child more than criticism, and it will also promote positive behavior. The following quote is a good example of what positive feedback can produce at its best:
Maybe Jane had to get into huge trouble at school so that she could test us. When she noticed that we loved her no matter what and that we are ready to support her, she relaxed and her behavioral problems stopped. In spite of that, I noticed that her harshness and her trying to avoid the housework made me so angry that I didn’t even want to pray for her. When I told the Lord about this, he said, "Then pray no longer for her, only praise me to her.” At first, it was nothing but easy, I can assure you that, but when it started to get easier, God showed to me that my negative attitude towards her and my criticism was destroying our relationship.
"But Lord", I said, "there is always something to which can react only negatively or by criticizing.”
"You can thank me, so thank her as well," he answered. Well, it was even more difficult, but when I exaggerated my thanks and practically suffocated her with my attention whenever she did something helpful, she became much more receptive. Other children looked like quite hurt because of all the unusual fuss around her, reminding me of the older brother of the Prodigal Son. In the meantime, Jane flourished because of this encouragement, and she has become an absolutely magnificent cook and real helper and a pleasure to us, and our relationship is now closer than ever. (18)
USING CONSEQUENCES for bad behavior is one way to affect the life of our children and their behavior. If a child is not acting as he or she should, we can let the child experience some negative consequences. This will reduce the child’s desire to behave in the same way in the future. Usually, this is done in the form of so-called logical consequences and punishment. Let’s study these separately:
The logical consequences. When a child is behaving badly and breaking the rules, one possible alternative is for the parent to order some negative consequence for breaking the rules: something the child does not like, that is unpleasant to the child, and that has some logical connection to the child’s bad behavior. We can assign a consequence for any kind of negative behavior; one that is somehow connected to the bad behavior and that is not unreasonable.
This method is based on the common belief that the behavior of a person is mostly determined by the consequences of his or her actions. If the consequences are positive, the tendency to continue that mode of action usually increases, but if the consequences are unpleasant then we usually do not want to do the same thing again. On the contrary, we try to avoid repeating that behavior because nothing positive came out of it.
When we apply this general approach to raising children, we must simply ensure that we occasionally allow the children to bear the negative consequences of deliberately breaking rules set out for them. We should think up some unpleasant consequence to follow an intentionally committed act of disobedience. Usually, this means taking away some privilege or comfort, or offering the child something unpleasant. However, the consequence should be logically connected with the offence.
This logical method is most commonly used in the following situations, for example:
- If the child provokes too much trouble, is too loud or refuses to stop his or her aggravating behavior, it is logical to send him or her to “the penalty bench,” to let him sit in a corner for a while. If the offence takes place at home, outdoors, or in a store the child can be sent to another room, or inside, or not allowed to go to the store the next time we go. However, we should always give the child an option: “You can stay if you are quiet."
- If a teen fails to come home by the agreed-upon time, grounding him or her for a week can be a suitable punishment.
- If the child throws snowballs at the wall of a house, even though it has been forbidden because the windows might break, a good alternative may be that the child will not be allowed to play outdoors for a couple of days.
- If the child does not come to dinner at the agreed-upon time, a logical punishment may be for him or her to be blocked from food until the next mealtime.
- If the child refuses to eat his or her meal, we should not allow the child to have any snacks or sweets until the next mealtime.
- If the child has not washed his or her hands before dinner, we might not allow him or her to sit at the table with us.
- If the child does not brush his or her teeth, a reasonable consequence is to stop offering the child any sweets because sugar destroys the teeth.
- If the child is being noisy in the car, we can stop the car and stay there until the child is calm.
- If the child leaves his or her things where they do not belong and does not pick them up, we can pick up the things and put them in a locked box only to give them back after the child has, for example, helped in the chores for fifteen minutes.
- If the child neglects to do the tasks assigned to him or her, a reasonable punishment could be taking away some privileges, such as eating (cf. 2 Thess 3:10,11) or going out to play until the chore has been done. If the child does not keep his or her room tidy or neglects to take the garbage out, we can, for example, refuse to let him join us at the dinner table.
- If the child refuses to go to school because of laziness, we can forbid him or her the use of the computer or television, and withhold their food.
- If other offences are committed, we can place limits or take away the child’s privileges in the area where the offence has taken place.
- If one child in a group behaves in a disturbing manner, we can sometimes dole out punishment for the entire group. If there are disagreements or quarrels in the group, we can order all the children to leave at once, or give all of them the same punishment. Treating the children as a group stops individual attempts to get attention and eliminates competition between them. Disturbing behavior can often be rooted out in this way.
-If a child does not do their chores around the house, the consequence might be the loss or reduction of their weekly pocket money. (Children should be allowed to join with parents in making the list of the chores they must do. We can post this on the wall, for example). At that time, the parents and child/children can agree that a certain amount will be deducted for each chore that is not done. If several chores are not done, their whole weekly allowance will be withheld.
There are certainly several chores that children can do. A child of three or four years old can pick up toys and things. Children who are a little older can clean their room, make their bed, set the table, and/or take the garbage out. Other tasks that can be assigned to children over the years include washing up, cooking, vacuuming, cleaning, doing the laundry, minding their younger siblings, gardening, washing the car, and many similar chores. If we give the child something to do that is not part of their normal chores, we can pay them a little extra that week.
Love and discipline. Another possible way to show that actions have consequences is to use the twig. It is true that physical punishment does not always have a logical connection with the offence, but it is still based on the principle described earlier: there are bad consequences from disobedience and intentional rule-breaking. Those consequences are designed to prevent the child from repeating the behavior.
Unfortunately, this method has earned a bad reputation in the West because it has often been associated with child abuse. But it has nothing to do with abuse. People may believe that it is impossible for love and discipline to exist together; they don’t understand that they are two sides of the same emotional coin. Love and discipline complement each other. Often, a child who is not being supervised can feel that nobody cares for him or her. A child can feel this is a form of rejection.
In some situations, physical punishment can be a good method of discipline. Certainly, it is not always needed. Some children never need it. However, when we keep in mind certain limitations and guidelines, spanking a child can stop bad behavior. We should keep in mind these guidelines:
· Do not spank children under the age of one or, generally, children over the age of ten.
· The punishment should be given as soon after the offence as possible.
· The backside is the only good place to spank.
· Do not cause physical damage, but inflict a little pain so the punishment will stick to the child.
Arvo Ylppö, an esteemed Finnish archiatre and a pioneer of child care in Finland, stated:
In the upbringing of children, some level of strictness is also needed. There are children who must have some fear of and respect for their educator. It does not need to be anything special, just the average motorist’s fear of the police. When a child is punished a couple of times, they will learn to fear a little.
I suppose that there is no psychologist or child psychiatrist in Finland who dares to say that parents must sometimes spank their children a little. I dare to say that.
What I mean is that if a child frequently and deliberately acts up even though he or she has been instructed not to do so, the parents must be strict in their speech, even sometimes slightly slap the child. Even though this is deemed totally unsuitable nowadays, I believe that I know children enough to say that this method is sometimes needed. (19)
The next example shows what this method can lead to at its best, if the other prerequisites for a healthy relationship between the parents and the child are met. It can quickly reduce bad behavior or even completely eliminate it:
Anne was their nine-year-old daughter. She had been very difficult for a little over a year. They had tried everything possible to calm her down, but nothing helped.
"When you started to speak about physical punishment, we didn’t know what to think. We have never used it. But when nothing else helped, we decided to try it.”
"First, we told them what it was all about,” noted Priscilla.
"We told them that as their parents, we had not been acting as we should and that from now on, we would be doing what the Bible says. We explained to them what we expected of them and that if they rebelled or refused to obey, a thrashing would ensue.”
"Well, as comes to Anne, our words went in one ear and out the other. We had tried with her as many as forty-nine approaches, and to her, this was just number fifty."
"Until Jerry said that she must help her sister wash up after dinner,” Priscilla said.
"That’s right. I ordered her to do the chore, and when it was only halfway finished, she left and went out to play with her friend. I brought her back, took her to her room and disciplined her.”
Priscilla’s eyes sparkled when she remembered this. “You know, reverend, these six past days there has been more love between us and Anne than in the previous six months combined. It is hard to believe. She is like a whole new girl.” (20)
Even though physical punishment can be a good method to use in raising children, there are other points that we should take into account in addition to the limitations mentioned earlier. If we neglect to pay attention to these and other considerations such as those listed below, then physical punishment will fail.
Neglecting parents. As we noted above, it is not always easy to understand the behavior of children. Sometimes, their bad behavior or tantrums can be a symptom of something else. Perhaps we, the parents, in some way have been neglecting the child. If we have not had enough time for our children and have not been interested in them, this may have caused the bad behaviour.
We should keep in mind that this kind of a situation cannot be resolved by increasing discipline. In this situation, it will not help and can even make things worse. Instead, a much better -- actually the only way to respond in this kind of a situation -- is to change how we act and make up for our neglectful attitude. We should try to pay more attention to children, give them time and attention and try to listen to them. If we do this, several behavior problems may go away almost immediately and other methods are no longer needed.
Accidents, childishness, or genuine sorrow. The second consideration, when disciplining children, is that physical punishment should not be used when something happened by accident or was the result of natural behavior, or if the child expresses genuine regret or sorrow. If we punish a child unfairly, give a punishment that does not fit the crime or keep too-strict discipline in general, we will only cause damage, dishearten the child, and make him or her angry and rebellious. Sometimes, parents may actually first agitate the child into anger and then punish him or her for the anger they have themselves caused! This can happen if a parent acts unfairly or otherwise neglects the children:
- (Col 3:21) Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
- (Eph 6:4) And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Parents releasing their anger. Another bad way to discipline children is to act out of anger, or to vent our anger. When we act in this way we are wreaking vengeance on our child – “I’ll show him for sure!” – and we only do damage. This does not lead to anything positive because our anger just causes the child to become angry and compounds their bad behaviour.
The only correct way to act in this kind of a situation is to get rid of our anger first. Discipline must never be determined by our emotional feelings. It must be determined by the bad behavior of the child. If we base our disciplinary response on their actions, then we will only discipline our children in the right way. Always separate the child – whom we always love – from his or her actions:
Parents must be freed from false feelings of guilt as comes to disciplining their children. The atmosphere in our family changed in an instant when we understood something: God requires for you to spank your children when they rebel or are disobedient. I clearly understood that when I had spanked my children, I had tried to bend them to my will. This is why I was inconsistent and resentful, and I had used physical disciplining as the last resort. When I understood that the word of God – not my own anger – defines when physical disciplining is needed, I learned to approach the issue in quite a different way. The important issue was no longer my getting angry with the children but obedience to God. The whole atmosphere changed in an instant, and the children immediately realized this. Spankings were surer, firmer, and rarer. (…) This led way to a new feeling of love that did not concern only obedience and discipline but spread to each nook of the life of our family. (21)
OTHER ALTERNATIVES. When bad behavior occurs parents have several methods to create change; physical punishment is just one alternative. Let’s look at the most common responses available to a parent trying to confront bad behavior. Some of these are more preventive in nature. Others can be used immediately after the child has acted up. Some are more suitable for meeting special challenges. Always determine which is the best alternative for each case:
1. If a mere look or spoken reprimand is enough, physical punishment of the child is not needed. Often, a look or rebuke is all that is needed to correct bad behavior.
2. In some situations we should not intervene, such as when the child’s disobedience is maintained by attention from the parents.
3. If the parents have neglected their children, showing approval and making positive comments can eliminate bad behavior. This is often the best way to prevent bad behavior.
4. Some problems can be solved by our telling our children how we feel: using “me” messages instead of “you” messages and accusations. In this way we do not attack the person and behavior of the child but only address how their inappropriate behavior affects us: “I’m annoyed now because…” We only express why we are feeling what we are feeling.
5. If a child expresses strong feelings – anger (towards the parents), weeping, sulking, strong fear etc. – one alternative is for the parent to allow the child to express these feelings. The parent can try to understand the child. This is just what children need: for someone to understand how they feel at that very moment. If the parent can in this way understand the child – “Is this how you feel? Did I get it right?” – then these negative feelings will often disappear by themselves.
6. Responding to positive behavior and sometimes rewarding it may eliminate bad behavior. Rewarding can be done verbally or sometimes by giving an unexpected gift.
7. Providing the logical alternative – setting up some negative consequence for bad behavior -- should generally have a clear and logical connection to the offence.
8. Physical punishment can be a good alternative in some cases.
Many parents hope that they can get their children interested in spiritual matters. They may strongly wish that their children become active in the spiritual life and receive salvation, but they do not always know how they should act; they do not know how they can share spiritual matters with their children.
Next, we are going to study this subject. We are going to study, especially, what a parent should avoid and what parents should try to achieve if they want their children to become interested in spiritual matters. All of the points listed below are important factors in a child’s not completely turning his or her back on God later on in life.
The power of example. The example we set greatly affects our children’s interest in having a spiritual life. One act is worth a thousand words, and if we do not follow the correct principles in our life or set a bad example – dishonesty, not showing love towards our spouse, gossiping behind people’s backs, not obeying traffic regulations, spending all evenings in front of the TV – it is unlikely that our children will appreciate the right principles and spiritual life later on in life. On the contrary, they may turn their back on God if they see that their parents are indifferent or hypocritical.
If we show a good example, however – respect other people and pray for them, for example – it can affect children in a very positive way. It will certainly have a more powerful impact than mere requests and advice.
Avoid legalism! Sometimes, parents may have the wrong attitude towards Christianity. They may regard it more as a collection of rules and, therefore, they may make spiritual demands that usually begin with the words, "You should..,” or “You must…" It may be that these demands are only in the form of thoughts, or they could be voiced to their children (cf. Isa 28:12,13). They may also regard the love of God as conditional and think that it depends on how well they have succeeded in their life.
However, we should understand that the love of God is never conditional, but absolute. Through Jesus, He is a loving Father at all times, also when we fall and are imperfect. We are saved exclusively by the mercy of God and will always remain in the mercy of God. As a matter of fact, the whole message of the Gospel is that we are given love that we have not earned – it comes through Jesus Christ.
As to the subject of raising children, we should also hold to the love of God, His mercy and care, rather than to demands that have already been fulfilled by Jesus. We must concentrate more on the redemptive and merciful side of God than on sins and faults:
Many mothers give their children a wrong or misleading view of God. Many times have I heard parents saying to a child, "God loves you if you are nice, but if you are bad, he won’t love you.” This teaching is wrong. God always loves children. We can see that a child who has gotten the wrong kind of idea of God may think, as an adult and when faced with temptations and the wrong tendencies, that this is evidence that God hates him or her. God loves sinners, and He is not indifferent to a person’s bad ways. (22)
Respect the opinions of children! Before, we referred to how parents must respect the opinions and viewpoints of their children even though they are not the same as those of the parent or do not please them. Usually, the more respectfully we react to the opinions of children, the more respectfully they will react to ours. They will not be so eager to reject views that are important to us if we can value their point of view even a little.
On the other hand, if we judge the viewpoints of our children, their friends, or pay too much attention to minor things – clothes, hairstyle, etc. – this will often lead to the opposite: the child will turn his or her back on us. This can very easily happen if we are unable to remain calm in these situations.
Reserve time for children! Reserving time and giving our undivided attention to our children is important. This might mean reserving time to play with our children, taking them with us when we do our chores or listening when the child wants to tell or ask us something.
These actions should always be used in order for the child to feel that he or she is unconditionally loved and accepted. If the child feels this, and the relationship with the parent is also healthy in other ways, the child will probably assume much more of the parents’ values.
Apologize! One bad feature in many parents is that they never see their own faults. They may appear as perfect and judge others but fail to pay attention to the plank in their own eye, even though their children can clearly see it. These parents may also be afraid of confessing their faults and apologizing because they are afraid of losing the last shreds of respect of and appreciation from their children.
However, the opposite is the truth. If we as parents defend ourselves and try to appear to be perfect even though we are not, we will surely lose the appreciation and respect of our children. The children know our faults well and if we want to appear perfect at all times, then we will become pretenders in their eyes.
We can change this in an instant by becoming humble and apologizing to our children for having lost our temper or having treated our children badly, for example. This will win over children better than anything else. If we do not pretend to be something we are not, and eagerly admit our faults and how we struggle with them, then the children will respect our honesty. In this way they will also more easily accept the things that we find important.
1. Ross Campbell, Rakkaudesta lapseen (HOW TO REALLY LOVE YOUR CHILD), p. 37
2. Jay Kesler, Avaimet käteen (TEN MISTAKES PARENTS MAKE WITH TEENAGERS), p.87-88.
3. Rob Parsons, Tahdon rakastaa, kaikesta huolimatta (LOVING AGAINST THE ODDS), p.60-61.
4. Ross Campbell, Rakkaudesta lapseen (HOW TO REALLY LOVE YOUR CHILD), p. 48-49.
5. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Meillä on mukavaa (SIBLINGS WITHOUT RIVALRY), p. 53, 54
6. Thomas Gordon, Viisaat vanhemmat, p. 91,92
7. Keijo Tahkokallio, Myönteinen ajattelu lasten kasvatuksessa, p. 137
8. Rob Parsons, Kuudenkymmenen minuutin isä (THE SIXTY MINUTE FATHER), p. 61
9. Irene Kristeri, Haavoittunut vanhemmuus, p. 50
10. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Meillä on mukavaa (SIBLINGS WITHOUT RIVALRY), p. 123, 124
11. Thomas Gordon, Viisaat vanhemmat kertovat, p. 131,132
12. Thomas Gordon, Viisaat vanhemmat kertovat, p. 132
13. Paul W.Robinson, Kenen käsissä perheen ohjat, p. 141,142
14. James Dobson, Rakastava kuri (DISCIPLINE WITH LOVE), p. 55,56
15. Paul W.Robinson, Kenen käsissä perheen ohjat, p. 140
16. Bruce Narramore, Mainio, mahdoton lapseni (HELP! I’M A PARENT), p.156
17. Bruce Narramore, Mainio, mahdoton lapseni (HELP! I’M A PARENT), p. 162,163
18. Jennifer Rees Larcombe, Minä en parantunut (BEYOND HEALING), p.143-144.
19. Kasvatusviisauden kirja (“Book of wise parenting”), material collected by Janne Tarmio, s. 93
20. LARRY and NORDIS CHRISTENSON, Kristitty koti (THE CHRISTIAN COUPLE), p.103-104.
21. Larry Christenson, Kristitty perhe (THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY), p.139-140.
22. D.L.Moody, Kristinuskon rikkaus, p.88-89.
Brusko Marlene, Palaako pinna - nuorten ja vanhempien?
Christenson Larry, Kristitty perhe (THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY)
CHRISTENSON LARRY and NORDIS, Kristitty koti (THE CHRISTIAN COUPLE)
Dobson James, Rakastava kuri (DISCIPLINE WITH LOVE)
Faber Adele and Elaine Mazlish, Meillä on mukavaa (SIBLINGS WITHOUT RIVALRY)
Gordon Thomas, Viisaat vanhemmat
Gordon Thomas, Viisaat vanhemmat kertovat
Kesler Jay, Avaimet käteen (TEN MISTAKES PARENTS MAKE WITH TEENAGERS)
Narramore Bruce, Mainio, mahdoton lapseni (HELP! I’M A PARENT)
Parsons Rob, Kuudenkymmenen minuutin isä (THE SIXTY MINUTE FATHER)
Robinson, Paul W., Kenen käsissä perheen ohjat?
Ruthe Reinnhold, Kun sielu huutaa (WENN DIE SEELE SCHREIT)
Tahkokallio Keijo, Myönteinen ajattelu lasten kasvatuksessa
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life
Grap to eternal life!